Carry Competition & Defense.
I think STI may be one of those companies people “know” about — but not really. You’ve seen their ads, likely seen their guns in the hands of successful competition shooters for years, even read articles about them. But do you really know about them? Let’s fix that right now.
STI may be one of the best kept “non-secret” secrets around.
In the early 1980’s STI was founded as a small company making EDM wire-cut 1911 parts. Why that’s important is because making parts that way is very precise, offering high quality, repeatability, precision and more.
Soon, company founders saw a need for a slim double-stack 1911, especially in the competition market, so they developed and patented the “2011” in 1993. I believe the “20” represented the 20th century — sort of being “after” the “19” in 1911. Get it? This glass-filled polymer grip design is only 1/8″ larger in diameter than a standard 1911 grip and maintain the same grip angle. It was revolutionary for the time and it still is.
This new design swept through the competition market and started the journey toward today’s high quality STI 1911 series semi-autos.
Over the years, STI has reached its stride, striking out in different directions under previous owners, but always returning to its roots, based on the 1911 style and format. Today, all of their guns are made entirely in the USA and they offer a lifetime warranty on all of their guns. Bet you didn’t know that? See?
Think of STI as being a custom gunmaker, but taking advantage of modern machines to help things out. Each gun is hand-built by certified gunsmiths and — this is important — STI is 100 percent employee-owned, so everyone there has a personal stake in what’s going on and what goes out that door. In the words of Greg Mooney, STI’s new president, “Everybody here genuinely cares about the quality of what we produce because everyone is a company owner.”
How about a couple more surprises? Nearly 90 percent of national and regional USPSA and IPSC matches are won with a 2011-style pistol (excluding production division). Every part made by STI is over-sized so it can be hand-fitted to the pistol being built. Each gun is subjected to over 30 quality control tests and then shot by hand prior to leaving the shop. As Jens Krogh, STI’s marketing guru said, “There’s no mechanical shooting rests here, we do it the hard way, by hand.”
STI doesn’t just offer their standard — but extensive — line-up. They also maintain a true custom shop, on-site. Need a trigger job, or a complete re-build with custom work? STI can do it, and you can take advantage of using their own EDM and highly vetted MIM parts to assure things are “just right” with your custom build.
Speaking of MIM, don’t get hysterical there. You’ve been using MIM parts in most of your firearms for years. The difference is some companies (like STI) demand only the highest quality MIM production parts, and then only use them in non-critical or non-stress wear areas. In STI’s case, only the grip safeties are MIM. All the “critical” parts are EDM or machined steel, period.
You might also enjoy knowing STI offers not only 50 1911’s in six different barrel lengths, but with the popularity of the 9mm in 1911 platforms, they also offer more 9mm 1911 models — than anybody else. Surprised you again, didn’t I?
Our Test Guns
If possible we try to showcase several guns from a single maker at a time, so I chatted with Greg Mooney and Jens from STI about which models might showcase what STI is doing today. We decided this trio, the DVC Limited (a competition model), the Tactical SS (4″ “defensive or police” model) and the very pocket-friendly Escort (3.24″), would give you an idea of the cross section of ideas coming out of their shop.
I’ve written before about sticking with one maker’s products if they seem to work for you. If you’re reloading and like, say, RCBS, then building your reloading bench around their products means the branded accessories you buy will likely work well with the base products. Interestingly enough, I find it to be the case with firearms too.
Sticking with a “family of guns” from one maker — especially if you have a high level of confidence in that maker — often makes good sense. A company like STI is small enough that employee-craftspeople can get familiar with their entire product line-up, applying the same quality control and consistency in their work from product to product. They know their line, know what needs to be done, are accomplished at it, and care personally about it. This can easily translate into consistency and good quality control in the final product.
So, various models likely touched the hands of the same gunsmiths and makers. It’s good to know the same “team” built each of your guns. It’s like buying from the same grocer, or using your favorite mechanic. Your relationship is based on trust, and trust is developed over time being in contact with their products or services.
In this case, even though the test guns are almost wildly different in ultimate design and use, they nonetheless “feel” like members of the same family — because they are. Triggers are crisp, grips feel snug, slides run smoothly, ejection is bold and predictable and I’ll wager if you fired these guns blindfolded you could pick them out of a crowd. Essentially, what I’m saying is I learned an STI feels like an STI. And that’s a good thing.
I’ll confess right off I’m not a seasoned competitor. My last official IPSC-style match was in the early 1990’s, but I’ve kept in touch with the sport and know many of the players. I’m fortunate in that Dave Anderson, who writes his Better Shooting and Winning Edge columns for us, really knows his way around the competition world and the equipment used. I reached out to Dave to help me understand why the DVC model is so popular.
On my own, I can tell you this is a stunning gun. Just peek at Chuck Pittman’s pictures to get a handle on how it simply looks great. It’s a bit like a race car in that there is a sense of everything being pushed to the limits to eke out the most performance possible from the sum of the parts. Yet these parts are time-tested and the design a proven performer, so you get a race car, but with the reliability of a well-sorted production model.
The trigger is elegant, breaking at about 2.2 pounds on this gun, and is crisp and sure, resetting cleanly and predictably. At $2,799, you’d expect this model to have all the bells and whistles, and it does — but none of it goes too far or is there simply because they can do it. Well, the sexy look may not be entirely functional, but like they say, if you feel good and look good — you’ll likely do good too, eh?
The DVC Limited has a new trigger and sear system, Dawson tool-less guide rod, hard chrome finish, new lightening slide and dust cover cuts, a very cool Titanium Nitride finish on the 5″ barrel, fiber optic front sight and adjustable rear, comes with two magazines and weighs in at about 41 ounces. Mag capacity depends on caliber and mag design. STI’s website offers a chart covering the different capacities.
STI says, “It’s the new ‘Standard’ in Limited Division and fits in the IPSC Box for International Competition.” Available in 9mm or .40 S&W (our test gun is a .40), the Limited clearly goes for the front seat when it comes to offering the performance and quality even an international-level competitor might demand.
Dave Anderson has this to say: “Roy, being from STI, we know it will be well made using only top quality components. Some of the features I really like are the adjustable sights, beavertail grip safety, extended ambi-thumb safety with nice, wide shelves, high cut front strap and that huge magazine chute!”
Dave said the heavily textured grip may be a cause for some hand chaffing during an extended practice session but he also said a touch with some fine grit sandpaper can easily soften that sharp edge a bit. During my own shooting, I found it offered a 100 percent solid grip, but after about 300 rounds of snappy .40, I was getting sore fingertips. A shooting glove would help. A minor complaint though, and one others with “manlier” fingers might not have.
I was getting essentially ragged groups hovering around the 1″ to 2″ (at most) with whatever ammo I sent through the Limited. The gun is, simply put, scary-accurate and the bold sights and great trigger pretty much offer you no excuse for losing — except for shooter meltdown.
Clearly a “defensive” or police/military-style 1911, the Tactical SS is all business. From the light rail to the subdued black Cerakote finish, this is a gun comfortable in a cop’s duty holster, a soldier’s thigh rig or on a home owner’s bedside table. The fixed sights (our test guns are by Heinie, with Trijicon inserts) are solid and easy to see and go along with the rugged concept of this model.
The mag-well is functional but not overly large, and the accessory rail can hold all the goodies your heart might swoon over. A nice touch is the optional threaded barrel so you can screw-on your favorite suppressor — a civilized way of shooting, I might add. It’s also increasingly popular for everyone, not just the black-BDU crowd.
The Tactical SS uses the STI Recoil Master guide rod system (two springs), has an ambi-safety, forward slide serrations, front strap serrations, aggressive black grip panels, beavertail safety, lowered slide release pin (on the starboard side) and a ramped barrel. Our test gun is in .45 ACP but the model is also offered in 9mm. Barrel lengths can be 3″ (interestingly enough), 4″ (our test gun) and a full 5″. All variations have forged, all-steel frames, making this a burly beast you could very definitely rely upon to protect you and yours.
I liked the sort of “commander” length, and it felt “just right” when we had the SilencerCo Osprey suppressor installed. The sights didn’t quite clear the diameter of the suppressor, but that’s a common issue and really just depends upon which suppressor model you install. It’d be easy to retrofit higher sights, and I’m sure STI could arrange that if you needed it done.
As with the DVC Limited, the Tactical SS didn’t offer any surprises when being shot. I know we often say we experienced no glitches during shooting test guns, but keep in mind we clean them, lube them correctly, use firm firing platforms and use good quality ammo and magazines. Doing that very thing allowed the Tactical to give us 100 percent reliability and frankly, I didn’t see a single reason why it shouldn’t have. Workmanship is first-rate and consistent and final fit and finish shows attention to detail.
If for some insane reason I found myself back slogging a midnight patrol beat, I’d not be offended in the least if the Tactical SS was the issue duty pistol. Plus, that weight in the hand felt comforting and certainly helped to ease the recoil of hotter loads. I liked this gun.
If you needed one really good 1911 for defense, casual targeting (this one was a solid 1.5″ or better gun at 25 yards), weekend competition and to learn more about suppressors, here’s your answer. At $1,899 ($100 more for Tritium sights), this costs about twice as much as lesser guns. But then again, you get more than twice as much gun, with features not found on the bulk of the “$800” variety. Buy two sorta’ okay guns” or one really good gun? Something to think about.
I honestly couldn’t decide which of our test guns is my favorite. Each has a comfortable home doing different jobs. The Tactical is the “most” cross-over of the trio, with the DVC Limited clearly a competition/target gun. You could do the home-defense or small-game hunting thing with it if you wanted, but I wouldn’t. Would you drive your race car to the corner market? Okay, maybe you would.
But the Escort (our test gun is in .45 ACP) is clearly made for one thing — personal protection. And there’s no doubt in my mind this gun can handle that serious job. This is a lightweight, ultra-compact gun, slim, with an interesting abbreviated beavertail safety, left-side thumb safety (perfect on this gun), a bit of anti-slip treatment on the front strap, no barrel bushing to fuss with, Recoil Master recoil spring set-up, aluminum “Officer” length frame and short 3.24″ barrel.
Everything about it says quality and “My job is personal protection so get outta’ my way while I do my job.” The $1,299 price tag buys you heck of a lot. Even the mag well is slightly beveled (a nice touch) and one of my favorite things is the fully adjustable rear sight! Don’t groan about not needing it, either. Why settle for a gun which might shoot off the point of aim with your favorite load? Why settle for having to fuss with changing front sights or knocking rear sights right or left in their dovetail? Why not just get your screwdriver out and fix it fast and easy? Simple, right? Imagine that.
These sights are plenty rugged and honestly … when was the last time you dropped your favorite gun and bent or disabled the rear sight? Would it matter at a toe-to-toe gunfight? Nope. But wouldn’t it be nice if you absolutely knew your gun was sighted-in exactly right to take a 25 yard precision shot if you had to? And this gun could do it if you needed to. I shot it at toe-touching target distances out to 25 yards, all done standing, two-handed. I absolutely could hit the head-sized steel plates at all of those ranges, easily — once I had that adjustable sight dialed in, that is.
Many (most?) of these little guns are problem children when it comes to reliability. I shot this gun a bit over 200 rounds, after the usual cleaning and lubing session. I also squirted a little more oil on things at about the 125-round mark. These short barreled guns need plenty of lube (why skimp?), a very firm firing grip and platform and whatever ammo they like best to be 100 percent reliable. Without the mass of a longer slide, the gun needs the resistance of your firm wrist and straight arm to recoil against. If you absorb some of that energy, you’ll get stovepipes, failures to chamber and eject and general ill-will from the gun.
But get things sorted out correctly and you’ll have a lightweight friend for life. Personally, I think this little gun needs to be in 9mm (offered along with the .45 ACP chambering). While the .45 is a bit snappy, the 9mm would be sublime, almost pleasant. I’ve fired them before and with modern 9mm ammo, why not? But if all you can find is a model in .45 ACP, don’t whine about recoil if you’ve never tried it, just learn how to manage it — or get a bigger gun or a smaller caliber. But don’t whine. Please.
And The Winner Is …
All of them. This family of firearms is like any family, each member has their strengths and weaknesses and job they do. But each has a lineage, a legacy if you will, going back decades now. That legacy has been built on responsibility, design innovation and quality. Today’s STI is, indeed, better than ever. Our test guns showed excellent, consistent workmanship, thoughtful design elements and were, simply put, a pleasure to shoot and work with during out testing. I hate to send them back.
By Roy Huntington
Photos By Chuck Pittman
For more info: http://stiguns.com/, Ph: (512) 819-0656, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org