The Ruger SR Series, history use and why you may want one

The Ruger SR Series, history use and why you may want one.


Ruger has never really been an industry leader in the centerfire pistol market.  

Their Center fire pistols have always sold well, but when the knowledgeable  pistol shooter thinks of their top pick in a competition or defensive environment, they almost always go to Ruger as a third or fourth choice, if at all.   This is actually kind of weird as Ruger has been a first choice in several other categories over the years for a lot of gun people.  The .22 auto, that started the whole company, is still considered the standard for .22 pistols and still dominates that market to this day.  Their revolvers in single action are also considered to be the best choice by most when it comes to that segment, in either .22 or big bore.  

But Ruger never seemed to get it together as far as front runner in the field of centerfire auto pistols.  The Ruger P series, starting with the P85 and ending with the P97  were well made and popular models.  Anyone who ever has used them will tell you that they bring to mind the word "Tank".  This usually means two things, one it is reliable and two it is chunky and overbuilt.   They actually did get a little traction in the Law enforcement market in the 1980s when everyone was throwing off the revolver to the semi auto and also did see some small scale military adoption, but they did not move into being in the holsters of most cops by the early 1990s as other makes such as Berretta, Sig, Smith and Wesson and Glock did.  

When I moved to purchase my first pistol in December 2000, I wanted a semi auto 9mm that I could get the then "Pre Ban" high capacity magazines for.  For those who don't remember or were not around at the time, the Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 was in full effect and all pistols were shipping with nuetered 10 round magazines.  This is probably one of the reasons that the 40 took off in that time period as well as it did.  Most pistol buyers said to themselves, "Well, If I can only have 10, it may as well be 10 big ones."  This lead to lots of 40's being sold as the 9mm pistol that was originally designed to hold 15 to 18 rounds of 9mm now could only hold 10.  

However there were still lots of "hi-Capacity" magazines that were in circulation, that were still legal to own, buy and sell.  This illustrates how ineffective that gun bans are, As a 21 year old kid, I wanted a gun SPECIFICLY because of the ban,  particularly the one that I could get the "Evil" 15 round mags for..  In fact, I remember distinctly buying the magazines for the Ruger P series before I bought a Ruger P93 in stainless steel new for 385!  

If there was no ban, who knows what I would have been interested in when I was thinking of my first hand gun.  But I was attracted to the P series primarily in that, I was sure that pistol was only going to go up in value and rarity due to the expensive "Pre-Ban" magazines that I had for it.  It has led me down the road to a safe full of firearms that were banned during the bad old days of the assault weapons ban and a life of shooting, hunting, training and a career with a gun on my hip more often then not.   So I guess I can thank Clinton, Feinstein and Schumer for this life I lead.... Thanks Guys! 

 Fast forward a few years and the Assault weapons ban was allowed to walk off into the sunset,  The Magazines that were so coveted before were put back into wide scale production  and the world of lawful concealed carry was greatly expanded.   This was the result of  a lot of battles that were fought in the voting booth and I participated in them all.  I really think if it were not for that Assault Weapons ban and murmurs of gun control on the horizon, I would have never become a voter in the first place or at all political.   But I digress...

Ruger had continued on improving the P series, making many models since its first one.  The last of the P series guns was the Ruger P345 and it had been a step away from the norm for the company.  They got away from the overbuilt aesthetics of the earlier models and seemingly were trying to make a model that was more elegant then the tank like in appearance and heft.  They also changed how the model was designated, as originally the number in the model designated the last two digits of the year that the pistol had been developed.  The P345 dropped that as well. 

In October of 2007 I was working in as a Civil servant with a stay at home mom, three little kids and a new mortgage.  Money was tight enough that I took on a second job as counter man in a chain store that sold a lot of firearms.  Long days and nights were the norm, but It kept me grounded to reality, as that usually leaves some people when working in a violent environment and naturally developing suspicion of everyone around you. 

 I walked in one day to find a promotional sign that said simply, "The SR9 Is here! with a Ruger logo underneath it.  

I asked my co-worker what the sign was about and he handed me the,(then brand new and not even in the gun magazines yet) Ruger SR9.  

This pistol was a radical departure from what Ruger had put out in the past.  First, it was THIN for a 17 shot 9mm.  The main polymer pistols around that time frame that carried that level of capacity were the Glock 17, Springfield XD9 and the Smith and Wesson M&P.  These pistols seemed much thicker across the grip then this new Ruger,  when I first picked up the piece, I figured it held 10 rounds, tops.  

When I ejected the magazine form the pistol I was surprised to see a 17 round capacity and I was also surprised at how familiar it looked, Pulling a Smith and Wesson M&P out of the case, I pulled its magazine and noticed that they were very similar in design, as if they were made by the same company with the new ribbing running up the body of the magazine.  They were both marked "Made in Italy" in the almost identical spot, which meant one thing to me, Mec-Gar mags, probably off the same body line but with slight differences.  This meant that the mags were as good as the M&Ps which had a solid reputation at this point, but Ruger managed to jam them into a thinner bodied pistol somehow.  How was this thing a RUGER? My old P-93 like holding a 2x4 comparatively speaking.  

The other thing that struck me was the adjustable sights, this being the first Ruger Centerfire pistol with adjustable sights as standard equipment.  They offered the standard three dot type, with a elevation adjustment as standard that were well protected by an aluminum housing dovetailed into the slide that could be drift adjusted for windage.   I appreciated this feature, but as time went on, it got a lot of hate by many experienced pistol buyers.

Next there was the backstrap system.  Interchangeable Backstraps were a thing at that time, being pioneered on the Walther P99 at the turn of the Century.  Until Smith & Wesson came out with their M&P line of pistols these required tools and time to swap out and the pistols would often ship with the extra backstraps in the case.  Many a Used pistol came into the shop with the backstraps missing and if you bought the piece used, this meant that you were stuck with what it came with on it or had to buy replacements.  Ruger had thought this through and simplified the design by making a reversible backstrap system that one simply drove out the retaining pin from the back of the grip, removed the rubber piece out of the back of the pistol and then turned it 180 degrees before re-inserting this into the grip to change the size of it.  Smart and simple with no extra parts to loose.       

I also honestly almost missed the accessory rail on the dustcover of the SR9's frame..  Whoever was doing the design work over there on the earlier P345 when it came to rails got a lot of inspiration for the SR9.  It seemed at the time, and still seems today,  like pistol manufacturers want everyone to notice their pistol has a accessory rail on the front end of it.  The worst offenders of this being the Beretta 92 series when upgraded with a rail and the full length frame on the Sig P320.  They scream "LOOK DAMN YOU! I HAVE A RAIL ON ME!  YOU CAN HANG A LIGHT ON ME NOW!" Ruger made, in my opinion, the most subtle rail system that had ever been put on a pistol with the SR series.  It says "Hey,.. how are you ?  Oh this? Yeah you can hang a light on here, but I don't need to yell at you about it.  Don't want to be too flashy, no big deal. "  I don't know why but I always liked that.  Not all Rails need to be chunky saw toothed affairs, but apparently I am in the minority on this, as there is not another pistol on the market with such a inconspicuous rail, nor has there ever really been one since. 

Ruger opted to go with Bilateral controls on the SR series including the magazine release and manual safety lever.  The ambidextrous Mag release was a feature at the time really only offered on the XD line of handguns and the Walthers  and some HKs with their paddle type releases.  If you were one of the one in 10 people in the world who were left handed then you either had to reverse the magazine release (an option on the Smith and Wesson M&P series but not Glock yet, the Gen 4 would not be out for another 3 years) or learn to live with it and run it with your middle finger... jack.  Ruger offered another option for those who were "wrong handed" and still making it totally useable for the 90 percent of the world who were right handed among us.  

I suppose if there were criticisms of the the SR series it would have to be all of the safety features that turned some law enforcement buyers off.   Glock and Smith and Wesson were the two big players in the striker fired world and they lacked some of gizmos that the Ruger included as standard equipment.  First Ruger opted to add a small bilateral stamped sheet metal thumb safety on the frame.  This did not do it any favors in making it completive in the Law Enforcement market in my view.  If you look at the transition to semi autos from the tried and true revolvers one of the things that was often sighted against the semi auto pistol (whether real or not) was the manual safety would be forgotten to be deactivated before the gun could be fired in a fight.  One of the many reasons that the Glock rose to popularity among the cops in the USA was that it was "Like a revolver" in there were no levers or buttons to deactivate before the pistol could be used.  It was a "point and shoot" solution to the duty handgun.  I remember sitting in my Police Academy and having an instructor state that he chose the Glock because of this.  He wanted it "as close to a revolver as I could get" as far as a manual of arms if he needed it in a fight.  This included no manual safety to have to worry about when the gun was needing to be fired under stress.  


BUT on the civilian market, this  was in fact a selling point.  I remember many new gun buyers standing at the counter and looking over a Glock because that is what they had heard was a good gun by everyone from Tommy Lee Jones in US Marshalls to Gangster Rap, but after showing them all of the features they would ask, "Where is the safety?"  I would often answer "Between your ears."  They would then put the gun down like it was a un-sprung bear trap.   There are many who want a manual safety still to this day.  Most of the successful pistols nowadays include a model with one and without one for those who have a strong opinion on this issue.  This was not as common 15 years ago as it is now.  Ruger being one of the few modern pistols that was offered with the thumb safety as standard.  

 Ruger, to it's credit, made the safety lever small, unobtrusive and not easy to accidentally engage when shooting it or handling it.  People like me never really relied on it, and I never have turned it on while carrying one. It was one of those things that those used to other pistols without a manual safety of the same type could simply forget about

Ruger also included a loaded chamber indicator on the pistol that was big and bold.  At this time in Ruger history, they seemed to be obsessed with this feature, adding it on the Ruger MKIII pistols in production at the time (the only 22 pistol to this day with a loaded Chamber indicator).  They also opted to write all over it, "LOADED WHEN UP"  and included large red panels on the sides of it, making it appear at a glance that pistol was loaded.  The indicator was also "tactile" in this regard, meaning even in total darkness the user could determine if there was a round in the chamber by simply feeling the top of the slide. Many other designs use loaded chamber indicators that accomplish the same thing, but Ruger's was the most "In your face" model that I have ever really seen.  Some liked it, some hated it. 

The most controversial feature of the SR series was the magazine disconnect safety.  This feature on a pistol is often hated and is a deal breaker for some pistol buyers.  I do not feel that this is an automatic "no buy" situation unless we are talking about Browning High Powers, and have written about how they are hated for stupid reasons by the mag safety haters among shooters elsewhere when I wrote about the SA35 From Springfield.  I will say however, that the downside to this feature is the that the SR series will still drop the striker when the pistol does not have a magazine inserted but the firing pin will be blocked by the magazine safety.  This means that if one was to do some dry fire practice on a regular basis with the SR series and opted to not have an empty magazine in the pistol, over time the firing pin and striker assembly would become damaged. The mag safety is only engaged by a very small shelf on the the Stryker assembly and could be a failure point for one or both components.  This seems pretty chincy and is the one design flaw that the gun further could have benefitted from a deletion of.   That, in a word, sucks.... a lot.  And yes you could remove the damn thing, in five minutes with basically one punch (no hammer needed).  But I opt to leave such things in for liability reasons on a defensive gun. I refer you to the SA 35 article if you want to get deeper into this. 

Now digging a little deeper into the guts of the SR series,  this was Ruger's attempt at a Glock.  The similarities in the overall design are obvious if one looks under the hood.  While the SR is not a part for part copy of the Glock design, it is close enough in the overall principles that this was truly a "Gruger".  It uses a similar trigger mechanism and striker mechanism, firing pin block safety and locking system.  Add a Magazine safety and make the ejector swing down and you pretty much have the same gun in principle.  

So Ruger set to out to make the SR series different enough by not including a trigger block safety, having a regular trigger when they first were released.   This was quickly changed over for a new trigger upgrade, adding the trigger safety when the gun was found to fire if the manual safety was disengaged and inertia would cause the trigger to move back on its own with a good drop to the rear.  This was fixed by adding the Glock dongle to the trigger only 7 months after initial production started.  At the same time for reasons I have never been able to fully flush out, the mag release button shape was changed from round to more of a Backward D Shape. 

One other early critisim (and I mena early as hell, like before a year into production) was the "Chamber Peening" issue.  There were people who were concerned that the locking surface of the barrel where it engaed the slide seemed to peen over and this was predeiced to lead to massive issues.  Time has proven this concern to be unfounded.  Both of the ones I currently have do have some slight deformation on the top of the chamber and slide area but this has never gotten worse and never has effected any function of the pistol.  

Also of note here should be the use of investment castings in this pistol.  Ruger was a pioneer in the use of investment cast parts in firearms and had been perfecting it for decades when the SR series emerged.  Ruger investment cast the slides on all of their pistols to this point as opposed to starting out with a forging that would need machined.  This technique keeps costs down and once you know what you are looking for, it is easy to spot a cast part as opposed to a forged one, Ruger often left the rough sand cast surface on non critical areas of the parts that you can see a mile away.  This is also the reason that a lot of Ruger guns look beefier then their competition, the casting process makes it much harder to make small precise parts.  I truly believe that the investment cast process reached it's height with the SR series and, quite frankly, may have been its downfall. 

Two and a half years after the start of the production run, Ruger came out with the Chopped down carry model called the SR9c.  That model is the one that I find the most useful.  Until recently I did not have one in my stable as I sold away my original one for one thing or another (Probably something as mundane as diapers, groceries or car repairs) and always regretted it.  In fact, I know of a few people who want an SR9c to this day after missing the boat on one when the production stopped.  They are that good at balancing a slim 10 shot 9mm with a carry-able package and great ergonomics.  Everyone who I ever met who had one regrets selling the damn thing and if you come across one, like I did a few months ago in a pawn shop for 279 with all of the original stuff included with the gun, you should definitely snap it up. 

If you look at the Sig 365 XL you can see how far a high capacity thin and small as possible 9mm came in 10 years.  Sig threw the world upside down and lit it on fire with the 365 a decade after the SR9 hit the market and interestingly, a year later the SR series would be killed by Ruger.  The SR9c was about as thin and compact as a double stack 10 round striker fired 9mm could be for about 8 years, till the 365 showed up. I actually carried a Ruger SR40c in the font pants pocket of my 511 pants for a couple of years before I parted ways with it for one reason or another. later regretting that one too.  

I have never seen or heard of a SR9 not being a good shooter.  The first one I ever shot was a Early production model at a manufacturer sponsored shoot. I stacked about 10 rounds into one ragged hole at seven yards and was hooked.  The tigger was good, the grip was confortable and the sights were usable.  It seems that over the years the triggers may have gotten slightly heavier, but the early models were great, with a clean break and a crisp trigger reset.  Even now they are a good shooting gun.  The two I have run like tops with any ammo I put in them and shoot as good as I can. 

Also around three years into production,  all blackened slides were added to the SR9 and SR9c. There is some differing opinions on what the finishes actually were on the black models and also if the slide materials were changed on them.  The current consensus is that the full size guns retained the Stainless alloy and the slides were nitride coated, but the SR9C was not stainless and was switched to an alloy steel with some sort of nitride coating.  The production of the compact that I picked up is August of 2012 and it is listed as having a "Blackened Alloy" slide.  I suspect my full-size model, which I picked up on the used market with no accessories for 250 bucks, is much later in the production run and I have no way of knowing if it is stainless or not.   This is one of those things that will be lost to history at some point, unless this gun gets a collectors following, which right now it lacks.

Three years into production of the SR series the SR40 was released by Ruger in 40 S&W and then about a year and a half after this, the 40c arrived.  This is where the problems started for the pistols.  The 40s had a slightly beefed up slide with some external cuts missing from the slide so it was slightly heavier to accommodate the higher pressure .40 round.  This is fine, and is really to be expected when the 40 was back engineered to fit in the 9mm size package.  But remember how I was talking about the slides being cast earlier?   

The SR40 pistols started coming back to the shop I was working in at a relatively frequent rate.  The failures were always the same, the front of the slide, right underneath he barrel would loose a chunk of metal out of it.  I sent back more then one with this exact problem and can only say that this was where the casting was the thinnest on the slide.  Ruger always made it right and was quick to send out a replacement but it was a known issue at that time.  The other place that was known to fail was the extractor on the pistol.  Ruger made a long and wide external extractor for the SR series because they designed them to be investment cast too.  I personally sent back one that had the extractor broken clean in half, shearing off at the point where the through pin was.  It was disconcerting to say the least and I suspect that is why the 40 did not stay in production in the numbers the 9mm did.  Interestingly on my own pistols, I noticed that the 2012 production SR9C has a clear casting mark on the extractor but the later model does not, almost as if it is not cast at all but made some other way such as a forging or CNC milled and then hardened.   

By the time the production run was coming to an end, the SR45 came out.  This was a larger version in every way but it also was made to handle the 45 ACP cartridge Production of which would only last for three years.   It would have been cool to see this made in 10mm one day, but I suspect the issues with the design of the slide and the problems with the 40s made this a non starter for Ruger.  

Ruger also released the 9E model after the discontinuation of the last of the Ruger P series (the P95) went out of production, Leaving Ruger lacking a budget gun in their line up.  Polymer pistols cost a fortune to initially start up production as the molding equipment is insanely expensive, however once the machines are paid off the cost per unit goes down significantly and a company can puke out frames for pennies each until the machine wears out.  I suspect that was the plan with the SR series at this point as the 9E frame was unchanged from the original model, but the slide was simplified, removing almost all of the machine work from the outside of the slide like polishing.  The loaded chamber indicator was ditched and the adjustable sights were replaced with more basic fixed ones  The slide was also just blued in place of the nitride coatings used on the SR series.  I had one of these for a while before I parted ways with it.  Later I regretted that one too.  Damn it.  

By the end even the SR9 and SR9C were cheapened up.  The brushed polishing was deleted on the later stainless models, leaving a Matte bead blasted finish all over the entire slide.  Also the later production models can be distinguished almost instantly by the lack of a hole on the slide cover plate.  Early production models had a retainer tab that held the cover plate in place, the later ones this was deleted, as it would appear that it was not as necessary as Ruger initially thought. 

Ruger Replaced the SR9 Series with two other models, the more high end Ruger American and the budget minded Ruger Security 9.  I personally hate both of these pistols think they are ugly and less refined and think Ruger took a huge step backward with them instead of further developing the SR series.  I am not a gun executive or designer,  but I am a shareholder in the company (though I own less of the stock then what another SR9C would cost) and I think they should update and bring back this model.  The SR series in my opinion was the pinnacle fo Ruger Centerfire pistols and I am sure I am not the only ones that wish we would have seen the model developed further.  

So it would appear after all that I have said about the Ruger SR series, I have some sort of weird fetish with them.  Well.... yeah maybe.  Anytime I look in a used pistol case visions of one sweep through my mind as I search more of them out.  Maybe I am the only one who feels this way when it comes to the Ruger SR series.  The critics of the SR series made statements such as it was designed by liability lawyers and it was never good enough to be a top dog handgun.  But guys like me, who were around when they were new and were broke people in the middle of a world wide financial crisis trying to keep their homes and raise little ones may remember them with a bit more fondness.  

I know I certainly do.  There is a loaded SR9C in my desk drawer waiting patiently for my call if the time of need arises. After all these years I still have total trust in that pistol to get the job done. 

Maybe you will find one and feel the same way.