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Ruger American Pistol Review: A Striker Fire Upgrade?

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By Trampas Swanson

Throughout the history of the United States firearm industry, few names have consistently had as big an impact on the market as the Ruger Firearms Company. With iconic designs such as the Mini-14, Mark series .22 pistols and 10-22 rifles, Ruger is no stranger to setting the benchmark for the rest of the industry. This year, Ruger aims to take the striker fire pistol platform to the next level with their American Pistol line of handguns.


A couple of weeks prior to the American Pistol’s debut at SHOT SHOW in Las Vegas, I received an email from Ruger with a sneak peek at what to expect. Immediately, I arranged to have a sample of this new striker fired design sent for review, chambered in the ever popular 9mm. Three days prior to my departure for the annual industry show, I received a call from my local gun shop, Second Amendment Guns & Range, stating the pistol was ready to pick up. Once the transfer paperwork was taken care of, I stepped into the range next door and put the first box of rounds through the pistol to get a feel for this new design.

First Impressions

Once I opened the plastic Ruger pistol box and removed the American Pistol, my first impression of its design was the profile looked as if a Glock compact and a Walther PPQ 4” barrel pistol were blended together. The squared lines of the black nitride coated stainless steel slide and the extremely ergonomic design of the frame screamed “LET’S SHOOT!” The pistol sports a 4.20 inch barrel which is a perfect length for using as a concealed carry gun. Before trying either of the two additional grip back straps including in the box, I obtained a master grip on the pistol and leveled it down range while it remained unloaded. The pistol felt well-balanced and comfortable in my hands. The low-mass slide allowed for most of the weight to remain over the hand instead of out in front. I loaded up the two nickel-Teflon plated steel 17 round magazine provided with the pistol and squeezed off the first 3 shots at 10 yards.

As I waited for the first shot to break, I remember thinking about the trigger feeling a bit “spongy.” The reset on the trigger was fairly short and definitely positive, but each following shot came with the same “spongy” feeling. By the time I moved through the first couple of magazines, I had adapted to the feel of trigger and shrunk my initial 3 shot groups down to around 1.5 inches at the 10 yard line.


One area Ruger seemed to go all out on was the sights, the American Pistol came with a very nice set of 3-Dot Novak LoMount Carry sights. These sights were very clear and quick to acquire during rapid firearm presentations to the target. The low profile design appeared to be very handy for a snag-free concealed carry without worry of getting caught up in your shirt or taking the waist band of your boxers along for the ride.

Due to time constraints in needing to get back to the office in order to finish prepping for SHOT SHOW, I was only able to send 50 rounds down range during my first “date” with the American Pistol. As I left the range, I felt like I had a lot of work left undone on this trip, but plenty of time once I returned from the show to get back on the range. I did keep in mind it would only be three days before I would be in Las Vegas shooting all three models of the American Pistol at Ruger’s expense instead of mine!


Slinging Lead in the Desert

One of the most enlightening experiences I had in testing the American Pistol line from Ruger came during my previously mentioned trip to the industry’s SHOT SHOW. The first day of the show for my fellow gun writers and I took place on a massive range in Boulder City approximately 30 mins from the city limits of Las Vegas. Under the watchful eye of event coordinator, Daniel Lord and his son and Chief RSO, Shaun Lord, their team of highly qualified RSO’s managed almost a mile wide outdoor range with vendors from practically every name in the gun industry set up to allow the writers to get “hands on” with the new for 2016 products.

By mid-morning, my business partner, Craig and I made our way to the Ruger tent to check out all their new products. Sitting on a table with a pile of ammo where the American Pistols in 9mm, .40 and .45. As I helped light up the steel and paper targets in the desert range firing each model pistol, I noticed the recoil from all three seemed to be more manageable than in my beloved Glocks. After going back and forth from each chambering, I realized it was the ergonomic grips that allowed me to get a higher grip and reduce the bore axis over my hand. This will always lessen felt recoil. Another helpful recoil reducing factor is in the camming barrel design. This allows the barrel to lock / unlock into the slide and move upward to both absorb recoil and help with each additional round to load. I particularly enjoyed the .45 caliber model’s solid punch but prefer the high capacity of the 9mm offering.

Home in “The Swamp”

After a whirlwind week, it was time to return home to Florida. Once I spent a week recovering, I packed the Ruger American Pistol up and headed to our testing ground used for most of our Swanson Media Group produced reviews. This private piece of property, affectionately known as “The Swamp” testing ground offers a wide range of paper, steel and polymer targets set in a countryside environment just a stone throw from one of Florida’s world famous swamps. This would be the final stop in putting the new Ruger pistol through its paces.

Starting at the 15 yard line, both my fellow writer, Craig and I took turns running the Ruger on paper targets before transitioning to steel plates at 25 yards. On a very windy and rare cold Florida day, the pistol ran through over 300 rounds without a single failure. I noticed by the end of the training session, the trigger felt a bit softer and more comfortable to manage. It was hard to decide if this was due to having more trigger time on the gun or just the gun needing to be broke in. As with most pistols, it usually takes a couple of hundred rounds for one to perform at its top potential.

Two points I enjoyed about the new design were the ambidextrous slide stop and magazine release. During any critical training, I like to include weak hand shooting and magazine changes. With the availability of true ambidextrous controls, the American Pistol makes strong to weak hand transitions as seamless as possible. The nickel-Teflon coated magazines dropped free cleanly and much faster than I was able to have an additional mag ready to go during speed drills.


Average shot groups between Craig and I remained around the 1.5 inch mark without much improvement as the round count rose. It’s my belief that Ruger focused more on a combat accuracy and reliability than bullseye shooting in the American Pistol’s design. When your life is on the line and your targets are much bigger than small circles on paper, you quickly come to appreciate Ruger’s main focus for this pistol!

Towards the end of the testing period, I decided to try a couple of magazines loaded with +P ammo. A lot of fuss has been made about reviews not including this slightly more powerful ammo and this is with purpose. Although firearms are usually rated to handle +P rated ammunition, it is usually harder on the firearm’s overall wear and tear in the long run and usually unneeded in regards to what the platform offers. As I imagined, the unpleasant snappy recoil of the +P ammo caused slower follow up shots and a slight felt “twist” in the hand during cycling. While the Ruger American Pistol is a great size to be a CCW with a length just over 4 inches, I kept thinking about a Walther review I did last year. I originally received a 4 inch barrel PPQ to test and was not impressed with its overall performance regardless of the ammo I used. I contacted the company with my concerns and a few days later I had an updated version, the M2 with a 5 inch barrel which was an incredible gun to say the least. Despite enjoying the Ruger’s initial offering much better than the Walther, I would love to see a 5 inch barrel American Pistol in 9mm hit the market soon. The longer barrel would offer an increase in ability in taking advantage of the hotter rounds. From what the rumors are saying in the industry, I won’t need a genie to make this wish come true.


Final Thoughts

After considerable amount of time indoors and outdoors on the range with the American Pistol over the past two full months of shooting it, I have had time to reflect on its design and function. As with most popular striker fired pistols on the market, Ruger has incorporated an integrated trigger safety as well as an internal, automatic sear block in lieu of an actual frame mounted manual safety. This is a plus in my opinion due to safeties often being overlooked and forgotten during stress fire.

While on the topic of safety, I would like to mention a feature I particularly like in regards to overall safety in field stripping the pistol. Ruger’s “no tool needed” take down doesn’t require the trigger to be pulled to disengage the action for disassembly. This will hopefully prevent a few horror stories of accidental discharges from occurring in the long run. The disassembly and reassembly of the American Pistol takes only a matter of seconds and will encourage new shooters to not be afraid of cleaning their firearms.


Lastly, I would like to mention a common occurrence any time a new handgun design comes to market and that is a lack of readily available holsters for the American Pistol. Although, currently the holster market is playing catch up, two options are available to shooters right now. Blade Tech already has holsters ready for sale as well as the option of having a custom Kydex holster made from a reputable company like Survivor Creek Tactical. With the projected sales for this year, it is only a matter of months before more holster companies are offering a full line of American Pistol holsters in their lineup.

At a MSRP of $579 according to Ruger, the American Pistol is already showing up in store sales at around $499 before tax. Despite the less than ideal trigger pull, I recommend the American Pistol for a wide range of shooters. This pistol makes a very reliable and functionally rock solid pistol at a great price for new shooters on a budget who would otherwise go the route of a cheaper, inferior handgun from companies such as Hi-Point, Jennings and Interarms. Experienced shooters will enjoy the price and performance when looking for that “car” or “truck” gun to complement their daily carry firearm or for those who just don’t want to jump on the Glock or S&W M&P bandwagon. As far as which model is best for you, I highly recommend trying all three models at a local range and deciding which caliber chambering is right for you. This pistol will clearly show you that the Ruger Firearms Company is on the right path to take the next step into the future of firearms.

Trampas Swanson

Born and raised in eastern NC, started shooting firearms at age 6, and life long hunter. Retired Deputy Sheriff serving as a supervisor and SWAT sniper unit with a background in narcotics and crime scene investigations task forces. Now living in Florida as a husband, new father, local gunsmith, firearms instructor and freelance writer for various firearms publications.

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