Review: Ruger American Duty Pistol (and Its Siblings)

Ruger American 9mm pistol, quartering away

Lately, so much attention has been focused on pistols designed almost exclusively for concealed carry. Their primary feature being that they are small. I have always been in life situations that would allow me to carry what we now term as a “full-size” pistol. The marketing folks label these “duty” pistols, indicating that they are ideal for uniformed police to carry.

What’s interesting about the Ruger American is the quality is there, but cops don’t carry it. One of the best explanations I saw about this is that Glock, SIG, and Smith and Wesson seriously discount their prices to make sales to police agencies. That’s OK, because Ruger is happy selling all the guns it can make to customers like you and me. Plus, it does not have to discount its prices to make sales.

Ruger American 9mm pistol, left profile
The Ruger American features a one-piece, glass-filled nylon frame with an ergonomic wraparound grip module. The slide is stainless steel with a black Nitride finish.

There are three variations of the Ruger American: The Compact and Competition models, and the one I have, the Duty model. My gun has a thumb safety and weighs 30 ounces. It is 7.5 inches long with a 4.2-inch barrel. The remaining stats show it is 5.5 inches high and 1.05 inches wide.

The frame is one-piece, glass-filled nylon with an ergonomic wraparound grip module, all black. The slide is stainless steel with a black Nitride finish. An inspection port allows for visual confirmation of a loaded or empty chamber. The capacity is 17 rounds in the magazine plus one in the pipe. The barrel has a right-hand 1:10 twist rate. The gun shipped with two, nickel-Teflon plated steel magazines plus small, medium, and large grip modules.

TruGlo TFK Sights

The sights that came on my gun were Novak Lo-Mount Carry 3-Dot. I like Tritium and tend to collect sample sights from various manufacturers. I changed my sights to a set of TruGlo TFX Tritium and Fiber-Optic Xtreme Handgun Sights. Those TruGlo sights utilize quality Swiss tritium for maximum brightness and unmatched visibility in all shooting conditions. They glow in the dark with no batteries or light sources needed.

The front sight features a highly visible, white, Focus-Lock ring surrounding the front fiber to make it even more visible. It encourages the eye to rapidly focus on the front sight for a fast and accurate sight picture. The fiber-optic in the front and rear sights is sealed, so it cannot be seen by an opponent.

Ruger American 9mm handgun right profile
The Ruger American is totally ambidextrous. The slide lock, manual safety lever, and mag release are identical on both sides of the gun. The Pro model does not feature a manual safety.

The sights have a protective coating for maximum protection and feature a snag-resistant design that fits standard holsters. If you don’t change the sights, the ones that come on the gun are big and highly visible.

Interchangeable Grips

The American has a wraparound grip system with three grip modules for adjustment of palm swell and trigger reach to fit a wide range of hand sizes. I found I liked the middle-sized grip the best, but it wasn’t an easy choice because the gun felt good in my hands with any of the three. The grip modules are easy to replace. Just follow the directions in the instruction manual. Once in place, the chosen grip module locks in solidly.

Ruger American Ergonomics

Slide operation surprised me. Mainly, I was surprised at how easy it is to operate. It is not an EZ-Rack system, but the striker system is pre-tensioned with a powerful striker spring. Somehow, that equates to a slide that my arthritic hands can rack with no problem.

Ruger American 9mm handgun with optional grip modules
The American has a wraparound grip system with three grip modules to adjust the palm swell and trigger reach. This allows the American to fit a wide range of hand sizes.

Takedown is also quite easy. You simply lock the slide back, remove the magazine and check the chamber to make sure the gun is empty. Then, rotate the takedown lever on the left side of the gun down 90 degrees. Release the slide lock. The slide will push off the front of the gun without the need to pull the trigger and no resistance.

The recoil spring is captured on the guide rod. Push it forward slightly and lift it up and set it aside. Next, remove the barrel and you have the gun apart for cleaning. It easily reassembles after cleaning. Just do everything in reverse order.

One thing I really like about the Ruger American — in addition to the user-friendly slide operation — is the fact it is totally ambidextrous. The slide lock, manual safety lever, and mag release are identical on both sides of the gun. The trigger has a blade safety, flat surface, and a slightly curved geometry. It travels approximately 3/8-inch before meeting resistance — the wall — and consistently breaks cleanly at just over 6 pounds.

Field Stripped Ruger American 9mm gun
Takedown for cleaning is easy with no need to press the trigger.

Multiple design features make the gun a pleasure to shoot. Ruger’s operating system, with its pre-tensioned striker and a barrel cam that distributes recoil over a longer period of time, reduces felt recoil. The combination of the trigger and the grip ergonomics also contribute to the reduced felt recoil.

I find myself recommending the Ruger American to friends for several reasons. One is the heft. Pick up a loaded Ruger American. It feels perfectly balanced and does nothing to interfere with a natural draw and point of aim. Yes, it weighs 30 ounces. However, to me at least, it feels much lighter.

I like that it has front strap checkering that consists of small, raised diamonds. The diamonds enhance the grip without tearing up your fingers.

I mentioned the trigger and that’s a big deal when it comes to picking a handgun. Nobody wants a trigger that feels like it’s dragging or has a lot of pressure to overcome. What we really want is a trigger we hardly notice, and the American has that in my opinion.

I like the easy takedown that encourages people to clean their gun. It’s a durable gun, and it’s built and tested to function with +P ammunition. Since I don’t typically shoot +P, I figure my American is coasting with the rounds I do shoot in it. I’ve tried it with +P, ball ammo, hollow points, and a couple of different brands of fluted ammo. I’ve tried it with some of that new lightweight ammo that goes fast without producing excessive recoil.

I feel it’s only fair in this review to mention a couple of other Rugers that to me, seem like family to the Ruger American. They are the Security 9 and the Max 9. Construction on these smaller guns is similar, and if you line them all up, they look like little brother or sister to the American. Wilburn Roberts did a review on the Security 9 on The Shooter’s Log awhile back. I did a comparison article featuring the Max 9 along with a Glock 43X.

Left to right: Ruger Security 9, Ruger Max, and Ruger American
The Ruger Security 9 and Max 9 are like little brothers to the Ruger American. There may be room in your arsenal for all three.

Range Results

Although I shot my Ruger American on previous occasions, I took it to the range as a refresher for this review. I brought my Max 9 and Security 9C along as well. What a fun afternoon. None of the three beat up my arthritic hands and shoulders. They all made holes, more or less where I pointed them.

They all feature great sights and triggers and were easy to hold on target. I took eight brands of ammo to shoot through the Ruger American representing a good mix of bullet types. There were no issues with any of the three guns.

I do most of my shooting these days at 7–10 yards and all of it freehand. I figure, if I can hold a handgun on a 6-inch target at those ranges — and get all my rounds to impact within that circle — then putting it on a benchrest and trying it at 15 or 25 yards would not disappoint. I’ve been doing this for a number of years. I find the bench rest test more challenging to my eyes than they are to the pistol.

Ruger American pistol with a box of Fiocchi Defense Dynamics ammunition on a paper target shot at 10 yards
This is a freehand target shot at 10 yards. The Ruger American does not disappoint when it comes to accuracy.

You would be well-defended carrying any one of these three Ruger pistols. At the end of the range session, I loaded the Max 9 with JHP ammo and slipped it into my belt holster for the ride home. It could just as well have been the American since I was wearing a Phalanx Defense Systems Stealth Operator OWB holster which is darn near universal.

If you’re looking for just one gun to double as an EDC gun and home defense pistol, you would do well to include the Ruger American in your search. As Ruger would say, “Anything else would be un-American.” If you’re a collector, you should definitely secure one. If a small gun is what you need to carry, look at the Security 9C or the Max 9. You can’t go wrong with any of these Made in America Rugers.

What is your favorite full-size frame pistol? How does the Ruger American Duty compare? Share your answers in the comment section.

  • 9mm magazines for the Ruger American gun
  • Ruger American pistol with a box of Fiocchi Defense Dynamics ammunition on a paper target shot at 10 yards
  • Left to right: Ruger Security 9, Ruger Max, and Ruger American
  • Field Stripped Ruger American 9mm gun
  • Ruger American 9mm handgun with optional grip modules
  • Ruger American 9mm pistol, quartering away
  • Ruger American 9mm handgun right profile
  • Ruger American 9mm pistol, left profile

About the Author:

David Freeman

David is an NRA Instructor in pistol, rifle and shotgun, a Chief Range Safety Officer and is certified by the State of Texas to teach the Texas License to Carry Course and the Hunter Education Course. He has also owned and operated a gun store. David's passion is to pass along knowledge and information to help shooters of all ages and experience levels enjoy shooting sports and have the confidence to protect their homes and persons. He flew medevac helicopters in Vietnam and worked for many years as a corporate pilot before becoming actively involved in the firearm industry.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (11)

  1. I have both a Security 9 and an American Duty 9mm.
    I won both, which is good because I HAD an SR9 and it was extremely unreliable and would jam constantly. Sent it back to be fixed, and it started again about 50-100 rds in. So I sold it.
    I don’t like the look of the security9, but I must say, it’s a sweet shooter.
    I just won the Duty and haven’t had a chance to shoot it. Looks sturdy and feels real nice. Looking forward to it.

  2. I have a Compact 9mm version. Did the TruGlo TFX sights (HIGHLY recommended). It’s a really good pistol. Doesn’t show well though. Pistol seems a little heavy, the trigger seems a little stiff, etc. It’s when you shoot it is when it shines. The weight and trigger make perfect sense. The weight mitigates recoil and the trigger, though stiff, is crisp and predictable. Almost no squish. The grips, though a little goofy looking, fit your hand perfect ( I prefer the large, though having average size hands). But where it REALLY shines is its dead reliable. It’ll shoot anything you put in it and cycle correctly. ANY 9mm.. Cheap crap to the hottest specialty home defense ammo.I’m in maybe 2k rounds and had 1 misfeed from a brand new mag when brand new. This happens. Perfect home defense piece. Dead reliable and more accurate than the shooter.

  3. I own the security 9 & the American pro. I love both as it was stated in the article these guns eat whatever ammo you throw @ them. I get slightly tighter grouping with the bigger American Pro.
    I burned 400 rounds of steel cased 9mm ammo and other than needing cleaned no issues. Obviously I clean them easily done without tools.

  4. I bought my Ruger American a while back. balance is perfect for my small hand and the re-coil is much less then my other .45ACP carry, yes, my Ruger American is .45ACP.

  5. Good Review. May have to get The American since I have the Security9 (home defense) and MAX9 (EDC). Both are great guns, Security 9 was my first pistol. Have never had an issue with either one and are as accurate as I am.

  6. I carry a Ruger American compact. Love it and trust it with my life. Never any issues. Wish it was red dot optics ready but I can do just fine with factory sights.

  7. I bought one when they first came out, I put a Burris Fast fire on it and found that with the largest backstrap it come right up to proper aiming point naturally. I’m left handed and have been carrying for 42 years now, I still use the normal mag release button because I’m so used to it but it is a nice touch to be totally ambidextrous. This gun shoots better than any other pistol that I own. The only one that comes close is a Security Six 357. I have 12 Ruger’s and have never had an issue with any of them.

  8. I absolutely love the gun, and only complaint has to do with the magazine release button. If it’s fully loaded, I have to force the mag farther up into the pistol, in order to release the mag easily. Not sure how to get that fixed. When empty, the mag functions ALMOST as normal. Still some resistance though.

  9. David, I can assure you that Ruger reviews or any other reviews in publications such as The Shooter’s Log and major fun magazines are not “paid for” by the manufacturer. It may seem that way sometimes because those of us who write about guns really like guns and we are often able to ask our editors for assignments on guns we believe will be top notch. Whenever I’ve run across a gun that wasn’t up to par I simply refused to review it. I’ve never had an editor insist that I write good things about a bad gun and I doubt any of my contemporaries have either. Ruger engages the press early in the development cycle of new guns, gets their feedback and responds to it in order to present guns that shooters like.

  10. Conceal/Duty carry terms are so marketing and marketing is less trustworthy than politicians. I have always carried a 4.25″ 1911 and am looking to change to a 5″ double stack 9mm 1911 with a magwell. I will carry it year round in Texas. You can conceal big guns.

  11. Rugers were my first two guns. In fact, I still have them 30 years later. However, River reviews always seem to feel “paid for”. They are always positive yet the guns in general are always lackluster.
    I believe Ruger is a well run company that just happens to be in the firearms business. They lack the inspiration and imagination to make something truly great. They are like a commuter car. It’ll get the job done but that is about it.

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