GUN REVIEW: STI International Tactical 5.0

GUN REVIEW: STI International Tactical 5.0

Look no further for superb quality than this tactical .45 handgun.

By Warren Wilson

The progressive thinker who said, “That which stills us, kills us” probably wasn’t a fan of the 1911 pistol platform. Most departments moved away from steel pistols a decade or two ago. But recently there has been a resurgence of law enforcement officers carrying 1911s. Many forward-thinking agencies, like mine, allow high-proficiency shooters (those who score 90 percent or above on qualifications, otherwise known as The Police Marksman readers) to carry full-size duty pistols approved by the rangemaster. A substantial number of these cops choose a 1911 of one form or another.

Polymer duty guns make sense on paper because they’re reliable, lightweight, inexpensive, durable, and possess high-capacity magazines. I have several and, as far as I’m concerned, no legitimate case can be made against them. Law enforcement officers should carry the firearm with which they are the most competent.

So why do some officers still carry the 1911 platform? Speaking for yours truly, I find that the 1911 does everything better than the “plastic fantastics.” I can draw faster, shoot quicker, and hit better with the single action semi-automatic. I admit to a nostalgic attraction as well.

There is a downside to this particular affinity, as this 1911 thing is a little bit addicting. It seems I am always in need of another one. Recently, I came to the realization that I didn’t have a full-size 1911 with an accessory rail. It also occurred to me that I didn’t have a semi-custom pistol from STI International. STI is perhaps most well-known for producing competition pistols and parts. However, the Texas-based company also produces defensive and tactical handguns. In fact, they sell a lot more defensive and tactical pistols than they do competition guns. Despite their reputation for high quality that usually results in high prices, STI offers at least one pistol with an MSRP of just $764.00. My ‘fun account’ was uncharacteristically flush, but not for long. After some online research, I ordered an STI Tactical SS 5.0. Its MSRP is a quite a bit north of $764.00, but nowhere near what most other custom shops demand for pistols of similar quality and features.

New Gun Day

Oh, how I love New Gun Day! The sound of the box’s plastic fasteners clicking open, the warm golden light shining upward into your face, and the unsuccessful attempt to not look like a kid on Christmas morning while filling out the 4473 form in front of the eagle-eyed gun shop guy or gal.

I handled my new STI friend while the clerk ran the obligatory background check. My Tactical SS came in an air-tight plastic bag and there was no concern about the possibility of rust. This gun was more lubricated than the town drunk at the annual Watermelon Festival.

Features

As the name implies, the Tactical SS 5.0 is a single-stack .45 ACP with a 5-inch barrel. Beyond that, this pistol strays from the traditional 1911 platform. I suppose some progression is inevitable and it’s a good thing in this case. The Tactical SS series guns are available in 3-, 4- and 5-inch variations. They come furnished with one STI magazine. Their multi-positional accessory rails are built on fully forged frames. The pistols are outfitted with the upper end parts and slide from STI’s renowned 2011 model double-stack pistols.

All in all, Tactical SS series are much beefier than a standard 1911, but still weigh just a touch more than 41 ounces unloaded. STI uses ‘innovative lightening’ methods to maintain a typical 1911 weight and balance. A company representative told me the excess steel is removed from the rail where it will not compromise strength. This overall design helps dampen recoil and muzzle flip while maintaining a usable weight. However, it does make the gun a little less holster-ready than a more traditional gun. Still, I was able to find five manufacturers who offer holsters for this gun with or without a rail-mounted light. The accessory rail allows for placing a tactical light in one of six different locations. I found this exceptionally useful, since I have long fingers and don’t like my light right up against the
trigger guard.

The front and back straps are aggressively checkered and complement the G10 synthetic grip panels. Some shooters complain that good, aggressive grips like this hurt their hands. I have the soft hands of a police administrator, so I like grips made this way. The fact is, when things get ugly, positive friction between hand and gun is a beneficial concept. This STI .45 provides exactly that.

The Tactical SS has a fully supported, ramped bull barrel. It’s a serious hunk of steel with its bushingless system. I’m not one who places any value on the intimidation factor of a defensive gun, but this is the scariest muzzle I’ve ever seen. If the business end of this pistol could talk, it would sound like James Earl Jones barking, “Don’t!”

Heinie sights are standard issue with the Tactical SS. Those experienced with Heinies know they are just as useful for quick and close shooting as they are for longer, more precise work. A two-dot tritium combination is optional at an additional cost.

One of the first qualities to look for in a good 1911 pistol is the slide-to-frame fit. It is obvious that someone spent a lot of time with this gun to make it tight and slick at the same time. Another equally important consideration is the gun’s trigger. The Tactical SS’s trigger broke consistently at five pounds. It had a little more creep and over travel than I expected. Still, several shooters had almost no trouble hitting an IPSC steel target at 50 yards standing unsupported after we learned to hold to the right a little (more on that later).

I did one of those things that thing we all hate so much; I actually read the instruction manual. I was further guided to one of STI’s online instructional videos that covered adjustment of the trigger for creep and overtravel with the included hex wrench. There was much improvement once operator error was eliminated.

The pistol’s finish is listed as blue matte, but it’s what most of us call black. The STI’s lines are clean and there were no blemishes on the pistol until I got my hands on it. This is a defensive handgun that will see use, so the inevitable dings are merely signs of character.

Unusual Takedown

The Tactical SS 5.0 comes with the Recoil Master spring assembly. The dual spring system truly reduces felt recoil and helps the shooter get the sights back on target quickly. However, this is the most difficult system I’ve ever had to deal with as far as disassembly/reassembly. The slide stop simply pops out, lulling one into false confidence. The Recoil Master has to be removed next. Disassembly requires that the spring be flexed until the guide rod extends out past the muzzle and a tool can be placed on it, capturing the unit. Then, after several more times watching STI’s online instructional video, the gun comes apart.

Frankly, it was a little annoying watching that exceptionally calm STI fellow effortlessly disassemble and reassemble the pistol without one single expletive. After my fourth or fifth failed attempt, it was clear he was mocking me. However, after completing the process a few times, it did become easier. In fairness, I’m a bit of a klutz with the dexterity of a Sasquatch with matching social grace. A shooter who is a smidge more mechanically inclined should have no issue maintaining this STI pistol.

Range Time

The intent of this pistol purchase was home defense. In this role, it will be wearing a SureFire X300 and charged with a Chip McCormick Power Ten magazine. My choice of defensive ammo for the big bore is always the Federal 230-grain HST +P. This loading has had great success in law enforcement-related shootings and is as reliable as any duty round on the market. It tends to run a hair over 900 fps out of a 5-inch barrel, which in my opinion is a substantial contributor to its effectiveness. Properly testing one’s equipment prior to trusting it for serious social work is a repeated theme with me.

Since this pistol would almost always be loaded with 10 rounds in a McCormick magazine with one in the chamber, that’s how it was tested. I had two other shooters load the pistol’s chamber with an HST and then top off the magazine, exactly as it would be loaded in service. The three of us shot it this way four times and the pistol ran perfectly. By the end of our two-day shooting session, the Tactical SS 5.0 had eaten 100 HSTs and 100 Federal 230-grain American Eagle full-metal jackets without issue from the McCormick magazine, a Wilson Combat 47D, and the STI factory magazines.

Accuracy

Accuracy testing a full-size duty pistol usually consists of a five-shot group at 25 yards. I was able to squeeze five Federal HSTs into less than 1.5-inch on my first attempt from a sandbag rest. The pistol shot about 2.5 inches to the left of point of aim at that distance. Upon inspection, the front sight was slightly off center. A bit of time with a sight pusher fixed it up.

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The End Product

In 2005, STI became a completely employee-owned business or ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Program). When an organization encourages its people to feel ownership, the results are almost always positive. That is most definitely the case with STI International. Editor Steve Tracy and I spent some time at the STI booth at SHOT Show 2014, handling the pistols and talking to the STI employee owners manning the booth. I was convinced that I had to invest a little in the company myself. PM

Warren Wilson is a Lieutenant with the Enid Police Department in Oklahoma. He is a former SWAT team member/leader and has been in law enforcement for 17 years.


Captions:

  1. The STI SS 5.0 is a beefy improvement on the standard 1911 pistol. It should easily last for several careers’ worth of police duty.
  2. The STI Tactical SS 5.0 comes standard with Heinie sights.
  3. The Picatinny rail offers several options for the mounting of a light or other accessory.
  4. The slides and frames of the Tactical SS series are notably beefier than a typical 1911 platform pistol.
  5. The Tactical SS pistols are equipped with ambidextrous thumb safeties.
  6. The Tactical SS performed well with a SureFire X300 Ultra mounted, Chip McCormick Power 10 magazines, and Federal 230-grain HST +P ammunition.
  7. A 1.44-inch five-shot group at 25 yards. The elevation was perfect, but hit 2.5 inches left of the point of aim. A quick sight adjustment for windage moved the group to the center.
  8. The Tactical SS pistol in full recoil demonstrates the Recoil Master system’s effectiveness.

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