Ruger’s American Pistol, 9mm Compact, by Pat Cascio

The very first Ruger firearm I ever owned was a rifle in .300 Winchester Magnum. It was in November or December of 1979. My wife and I were working for the Salvation Army back then in The Dalles, Oregon. I was the youth pastor, and my newly pregnant wife was the church secretary. Both jobs were temporary; however we were promised they would be full-time after Christmas. Alas, it didn’t work out that way, and we moved back to our cold, lonely apartment in Portland, Oregon on Christmas Eve with an artificial one-foot tall Christmas tree that we bought at the Salvation Army Thrift Store. Needless to say, it was a tough Christmas for us and our very first, too. Still, I managed to hang on to that Ruger .300 Win Mag rifle for a long, long time, before being forced to sell it to help make ends meet.


Since 1979, I’ve been a huge fan of Ruger firearms, all of them. I’ve probably owned just about every make and model they’ve offered over the past 37 years, too. My beautiful wife gifted me with a Ruger Security Six stainless steel 4” Bbl .357 Mag revolver in 1983 for my birthday, and I carried it quite often in my position as Investigations Manager of a huge detective agency with branches all over the U.S. I don’t recall what happened to that Security Six, other than I know I probably sold or traded it. To this day, my wife reminds me that it was a gift and not to be sold or traded away. I regret it. In December 2015, Ruger introduced their American Pistol in 9mm. It is a full-sized duty handgun that holds 17 rounds of the hottest 9mm you care to run through it. It’s one tough gun, very tough. And, it was designed to meet the U.S. military specifications for a new handgun. However, Ruger wisely, in my opinion, opted to not enter this fantastic pistol in the trial, where millions of dollars are spent competing. Of course, this meant more Ruger American pistols available for the rest of us. I wrote an article on the Ruger American Pistol in 9mm too, an outstanding gun. Other than that, it is a big full-sized service handgun meant for carry on a duty belt. Yes, it can be concealed but not easily. You have to have the right clothing and holster to really conceal it. I told my contact at Ruger, back in December 2015, that I knew they would come out with a compact version and to add my name to the list when they became available.


The wait was worth it. I received the new Ruger American Pistol in 9mm, which is the Compact model. I’ll tell you what; this is, hands down, my new favorite Ruger handgun, bar none! The sample I received is the “Professional” model, with no manual safety, but you can order one with a safety and get one ambidextrous, too. We have a smaller version of the full-sized gun, in that the barrel is reduced to only 3.55 inches in length, and the grip that holds 17 rounds in the full-sized version now holds 12 rounds in the Compact version, and the height of the gun is 4.48 inches. The overall length is 6.65 inches, and the gun weighs in at 28.7 oz. It’s not as light-weight as some other similar sized compact 9mm handguns. However, you have to remember that this is a Ruger and you can shoot all the +P ammo you want through it without worry that the gun will shoot loose.


The slide is actually stainless steel; however, it has a black Nitride coating for that subdued tactical look and another measure to help prevent the elements from taking a foot hold. Even stainless steel can rust; with this coating, it just stains less. The frame is manufactured out of one piece– high performance glass filled nylon, which is extremely tough and not flexible like some other polymer frames are. Another nice feature is the genuine Novak sights, on the front and rear. These are not clones or rip-offs of the Wayne Novak sights but the real deal, and the front sight has a white dot while the rear sight has two white dots. It’s very fast to pick up when shooting rapidly. I still think that the Novak combat sights are some of the very best in the world. The American Compact comes with three interchangeable back straps. It comes with the medium-sized one already installed and has a smaller and a larger one. I experimented with the different back straps, which are simple to swap out, and I found the medium-sized one fit my hand nicely. My wife preferred the smaller back strap, since her hand is smaller than mine. She is already hinting that she wants one of these guns herself.


The trigger has the now popular “safety” lever in the center of it. If you don’t press in on the trigger with your trigger finger and depress the little lever, the gun won’t fire. There are also several passive internal safeties as well as the manual safety to be had on the other model, if you desire a manual safety. There isn’t a lot of take-up when pressing the trigger before the gun fires, which is nice. The trigger reset is very short and positive, too. That’s another nice feature, because some polymer framed handguns don’t have a very positive reset when you release the trigger a little bit for another shot.

Ruger claims there is a recoil-reducing barrel cam, with a low mass slide for a lower center of gravity. This causes less felt recoil. Personally, I couldn’t feel the difference myself. I’ve never found the 9mm to be punishing in the recoil department to start with in most guns. Still, one of my shooters helping with testing the American Pistol thought the recoil was less than his carry 9mm pistol.

One really nice thing about this handgun is that you do not have to pull the trigger to disassemble the gun; you lock the slide open after you have removed the magazine. You can’t use the take-down lever until the magazine has been removed. Once the slide is locked open, you simply rotate the take-down lever downward and you can remove the slide from the frame and then the recoil spring and barrel. It’s really fast and simple. We also have am ambidextrous slide release/stop as well as an ambidextrous magazine release.


When a round is chambered, the striker is pre-tensioned, and it has a very stout spring. There are no worries about the striker not hitting any ammo hard enough to set the round off. Some striker-fired pistols have problems with this, especially when using foreign made ammo with hard primers. The trigger pull on my sample was very crisp and the let-off was right at 5.5 lbs, and it wasn’t spongy like the trigger on a GLOCK.

The gun comes with two magazines– one is the flush fitting 12-rd mag that also has a pinky catcher floor plate you can install that I prefer so my pinky finger isn’t dangling under the magazine. The other mag is a full-sized version from the full-sized American Pistol. This mag holds 17 rds and has a sleeve over it, so when inserted into the Compact version it takes up the slack and fits very nicely in the gun. I immediately ordered two more of the 12-rd mags.

There is a Picatinny rail on the dust cover of the frame, for those who want to mount lights and/or lasers, and there are three positions on the rail for different sizes of lasers and lights. There is also a non-slip surface on the grip frame, for a sure hold on the gun under any weather conditions. Ruger designers went above and beyond on this aspect of the gun. There are diamond-like grasping grooves on the rear of the slide, too, but these are only on the rear; the full-sized gun has them on the front (sides) of the gun as well. I guess this is for those who do a press-check to see if a gun is loaded or not. Ruger has a groove milled into the rear of the barrel, and you can look, if the light is right, to see if there is a round in the chamber. The trigger guard is also round and not squared; that was so popular for many years. Last, we have a massive extractor, and this baby will pull out the toughest round or empty brass. There are no worries about it ever breaking, but then again it is a Ruger.


The Ruger American Compact fits my hand perfectly, like a perfect pair of gloves. I don’t know many guns that felt so good in my shooting hand. The gun was made for my hand. The wife loved the way it felt in her hand, too, with the small backstrap installed. The gal at the gun shop, where I have my gun samples sent to, commented on how good the gun felt in her hand, too. This is a major thing. If a gun doesn’t feel right in your shooting hand, you aren’t going to shoot it as well.

Of course, no matter how nice a handgun looks or feels in the hand, the proof is in shooting, right? I only had a limited amount of 9mm on hand, as much of it was expended in another 9mm handgun test, and I didn’t have time to get more ammo from Black Hills and Buffalo Bore. Still, I had a fair selection of various types of 9mm for my shooting. From Black Hills Ammunition, I had their 115-gr JHP +P, 124-gr JHP +P, 115-gr FMJ, and their 115-gr Barnes TAC XP, all copper hollow point, which is +P rated. From Buffalo Bore, I had their 147-gr Hard Cast Outdoorsman load that is +P rated and their 124-gr FMJ FN Penetrator round – +P+ rated.dscf0686

Most of my shooting was done with the 12-rd magazine. The gun just feels better and balances better with the shorter magazine installed. In all, I still managed to fire slightly more than 500 rds during my testing over two shooting sessions, and I had a helper too. I never lack having help if I ask for it, and the ammo is free. There were zero malfunctions of any kind, and the empty brass was tossed into a nice little circle to my right and behind me. All shooting was done at 25 yards and even beyond; targets of opportunity were found further downrange, including big rocks and tree branches. For my accuracy testing, I rested the gun over the rear of my pickup and used a rolled-up sleeping bag for a rest. Most groups were right around three inches, which is outstanding accuracy from a compact handgun. There was one clear winner, and that was the Black Hills 115-gr FMJ round. It gave me groups slightly more than 2¼ inches, so long as I held up my end of the shooting sessions.

There’s nothing to complain about in the accuracy department. Many full-sized handguns do shoot this well. I think at times, the shorter barrels are a bit more stiff and give better accuracy. I have seen this happen many times over the years. The new Ruger American Compact fits perfectly in the Blackhawk Products leather hip holster that is designed for a S&W M&P, and I let the folks at Blackhawk know this. I’m talking it is a perfect fit.

Full retail on the American Compact is $579, and you can shop around and find them for less. I’m looking forward to the American Compact in .45ACP, and I hope it comes out in the next few months. I’m guessing it will be an 8-shot version. I’m getting my name on the waiting list already.

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