[Review] Ruger American Pistol – One Nice .45

The .45 ACP has probably had at least as many guns chambered for it than any other caliber. Solidifying its position on the American semi-auto cartridge scene as it did in 1911, the old warhorse seems to be gaining in popularity as the years go by. For certain, the pistol that was designed to shoot it – the 1911 – is stronger now than ever before. Some gun-related things you just can’t keep down, and the .45 ACP seems to be towards the top of that list.

Whether you agree with me on this topic or not, there is no denying that the old .45 is still very popular. There have been too many guns chambered for it to count, it seems. I know that I have owned many different .45s. (One proof of its popularity is that my 5-and-a-half-inch-barreled Ruger .45 Colt Blackhawk single-action deer stomper came with an extra cylinder in .45 ACP. That is really handy). 

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, on the other hand, 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. 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.

Play The Angles

Another aspect of my experience with the American pistol concerns its basic shape. I noticed, right up front, 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 overall look in terms of slide beveling, grip overhang, etc. There is something to be said for design consistency throughout different models. You either like it or not – that’s up to you.

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. Built for the U.S. Military’s Joint Combat Pistol Specification and Modular Handgun System (MHS) programs, the American line of pistols feature good design, solid features and top-notch manufacturing processes at a decent price. The rifles sold well, which probably helped convince Ruger to bring out a line of pistols.

After the full-size pistols were introduced in 2015 in calibers 9mm and .45ACP, Ruger brought out compact versions the following year. 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 are contained therein:

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 called 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” and 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), Novak LoMount Carry Three-Dot or Tritium Night Sights (LEO) and gray Cerakote finish or black. Prices are $579, with the LEO models going for $639, as above. The Duty and Compact guns are very similar except for barrel length and capacity.

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, with the LEO guns adding night sights. That’s quite a few to select from. Having owned two of them, I can vouch for their build quality and reliability. 

Magazine Use – Compact To Full-Size

One factor to consider when you are looking at buying a compact-sized gun is this: will this gun use magazines designed for its corresponding full-size gun (assuming it has one)? Glock makes much hay from this, touting the ability for their smallest double-stack 9mm to use everything from the included magazine 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…you can read my review of that gun here. In the .45 ACP version of the American pistol, 6- and 7-round magazines come with the gun but you can use the 10-rounders that normally are used in the full-sized gun. There are collars that come with the longer magazines that allow a comfortable grip. With this system, you could have a 6-rounder in the gun for easy concealment and a few 10-rounders on your person, in magazine carriers. 

I know this is nothing new and has been the case with many different pistols over the years, but I wanted to point out that the Ruger American can take advantage of the higher-capacity magazine situation if you so desire. This ramps up its usefulness and desirability factors for many people. And, if we look at trends in recent pistol design, the direction has been to design a pistol that uses a shorter slide and barrel that is married to a full-size frame. Witness the Glock 45, with its full-length (Glock 17-size) grip and compact (Glock 19-size) slide. This is just one example. Heck, even the new Sig M18 service pistol uses a shorter, 3.9-inch barrel sitting on top of the same full-sized 17- or 21-round-magazine frame that its 4.7-inch-barreled larger sibling (the M17) uses. So, the trend is current and is here to stay, at least until the design winds change. At any rate, you are guaranteed versatility if you buy this gun.

Let’s take a look at some specifications and features, then I’ll show some photos I took.

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

Ruger American Pistol .45 box

First, what’s in the box? Magazines, Torx wrench for grip modules and sight, grip module, extra base plates, owner’s manual, “rubber band” from the grip and the ever-popular bicycle lock.

Ruger American .45 Pistol Left

Ruger American .45 Pistol Right

Note ambidextrous slide and magazine release.

Ruger American .45 Pistol Trigger

Trigger. Note safety blade and built-in overtravel stop at the bottom right. Also, mag release is ambidextrous.

Ruger American .45 Pistol 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 similar to that.

Ruger American .45 Pistol 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 .45 Pistol Sight Picture

Very decent sight picture.

Ruger American .45 Pistol Slide Top

Ruger American .45 Pistol Slide Underneath

Slide, top and underneath. Very clean!

Ruger American .45 Pistol Field Barrel

Barrel. Note unique cam design.

Ruger American .45 Pistol Recoil Spring

Double-wound recoil spring.

Ruger American .45 Pistol Frame Top

Ruger American .45 Pistol Slide Top

Ruger American .45 Pistol Slide Engraving

Ruger American .45 Pistol Magazines

Three 7-round magazines. Extended baseplates are included for all three, while two flush baseplates are 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. 

Shooting This American Pistol– First, 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 – as I just said, 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 utilized a patented barrel cam that slowed the slide down a bit, spreading 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 – or to at least make it feel less. Having shot both the full-size and the compact .45 American pistols, I can say that the full-size gun felt just a bit muzzle-heavy to me, while the compact tended to just balance better. Again, this is my personal experience. I have just 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…

Sights

One factor that contributes to this gun’s decent ability to put bullets where you are looking 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, with the front sight being centered in the rear before you could even think about it. I’ve used Novak sights for years on different guns. I have come to feel that 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.

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, which is certainly nothing unusual. Out of the triangle of factors that contribute to accuracy – sights/trigger/ergonomics – I’d take trigger every time as the major contributing factor to good accuracy. The other two are important, but without a good trigger, you’re pretty much wasting your time trying to coax good groups out of a gun. Anyway, this trigger wasn’t bad at all, at a little over six and a quarter pounds.

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 typically 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? 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 really 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 – just 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, voila… you just increased (or decreased, depending on the module) the distance from the back of the grip to the trigger. Another difference between the modules has to do with 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 are nothing new, but sometimes they can be the cure for what ails yore shootin’ … getting the gun to fit right is one of the three good accuracy triangle legs I mentioned above. It 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 just about any of my pistol reviews, you know that 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 .45 Pistol Grip Module 2

Ruger American .45 Pistol Grip Module

Ruger American .45 Pistol Grip Frontstrap Texturing

Now – The 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, while 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 .45 Pistol 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!

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 2 shots? The gun just 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 American

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

  1. Make sure the gun is empty and remove the magazine.
  2. Lock the slide back.
  3. Rotate takedown lever downwards 90 degrees. (No takedown pins to misplace – yay!)
  4. Pull the slide back to disengage the slide stop.
  5. Allow the slide to go forward, off the frame. A trigger pull is not needed.
  6. Separate the barrel and recoil spring from the slide.

To re-assemble:

  1. 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 or it will not go in-it won’t pop in on its own. Trust me on this).
  2. Slide the slide onto the frame guide rails and lock to rear.
  3. Rotate the takedown lever back up 90 degrees. 
  4. Allow the slide to come forward. Check for function.

Conclusion

The American 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 American is a great carry gun in terms of size, weight, shootability and grip modularity. 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 American a look. If you’ve had experience with one, please write below. As always, keep ‘em in the black and stay safe!

 

Written by Mike

Mike has been a shooter, bullet caster and reloader for over 40 years. Never one to be satisfied with the status quo, he is often found at his reloading bench concocting yet another load. With a target range in his backyard and after 40 years of shooting, his knowledge of firearms and reloading is fairly extensive. He is married, with four sons and daughters-law and 9-and-counting grandkids.

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