By Scott Smith
Sturm Ruger is one of the true giants in the firearms industry. In the nineties and early years of the 21st century, Ruger seemed to be in a slump. Yes, their P85, P90, P95 were solid pistols but they were bulky and had the perception of being cheap pistols because of their price point. I paid less than $300 for my P85. This pistol digested an untold number of rounds but the sights were hard to see, making it a hard pistol to use for USPSA matches.
As we moved into the second decade of the century Ruger introduced the SR9. This was a radical design for Ruger with the interchangeable back strap and the striker firing mechanism. The SR9 with its fully contoured and radiused frame/slide was a hit; the $569 MSRP also helped.
Like the “P” series Ruger pistols, the SR9 suffered from lack of support gear such as different sights and a variety of holsters. The loaded chamber indicator that sets centerline of the ejection port was also a problem. Its large size meant sights needed to be tall enough for the rear notch to clear it without being huge. This was one of the reasons aftermarket sights were sparse.
Fast forward to 2016 and Ruger is again introducing another generation of striker-fired pistols: the Ruger American Pistol—in 9mm and .45 ACP. My initial impressions of the 9mm pistol were finish was flawless, felt good in the hand, good sight picture, easy to breakdown and crisp trigger; some may say heavy. This pistol has three interchangeable back straps to give the end user a custom fit. Like the SR9, there are no sharp edges on the pistol; the trigger pull is different from other striker-fired pistols—not bad, not good; just different. The sights are true Novak which means those dovetails will give you sight options from day one. I am sure the trigger will smooth out and, once the springs relax from use, lighten. Most striker-fire triggers improve after a few hundred rounds. Controls on the pistol are Spartan; there is the takedown lever and ambidextrous magazine catch and slide lock levers; that is it.
Ruger ships each American Pistol with two magazines and three sizes of back straps. These attach via a Torx screw in the grip and turns/locks with the supplied wrench. All you have to do is turn it approximately ninety degrees to remove and secure the panel. If you really turn the screw it will break, so don’t overdo it. Removing and installing the panels can be easily over-thought, do exactly as the directions say; unlock the screw, wrap your fingers around the panel with your thumb on the frame extension and slide. That’s all you have to do, simple. Changing the grip panel was the first thing I did since my sample arrived with a small grip installed. For most folks the medium will fit well, those of us with big mitts will find the large will work well.
The American arrived literally the day before traveling to the SHOT Show, so testing it would have to wait. Mother Nature further delayed range time with nasty winds and cold when I returned. Once the weather did break, if one can consider mid-twenties without wind a break, I headed to the range with the American and a healthy selection of factory ammunition and some reloads to give the pistol an initial test.
The test ammunition was from Atlanta Arms, Black Hills, Freedom Munitions, Hornady, JJR Ammo, Remington and Ruger. This selection was chosen because it covered competition, range/training, self-protection and reloads were tossed in for cost effective reliability testing. Since it is the middle of winter, and seriously engaging in extended testing of the pistol was not going to happen, or the author might turn into a peoplesicile.
Initially I loaded half a dozen magazines to capacity, 17 rounds to get a feel for the trigger, see how well regulated the sights were and see how the American performed literally out of the box. Other than one reload that had a primer seated upside down, the pistol went bang and kept all 101 one rounds in the “A” zone of a half sized USPSA target at 15 yards when fired from a two-handed Isosceles stance. That showed me the pistol was capable of shooting in bad conditions.
Since we knew this pistol could shoot, it was time to see what the pistol could do if we sat and rested the pistol on the bench. With the inclement weather, these tests were at 15 yards not 25. The loads used were Atlanta’s Elite 115-grain hollowpoint, Black Hills 147-grain subsonic hollowpoint (one of the most accurate 9mms on the market), Freedom Munitions HUSH 147-grain hollowpoint, Hornady’s 135-grain Critical Duty, JJR Ammo’s 147-grain full metal jacket, Remington’s 124-grain Ultimate Defense and Ruger’s 80-grain ARX round. Three five-round groups were fired from an MTM Front Rifle/Handgun Rest and the average calculated.
The Ruger ARX was the snappiest round; the recoil was quick not harsh. I have found this to be the case with other lightweight frangible-type rounds while the 147-grain loads tend to have the mildest recoil.
I started with the 147-grain loads with Black Hills’ averaging just over 1.25” with Freedom Munitions and JJR Ammo coming in at 1.75”. Hornady’s 135-grain Critical Duty and Remington’s 124-grain Ultimate Defense both averaged just over 1.5” as did the lightest load, Ruger’s 80-grain ARX. Atlanta’s Elite 115-grain offering averaged just under or at 1.25” like the heavy weights. I have faith that we will see a winter warm up and I will get out to the range and test the American at twenty five yards.
One thing I felt might be affecting accuracy of the Ruger was the boxy factory front sight.
The front sight is a standard .180” Novak front, making it possible to fit most popular sights. I chose a set of Warren Tactical Sights with their “U” Notch rear and a fiber optic front sight from Brownells. This combination seems to give good accuracy and fast sight acquisition. Sadly the rear sight set higher than the factory Novak and the pistol hit several inches high at 25 yards, but returned to dead on with the factory rear. The narrow fiber optic front allowed for pinpoint shots with the factory rear.
As I had expected, the weather did break, it was sunny with temperatures hovering in the fifties. We had several perfect days for range work. With the new Warren fiber optic front sight, I was curious to see if the accuracy would improve markedly.
What I found was the American was shooting 2.5” average-sized groups at 25 yards. The best group I managed was 1.8” with Hornady’s 135-grain Critical Duty. The worst group was just over 3.5” when I fired five, 5-shot groups with mixed loads in the magazine. This leads to different recoil shot to shot, but for a service pistol; that is good accuracy. Heck, that’s good for all but the most expensive competition pistols shooting whatever you feed it.
During this testing I used Birchwood Casey’s Dirty Bird 12”X18” Bad Guy IPSC ($12.70 for 8 pack) and Sharpshooter IPSC Targets ($7.20 ea for 6) on the Sharpshooter 36” Stand ($32.90 ea). These targets/stands allowed me to set up a short course of fire and to easily see hits at 25 yards. The Bad Guy IPSC target is ideal for accuracy work, because it is half the size of a USPSA/IPSC target. If you can hit the upper A/B zone at 25 yards on it you will have no problems in a match. The Sharpshooter Targets/Stands were a blessing in the rain since the corrugated plastic did not wilt in the late winter rains. Birchwood Casey is making it easy for shooters to setup mini-stages with the new Sharpshooter System while the Dirty Bird Targets allow you to see hits clearly at longer handgun distances.
Shooting this cross-section of bullet weights, ogive types, and manufacturers with major variations in the weather shows us modern firearms and ammunition perform consistently. This can be attributed to the vastly improved fit tolerances in the firearms and better control of all aspects in processing ammunition. Gone are the days of spending hours trying to test dozens of loads to see what your pistol shoots best. If shooters want to improve their performance, they need to get to the range and practice. Going to a top flight academy like Gunsite or The Universal Shooting Academy will help, too.
After several trips to the range it was time to clean the American Pistol. First, remove the magazine, then lock the slide to the rear to ensure it is empty, then rotate the locking lever down, release the slide lock and remove the slide. At this point remove the recoil spring/guide rod and barrel. The pistol is now ready to clean.
To clean the American Pistol I used ZMaxx Bore Cleaner/Conditioner and Bolt Lube. This is the same ZMaxx known to car enthusiasts across the country. I figured if ZMaxx can endure the high heat of a race car engine, a firearm should be no problem. I was pleased to see the Cleaner/Conditioner really did clean in a few passes, as this pistol was dirty after nearly 1,000 rounds. Even the bolt face came clean quickly, something that rarely seems to happen. The Bolt Lube allowed the slide to glide across the frame and the trigger action was greatly improved. I cannot tell you all the technical specifications of ZMaxx’s firearms products, just that I liked them and they work well enough I have used them on several other T&E firearms.
When you have a quality firearm you need to have quality holsters for it. As with many other pistols, I trust Blade Tech and Safariland for range, competition, training and concealed carry use. Over the last 20 years I have found these two companies give shooters the best bang for their buck; yes, the pun was intended. Since the American Pistol was going to be a multiple use pistol I wanted holsters that concealed well, had serious retention and afforded a fast smooth draw. While one holster would do all of these, it would suffer in one area or another. For that reason I chose three holsters; from Blade Tech their traditional OWB with TekLok offset, Eclipse Pro and Safariland’s 578 GLS Pro Fit.
Blade Tech’s OWB ($64.99) has set the standard for range and action shooting holsters for years. With the TekLok offset the holster would be ideal USPSA competition because it is fast and offers good retention with a tension screw. For concealed carry or IDPA, the Ambi Eclipse ($79.99) conceals very well, rivaling traditional leather pancake holster but is far more durable because it is Kydex. The Ambi Eclipse surpasses pancakes because you can swap the belt mounts and it becomes an inside the waistband holster. If you just have these two holsters, you would be kitted up for most applications and never be wanting.
If, like many competition shooters, you use Safariland’s ELS system, you need to use a Safariland holster to have the “forks” mate properly. Some may ask why the GLS holster ($50-55) for competition when Safariland offers many holsters designed for action shooting; the answer is retention and versatility. I know action shooting requires speed and there are pure competition holsters for that. However, three gun requires a fast secure holster. With the trigger guard lock and grip release, the GLS family of holsters is as fast as any polymer holster on the market and keeps the pistol as secure as Ft. Knox. The other major bonus of the GLS is one holster will fit the Ruger American Pistol, Glock 17/20/21/22/37, a Smith & Wesson M&P, Grand Power, and several other pistols. The GLS does this thanks to the patented adjusting tab.
Over the years, folks have asked me why I use Blade Tech and Safariland when there are many new “tacticool” holsters on the market? The answer is simple, in my opinion they give the shooter the best value for the buck. Customer service is second to none and short of trying to, the holsters are nearly unbreakable.
Having seen the evolution of Ruger’s pistols over the last 20 years, it is my humble opinion that Ruger has nailed it with the American Pistol. The price point is competitive, sight dovetails are standard, the trigger is decent and it shoots like a house a fire.
The American Pistol will give other polymer pistols on the market a run for their money. The American Pistol has the two most important features of any pistol; it shoots every time the trigger is pulled and, because it fits the hand, it is accurate. I am impressed enough with it that I will be shooting it in several major USPSA and three gun matches. Other than the fact I could and would carry for self-defense, I cannot give the American Pistol higher praise. Get out to the range and shoot safe, shoot straight and have fun.