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Gun Review: Ruger MAX-9 Micro-Compact 9mm Pistol

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With an onboard capacity of 10+1 rounds flush fit and 12+1 rounds extended, Ruger’s new MAX-9 takes aim at the incredibly hot market for micro-compact pistols with double-digit capacities. Equipped with a tritium and fiber optic front sight and an optics-ready slide at an MSRP of just $499 (less on Brownells), the MAX-9 undercuts the competition on features for the dollar. buy firearms at wholesale prices

I test drive the MAX-9 out on the range while providing some thoughts and feedback.

Ruger MAX-9 Micro-Compact 9mm concealed carry pistol

At just 6.0 inches long, 4.52 inches tall, and 0.95 inches wide, the little Ruger MAX-9 fits the bill for a micro-compact concealed carry pistol and is right in line with competing options from SIG SAUER, Springfield, and Smith & Wesson.

Its 18.4-ounce weight slots the MAX-9 in between the SIG P365 (17.8 oz) and the Springfield Hellcat (18.6 oz) and basically dead-on with the S&W M&P9 Shield Plus’s average weight (17.9 oz to 20.2 oz for the 3.1-inch barrel version depending on sight and safety options).

Ruger MAX-9 Micro-Compact 9mm concealed carry pistol

Any fan of the Ruger LC9s, a rock solid and very popular CCW option, will find themselves right at home with the MAX-9. Think of it as a modernized LC9s with a higher capacity — three additional rounds on board. buy firearms at wholesale prices

Ruger MAX-9 Micro-Compact 9mm concealed carry pistol

Ruger’s MAX-9 offers a square-ish grip shape that should fit just about any adult shooter’s hand. Though fairly flat on the sides and the front and back straps, the edges are rounded enough that I found the grip very comfortable.

A pebbled texture is molded into the polymer frame. It’s grippy, but it’s fine enough and the peaks are smoothed enough that it won’t scratch up your skin too much when carried IWB.

Ruger MAX-9 Micro-Compact 9mm concealed carry pistol

My Standard Model MAX-9 has a manual thumb safety on the left side of the frame under the rear slide serrations. It’s unobtrusive, but easy to use with a solid, sharp detent in both positions.

For users who prefer a carry gun without a manual safety, the MAX-9 Pro Model has you covered.

Ruger MAX-9 Micro-Compact 9mm concealed carry pistol
The Ruger MAX-9 Standard model has an external manual safety lever.

The lever is up for “safe”…

Ruger MAX-9 Micro-Compact 9mm concealed carry pistol
Ruger also offers the Pro Model without external manual safety lever

…and down for “fire.” Note the visible white dot when on “safe” and the red dot when on “fire.”

Ruger MAX-9 Micro-Compact 9mm concealed carry pistol

A steel trigger sets the MAX-9 apart from the vast majority of compact, polymer-framed pistols.

Ruger MAX-9 Micro-Compact 9mm concealed carry pistol

The trigger’s safety blade depresses until it’s almost perfectly flush with the front of the trigger shoe, providing a rounded surface with smooth edges.

Ruger designed the MAX-9’s trigger to have a smooth, rolling break as opposed to one that stops hard against a wall and then, without moving further as the pull weight increases, snaps. Total trigger travel is on par with other modern, striker-fired pistols and it’s extremely smooth and consistent in weight before it breaks crisply.

Pull weight is about four to four-and-a-half pounds, and arguably feels lighter than it is due to that smooth, rolling break.

The MAX-9’s reset is soft, but clean. It’s a gentle “snick” that’s audible and tactile, but not very.

Overall, this is a very good trigger for an everyday carry gun. If I could tweak it at all myself, I’d want a more pronounced reset and I’m not a big fan of how it wobbles left and right inside the frame a bit more than most.

Ruger MAX-9 Micro-Compact 9mm concealed carry pistol

I appreciate the textured steel magazine release button here. It feels better to me than a polymer button. I’m not sure why, exactly, but the difference in feel between polymer and steel and the firm feel of it just makes me happier.

The magazine release is the MAX-9’s only ambidextrous control in that it can be reversed for right-side use.

Empty mags drop free easily from the MAX-9.

Ruger MAX-9 Micro-Compact 9mm concealed carry pistol

Harder to use is the MAX-9’s slide catch. Due to the molded-in “gate” surrounding the lever on three sides, it’s a bit of a trick to manually lock the MAX-9’s slide back. Basically, you have to be very deliberate with it and come up at the bottom center of the slide catch with plenty of inward pressure, then ride it up.

Of course, as some shooters have issues with their grip causing a pistol’s slide catch to engage during shooting, I’d take — every darn time — the MAX-9’s protective gate against accidental engagement over an easier ability to manually lock the slide back.

As a release, the MAX-9’s slide stop / slide catch / slide release works great.

Ruger MAX-9 Micro-Compact 9mm concealed carry pistol

An all-black, steel rear sight is my preference when paired with an eye-catching front sight, and this is exactly setup Ruger chose for the MAX-9. A machined groove around the rear sight notch is a handy place for the user to color fill, should your preference include some variation of a bright outline around or under the notch.

Ruger MAX-9 Micro-Compact 9mm concealed carry pistol
The Ruger MAX-9’s tritium fiber optic day/night front sight is ideal in any lighting conditions.

Up front, the Ruger MAX-9 rocks an awesome sight that employs a tritium vial to illuminate a green fiber optic tube. Whether day or night, this is perhaps the perfect sight.

Ruger MAX-9 Micro-Compact 9mm concealed carry pistol

That’s my preferred sight picture right there: black rear, bright front.

Ruger MAX-9 Micro-Compact 9mm concealed carry pistol

Up top, a blanking plate with the Ruger logo fills in the area of the slide that’s cut for a micro reflex optic. If you choose not to run your MAX-9 with a red ot optic, you’d basically never know this plate was there.

Ruger MAX-9 Micro-Compact 9mm concealed carry pistol
The MAX-9 comes optics ready, cut for direct mounting of co-witnessed J-Point and Shield pattern micro red dot sights.

Removing the blanking plate exposes a mounting surface made specifically for Shield RMS or JPoint (or others that use the same pattern) micro red dot sights (MRDS).

Ruger MAX-9 Micro-Compact 9mm concealed carry pistol

As I moved houses recently my JPoint and Shield are both still packed away. I grabbed an available SIG ROMEO1 and a Nikon to see how they’d match up, but both of these optics were far too long to fit within the MAX-9’s slide cut. Not that the bolt patterns on these reflex sights were likely to line up anyway, but I was surprised at this reminder of just how compact the Shield MRDS sights actually are.

Again, there are no optional upgrades on the MAX-9. The $499 MSRP includes the slick tritium + fiber optic front sight and the optics-cut slide with blanking plate. These are solid standard features for the dollar.

Ruger MAX-9 Micro-Compact 9mm concealed carry pistol

Takedown on the MAX-9 is simple enough, maybe even a bit old-school basic.

After safety dry firing the (empty and cleared) pistol to release tension on the striker, the user must move the left-side takedown pin cover downward. With that snicked out of the way of the takedown pin, the slide must be held retracted slightly rearward (about 1/8-inch) before the takedown pin can be pushed out the left side of the frame with a paperclip or a punch inserted in the right side.

As I didn’t have a small enough tool with me to push the pin out from the right side, I smacked the left side of the MAX-9 on that railroad tie seen in the photo above. After a handful of hard whacks, the takedown pin protruded enough that I was able to pinch it and pluck it out.

I’d certainly prefer a takedown process more similar to other modern, striker-fired pistols with some flavor of captive takedown lever that’s easily operated by hand.

Ruger MAX-9 Micro-Compact 9mm concealed carry pistol

Out on the range, the MAX-9 ran great for Dan and me. It’s a solid little shooter with a really good trigger and fast, easy-to-pick-up sights that were right on target. It’s a little snappy, but obviously that’s to be expected with such a diminutive, lightweight pistol (less snappy than my P365, a little more than the Hellcat).

Dan liked the shape and feel of the MAX-9’s grip frame more than I, which is probably due to his tiny little carny hands lining up with the edges of the square-ish frame better than my normal human man-sized man hands do.

No complaints on the grip from me, mind you, I just prefer the slightly rounder feel of the P365 (despite its smaller circumference) and especially the larger circumference, even more rounded feel of the Shield Plus. That said, the MAX-9 is less blocky with rounder edges than the miniature brick-shaped Springfield Hellcat, which shoots really great, but the grip shape is certainly not my cup of tea.

Ruger MAX-9 Micro-Compact 9mm concealed carry pistol

While small in appearance, the MAX-9’s slide serrations are highly effective. Crisp, 90-degree edges combined with that little kink about a third of the way up and more “valley” than “ridge” make for a surprisingly grippy combination. High marks here for the MAX-9.

The double-stack-width magazine well combines with the narrow taper at the top of the magazines to make mag changes fast and easy. Controls and grip texture worked well, though I’d prefer a more aggressive texture for range use. Considering how many hours my carry gun spends nestled against my love handle, though, versus how comparatively few hours it spends being fired, I think Ruger made the correct choice with a slightly milder grip texture.

After many boxes of oh-so-precious 9mm ammo sent downrange, from 147 grain FMJ to 115 grain hollow points and a few brands of everything in-between (including steel- and aluminum-cased stuff), the MAX-9 proved itself reliable and definitely not a picky eater.

I even had some sort of strange round during testing — what felt like an over-charged round or possibly the bullet got badly set back during chambering (cheap reloads) — and, though I stopped immediately to inspect the bore and such after it happened, the little Ruger didn’t seem to care. It had correctly ejected that case and chambered the next round, and everything looked, felt, and functioned precisely as it did when the gun was new.

The MAX-9 finished out the day of testing without a hitch.

Given its compact size, 10+1 or 12+1 capacity, great performance on the range, and its premium features at the lowest price point among its primary competition, the Ruger MAX-9 is destined to find itself inside the waistbands of an awful lot of concealed carriers. Without a doubt it’s a very solid choice.

Specifications: Ruger MAX-9

Caliber: 9mm
Capacity: 10+1 rounds flush fit, 12+1 extended
Barrel Length: 3.2 inches
Overall Length: 6.0 inches
Width: 0.95 inches
Height: 4.52 inches
Weight: 18.4 ounces
Sights: tritium plus fiber optic front sight, black rear sight. Slide cut for Shield / JPoint MRDS.
MSRP: $499 (find it for less at Brownells HERE)

Ratings (out of five stars):

Style and Appearance  * * * *
I like the look of the front and rear slide serrations, and the geometric look of the trigger guard, grip, and texture areas. Fit and finish are good.

Reliability  * * * * *
No issues were experienced with a range of random ammo of every type, new and reloaded. The MAX-9 runs strong and gives no hints of potential reliability issues.

Ergonomics  * * * 
About average for me overall. I don’t find the grip shape particularly ergonomic, though I like the magazine release and the slide serrations more than average. A bit of a ding here for the heavily gated slide catch.

Customize This  * * * 
With great sights and an optics cut, it’s unlikely many owners will modify these things. Or want to. Same, too, with the very good trigger. However, aftermarket options are slimmer with the brand new Ruger than they are with SIG or S&W so owners interested in barrels, slides, triggers, sights, etc. won’t have quite as many hot rodding options. Holsters, though, should be plentiful.

Value  * * * * *
This isn’t always a separate, listed category (though it’s almost always a factor in the overall rating, regardless), but I feel like the Ruger MAX-9 is such a standout on value that it deserved to be highlighted. Not only is retail price going to be lower than the $499 MSRP (retail price on Rugers tends to be farther under MSRP than most other brands), even at full MSRP the MAX-9 presents an extremely strong value shipping with two magazines (plus an extra pinky extension for the flush-fit mag), the tritium and fiber optic front sight, and the optics-ready slide.

Overall  * * * *
The new Ruger MAX-9 represents a fantastic choice among micro-compact concealed carry pistols. It’s reliable and feature rich, and it’s a solid shooter for its size with great sights and a smooth trigger. For me it’s a four-star gun, though, as the generally square-ish grip doesn’t do it for me ergonomically.

Watch this space, as our heads-up comparison article with the SIG P365Springfield HellcatRuger MAX-9, and S&W M&P9 Shield Plus will go live soon.

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