July 23, 2020
By James Tarr
We live in a new golden era of pistol-caliber carbines. Just about every company that makes an AR now makes a pistol-caliber version, and there are a significant number of non-AR PCCs on the market as well. The Ruger PC Carbine is one of the newer designs, and it is also one of the most successful.
The Chassis version of the PC Carbine is the latest iteration of this model, and it isn’t a dedicated “competition” gun—rather, it is suited for a whole range of shooting activities, including home defense. While you can find versions of Ruger’s PC Carbine chambered in 9mm and .40 S&W, right now the new Chassis model is available only in 9mm.
It’s available in a standard model and two versions for states with magazine restrictions. The latter both come with 10-round magazines; one has an adjustable stock, and one has a fixed stock. All three retail for just $799, which means you’ll see them for sale under $700.
Ruger’s PC Carbine sports a 16.1-inch cold-hammer-forged chrome-moly barrel with a threaded muzzle. The barrel is fluted to reduce weight. The muzzle is threaded 1/2x28 and comes with a thread protector.
The carbine ships with an interchangeable mag well. From the factory it is set up to accept Ruger SR/Security-9 magazines, and one 17-round Ruger magazine is included with the standard carbine. Ruger also provides a replacement magazine well that accepts double-stack Glock 9mm magazines.
Neither I nor Ruger thinks the Glock magazine is more reliable than the one that feeds the SR9/Security-9; it’s just more prevalent. Even if you don’t already own a Glock 9mm handgun, you can find magazines of varying capacity from 10 to 33 everywhere, and they’ll be priced a bit lower than the Ruger magazines.
One neat feature of this firearm is the quick takedown barrel assembly. Lock the bolt to the rear, pull forward on the tab underneath the chamber, twist, and the entire barrel/handguard comes of the front of the firearm. This is great for transportation and storage, and I love not needing a full-length rifle case to take the PC Carbine to the range. With the stock collapsed, the receiver section is just 17.5 inches long.
Both the magazine release and the bolt handle (on the left side as the carbine comes from the factory) are reversible. There is a bolt stop underneath the receiver forward of the trigger guard. Push it up to lock the bolt back. The safety is a crossbolt model at the front of the trigger guard. If some of this looks and sounds slightly familiar, that’s because in function and looks one could argue this is simply a sized-up Ruger 10/22.
Most 9mm AR carbines are blowback operated, and to tame the recoil of the cartridge a lot of weight is added to the bolt, and additionally heavier buffers are employed. Unfortunately, more reciprocating weight usually means more recoil.
The PC Carbine has a somewhat small bolt, and the distance it travels is very short. To control recoil, designers used a sliding tungsten weight inside the bolt that works like a dead-blow hammer, which they refer to as a “dead blow action.” It works. Still, some people might be surprised that 9mm carbines like the Ruger have the same or slightly more recoil than a gas-operated AR in .223/5.56.
Let’s look at the differences between the original PC Carbine and the subsequent versions, including this Chassis model.
The original PC Carbine was traditional in appearance. It had a hunting-style one-piece polymer rifle stock—or what would be a one-piece stock if the front half of the rifle didn’t twist off. This version of the PC Carbine came with iron sights mounted on the barrel.
The second version of the PC Carbine saw the traditionally styled fore-end replaced with an aluminum handguard that enclosed the barrel almost all the way out to the muzzle. The aluminum handguard had M-Lok attachments slots if you wanted to attach vertical foregrips, bipods, whatever.
To be honest, the combination traditional stock in the rear with the round ventilated handguard in the front looked weird to a lot of people, even though it did add some utility. It resembled nothing so much as the Soviet PPSh-41 submachine gun of World War II. Which isn’t a bad thing, if you’re into that.
The current Chassis model of the PC Carbine keeps the aluminum shroud handguard up front and replaces the traditional rifle stock on the rear with an AR-style pistol grip/stock combo. The pistol grip is separate from the stock and is the same pistol grip Ruger puts on its AR-556 rifle, so it is replaceable with any standard AR-pattern grip.
For a stock, Ruger has mounted a Magpul MOE AR-15 stock on a six-position receiver extension, which has the same vertical dimensions as an AR-15 buffer tube. That means if you would prefer a different collapsible AR stock, it’ll fit on the Ruger.
The receiver extension and the additional spacer piece directly behind the receiver—which sports QD sling swivel sockets on both sides—are aluminum. The spacer has a vertical section of Picatinny rail onto which the receiver extension is clamped. The clamp is steel, and the lockup is sturdy.
The “chassis” in this case is the glass-filled polymer frame that holds the trigger group and encloses the bottom of the receiver. You might notice that the magazine well of this model is flared slightly when compared to other versions.
It is the fully modular nature of this carbine that sets it apart from the other Ruger PC models. You can swap out the stock and pistol grip, mount attachments anywhere you want on the handguard, as well as quickly and easily remove the barrel, which sets it apart from other 9mm carbines.
This is the first model of the PC Carbine that comes without sights. That said, one neat feature of this model is the Picatinny rail section mounted to the barrel just forward of the receiver. Why is it there? If your red dot is mounted on your receiver and you’re worried about losing your zero when removing/reinstalling the barrel, you can simply forward-mount your red dot on the barrel instead.
I prefer the traditional looks of the original model, but it is the increased utility of the Chassis model that has sold me on it. One thing I observed is that the AR-style stock on the Chassis model sits higher on the gun than the original stock. With the original PC carbine you could low-mount a red dot on your receiver, but with this model you’ll probably want your red dot in a standard “flattop AR” riser mount. This model weighs half a pound more than the original PC Carbine, but that extra weight is spread out across the length of the gun so it does not feel muzzle-heavy.
For testing, I mounted a new Trijicon SRO in a flattop factory mount on the receiver. This big-windowed red dot is a great choice for a pistol-caliber carbine, but be aware the bolt handle on the Ruger might be close to your red dot mount. And the bolt handle reciprocates, so attach your optic accordingly.
While it is chambered in a pistol cartridge, using a long gun like the Ruger at traditional pistol distances just feels like cheating, so I started my shooting at 20 yards and moved out from there.
I practiced throwing the Ruger up to my shoulder and seeing how fast I could get the dot on target and crank off my first shot. Using USPSA and IDPA cardboard silhouettes, I practiced target transitions as well as running between shooting positions, which, when carrying a long gun, can sometimes be awkward.
With a standard handgun I’m just happy to hit a target at 50 yards when shooting offhand. With the Ruger I was able to do actual groups at that distance without even trying too hard, and running a plate rack at 35 yards wasn’t a question of if but rather how fast.
Rifle cartridges do heat up barrels and handguards very quickly, but that’s not the case with pistol cartridges. After firing 100 rounds in 10 minutes or so, the forward two-thirds of the handguard was still room temperature and the back third was only slightly warm.
Pistol-caliber carbines have been around since at least the first lever action chambered in .44-40 was introduced. However, they are seeing a huge resurgence in popularity. This is for a number of reasons, but I believe it’s mostly due to the USPSA introducing a new PCC division. A lot of people who don’t have any intention of competing are often drawn toward buying firearms intended for competition, whether it’s the action pistol sports or PRS. The introduction of a new PCC division drew attention to those guns, and that attention translates into increased sales.
On the competition side, the Ruger design has only one real drawback, and that is the magazine release. While reloads aren’t that common with the extended magazines PCC division shooters use, they are still sometimes required, and you just can’t do a mag change on the Ruger as fast as you can competing designs because of the location of the magazine release. However, many companies (TACCOM, TandemKross and others) are making aftermarket competition accessories for the Ruger—including muzzle brakes, mag wells, and, yes, oversize magazine releases to increase your speed.
I’ve shot a huge number of PCCs over the past few years, everything from AR pistols set up for self-defense to amazingly expensive dedicated competition rigs. PCCs are great fun to shoot, inexpensive to feed, and a great choice with which to train new shooters.
I’ve also come to the conclusion that a pistol-caliber carbine is perhaps the best choice for home defense by most everyone, but especially those who I’ll call the “average” gun owner. By that I mean many gun owners purchase a defensive firearm, take it to the range once just to make sure it works, then with no further practice or training, stash it somewhere “just in case.”
Long guns are far easier than a handgun to aim no matter your skill level, especially at indoor defensive distances. A pistol-caliber carbine holds as many rounds as a handgun (or more) while being far easier to aim and softer shooting. It has far less recoil than a shotgun, and if you touch off a rifle round of any caliber indoors without ear protection the blast will be so bad it most likely will be disorienting. A PCC’s blast is a whole lot less. In fact, the staff of my local gun store—Double Action in Madison Heights, Michigan—suggest PCCs for home defense to all of their customers who are open to recommendations.
No, a pistol cartridge will not hit as hard as a rifle, but with modern premium defensive hollowpoints, it will work very well. The average 9mm full-metal-jacket bullet will penetrate 20 to 25 inches of ballistic gel. Hollowpoints prevent overpenetration while at the same time cause additional “stop what you’re doing right now” trauma to the bad guy.
There are fads in every business, and the firearms industry is not immune to this. PCCs are currently in, but don’t think just because they’re popular that they don’t perform or have viable uses. Whether you just want to have fun on the range, train a new shooter, compete or need something to lean in the corner “just in case,” Ruger’s new Chassis version of its PC Carbine is a great choice, while being less expensive than many of its competitors.
Ruger PC Carbine Chassis Specs
- Type: "Dead blow” blowback-operated semiauto centerfire
- Caliber: 9mm Luger
- Capacity: 17-round Ruger magazine supplied
- Barrel: 16.12 in., 1:10 twist; 1/2x28 threads, thread protector
- Overall Length: 32.25–35.5 in.
- Weight: 7.3 lb.
- Receiver: Anodized 7075-T6 aluminum furniture; Magpul MOE, 6-position adjustable buttstock (as tested), Ruger pistol grip, aluminum free-float handguard w/M-Lok
- Trigger: Single stage; 5.25 lb pull (measured)
- Sights: None; Picatinny rail
- Price: $799
- Manufacturer: Ruger, ruger.com
Ruger PC Carbine Chassis Accuracy Results