The new Ruger MAX-9 pistol - rugged, reliable and affordable

New Ruger Max-9 pistol for Concealed Carry MSRP $499 [Hands on review]

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It’s always interesting to watch new guns or similar products come out. As a reviewer and purveyor of firearms-related industry news, I am still amazed at times when I read of or am told about a new gun being launched. I have been in on my share of NDAs – non-disclosure agreements – from manufacturers who had a definite release date in mind concerning their new gun which was well later than when I received the gun for testing. So, when Ruger announced the Max-9, I was not totally surprised. After I received the news I was pleased to hear that Ruger was jumping on this particular bandwagon. The current trend among pistol manufacturers is to make a subcompact 9mm that before might have held 7 – 8 rounds but now sports (in a double-stack magazine) 10 – 13 rounds or more. This is not to mention the optics-ready aspect of these guns – that figures in, as well. The list of such guns is getting longer – consider the Sig Sauer (P365, the gun that arguably started the trend), Glock (43X M.O.S.), Springfield Armory (Hellcat), Taurus (G3C – see my full review) and H&K (VP9SK). All of these “tiny 9s” really got the ball rolling. Some of them can hold up to 17 rounds with an extended magazine but otherwise just about fit in a pocket. It was with great expectations that I opened the Ruger box to view their newest 9mm. And… I was not disappointed.

The Company 

Ruger has been in the forefront of American gun manufacturers for several decades. The company, started in 1949 by Alexander Sturm and Bill Ruger, has grown to be the largest American firearms manufacturer overall. I’ve had a fairly long history with Ruger guns – I wrote about it here. And (in order to not go off on another tangent) for a general history of the company, go here.

The LC9 Legacy

Now that we know all about the company and my experiences with their products, let’s examine the Max-9 a bit. 

Ruger has a history of making small, concealable 9mm pistols – the most recent example of those would be the LC9S, or its lesser-expensive sibling, the EC9S. These guns are striker-fired, polymer framed single-stack 9mms and are very good sellers for the company. I owned an LC9S and shot it a lot. I have a friend who owns an LC9S and then bought an EC9Ss for his wife. They’re happy campers (literally – they go camping a lot and are usually armed) with the guns. He carries his in the small of his back where it’s out of the way. 

Close up of the new Ruger Max-9 pistol placed left

Back to the Max-9… It looks like the Max-9 was born as an offshoot of the LC9, to a point. Matter of fact, the gun’s very name is a play on the LC9 handle… Max-9 means, I guess, that they’ve taken capacity to the max over what the LC9 holds, in 9mm. You still have the family connection in the name – the 9. I won’t say that a Ruger engineer just held up an LC9 and said ‘let’s double-stack it’, or anything like that – the guns don’t really look alike, but I can see similarities. They started with a clean slate when they started the Max-9’s design, but Ruger has a way of making families of pistols at least resemble each other a bit, regardless of caliber. Witness the LCP II. It resembles, in the grip texturing and patterning, the Security 9 and the newer 57. Ironically, the grip of the LC9/EC9 is different. Didn’t I just say that the Max-9 looks like it could have maybe come from the LC9? The grips are totally different, but other aspects show at least a family resemblance.

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What’s Different?

We’ve talked about how the guns might vaguely resemble each other, but how do they differ? First, the sights. The LC9S sights are dovetailed into the slide and are replaceable but the EC9’s sights are milled into the slide. The Max-9 sights are a vast improvement over those on the LC9/EC9. The rear sight is a tall U-notch, replaceable, with a milled slot around the notch that could be filled with white paint if desired. The front sight is a fiber optic tritium insert that should work no matter what the lighting conditions are. I see it as the best of both worlds – fiber optic for a bright daytime sight picture with the tritium insert for darker conditions. Ruger has done a major upgrade where sights are concerned, and it is appreciated.

Check out the sights on the new Ruger MAX-9 pistol

Another difference between the two are their grips. The older LC9 uses a sweeping one-panel texture area, while the Max-9 sticks with the program I mentioned above – its grip is similar to that on the Security 9, LCP II and the 57. It uses a three-side-panel textured area with the front and rear attended to as well. The lower side texture extends onto the longer magazines provided with the guns and that has not changed with the Max-9. The 12-round magazine has texturing on its finger extension that matches the texturing above it.

The final two differences I’ll mention concern the trigger and the optics-ready aspect. The trigger is much improved – I was impressed with it, with its minimum take-up and creep. I’ll list the pull weight in the specs. The “big deal” about the Max-9, though, is that it is optics-ready. Remove the cover plate and install one of the new, small red dot sights. Some compatible red dot sights for the Max-9 include the Shield Sight RMSc, Hex Wasp, SIG Sauer Romeo Zero and the Crimson Trace CTS-1550. The Crimson Trace option is the most affordable of the quartet, at around $160 depending on where you buy it. But, even if you never mount an optic on the gun, you won’t lose much at all… the built-in sights are durable and are easy to see in a hurry.

Overall length:6"
Weight:18.4 oz.
Height: 4.52"
Slide material: Through-hardened alloy steel
Slide finish:Black oxide
Slide width:0.95"
Safety option:Standard model - with external manual safety lever
Grip frame:High-performance, glass-filled nylon
Trigger pull:5 lbs, 2 oz.
Barrel material:Alloy steel
Barrel finish:Black Oxide
Barrel length:3.2"
Front sight:Tritium fiber optic
Rear sight:Drift adjustable
Magazines:One 12-round and one 10-round
Feature:Optic ready, reversible magazine release

Shots of the Ruger Max-9 Pistol

Gun profiles. This gun is not much bigger than the Ruger LC9S – it’s only .005” thicker –  yet it holds more cartridges, 10 or 12 vs. 7 or 8.

Close up shot of the new Ruger Max-9 pistol magazines

Two magazines, one 10- and one 12-round. Note the finger extension base plate that you can add.

A close up of the recoil spring of the new Ruger MAX-9 pistol

Flat-wire recoil spring, dual, and its rod. The takedown pin is above it.

Check out the sights on the new Ruger MAX-9 pistol

Sights. The rear is drift-adjustable and the front is fiber optic/tritium.

Underneath the slide of the new Ruger MAX-9 handgun

The slide, underneath. I always check for stray machining marks, but with Rugers I’m generally unsuccessful in finding any.

A close up shot of the barrel of the new Ruger Max-9 pistol

The barrel. The feed ramp is highly polished – no failures to load here.

A close up of the engraving on the new Ruger 9-Max pistol

Engraving close-up, with controls. Ruger sensibly did not include a magazine disconnect safety. There is a thumb safety, but the gun is available without one if desired.

Close up of the new Ruger Max-9 field stripped showing all its internal components

The frame of the new Ruger Max-9 pistol
The frame. Note the long slide rail, one-piece, and the trigger.

If you want to get your hands on a Ruger Max-9 they are currently in stock at – it’s a little pricier than the MSRP but that’s unfortunately the nature of our supply constrained market. Still, nice to see you can grab one should you want to.

Shooting The Max-9

As I said above, I owned an LC9S. This is in addition to several other Ruger pistols that I’ve owned over the years – I’ve had a pretty extensive experience shooting Ruger semi-autos. From the Mark I .22 to the new 57, I’ve shot a lot of their guns. The Max-9 was one of the more pleasant-shooting Rugers I’ve run across – not that others were terrible to shoot, I don’t mean that. It’s just that when you pick up a gun chambered in 9mm that weighs 18 ounces, you might feel a little trepidation about pulling the trigger and the ensuing recoil, especially with heavy defense loads. With this gun, you should save your trepidation for when you go to the store and have to find a parking spot close by. It kicked, of course, but the way the gun and its grip are designed helped keep that kick to a minimum. I was able to get off double taps very quickly, and the front sight stayed pretty much on target as I shot.

A target shot with the new Ruger MAX-9 using Fiocchi's Training Dynamics 115-grain FMJ

A target shot with the new Ruger MAX-9 handgun using Lee 124-grain RN bullet atop 4.8 grains of Long Shot powder

Due to the ongoing ammo shortage, I only have a couple of targets to show you. I shot Fiocchi’s Training Dynamics 115-grain FMJ (top target), and my favorite 9mm handload (bottom target). That load consists of a Lee 124-grain RN bullet atop 4.8 grains of Long Shot powder. It has been accurate in a wide variety of guns. I remember that the handload was very accurate in my LC9S, and the Max-9 looks to be no exception. A bit more experimentation would be required, but would pay dividends in the end. This is a good practice load – it pushes that 124-grain cast powder-coated bullet at around 1070 fps out of a barrel around 3 inches – I’ve tried it in many guns. The Fiocchi has been very accurate and reliable in many 9s that I’ve shot it out of – the load duplicates ballistics of some of Fiocchi’s defense ammo and is a good bargain. (if you like these targets, you can download them and many others from this site – I made them up years ago and they do what I need them to. They might work for you, too, and the price is right!).

Summing Up

To say it in a nutshell – you need to look at one of these. If you are in the market for a subcompact 9mm with at least one night sight plus the option of adding a red dot sight, give the Max-9 a hard look. It just seems to me that this gun looks different than previous Ruger semi-autos. I can’t put my finger on it, but something about the markings molded into the polymer frame looks different, more precise or something – as I said, it’s hard to explain. Another thing is the feel of the gun. I am used to Rugers feeling a certain way in my hand when I pick them up – again, it’s a personal thing and hard to put into words. But this gun just feels different. The guns’ under-an-inch width coupled with the ability to get most all your fingers around the grip with the extended magazine in place gives it a unique feel – a feeling that you are in control of this 18-ounce beastie. Add in some of its other pluses and the grip’s medium texturing – not smooth, not overly aggressive – and you have a gun that points naturally, feels good in the hand and is accurate. I am a fan. 

To those of you out there who are looking for a new concealed carry gun, give this one a look. With its ability to add an optic plus a 12-round capacity, it will be hard to beat once it really hits the streets and is in stock, ready to go. We will most likely see lower-than-MSRPs on the gun after it gets established – it’s just not there yet. Another feature that is hard not to like are the gun’s sights. The bright front combined with the deep U-notch rear make for accurate shooting. But, the good part is that if you don’t like these sights, you can mount a red dot.

In terms of holsters, I haven’t seen too many yet for this gun but that will change. One that I quite liked the look of is the Ruger Max-9 Clock Tuck IWB Holster from AlienGear Holster. I would imagine that, by the time you read this, there will be many holsters out there. I would think that this pistol would be ideal for concealed carry, given its size, weight, capacity and Ruger’s reputation. If you have a question or comment, please feel free to leave it below. As always, keep ‘em in the black and stay safe!

If you’re a first-time firearms buyer and curious about the Ruger Max-9 I also recommend you check out my review of the Taurus G3c as well as finding out more about concealed carry insurance (a must have for all carriers).

  1. Good review and write up Mike.
    Ruger has come a long way from their first P series pistols (Thank goodness). While reliable, accuracy was mediocre and bulk was excessive IMO.
    Having handled and fired several of their newer offerings, I’ve come away impressed with LC9 & EC9, and I’m glad to see higher capacity a goal for their latest offering.
    SIG sat on their laurels too long with the P365, and now they’re playing catch up, as other manufacturers are offering more options (like compactability with micro red dots) initially.
    Market Competition is a good thing most of the time. So I applaud Ruger’s foresight, for adding features in the initial design and model that are a premium upgrade on many of the other pistols on the market. I look forward for the opportunity to handle and fire the Max-9.

  2. Tried one at Academy the other day and they had it at $460, under MSRP. Sportsman’s Warehouse had them at $500. If I did not have a Laser Max Laser and Tritium sights front and rear (installed myself) on my LC9S it would have been an instant purchase. The combo fiberoptic/tritium front sight is a home run. Who knows, still might. Like the Ruger ad says, “Your Next Gun’. Sure would be a great choice.

    1. Just Me, sounds like you have your LC9S outfitted well. Maybe later you can add a Max-9…it’s a nice gun. Thanks for writing!

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