Ruger American Pistol Review – One Nice .45 [hands on]

Ruger American Pistol Review – One Nice .45 [hands on]

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The Ruger American pistol joins a growing number of pistols chambered for the .45 ACP.

Pros
  • Easy to handle – mild recoil
  • Capacity – handles compact and full-size magazines
  • Grip – modular grip system for enhanced comfort
  • Sights – clean, easy, quick to action
  • Concealed carry candidate – I trust this gun
  • Accurate – weight, trigger and ergonomics balance nicely
  • Designed for US Military
Cons
  • You might want to tweak the trigger (plenty of aftermarket options)

The .45 ACP these days is more and more popular and the pistol designed to shoot it – the 1911 – is stronger now than ever before.

Whether you like the .45 ACP or not, you cannot deny the growth of pistols chambered for this round.

Even my Ruger 45 Colt Blackhawk single-action deer stomper came with an extra cylinder in .45 ACP.

My American Experience

Charles Dickens made at least two trips to America, but he was not impressed. He was critical of many things he saw, which cost him readers on our side of the pond. His American experience was not good.

My American experience has been nothing short of wonderful. American pistol, that is… one of the many .45s I’ve owned was a Ruger American pistol in caliber .45. Actually, I owned two of them.

I owned a full-size model that developed a problem. Then I sent it back to Ruger and they decided to replace it. I had ended up with the full size because my friend didn’t have a compact in his shop – I wanted the compact. Ruger, to their credit, realized I wanted a compact after a phone call to them about the situation. They sent me a compact model, not the original full size. That, to me, is the sign of a classy company. I had expressed a desire and they sent me what I wanted as opposed to a gun like the one I’d sent back.

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The Ruger American Pistol – Playing the Angles

Another aspect of my experience with the Ruger American pistol is its basic shape. I noticed that this gun was not rounded with blended lines and angles but was pretty (what I’ll call) angular. If you look at the gun from the side, you will notice hard lines where two surfaces meet, whether frame or slide.

You will also see that the grip contour and grip panel construction was carried over from the LCP II/Ruger Security 9/Ruger 57 lines of pistols. The panels are similar between those guns. As is the complete look as far as the slide beveling and grip overhang. There is something to be said for design consistency throughout different models. You either like it or not – that’s up to you.

Ruger American pistol review close up shot left
Ruger American pistol review close up shot right
Note ambidextrous slide and magazine release.

A Bit Of “American History”

We’re not starting in 1776, but in 2015. December, 2015 to be specific. That was the month and the year that the Ruger American pistol was introduced. Ruger’s American rifle had been around since 2011, so the pistol was a natural outgrowth.

Ruger designed the pistol based on specifications published by the U.S. military. In the end, Ruger did not enter the Modular Handgun System (MHS) competition.

Good design, solid features and excellent manufacturing. This all comes with the American line of pistols, and at a decent price.

The rifles sold well, which helped convince Ruger to bring out a line of pistols.

Ruger released the full-size pistols in 2015 in 9mm and .45ACP. The following year, Ruger brought out compact versions suitable for concealed carry.

And, in March of 2020, a gray-Cerakoted version of the .45 compact was brought out. That same time frame also saw the introduction of the American Pistol Competition in 9mm. 

Current American Pistol Models

A quick look at Ruger’s website reveals three different American pistol families. Duty, Compact and Competition.

Let’s look at each and see what specific model variations they contain:

Duty

  • 10 different models including two law-enforcement-only (LEO) guns.
  • Either 9mm or .45 ACP is available.
  • Thumb safety is optional on some guns. (Guns without the thumb and magazine disconnect safeties are ‘Pro models’).
  • Sights are Novak LoMount Carry Three-Dot, with the LEO versions offering Tritium Night Sights.
  • Barrel length is either 4.2” or 4.5″.
  • Prices range from $579 to the LEO guns’ $639.

Compact

  • 13 models including two LEO guns and one distributor exclusive.
  • Either 9mm or .45 ACP is available.
  • Options range from thumb safety (as above).
  • Sights are Novak LoMount Carry Three-Dot, with the LEO versions offering Tritium Night Sights.
  • Gray Cerakote finish or black.
  • The Duty and Compact guns are very similar except for barrel length and capacity.
  • Prices are $579, with the LEO models going for $639, as above.

Competition

  • One model in 9mm.
  • Five-inch barrel.
  • Fiber optic front and fully adjustable rear sights,
  • $579.

So, now we know what’s available in the American pistol line. Altogether, there are 24 guns to choose from. Most options include choice of thumb safety or not, sights and finish. The LEO guns add night sights.

That’s quite a few to select from. Having owned two of them, I can vouch for their build quality and reliability. 

Ruger American Pistol – Compact and Full Size Magazine Compatibility

One factor to consider when you are looking at buying a compact-sized gun is this:
Will my compact gun work with full-size magazines? (Assuming it has a full size model variant).

Glock talks about this a lot. Their smallest double-stack 9mm can use anything from the included magazine… all the way up to their 33-rounder and beyond.

I know for a fact that, among others, Springfield Armory’s XD(M) series of guns will do that, as well. Check out my Springfield XDM review.

6-, 7- or -10 round magazines, they all work

The Ruger American pistol in .45 ACP you can use the included 6- and 7- round magazines. But you can also use the 10-rounders that come with the full size pistol.

Ruger American pistol review magazines close up
Three 7-round magazines. Ruger includes extended baseplates for all three. Two flush baseplates are also in the box, installed on the extra mags. The numbering on the sides of the magazines is different. One side has witness holes “4” and “6”; turn the mag over and the holes say “5” and “7”. Interesting. They all do hold seven – I checked. That puts this gun’s magazine capacity equal to the original 1911’s, in a smaller package. 

There are collars that come with the longer magazines that allow a comfortable grip. You could have a 6-rounder in the gun for easy concealment. Add a few 10-rounders on your person, in magazine carriers. That’s a lot of ammo.

I know this is nothing new and has been the case with many different pistols over the years. But it’s worth pointing out that you can use higher capacity magazines if you want to.

This makes the Ruger American pistol more useful and desirable for many. Plus, looking at recent pistol design trends… more manufacturers are designing a pistol with a shorter size and a barrel that is the same as a full-size frame.

Ruger American pistol review slide engraving close up
Barrel. Note unique cam design.

Take the Glock 45 for example. It has a full-length (Glock 17-size) grip and compact (Glock 19-size) slide. Heck, even the new Sig Sauer M18 service pistol follows this model. It uses a shorter, 3.9 inch barrel on top of a full-size frame of the larger Sig M17. The trend is current and is here to stay, at least until the design winds change. At any rate, you have versatility if you buy this gun.

Ruger American pistol review slide top close up
Slide, top and underneath. Very clean!
Ruger American pistol review slide underneath close up
Ruger American Pistol Review Front Top
Overall Length:7.25"
Height:4.65"
Slide width:1.05"
Weight:24.6 oz. Empty (no mag); 27.4 oz. with empty 7-round mag in place oz.; 32.9 oz. with 7+1 rounds (weighed on my digital scale)
Capacity:One 7-round extended and two 6-round flush-fit Teflon-coated magazines
Barrel: 3.75" with patented cam to delay slide on recoil
Slide:Stainless Steel, Gray Cerakote® finish One-piece, serialized chassis
Action:Browning-type locked breech; fully cocked striker on slide rack
Trigger:Bladed safety; 6 lbs, 5 oz. average pull weight, measured
Grip Frame:Gray Cerakote® One-Piece, High-Performance, Glass-Filled Nylon
Grips:Ergonomic Wrap-Around Grip Module. Medium and large modules included
Safeties:Loaded chamber viewing port; striker block - Pro Model has no thumb or magazine disconnect safety
Sights:Novak® LoMount Carry 3-Dot
Ambidextrous magazine release and slide stop
Picatinny rail
Suggested Retail:$579.00
“Real-World” price:~$480-$500

First, what’s in the box?

Ruger American Pistol review what's in the box

Shooting the American Pistol

Accuracy Factors

This gun was a joy to shoot. As most of you know, sometimes .45 ACP can be a bit of a handful to shoot, depending on the gun. As I (and many others) have explained, the .45 gives more of a “push” into your hand as opposed to the 9mm or .40 S&W’s harder, more direct “slap” into your palm.

Does that mean that a .45 has no felt recoil?

Of course not – it can be a handful, whether it’s a push, slap or tickle. This pistol’s design put the weight and balance in the palm of your hand.

When the gun was introduced, it used a patented barrel cam that slowed the slide down a bit. This spreads the recoil impulse out over a longer time. Even though that time is measured in tiny parts of a second, it still helps to reduce recoil a bit. At least it makes it feel less.

I shot both the full-size and the compact .45 American pistols. The full-size gun felt a bit muzzle-heavy to me, while the compact tended to balance better. Again, this is my personal experience. I have average-sized hands, so I might feel things differently than those of you with larger or smaller paws.

Here are a few factors that can contribute to good accuracy…

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Sights

One factor that contributes to this gun’s decent accuracy are its sights. These are real, copyright-symbol-carrying Novak LoMount Carry 3-Dot sights, not knock-offs. That makes a difference, of course. Sight acquisition was quick.

The front sight centers in the rear before you could even think about it. I’ve used Novak sights for years on different guns. If you can’t have actual night sights (or even a front fiber optic) on your gun, the Novaks are the best of the three-white-dot sights. And, if you choose, you can mount a laser on the rail underneath. That ought to about cover all the sight bases.

Ruger American pistol review front sight
Front sight dot. You can see the locking compound they used to hold the front sight in place. I use Lock-Tite, as do thousands of other shooters for various “can’t-move” applications. This must be like that.
Ruger American pistol review rear sight
Rear sight. To adjust it, loosen the Torx screw on top with the included wrench and move it left or right. Tighten it down, and you’re done.
Ruger American pistol review sight picture
Very decent sight picture.

Trigger

How about the trigger? Yep, it had one, he jokes. This gun’s trigger was not bad, not great. The pull weight was OK, as was the take-up and creep factors. The trigger was an important factor in the accuracy this gun displayed – nothing unusual.

The three factors for accuracy are sights, trigger and ergonomics. I’d take trigger every time as the major factor for good accuracy.The other two are important, but without a good trigger, you’re pretty much wasting your time.

Anyway, this trigger wasn’t bad at all, at a little over six and a quarter pounds.

Ruger American pistol review trigger close up
Trigger. Note safety blade and built-in overtravel stop at the bottom right. Also, mag release is ambidextrous.

Recoil

You cannot launch a 230-grain bullet at around 900 f.p.s. without it registering in your shooting hand – you’ll know when it goes off, for sure!

Even if the felt recoil impulse is different, it still kicks. I just reviewed a S&W Performance Center Shield in .45. That gun handled recoil differently, but it had a ported barrel. Barrel ports reduce felt recoil to a good extent, at least in my experience.

So, what do you do to mitigate recoil in a non-ported gun like the American pistol? That is an article all on its own. Suffice it to say, this American .45 lets you get a good, high grip on it, and that alone helped control felt recoil.

Another recoil-reducing factor is the gun’s weight. Twenty-seven ounces doesn’t qualify this gun as a heavyweight, but it helps. It is a bit heavier than other compact .45s on the market. The last factor is bore axis. The bore axis is fairly low for a gun of this type – that helps as well.

Grip

The American’s grip is adjustable, to a certain extent. There are two grip modules included with the gun – one medium, one large.

Swapping them out is not too hard. You loosen the Torx screw at the rear of the grip with the included wrench, pull the old module off and stick the new one on. Tighten the screw and you increased (or decreased, depending on the module) the distance from the back of the grip to the trigger.

Another difference between the modules is the curve of the backstrap at the heel of your shooting hand. The large one’s curve is more pronounced. That is partially how that module increases the distance to the trigger.

Replaceable Grip Modules

Replaceable grip modules are nothing new, but sometimes they can be the cure for what ails yore shootin’. Getting the gun to fit right is key for good accuracy. The American comes with the medium module installed on the gun. I didn’t try the large one, because the medium size worked well for me.

Another positive grip factor is the texturing on the front strap – it feels more aggressive than it looks. It really does hold your hand in place when shooting. If you have read my pistol reviews, you know I like an aggressive grip texture – even to the point of stippling my grips or installing stair-tread tape. This gun’s frontstrap texturing is very functional.

Ruger American pistol review grip module
Ruger American pistol review grip module close up
Ruger American pistol review frontstrap texturing

Ruger American Pistol – Targets

Let’s look at a couple of targets I shot. The range was 15 yards, with a stiff wind blowing and 28 degrees. Ammo selection was limited to what I had on hand so I put a couple of handloads into the mix.

One handload is shown below. I didn’t bother to photograph the target I shot with the other one, a cast 230-grain RN bullet, it was not good. Here’s what I did record…

Ruger American pistol review Target Factory 230-grain

This is a 5-shot group of Monarch factory 230-grain RN FMJ. Not bad – at least it’s pretty much to point of aim, and fairly accurate. I could see working with this load to fine-tune it. Now, to find more of that same ammo in the store…not so easy!

Ruger American Pistol review Target 200 grain SWC

Two-shot “group”: my handload: 200-grain #68 H&G semi-wadcutter over 7.1 grains of Long Shot.

Why only two shots?

Why only 2 shots? The gun didn’t like this load. Accurate as it was, it would not feed these. I’m not sure if it was the bullet shape or what. Too bad, with two bullets into the same hole, in the middle of the target – this is some accurate load in this gun. But, if it won’t function, it’s history. So, I cut my loses and moved on. All this proves is that this particular gun didn’t want to feed this particular load on this day. It is not a negative factor by any stretch of the imagination. I remember that my older American pistols were mostly dead-nuts accurate and reliable.

As you can see, the gun is more than accurate enough for its intended purpose which is concealed carry. The way the gun is built helps keep it on target, another important factor in accuracy. It allows a full-hand, three-finger grip which allows you to get the sights back on target quickly. That’s one thing about this compact – it isn’t too compact. You can still get a decent grip on it while taking advantage of its smaller, more-concealable size.

Cleaning the Ruger American Pistol

After we shoot the gun, we take it apart to clean it, or at least I do. How does that work? Here you go…

  • Make sure the gun is empty and remove the magazine.
  • Lock the slide back.
  • Rotate takedown lever downwards 90 degrees. (No takedown pins to misplace – yay!)
  • Pull the slide back to disengage the slide stop.
  • Allow the slide to go forward, off the frame. A trigger pull is not needed.
  • Separate the barrel and recoil spring from the slide.
Ruger American .pistol review Field Stripped
Ruger American Pistol Review Recoil Spring
Double-wound recoil spring.
Ruger American Pistol Review Field Barrel

To re-assemble:

  • Place the barrel and recoil spring in the slide. (Make sure you have the front end of the recoil spring guide rod totally inserted and straight in its hole in the slide. Otherwise it will not go in-it won’t pop in on its own. Trust me on this).
  • Slide the slide onto the frame guide rails and lock to rear.
  • Rotate the takedown lever back up 90 degrees.
  • Allow the slide to come forward. Check for function.

Ruger American Pistol – In Conclusion

The RugerAmerican pistol has gone from being the new kid on the block in 2015 to being one of the better-sellers in Ruger’s pistol lineup.

Chambered for the .45 ACP, you should not feel under-gunned with this pistol. Add in the advantages gained by its being a gun submitted for military trial with attendant design pluses and you have a definite winner. 

If you’ve had any experience at all with the .45 ACP, this gun should be a natural for you. If you are a 9mm person, then there’s one for you, as well. The Ruger American is a great carry gun. Its size, weight, shootability and grip modularity make this so. Another advantage is that, if you don’t want a compact gun, there’s a full-size model that you can look at. Or you can just use the full-sized mags in this gun.

If you are hunting for a reliable, accurate, well-built carry gun that could double as a duty gun by using magazines designed for the full-size version… give the Ruger American pistol a look.

If you’ve had experience with one, please write below. As always, keep ‘em in the black and stay safe!

If you enjoyed our Ruger American pistol review, be sure to check out some of our other compacts.

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10 comments
    1. Jose, you have good taste in guns. Ruger’s .45s are hard to beat, especially the 1911, Shield and American. Thanks for writing!

  1. My American .45 works great with RN bullets has extraction problems when I use the H&G 68 – the rim of the fired cartridge hits the bullet shoulder and fails to extract about half the time. Ruger told me that their guns are not designed to use SWCs. I wish I had known that before I bought it. I have a friend who has an SR45 and it won’t even chamber an SWC.

    1. Chuck, interesting. I had no problems with my Americans, but I think I was using Lee’s tumble-lube version of the 200-gr SWC with no sharp shoulder. I do know that Springfield’s XDs in .45 have a central feed rail with a bit of a “ski jump” on the end of it that pushed the nose of the next cartridge down, insuring good feeding. Read my review elsewhere on this site for particulars. At any rate, the American is a stout, decent gun. Does yours feed HP ammo? Thanks for writing!

  2. Thanks for your review, Mike. I own two Ruger Americans; one is the duty sized .45ACP with the 4.5” barrel, and the other is the 9mm compact. Both are rugged and rated for continuous +P ammo use. Field stripping is very simple. Both shoot well. I prefer the 9mm compact over the full size .45ACP version. The latter has a 10 round capacity single stack magazine. The 9mm has an extended magazine that holds 17 rounds.

    I did have a problem with the .45ACP model. The slide was not locking back with the last shot, and there were instances of failure to feed. I called Ruger. The tech indicated it was probably due to compressed magazine springs (I keep my mags loaded). I disassembled the magazines and stretched the springs. Sure enough, that’s what it turned out to be. Ruger sent me two news magazines, and asked me to return the original ones. I was also advised not keep the magazines loaded for long periods of time as it compresses the springs and causes failure to feed issues as well as failure to lock the slide open at last shot. Keep this in mind if you purchase a Ruger American model.

    1. John, interesting. I’ve heard both ways about keeping magazines loaded – you’ve brought some good info to light. Glad that new mags solved your problem. Thanks for writing!

    1. Bert, I appreciate your compliment, but most times I don’t feel like I’m a good shooter – anybody can have a good day – HA! Some days are better than others. With good, visible sights, I tend to do better. Thanks for writing again!

  3. Hi Mike, my buddy has one of these little beauties. I found it to be very accurate (not sure what he was feeding it at the time). Looking down the sights reminds me of my Glock model 23. Hey, at my age, I can’t remember where I just came from, so I need to ask – in your 10mm comparison, did you or have you put your hands on a Kimber Rapide Black Ice? Spendy jewel but I may just splurge.
    Appreciate your complete and honest articles! Cheers!

    1. Sean, no, I’ve never shot that Kimber. It IS a really nice-looking gun, to be sure, and I’ll bet it shoots as it looks – good. If you end up with one, let us know how it shoots, OK? Thanks for your comment!

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