February 16, 2021
By J. Scott Rupp
Time flies. It’s hard to believe the Ruger American is five years old, and you can be forgiven if you’ve kinda forgotten about this model as Ruger and other companies have been concentrating on smaller and smaller, lighter and lighter guns designed primarily for concealed carry. But there’s still room in this world for guns that are bigger than the palm of your hand and pack a serious punch.
While it’s called a Compact thanks to its 3.75-inch barrel, the Ruger American Compact .45 ACP in Cerakote Gray will not be mistaken for, say, a SIG P365 or a Springfield Hellcat. The gun is close to eight inches long overall, and weight is 29 ounces. And that’s totally fine, as this gun is definitely suitable for carry, as well as an excellent choice for home defense—a solid all-around gun for those who prefer the power of the .45.
Plus, it’s not black. Like many of you, I own a number of semiautos that aren’t 1911s, and nearly every one of them is black on black. Nothing wrong with that, but it gets boring. The new Cerakote Gray finish on the American Compact looks great while still maintaining the pistol’s all-business appearance and providing top-notch corrosion resistance.
Other than this finish, the design remains the same. The American was intended as a duty gun from the get-go, a category missing from the company’s lineup at the time. Initially, it was intended the gun was to take part in the military’s Modular Handgun System trials, which SIG eventually won with its P320/M17, but in the end Ruger decided not to pursue it.
But the effort did produce the duty pistol Ruger was lacking. The American features a robust chassis with no-nonsense rails on which the stainless steel slide rides. Unlike some competing designs, the gun is not truly modular—as in you won’t be changing the entire grip/frame on the American. However, the pistol ships with interchangeable grip modules to change the girth of the grip as well as the reach to the trigger. These are black, as are the controls, and add a nice contrast to the gray frame and slide.
The American Compact ships with a medium and a large module—only the 9mm Americans include a small module—and the medium comes installed on the gun. The grip circumference, measured near the base, is 5.75 inches with the medium module installed and 61/8 inches with the large size in place. Trigger reach difference between the two is about a quarter-inch.
To swap them out, use the supplied Torx wrench to turn the locking cam one-quarter turn. Then pull down on the module to remove it. Ruger’s instructions caution not to overtighten the screw during installation.
When you open the box, you’ll see a yellow plastic block has been placed in the large module, and you should keep the block inserted into whichever module is not in use so it doesn’t get damaged.
The grip modules have diamond-shaped projections at the back but are essentially smooth on the sides. The frontstrap stippling/checkering is made up of vertical rows of small diamonds on either side of two rows of what could best be described as tiny up/down arrows. It’s not the most aggressive design in the world. The front of the glass-filled nylon frame sports a three-slot Picatinny rail for attaching lights and lasers.
The American features both ambidextrous slide-lock levers and magazine releases and, in the case of my sample, ambidextrous thumb safeties. The gun is also available in a Pro version without the thumb safety.
A large takedown lever is located on the left side. The American doesn’t require you to pull the trigger in order to fieldstrip the gun. Simply ensure the pistol is unloaded, lock back the slide and swing the takedown lever until it clicks into the full six o’clock position. There’s a bit of resistance right at the end, and while you shouldn’t force it, you may have to grunt just a little.
Remove the slide. Withdraw the captured recoil spring/guide rod assembly and remove the barrel. That’s it, and Ruger doesn’t want you messing with any of the other internals—even though it does provide an exploded view of the pistol’s parts, including the fire-control insert.
The manual notes that this insert is black-nitrided, and several other parts are nickel/Teflon coated, so they don’t need to be serviced or lubricated. Ruger says the only lubrication necessary is a drop of oil or a smidgen of grease on the slide cuts, the top of the inside of the slide and around barrel hole in the slide. Oh, and the manual also says to be sure to clean out underneath the beefy external extractor claw.
Sights are authentic Novak Lo- Mount three-dot. They’re steel and no-snag, and both front and rear are set into dovetails.
The rear slide serrations aren’t deep, but there are plenty of them, and they have additional, subtle serrations on the raised portions. They cover a lot of real estate and offer a good purchase, which is important on a gun with strong recoil springs; you need a good grip to cycle the slide. There are no serrations on the front. I don’t find this a big hindrance, although some die-hard press-checkers may disagree.
The trigger on my sample broke at six pounds, 12 ounces on average. It’s heavy, but it’s fairly consistent, and an overtravel stop is molded into the trigger guard. It’s got a fairly long quarter-inch take-up and then a bit of a spongy pull. If this sounds like a dig, it’s really not. If you press the trigger as you would in a defensive or training drill situation—as opposed to some writer dude sitting at his desk and slowly milking it—you’re not going to find it lacking at all.
In addition to the integrated trigger safety, the American also has an automatic sear block safety but, thankfully, no magazine disconnect. Unlike similar designs, the cut in the barrel hood—the “inspection port,” as Ruger calls it—is big enough to see whether there’s a round in the chamber in all but low-light conditions.
The gun ships with three (yes!) seven-round nickel/Teflon-coated stainless steel magazines. One of the magazines has a finger-hook base; the other two bases are flat. Ruger also supplies two additional finger-hook bases so you can convert the two flat-base mags if you want. I don’t have big hands, and I didn’t need the finger hook to get all my fingers on the grip, but for some people, the finger-hook bases will be the way to go.
The gun shot decent from the bench, as you can see in the accompanying accuracy chart. I managed single groups as small as 1.1 inches with both the Hornady and Fiocchi loads. I couldn’t repeat the little groups with any consistency, but it does show the pistol has more accuracy potential than I could get out of it from the bench—freely admitting I’m not a good pistol bench shooter.
While the American shot the Fiocchi jacketed hollowpoint well in terms of accuracy, it didn’t want to feed them consistently, with rounds frequently hanging up on the feed ramp.
This gun had seen action last year on the set of “Handguns & Defensive Weapons,” and one of our cast members had a couple of malfunctions early on during filming. But once she bore down on the gun she had no other issues.
I bring this up to point out that limp-wristing any semiauto—especially a new gun with strong springs—can cause problems, so before you go blaming gun or ammo for any problems you might experience, make sure you’re locked in.
During my testing, aside from the issues with the Fiocchi hollowpoints, there were no malfunctions either from the bench or practical shooting.
I ran several Failure to Stop drills (two shots to the body, one to the head on a USPSA target), and the Ruger acquitted itself very well, in part because of the sights. They’re really easy to pick up, and the generous notch on the rear sight leaves plenty of room on either side of the front blade, which I like for defensive-type shooting. The benefits of this sight setup proved even handier when shooting on the move, with the pistol bouncing around.
For a relatively small gun with a .45’s recoil, muzzle flip wasn’t bad. In fact, it was a lot less than I expected during movement drills, where you don’t have as much control because your feet aren’t planted and your body isn’t nearly the stable platform it is when firing from a static, square-to-the-target position.
Ruger says the gun’s barrel cam extends the recoil duration, spreading out the force to reduce felt recoil. I’m not mechanically inclined at all, so I’ll take the company at its word. I will say that I shot the American .45 alongside a compact semiauto 9mm and thought the .45 was equal to that particular 9mm in terms of controllability.
The American’s beavertail did beat up my thumb a little. Not abrading it, but I began to feel it bruising the base knuckle about halfway through shooting nearly 100 rounds from the bench. I segued into drills right after that, so I continued to notice it. This could be due to my grip, which is going to be different for everyone. Here I might’ve benefited from a small backstrap, but as noted the American .45s don’t come with that size.
I can’t say I’m a fan of the magazine release. I wish it was larger because in shoot/move drills I also incorporated reloads and found myself fumbling to hit and depress the button fully. Certainly, some of this would be alleviated with dry-fire and live-fire reloading practice, but I think the pistol would be improved with a bigger button.
I’m a sling-shotter when it comes to getting the gun back into battery on a slide-lock reload, but I did work with the slide-lock lever and found it functions well as a slide release, too. And for you lefties, you’ll appreciate the fact that the right-side lever is the same size as the left-side one, so it’s truly ambidextrous.
The ambi-safety is a good one. While it’s not super-positive, it’s easy to move into the Fire and Safe positions. Even when firing with just my offhand, I found I could engage and disengage the safety with my left thumb, which is less coordinated and weaker than my firing-hand thumb.
When he reviewed the original American in Handguns, writer James Tarr took the gun to task a little bit for the lack of aggressiveness in the grip. I didn’t really find that to be a huge problem. Yes, depending on how I was shooting, the gun did shift a bit, but it wasn’t bad. However, I think Tarr is right that more grippiness would be appreciated by most shooters.
I carried the American Compact in a Fobus medium inside-the-waistband holster. This pistol has the same size footprint as my Smith & Wesson M&P Compact 9mm, and while neither is a micro/subcompact, they conceal easily enough. The American weighs a full six ounces more than my Smith, but I didn’t mind the weight—although at no point did I carry the gun for an entire day. It draws nicely and comes on target quickly from concealment.
For years the great debate was 9mm versus .45 as to which is the more effective defensive round, and for all intents and purposes, that battle has been decided in favor of the 9mm. I get it. The 9 is easier to shoot, holds more rounds, and today’s ammunition makes it as effective as a handgun can be at stopping a threat.
But deep down in my heart of hearts, if you air-dropped me into a defensive situation where I had to halt an attack quickly with a pistol, I’d still pick the .45. With the American Compact, you get a relatively compact gun that’s easy to shoot, easy to hit with and offers that extra bit of power many people want—whether for carry or for home defense.