U.S.A. -(AmmoLand.com)- Currently, the biggest trend in firearms design is the ultra-compact, polymer-framed 9mm handgun feeding from a double-stack magazine – and now Ruger has entered the fray with its MAX-9. And from a glance, the pistol looks great. But is Ruger simply chasing a trend, or are they looking to dethrone the designs that currently dominate the market? Let’s take a closer look at the Ruger MAX-9 and find out.
Ruger MAX-9 Features
For starters, the Ruger MAX-9 is a locked-breech, magazine-fed semi-automatic compact handgun chambered – you guessed it – in 9mm parabellum. The MAX-9 ships with two 11-round, stagger-column magazines in the box, as well as an optics-plate designed to use with Shield (and Shield-pattern) reflex sights.
Speaking of sights, the Ruger MAX-9 ships with a windage-adjustable low-profile blacked-out rear sight and an elongated combination bright green fiber-optic tritium front sight. The combination is ideal for quick shooting in all lighting conditions, as it naturally draws the shooter’s eye to the front sight – making for lightning-quick sight acquisition. Below this, the Ruger’s slide features aggressive rearward-swept serrations at the front and rear for ease of manipulation and clearing of malfunctions.
On the bottom of the slide, the MAX-9 incorporates inset controls to prevent them from snagging on clothing or a holster when drawing from concealment. These include an ambidextrous slide release, disassembly lever, and a left-side safety lever whose positioning is similar to that of a 1911. This last feature is ideal for me personally, since the MAX-9 is small enough to pocket carry, and when doing so, I prefer a manual safety. For shooters who aren’t a fan of manual safeties, Ruger also offers the pistol without one.
Under all this, the MAX-9 incorporates a polymer frame with an aggressive molded stippling texture similar to, but more aggressive than Ruger’s first modernized 9mm handgun, the Ruger American. Also, like the American Pistol, the MAX features a bladed safety trigger but utilizes a more subdued ambidextrous magazine release. Though, unlike the American pistol, the MAX-9’s magazine release is devoid of any texturing to make it tactilely different from the rest of the gun, making it easier to find in low, or zero light conditions.
Finally, the Ruger’s frame features a dehorned curved shape at the bottom that fits flush with the magazine baseplates. Though if shooters need more purchase on the handgun, the MAX-9 also includes extended baseplates making the gun comfortable to shoot for users of basically all sizes.
MAX-9 at the Range
Since the MAX-9 is a concealed carry gun, I tested it with a variety of defensive ammunition types and from a somewhat limited range. Since it’s is both outside the scope of the pistol’s intended use to engage targets past 25 yards, and generally of questionably legally to use the pistol in a defensive situation beyond that distance. (Yes, situations do exist where a shooter might have to stop an attacker at distance, but for the most part, self-defense scenarios happen within 10 feet.)
That said, in testing, the Ruger MAX-9 flawlessly blasted through every brand of ammunition fed to it. This includes defense rounds from SIG Performance, Hornady, Federal, and Winchester. Given the scarcity of 9mm ammo at the moment, I was only able to test 124gr JHP, 135 JHP, and 147 JHP. But if we’re being honest this covers the vast majority of commercially available defense 9mm loads.
One thing that stood out to me during this testing, is just how soft-shooting the Ruger is despite its compact size. One of the biggest shortcomings of compact handguns is their often snappy recoil impulse. But the MAX-9 felt more like a Glock 19 in terms of recoil than the ultra-small compact pistol that it actually is. This made requiring a sight picture between shots, and subsequently, follow-up shots much faster and easier than expected. And while the MAX is by no means a race gun, it still made short work of my Bianchi competition plate rack at 10 yards – no small feat for such a compact handgun.
Another outstanding aspect of the pistol was its accuracy. Despite only having a short 3.2-inch barrel, the MAX-9 proved capable of reliably hitting an eight-inch steel gong at 50 yards, and I was able to extend this range to 75 yards when the MAX was paired with a Shield SMSc reflex sight. Since we’re mentioning the Shield, I wanted to point out something that I’ve heard many shooters talk about when it comes to these sights. Many shooters at my local range asked me while Ruger didn’t utilize a Trijicon RMR footprint instead of the Shield one. And for those not familiar with both sights, the Shield is a much lighter, and more importantly, much smaller optic. So if a shooter is going for the most compact, concealable setup possible, the Shield SMSc is an obvious choice.
So is the MAX-9 worth it, or was Ruger just riding the coattails of other companies acting as trendsetters?
With an MSRP of $559.99 (and street prices often lower), the MAX-9 is a solid carry gun that stays true to the modern ethos of Ruger firearm design. By that, I mean the tendency of Ruger to only release guns that are 100% reliable with fully-realized designs and only when Ruger has sufficient capabilities to produce enough to meet demand. This is why Ruger never suffers from the industry standard of announcing a new gun several months ahead of its release, and then when it finally hits store shelves, being out of stock for nearly as long. And true to form, the MAX-9 delivers on being a rock-solid design backed up from Ruger’s legendary customer service.
In a nutshell, the MAX-9 is a purpose-built design that from the ground up was meant to be the ultimate concealed carry handgun. One that offers a solid combination of excellent magazine capacity, bright, easy-to-find sights, excellent accuracy, and rock-solid reliability. In fact, the Ruger MAX-9’s features read like a checklist for the perfect carry pistol, and as such, represents the best budget-friendly option on the market today.
About Jim Grant
Jim is one of the elite editors for AmmoLand.com, who in addition to his mastery of prose, can wield a camera with expert finesse. He loves anything and everything guns but holds firearms from the Cold War in a special place in his heart.
When he’s not reviewing guns or shooting for fun and competition, Jim can be found hiking and hunting with his wife Kimberly, and their dog Peanut in the South Carolina low country.