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Ruger’s design engineers have been quite busy in recent years. That’s good news for shooters. It has resulted in a steady stream of new models, as well as significant upgrades and enhancements to Ruger’s established product line.

The company’s latest creation is the Ruger American Pistol. It’s Ruger’s next generation of striker-fired, polymer-framed, centerfire semiauto pistols. It’s also a distinct departure from its existing product line.


The Ruger American was designed with input from law enforcement and meets requirements for the U.S. military’s joint combat pistol specifications and the Modular Handgun System Program.

It is built on a polymer frame and has three interchangeable backstraps that allow users to achieve a proper trigger reach fit. The American features a 2-inch Picatinny rail on the dust cover to accommodate lights or lasers. The slide and barrel are constructed from stainless steel; the slide is finished in black nitride.

Interchangeable backstraps allow shooters to achieve the proper trigger reach to depress the trigger face safety bar.

Interchangeable backstraps allow shooters to achieve the proper trigger reach to depress the trigger face safety bar.

Instead of simply pinning metal frame rails and action parts into the polymer frame, the Ruger American pistols incorporate a full metal chassis inside the frame. Constructed from stainless steel with a black nitride finish, it contains the frame rails and all firing controls for metal-on-metal reliability. This is the actual legal “Firearm,” and the serial number is stamped on the rear of the chassis instead of the frame.

The action is striker fired, with a Browning-style locked breech incorporating a patent-pending barrel cam that controls rearward movement of the slide to spread recoil forces over a longer time period. The trigger assembly features a trigger-face-mounted safety bar that prevents firing until it is depressed, as well as an internal sear blocking safety that prevents the striker from moving until the trigger is completely pressed to the rear. A molded-in trigger stop within the trigger guard controls overtravel.

The Novak LoMount sights feature a windage-adjustable rear and a front sight in the popular white 3-dot pattern. Both are dovetailed into the slide, making it easy for shooters who prefer adjustable sights or a different sight picture to change them.

Operating controls are ambidextrous, with both right- and left-side magazine release, slide release and combat thumb safeties (on the Standard model). The fully ambidextrous controls make this an excellent choice for southpaws. The magazines are a drop-free design, and the gun does not have a magazine disconnect safety—a feature liked by some but disdained by others.

Field-stripping for cleaning is simple: Remove the magazine, lock the slide back, rotate the left-side takedown lever fully down to the right, pull the slide slightly to the rear to drop the slide release, and then push the upper unit forward to remove it from the frame. The barrel and guide rod assembly can then be removed in the conventional manner.

Simplified fieldstripping allows all components to be quickly accessed for cleaning.

Simplified fieldstripping allows all components to be quickly accessed for cleaning.


The first Ruger American released in late 2015 was a full-sized service pistol with a 4.2-inch barrel in the Pro model that did not have manual safeties. That was quickly followed by the Standard model that featured slimline combat thumb safeties.

It was only a matter of time before Ruger released a compact version for concealed carry; and, in mid-2016, the compact model with a 3.55-inch barrel was introduced. The Ruger American Compact is available in the Pro model and the Standard model with thumb safeties. I elected to test the Standard model (#8639).

I was immediately impressed with the ergonomics of the gun. Edges are properly rounded, and the muzzle end is beveled for easy holstering. The diamond pattern checkering on the front and the backstrap provides a secure, nonslip surface. The base of the backstrap has a short lip extending below the magazine well that prevents any palm pinch on a vigorous reload.

The gun comes with a 12-round magazine with a comfortable “pinky rest” base plate, as well as a 17-round magazine. That one features a slip-on polymer collar that melds smoothly with the backstrap to increase the grip area (although it is not required for proper magazine function). The drawback to slip-on magazine collars (on any compact pistol) is that they put the palm of the shooting hand in contact with the magazine and interfere with drop-free ejection. Many shooters (this author included) find the grip just as good without the collar, and the magazine easily drops free.

The trigger bar safety was nicely rounded and didn’t abrade my trigger finger as some other models do. The trigger pull was crisp, with just a hint of creep, and the built-in trigger stop eliminated any overtravel. When the trigger broke, it stopped! And the trigger reset was quick: It took under ½ inch of rearward slide movement to re-cock the trigger. My Lyman digital trigger pull gauge told me the trigger was breaking at slightly more than 5 pounds.

After trying the different interchangeable backstraps, I found the Medium model a perfect fit. Some dry-fire practice followed to get acquainted with the gun. I then stripped the gun and made sure it was properly lubed.


I had a number of 9mm loads on hand that fit the personal defense role of the Ruger compact. They included Hornady’s 147-grain TAP CQ, Winchester’s 124-grain PDX1 +P and two of my favorite personal-protection loads: Federal’s 124-grain HST+P and the Speer Gold Dot 124-grain Short Barrel +P. The venerable Federal American Eagle 124-grain FMJ standard velocity load is also included, given its role as a practice/training round.

I also had some of Federal’s recently introduced 150-grain Micro HST. This load was developed for the newer breed of compact 9mm pocket pistols using Federal’s excellent HST bullet design—but in a heavier weight and at a reduced velocity to aid in recoil control. (I haven’t accuracy-tested this load before but had run some tests in my Fackler Box that showed expansion of around .62 to .63 inch with modest recoil.

Once I found the proper backstrap for my hand size during the “get-acquainted period,” the gun pointed extremely well in my dry-fire sessions. I didn’t have to adjust the front sight during target presentation: When I brought the gun up to the target, the sights were perfectly aligned.

Bench rest groups at 25 yards showed the Ruger to be more accurate than a compact gun has a right to be.

Bench rest groups at 25 yards showed the Ruger to be more accurate than a compact gun has a right to be.

Nevertheless, the real test was sending bullets down range.

For starters, I put up a 4-inch Caldwell Orange Peel target center at 10 yards. With my PACT timer on, I assumed a low-ready position, with the safeties disengaged, and fired one round at the beep.

According to the PACT timer, the first couple of rounds were gratifyingly under one second—but the rounds were impacting about 2 inches to the left. A 5/64 Allen wrench (included in most wrench kits) took care of that by loosening the rear sight set screw and allowing me to slide the sight slightly to the right before re-tightening the set screw. Getting the windage zeroed was simple, and the elevation was already dead-on.

With a bit of practice, hits on the 4-inch target at 10 yards were getting down into the .65- to .75-second range. Running the same drills with the safeties engaged added about .40 second to the time, because I had to re-assume the proper grip after flicking off the safety.

That got boring, so I moved to 15 yards with the same target. Times across the board increased by about .50 second, but the 4-inch target still got hammered.


I’m a firm believer that shooters should practice with their EDC guns under more-strenuous conditions than just standing on a square range and leisurely sending rounds into a 7-yard target. Action pistol matches (such as IDPA, in which I am classified as a “master” in two gun divisions and an “expert” in the rest) are excellent and inexpensive ways to advance self-defense skills. These matches take shooters out of their comfort zones and force them to truly run the gun.

I had discovered that the Ruger American fit my EDC holster and mag carriers, so there was no reason not to play some run-and-gun. I set up three IDPA targets and engaged them from the holster, including some reloading drills. The gun handled and pointed as well as my match guns, and the PACT timer told me I was making very respectable times through the various practice drills.

At that point, the gun had run more than 300 rounds of mixed loads—and there was not a single malfunction. Accuracy testing from my 25-yard bench rest was next, and I expected it would produce the normal compact pistol groups of 3 to 4 inches. That didn’t happen: The Ruger American Compact exceeded my accuracy expectations by a significant margin.

A couple of the loads did produce mid-3-inch groups, but the accuracy chart will show that most of them were running 2½ inches or less. True, the crisp trigger and well-defined sights are certainly assets, but this gun shot a lot better than I expected.

Ruger’s new American Compact Pistol is a worthy addition to anyone’s personal-defense battery. And it can play some fun games on the weekend. That makes it a winner in my book.



  • CALIBER: 9mm
  • ACTION: Locked-breech semiautomatic
  • CAPACITY: 17+1
  • BARREL LENGTH: 3.55 inches
  • GROOVES: Six
  • TWIST: 1:10
  • RH SAFETY OPTION: Ambidextrous manual thumb safety (Pro model is available with no manual thumb safety)
  • HEIGHT: 4.48 inches
  • OVERALL LENGTH: 6.65 inches
  • SLIDE WIDTH: 1.05 inches
  • SLIDE FINISH: Black nitride
  • WEIGHT: 28.7 ounces (empty)
  • GRIP FRAME: One-piece, high-performance glass-filled nylon
  • GRIPS: Wraparound grip module with interchangeable backstraps
  • SIGHTS: Novak LoMount Carry 3-Dot (drift adjustable for windage)

MSRP: $579


(603) 865-2442


Performance Results

Groups were fired from a sandbag rest at 25 yards; average of three five-shot groups. Velocity was recorded on an Oehler 35 three-screen chronograph set 10 feet from the muzzle; average of five rounds fired.

Cartridge Velocity
Hornady 147-grain TAP CQ 994 3.26
Winchester PDX1 124-grain +P 1163 3.58
Federal 150-grain HST Micro 904 2.12
Federal 124-grain HST +P 1202 2.38
Speer 124-grain Gold Dot, Short Barrel +P 1241 2.24
Federal 124-grain, American Eagle FMJ 1096 2.59


Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the March 2017 print issue of Gun World Magazine.