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Old 07-23-2009, 09:17 AM  Geek is offline     #1 (permalink)
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Default STI 2011 Tactical 4.15 Review

STI 2011 Tactical 4.15 Review

I've been drooling over the STI Tactical 4.15 since the beginning of 2004 if I recall correctly. I've wanted one ever since I saw it, but I never got around to buying one. Part of that was my total ignorance about the guns that enabled me to believe the myths about race guns and any 1911 that was not faithful to Browning's original design. All of that started to change when I bought my first 1911-type pistol almost two years ago to this day. I don't know if I intentionally defied the common wisdom or if I just didn't care, but against the advice of many 1911 purists, I chose a Springfield Armory Lightweight Champion. The LW Champion is a 4” ramped bull-barreled gun on a full sized frame made of aluminum, which goes against the more pure design of an all-steel frame with a 5” or at the very least, a 4.25” barrel with a barrel bushing. I bought it, I shot it with different magazines, different ammunition and did everything I could to get it to fail during the limited time I focused on it, but no matter what I did, the gun just ran, out of the box. The first outing, I didn't even clean it, I pulled over on the side of the road, went deep into the woods and emptied 2 full magazines of carry ammo into a tree stump on the way home from my FFL dealer. Shortly after that, I stepped up to a gun more in line with JMB's original design, a full-size Government model with two major differences between it and what the absolute purists would call a 1911, it also had a lightweight aluminum frame and a ramped barrel. Try as I could, I also could not get that gun to fail on me either. Finally, I ended up buying a 5” all steel Government model 1911 that was overall pretty faithful to the original design (full-length guide rod and front slide serrations aside). Eventually, I sent the last one off to Robar for some customizing and a refinish in NP3. This was my primary carry gun for some time and my faith in the 1911-specific myths and other firearm fallacies was simply blown.

Fast forward to the present. I finally decided that I'd hesitated on the STI Tactical long enough and I had the money available so I purchased one in 9mm. The STI Tactical comes in 2 flavors, one with a polymer grip and steel frame and one with a aluminum frame instead of the steel. The steel model brought the gun's weight in at 34.5oz empty, while the aluminum frame slimmed it down to a very respectable 27oz. Still, even at 34.5 ounces, the STI steel-framed Tactical 4.15 is lighter than a 1911 Commander and almost as light as an aluminum-framed Government model 1911. That's not bad at all. Sadly, as I understand things, due to a lack of sales, the aluminum-framed STI guns are going to be reserved for custom runs. I was lucky enough to get my order in for one before they were all gone (I got the last one that the dealer had).

Damn that's a sexy gun. All used and abused and ready for more.

First impressions? Nothing but goodness. The finest part of any 1911 to me is the trigger. There is simply nothing like a nicely done single-action 1911-style trigger in my opinion, and the stock STI unit on my Tactical did not disappoint. An impromptu measurement of the trigger weight put it in at about 4.25lbs with nearly no take-up, a crisp and clean break (the phrase, 'like a glass rod' comes to mind here) with almost no reset (the reset is almost imperceptible, it feels like a millimeter when actually firing the gun). Such a short reset might spawn fears of accidental doubletaps or discharges, but as long as you're a half-competent pistol shooter, you can put those fears to rest. While the trigger travel during reset is minimal, upon resetting, the trigger gives an audible “click” that can also be felt in the trigger finger; such is the way of a perfect 1911 trigger. To say that I am impressed with this out of the box trigger on a pricey, but production line gun is simply offensive, I like it better than the custom 4.5lb trigger job that Robar did on my Springfield 1911; it's simply that good.

The safety is, in a word, perfect. It's an ambidextrous model, meaning it has a shelf to manipulate it on either side of the pistol and it's fitted properly, giving the safety a solid feel that when manipulated, results in a “click” you can hear and feel when working the mechanism. There isn't even the slightest hint of play or poor fit.

The barrel is a fully-supported, ramped bull barrel, though the ramp is not nearly as aggressive in the angle as those on my lightweight .45's, which is probably due to the gun being chambered in 9mm.

The stock sights on the gun are Heinie Slant Pros, which feature serrated surfaces facing the shooter on both the front and the rear to minimize glare. The stock night sights for these guns are the Heinie Straight Eights (2 dot sights, one dot front, one dot rear) which are the same as the Slant Pro's except for the tritium vials.

Yes, I shoved my really expensive gun into a bunch of rocks for a picture.
I run 'em like I stole 'em.

The Tactical 4.15 also features a full-length dust cover, which provides for two things. First, it allows one to attach a laser or a tactical light using the integrated rails machined into the dustcover and second, it gives the gun a little more weight up front, providing for better balance and a more stable shooting platform that allows the gun to settle back down more quickly after a shot is taken.

The guide rod assembly is STI's RecoilMaster, which is a dual spring setup said to reduce felt recoil and to aid in bringing the gun back to the point of aim more quickly than conventional recoil assemblies. According to STI's website, other benefits include;

I obviously haven't had the gun long enough to put the service life claims to the test and I wouldn't know about how it performs on feed lip designs other than STI's (which are obviously designed with the RecoilMaster in mind, negating the need for it to be more forgiving there), but I can say that recoil is almost nil in this gun and it does get back on the sights extremely fast. I had no problem making sighted doubletaps in my function session yesterday. Normally, I have to fight with a gun a bit when I'm first getting used to it for doubletaps to work so easily. I don't know that this is actually due to the RecoilMaster or just the overall balance of the gun and the weight of it as compared to the caliber and recoil impulse, but I do know that the Tactical 4.15 exhibits the very behavior that STI attributes to the RecoilMaster assembly.

The magazine release is a bit longer than what I'm used to, even on regular 1911's. At first this was a concern, until I wore it in a holster for a few days and actually practiced magazine changes. In my hands, it's just the right size to make dropping a mag easy while keeping from doing it when you don't intend to.

As for the grip area of the frame, overall I like it. The size is actually about the same as a singlestack 1911, the only major difference being that the front strap has a wider radius to accommodate the doubletsack magazine, which gives a more wide and flat surface for your fingers as compared to a regular 1911. People who normally shoot doublestack polymer autos won't notice it much, if at all and as a 1911 enthusiast, I got used to it within minutes.

The front strap has molded in checkering that is a bit too aggressive for my tastes. I can see it offering an excellent surface for grip when wearing gloves, but I don't normally wear gloves like a tactical operator might. I have two options, I can either have the grip shaved a little to reduce the aggressiveness of the checkering in the front (or do it myself) or I can simply add a strip or two of some type of tape. I decided on the latter as it's cheap, easy and immediate and it doesn't physically alter my gun. I used regular old masking tape which worked out surprisingly well (which I took off for the photos), though I am considering some cloth hockey stick tape just to try it. The points on the checkering are sharp enough that after a little use (or just solidly gripping the gun), they push through just a little and give the front strap a much less abrasive feel while still providing more than enough grippiness to it. Overall, the aggressive checkering is my one and only complaint about the gun so far, which is a minor issue that is easily remedied at home with less than a penny's worth of tape.

The last two features of the grip and frame area that I want to talk about have proven to be somewhat controversial in some circles. The first is that the trigger guard is a squared unit, which is completely unlike a traditional 1911 trigger guard that is round. I personally think the square guard looks much better, but it makes holster selection a little difficult if one has their heart set on a specific brand or model. I'm sure most any custom leather maker can get one of their rigs in your hands for the gun, but off the shelf leather holsters aren't commonplace for the STI 2011 frame. However, if one doesn't mind (or prefers) kydex, then Bladetech Holsters makes quite a few models for the Tactical 4.15 (as well as other STI models). Their well-designed UCH rig is molded for the Tactical 4.15 and they also have a an OWB holster for it. If you fancy attaching a Streamlight TLR series light, they make an OWB and a thigh holster that will accommodate that setup too. Other holster options can be found by going to STI's website (STI International, Inc.) and looking in the FAQ or by going directly to http://www.stiguns.com/holsters.html. Fortunately, I make my own holsters so I crafted one similar to Tucker Gunleather's “The Answer”; a hybrid of leather and kydex and oh so comfortable.

The other feature that probably won't be very well-received, especially if you're thinking about this gun for concealed carry is the magazine well. In a word, it's big. As you can see from the photos, when I say big, I mean positively huge as compared to most any other gun that's normally carried concealed. I knew that this might prove to be a problem, so I planned ahead and purchased a Krebs Custom magwell from Dawson Precision which is about half the size of the stock STI unit and I also bought a short mainspring housing pin for the 2011 frame. The short pin allows me to take the funnel off completely and run the gun without any magwell at all (this ends up giving the user a grip that is very similar to a regular 1911, the only difference being that there is a small lip on the front at the bottom).

You know what they say about guys with big magwells?

So far, I haven't had a problem concealing with the stock STI funnel. At 6'2” and 220lbs, I'm not a small guy. I don't wear spandex shirts or any tight-fitting clothing really and by crafting my own holster, I was able to design in the right cant and I could make sure that the butt of the gun is pulled in close enough to conceal it with the big magwell installed so it hasn't posed a problem. Some people might wonder why leave it on at all since those huge funnels were designed primarily for competition. For me, the part of the reason is that the gun is new, I like it so much I don't want to change anything on it yet. Part of it is that I'm of the mindset that if it works, then one shouldn't worry all that much. It doesn't really print on me and even if it did, I don't really mind. Based on my experiences openly carrying, most people don't notice a gun that's not concealed, I doubt anyone but maybe a small subset of gun owners and the like would ever even guess that I have a gun underneath my shirt because of the magwell. Another reason to leave it on is that it really works. The funnel makes magazine changes a breeze, even for us non-competitors and professionals. With a lot of practice, you can change a magazine in any gun pretty quickly, but the funnel helps immensely in my opinion especially in tandem with STI's magazine design (which I'll get to soon enough). And the final part of it is that it actually helps me shoot. I have large hands, and the angle of the top side of the magwell actually acts as a palm rest as seen on target-style rifle and handgun grips. Both my trigger hand and my off-hand rest perfectly on the angled magwell and this helps me to get the right grip on the gun with good consistency. I'll keep the other options I already purchased just in case I want to experiment or I change my mind, but as of now, I see no reason to make the switch.

Finally, I want to talk about the STI magazine design. I currently have the 126mm flush fit carry magazines (in stock form they hold 17 rounds, but this can be increased with different followers/base pads), and what I like most about them is the extreme taper starting form the top quarter and angling up to the feed lips. I'm pretty sure that this was by design because the shape and taper of the magazines also greatly helps in quickly inserting a fresh magazine. Getting that narrow tip of the mag into the monstrous magwell and spacious internal area of the frame is like throwing a hotdog down a hallway. As the mag body widens, it forces the magazine to orient properly as it goes into the grip to seat with the mag catch locking it in. It's an ingenious design made possible by the height of the grip area of the frame and I really like it. If this was done by accident or is simply an aspect of some other design necessity for feeding 9mm rounds into the 2011, it's a very fortunate side-effect.

Walther P99 15-round magazine on the left.
STI 126mm 17-round magazine on the right.

So, how does it shoot? In a word, holycowthisthingisawesome.

As part of my defiance to the common internet myth that 1911's, especially those with tight tolerances and race gun features don't run without a lot of work and trips to the gunsmith, I decided that I would truly test this gun “out of the box”. I wanted to do a function test of no less than 200 rounds of ammunition in a gun that literally, came right out of the box with no cleaning, lubrication or maintenance. To enhance these conditions, ones which a regular person with a concealed carry permit is much more likely to encounter than guns falling from planes or getting lost in a block of ice, I stored the gun in a drawer full of various accumulated household junk and useless bits of other things long since relegated to the trash for two nights and in a t-shirt drawer full of dust and lint in a clothes dresser for one. I did not clean or lube the magazines either. The gun was run as it came to my FFL dealer in the FedEx box.

PA Highlander and Duck graciously donated the shingle pile in their yard yesterday as fodder for my function test, which gave me a great idea; why not twist both of their arms and make them shoot my new STI too? Three different shooters of different physical attributes, different hand sizes, shooting styles, shooting abilities and different levels of familiarity with the 1911 platform. If anyone could manage to force a neglected STI to jam up, someone in our group would surely be able to, right? Wrong.

The gun is one stubborn mule, she didn't do anything remarkable at all, she just shot where we pointed her, settled down quickly without much fuss at all and hung ready to fire the next shot. As I mentioned earlier, controlled pairs (sighted doubletaps in NineseveN-speak) were natural feeling, the gun felt great and hit dead on where I aimed it when I did my part. Ejection was pretty consistent with the spent shells falling into a small area about a foot or two to the right of the shooter and slightly to the rear. About 10 rounds or so failed to eject into this pattern and came back onto the shooter (or close to it), but other than that, the gun showed no behavior that was less than absolutely stellar.

During my portion of the shooting, I focused on a specific piece of shingle and managed to blow out 2 fist sized holes and a few smaller groups towards the end. After 225 rounds of 9mm, the gun was still ready for more. Unfortunately, we were out of time and ammunition, but she showed absolutely no sign of stopping. I've shot enough 1911's dry and dirty to know the feeling when the gun starts to slow down and where the fouling and lack of clean lube starts to introduce malfunctions, there wasn't even a hit of that at all.

This afternoon, I took a drive to the range I used to be a member of at the invitation of one of the range masters and tested 200 rounds of Federal HST hollow points (my carry ammunition). The gun still hasn't been cleaned and it still hasn't shown any signs of slowing down. After shooting it with me for a bit, all he could manage to say was, “Wow, this is a nice gun, I've never seen a 1911 like that before. Where did you get that again?”.

Lycanthrope once said something along the lines of the following to me at a group shoot about people not liking guns like his STI Edge, “They say that until they shoot one, then they want one”. So far, that axiom has held true. The range master at the club was no surprise to me, he buys everything that strikes his fancy, even if only briefly. But PA Highlander and Duck have always struck me as very down to earth people, I just don't think of them as people that would not only salivate over a gun that costs more than $1600.00, but by the end of a single shooting session with it, would be so impressed that they'd start making verbal plans (even jokingly) to sell other guns, one of their cars or each other in order to buy themselves an STI 2011. Me, I'm definitely that impulsive, I guess I expected more from those two. I can honestly say that I've never been so happy to see myself disappointed in two people before. I didn't need to shoot an STI to want one, but now that I own one and I've shot it, had I known back then what I know now, I would have sold as many guns as a I had to in order to get my hands on one of these. It's just that good.

For more information on the Tactical 4.15, visit the STI website @ STI International, Inc. and select “Complete Guns” on the left-hand menu and navigate to the 2011 doublestack guns portion of the page at the bottom. For more information and a review of Talon Arms!, Your on-line Tactical Tool Box, the dealer I bought the gun from, go to the following link: Talon Arms (www.talonarms.com) ROCKS!

Less than 250 rounds in this gun and it's already showing battle scars.
"Safe queens" need not apply for work in my holster.

©NineseveN - All rights reserved

Thanks to NineseveN and PAFOA for this writeup.
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