Review: Ruger Max-9 Pistol
In case you just emerged from hibernation or beamed down from another planet, allow me to be the first to inform you concealed-carry pistols are hot. So hot, they dominate sales across the firearm industry, as millions of long-time gun owners compete with seven or eight million new gun owners trying to get their hands on these pistols. We could talk all day about what’s driving demand, but the fact is, everyone seems to want a small, concealable, reliable pistol, especially if it’s chambered in 9 mm.
While the folks at Ruger have marketed several pistols in this category, what the company hasn’t had is one holding 10 or more rounds capable of going head-to-head with pistols like the Springfield Armory Hellcat and SIG Sauer P365—until now. With the introduction of the Max-9, Ruger is putting down its marker and going for a piece of this quite sizeable market.
My introduction to Ruger’s brand-new Max-9 came months ago, when I received a pre-production sample for jury testing. This is a process Ruger uses to wring out new products by getting them into the hands of industry professionals. The company is looking to see if it has hit the mark with features, but even more importantly to discover whether the gun works as advertised. Ruger sent a couple of hundred rounds of various 9 mm ammunition with the pistol, and this is important. You see, the company tests its products with every brand and type of ammunition it can get its hands on because consumers are going to do what? You guessed it, shoot every imaginable ammunition in their guns. Rather than have unhappy customers, Ruger goes to a lot of trouble and expense to make sure, as reasonably possible, its guns perform.
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So, back to jury testing. My test pistol ran fine with all the ammunition I tried except for one particular brand of steel-cased stuff that hung up in the magazine because the cases were so rough. I’d been told the company was redesigning the magazines for the Max-9, so it was no big deal, but it was a concern for the engineers, and I was asked to bring the pistol back to the Prescott, AZ, factory so the staff could examine it.
The gun I have at hand for this review is a production model, exactly the same as one you might find at your local gun emporium. And, it works, right out of the box with no preparation, cleaning or lubrication. Not a stutter, failure or hiccup have I experienced in several range sessions with the little blaster. So far, it feeds, cycles and shoots every type of ammunition I’ve tried in it. I’m willing to bet my life on this pistol, and that’s the whole idea, isn’t it?
Jeff Cooper said you need sights you can see and a trigger you can manage in a fighting pistol. The Max-9’s sights are excellent, and consist of a plain-black, wide-notch, drift-adjustable rear and a green fiber-optic/tritium day/night front sight set in a dovetail. My students probably get tired of hearing me repeat “front sight,” but it’s what you need to be looking at if you want to hit your target. This front sight really grabs my attention.
The Max-9 is striker-fired and features a light, crisp trigger with a short reset. A number of folks at Gunsite handled and fired the pistol, and everyone was pleasantly surprised by the trigger. According to my Lyman trigger-tester gizmo, the Max-9 has an average pull weight of 5 pounds, 7 ounces, but feels even lighter. I don’t much like flappy safeties on triggers, but I’ve learned to live with them. I know, it’s a safety, but I don’t like the way they feel when I fire the gun. The Max-9 has one, so here’s a pro tip: Don’t place your fingertip on the face of the trigger because the pointy, trigger safety will bite it when you shoot. Instead, wrap the finger around the trigger up to about the first joint to get more purchase and you’ll have better control and no bite. This isn’t Ruger-specific; it applies to a lot of striker-fired pistols, especially the small ones.
Empty, the Max-9 weighs 18.4 ounces. Of more concern to me is the all-up weight—the fully loaded, carrying weight—of the pistol. With the 12-round magazine loaded with 115-grain defensive ammunition and one round in the chamber, the Max-9 weighs 22.7 ounces. It’s not a featherweight, but it’s a weight that allows for all-day carry and comfortable shooting.
A bladed-safety trigger helps guard against inadvertent discharge • Two magazines ship with the Max-9 • Three floorplates are available: Flush-fit and pinkie extension for the 10-rounder and the standard, extended floorplate for the 12-round mag.
The Max-9 ships with two magazines that are nickel-Teflon coated for smooth feeding and corrosion resistance. The aforementioned 12-round magazine has an extension that acts as a pinkie rest, and the 10-round mag has a flat floorplate, making it slightly more concealable. Ruger provides a pinkie-rest extension for the 10-round magazine reminiscent of the Pearce Grip. It’s easily installed by using a punch to remove the standard baseplate, and I prefer it to the flat one. The magazine release is reversible and this is fully explained in the instruction manual.
The standard model Max-9 has a port-side thumb safety while another version, the Pro model, does not. I pretty much ignore the safety on striker-fired guns, as it’s redundant and unnecessary in my view. As it is, Ruger has models with and without the safety, so if you like the safety—or not—the company has you covered. My sample pistol has the safety, and I have no issues with it.
Ruger barrels are terrific. They’re cold-hammer forged and quite accurate, at least in the rifles I have tested. While I’ll probably never appreciate the accuracy potential of the 3.2-inch, hammer-forged Max-9 barrel, the feature I think you will appreciate is how easy it is to clean. You get virtually no copper plating in the rifling, so there’s no need for vigorous brushing, and the barrel cleans up with a little solvent and a few patches.
Like other handguns from Ruger, the slide stop and takedown mechanism are located on the left side of the pistol • In models with the thumb safety, activation is similar to the 1911—flip up to engage the safety, down to disengage • Grip texturing is much like that found on the LCP II and Security-9 • In excess of a dozen different red-dot options can be installed on the Max-9’s slide • Sights are excellent and offer both tritium and green-fiber optic up front with a serrated, black rear sight. Both front and rear are dovetail-mounted • Swampfox Optics’ Sentinel red dot is one of the many excellent sights that can be easily mounted to the Max-9’s optic cut.
Red-dot sights (RDS) being all the rage these days, it’s almost obligatory that new pistols sell as “optics ready.” The Max-9 is no exception, as there’s a cover plate held in place by two screws right in front of the rear sight. Ruger has a lot of information concerning the Max-9 on its website, including a list of some 15 micro red dots that will fit it. To get on board, I ordered a SIG Sauer Romeo Zero. Included with the pistol is a little packet containing a Torx wrench, two screws and two small metal studs, all needed to install an RDS. Do yourself a favor and carefully watch the video on Ruger’s website demonstrating how to mount the RDS.
The Max-9 feels good in the hand and has an appropriate amount of impressed stippling to keep it from moving around when you’re shooting. For those who prefer to loosen their grip and put a finger on the trigger guard, the front surface is grooved for that purpose. “Reading your Ruger” is a pastime folks have kidded the company about for years. In the case of the Max-9, there is one line of text worth paying attention to, that being the admonition the pistol will fire with the magazine removed. In other words, the pistol is lacking a magazine disconnect, something I detest, so I applaud Ruger for not mucking the gun up by adding that “feature.”
As for safety features, there is the trigger safety and thumb safety in addition to a small port in the back of the barrel hood and a cut in the right side of the hood to allow you to peer inside and see if a round is chambered. The extractor, located on the right side of the slide behind the ejection port, also indicates the condition of the chamber. If the rear of the extractor is raised above the surface of the slide the chamber is empty. If loaded, the extractor lies flush with the slide surface. That sounds counterintuitive, I know, but it makes sense when you see it—the chambered round presses on the front of the extractor, which pivots the rear of the extractor into its cutout in the slide. Since we’re talking about the slide, it’s worth mentioning there are serrations front and rear to facilitate loading, unloading and chamber checking.
Fieldstripping the pistol is somewhat like the Ruger LC9 and LCP and is explained in the instruction manual. I advise you to read it a couple of times. And a warning, be aware the trigger must be pulled to unlock the action before disassembly. Make absolutely certain the pistol is unloaded, check it again and point it at something that will stop a bullet and do no damage before pulling the trigger.
Ammunition is, at the time of this writing, mostly unavailable, especially premium defense loads. This is true even for gunwriters. Having a few examples in the ammo bunker I can’t replace, I elected to do the mandatory group shooting with three, five-shot groups, rather than the usual five groups, and fired five, rather than 10 shots over the chronograph to get average velocities. And since the Max-9 is a compact defensive pistol, I shot the groups at 10 yards, standing, offhand unsupported. This resulted in groups averaging about 2 inches, which is about as well as I can shoot a compact, striker-fired pistol with iron sights.
Needing a holster for the Max-9, I prevailed upon my friend and local leather guy, Rob Leahy, at Simply Rugged Holsters, to make me a carry shuck. He produced a leather, basketweave holster, overlaid with elephant hide that is simply stunning, fits perfectly without needing break-in, and suits my needs perfectly. As if that wasn’t enough, he also made one for the pistol with a SIG Sauer Romeo Zero red-dot sight mounted.
Readers familiar with my scribbling will recall I have long advocated that you, your training and your concealed-carry pistol should allow you to make head shots at 25 yards. The Max-9 with both the open sights and RDS passed this test. I’ll have to do more experimenting, but with this pistol, I’m not sure there is a significant advantage in shooting it with the red-dot sight as opposed to the factory open sights.
Ruger has made a bold entry in the market with the Max-9. Is it the best of the breed? With strong competition from Springfield Armory, SIG Sauer, Smith & Wesson, Taurus and others, that’s up to you to decide. Regardless, I can say one thing with certainty: With a suggested retail of $499 and a lower store-counter price (in normal times), Ruger is going to sell every Max-9 the company can produce. And it can make quite a lot of them.
Article by ED HEAD