The Max-9

Ruger’s 9mm Compact Concealment Compadre

Ruger’s MAX-9 sports a HiViz front sight, bold rear, flipper trigger and 12+1 rounds of 9mm fight.

As two to three generations have grown up with little or no experience with revolvers, it seems they drift away from wheel guns toward what they’re more comfortable with — semiautos. I’m seeing a real shift from small-frame revolvers like Smith & Wesson J-Frames, Colts or Rugers to small or even “Micro” 9mm autos as pocket or daily carry guns. While some of us might call it heresy to ignore the reliable old revolvers, I have only to look at my own daily carry gear to see, um … small 9mm autos.

Frankly, I like to think if you don’t take best advantage of new technology — especially when it comes to safety equipment — you’re a blithering idiot. Would you wear a kapok life jacket today? Drive your car on the freeway without wearing your seatbelt? Okay, maybe you would; I take that all back. But let’s just say there might be smarter things to do when your life is at stake.

Back to front: Safety lever on this model, slide release and take-down port.
The mag release can be swapped to be ambi and the trigger is wide and smooth.

Focus On Function

Ruger introduced the LC9 series a few years ago as their submission for the EDC compact 9mm. In typical Ruger fashion, they showed their heritage by designing a ruggedly simple package, affordably priced and instantly appealing to we “everyman” shooters. Ruger’s legacy of solid “tractor-like” guns filling the hunting, sporting and defensive needs of tens of millions of shooters stayed the course with the LC9.

Yet, almost overnight, the 8-round smallish 9mm became “retro” as 10- to 13-round guns were introduced. Abruptly, the same size begged a magazine capacity of at least 10 rounds, or you couldn’t compete in the market. As it’s done many times in the past though, Ruger took its time before leaping, and when it did, with the MAX-9, they nailed it. Value, function, form, ergonomics, reliability — the lot — are all checked off.

The MAX-9 has a 10- or 12-round magazine capacity in 9mm, and while at first it looks as if they took an LC9 slide and stuck it onto a higher cap frame, that’s not quite the case. Ruger fiddled with the design and parts of the upper until there are essentially no parts fitting both the LC9 and the MAX-9. Like any new generation of firearm from Ruger, the MAX-9 tends to hint at history, but showcases new engineering.

You get 12+1 from the “extended” mag and 10 in the standard one.
The gun comes with both in free America.


I’d call my hands medium-sized, yet unlike many “higher-cap” grip frames, the MAX-9 fits me just fine. There’s no stretch to reach the trigger and my fingers close around the grip fully. My wife, Suzi, has long, slender fingers, and she pronounced it comfy too. A bit of Ruger magic, I assume. The grip texture is a molded-in rough surface, a bit like skateboard tape, just aggressive enough to hold, but not so gritty as to be irritating in use.

A classic recoil-operated, striker-fired design, the MAX-9 comes with no big surprises. At about 5.95″ long and 4.69″ or 4.95″ tall — depending upon the mag used — the gun still sits nicely in your hand due to the high beavertail in the grip frame. There are no removable grips, but there are very subtle thumb-swells built into each side near the top. While you can’t actually rest your thumb on them, I found they do serve to sort of index your hold nicely. Something I particularly like is the fact the rear of the trigger guard is formed “up” offering a bit more room for your fingers to grip. It’s a small touch but makes a big difference.

Models are available with or without a thumb safety and sights are a nice bold fiber optic front with a tritium circle and a wide cut-out rear. Interestingly, the sight cuts fit stock S&W auto sizes, so there are plentiful sight options out there. There’s no mag-safety, so it can be fired sans-mag (and you’re reminded of that with a line of text on the slide). The mag release can be swapped out to either side by the user, which is pretty much de rigueur today and also very handy. The left side shows the safety (at the rear), slide lock and then take-down pin window moving toward the muzzle. While take-down does need a pin or punch, it’s very easy to manage and you don’t need to pull the trigger to accomplish it. No oopsies.

The trigger is the typical “flipper” type and, unlike many, is smooth and wide. My test gun showed an average of about 5 lbs., 6 oz. over 10 tries. The pull itself is longish, but smooth and without much of the “sponginess” you often feel with a polymer gun. The single-feed double-stack magazines are well made, easy to load, and I had zero issues with reliability with the MAX-9 over about 300 rounds fired. Not a surprise at all, as I honestly can’t recall the last time I had a malfunction of any sort with a Ruger auto. Ruger says the mags are also Teflon coated and do feel a bit slippery in the hand.

The slide is good-old carbon steel, with some sort of black-oxide coating, and the frame is glass-filled nylon. I also think the heavy bevel treatment on the slide makes perfect sense, making holstering or pocket carry easier. There’s an external extractor evident, along with a tiny window in the top of the chamber area to peer into for a glint of a chambered case.

Hand-friendly, the Ruger MAX-9 size puts it firmly in the EDC high
cap pocket gun category, all for $499 MSRP.


Being striker-fired, the MAX-9 uses the rotary design previously used by Ruger in other designs. Basically, the trigger is pulled, then the sear is cammed while a plunger is moved, allowing the striker to slam forward firing the gun. The gun can’t go off unless the trigger is pulled to the rear, so it’s a solid, safe design.

I found the fact Ruger uses a sort of built-in chassis — aluminum, non-removable — to hold the firing mechanism to be noteworthy. This way cross-pins are not relying on the “plastic” frame to keep the bits in-line and running smoothly. It’s simple and elegant and highly functional. I think this will also contribute to a more reliable, consistent trigger pull as time and wear build up. I’d honestly believe you could take a MAX-9 and 10,000 rounds of ammo and have no problems shooting it all. If you could find the ammo, that is.

Roy shot the MAX-9 at 20 yards and got 2" to 2.5" groups. He could also
clang the 80-yard steel torso gong in his backyard easily. The MAX-9 can shoot!


Again, Ruger has addressed the elephant in the room by making the MAX-9 optic-ready. It’s the JPoint screw pattern, so compact red dot sights that will fit are plentiful. I didn’t take the time to mount an RDS, as I’m sure there would have been no surprises there. Between us, I don’t use them on compact, EDC guns but certainly can see the advantages for some shooters, especially those who have real trouble seeing irons. Ruger makes it easy to try both ways if you like, without muss or fuss.

At first blush, accuracy with the MAX-9 seemed excellent, so I pushed shooting out to 20 yards. I really don’t know the value of “accuracy” testing a handgun like this at seven yards, which so many seem to be doing these days. Is it because they can’t shoot? Virtually any gun can hit the center of a target at this range, so what are we proving? For grins, I shot the MAX-9 with some Armscor 124-grain 9mm and some SIG 124-grain at seven yards and got what was essentially one ragged hole. So what?

At 20 yards I got the best group using the same Armscor 124-grain FMC ammo. It chronographed at 1,140 fps out of the MAX-9 and gave pretty darn consistent 2″ to 2.5″ groups. I think with a bit crisper trigger and better eyes than mine you could chase 1.5″ pretty easily with the right ammo. This little-big gun can shoot and can protect you from toe-to-toe out to “way out there.” Ruger also warns while the MAX-9 is safe with +P loads, using them will cause undue wear so recommends not doing it. It’s in your hands, it seems.

I think many shooters fear these little guns recoil too snappily to shoot well, but that’s simply not the case. Shoot them as you would any other gun, concentrating on proper trigger press and a very, very firm grip and they not only will perform, but excel. The platform is there, you just need to get up to speed with it.

Note the plate covering the red dot sight cut — it comes stock from Ruger.

Should You?

If you haven’t explored this whole tiny-terror 9mm side of things, you really should. At only about 18 oz., the MAX-9 weighs about 6 oz. less than a Walther PPKS, and, oddly enough, one ounce less than an S&W Model 36 J-Frame — but holds more than twice as much ammo.

Ruger is commended for this blend of smooth ergonomics, friendly pocket or IWB, purse or backpack carry and extreme shootability. All this comes in a package costing $499, making it one of the most affordable higher-cap small 9mm autos out there. Nicely done, Ruger.

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