If John Moses Browning was to return to this earthly plane, I believe he would be totally flummoxed when he saw what has happened to his most famous design, the 1911 pistol.
While many of its more ardent fans believe the 1911 pistol was the “perfect” fighting handgun as originally designed, since its introduction gunsmiths (of varying degrees of skill and enthusiasm) and handgun manufacturers have been striving to make it more reliable, accurate, ergonomic, user friendly and attractive. And none of these have been more successful at this task than STI of Georgetown, Texas.
STI offers one of the most complete lines of 1911 pistols on the market today. A perusal of the company’s website will show the prospective customer pistols suitable for military/police service, concealed carry, home/business defense or competitive shooting. And right off the shelf, these pistols feature every “bell and whistle” demanded by today’s serious defensive and competitive shooters. All the customer has to do is take it out of the box, load the magazines and they’re ready to handle any task a semi-auto pistol might be put to.
While STI is perhaps best known for its line of modular-frame, high-capacity pistols, which are major players in the action shooting sports, the company also offers a complete line of metal-framed 1911 pistols. Which brings us to the subject of this article: the new STI HEX Tactical Single-Stack (SS) 4.0.
STI HEX Tactical SS 4.0 Specs
As its name indicates, the STI HEX Tactical SS 4.0 is a single-stack 1911 with a 4-inch barrel, which makes it slightly shorter, and thus easier to conceal, than a traditional Commander-sized 1911. For those desiring a longer sight radius, STI also offers the HEX Tactical SS 5.0 with—you guessed it—a 5-inch barrel.
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One glance at the pistol and you’ll know where its name comes from. Instead of serrations or grasping grooves, the slide has a series of intricately machined hexagonal cuts at the front and rear. These provide an extremely secure purchase when racking the slide to chamber a round or clear a (hopefully rare) jam. While these are eminently practical, there is a slight downside. I shoot a 1911 with a high-thumb grip (thumb on top of the safety), and on a few occasions I held my thumb against the slide, which resulted in some abrasion from the hexes. Of course, pain is an excellent teaching tool, and I quickly learned to place my thumb under the safety for the rest of the testing.
The HEX has what STI refers to as a “tri-topped” slide where metal has been relieved along the outer edges, giving it what I call a “half-hex” profile when viewed from the front or rear. This reduces the slide’s weight to help ensure proper functioning with ammunition of varying weights and ballistics.
For targeting, the pistol uses a red fiber-optic front sight and a Heinie Ledge rear sight. Both are mounted in dovetails and can be adjusted for windage. The Ledge rear sight has a large square notch for fast alignment with the highly visible fiber-optic front, and the ledge or lip allows you to rack the slide one-handed against a belt, pocket or other gear in an emergency.
As is SOP on today’s high-end 1911s, the ejection port has been lowered and flared to ensure that spent cases get out of the way reliably. The match-grade, stainless steel barrel is retained by the traditional 1911-style bushing, and disassembly is greatly eased by STI’s Recoil Master system, which uses a plastic sleeve to contain the compressed recoil spring/guide rod unit when you remove them from the pistol. This will really be appreciated by those of us who have had sundry springs and bushings fly away only to land in inaccessible corners of our workshops.
The STI HEX Tactical’s steel frame features an aggressively checkered frontstrap and mainspring housing for improved handling and recoil control, which are further enhanced by a set of VZ Alien G10 grip panels. In fact, the grips provide such a firm purchase, even with sweaty or oily hands or when wearing gloves, that I believe you’d have to tear the skin off the palms of my hands before you could take this pistol away from me.
An ambidextrous thumb safety comes standard, as does a skeletonized trigger with an overtravel adjustment screw, a beavertail grip safety with a palm swell and an elongated, lightweight hammer with a hexagonal shape. The frame has a short dust cover with an integral rail for mounting lights, lasers or other tactical accessories. The magazine release and slide stop lever are both mounted in the proper 1911 positions.
To help ensure smooth reloads, the bottom of the grip frame has a modest magazine well funnel that is the same width as the grip frame itself, further enhancing the HEX’s concealability. Lastly, the entire pistol has a black Cerakote finish, which provides protection from wear, abuse and environmental extremes—and is damn good looking, too.
Our decision to test a 9mm STI HEX Tactical will no doubt result in a number of irate letters from those who believe that chambering a 1911 in anything other than the iconic .45 ACP is tantamount to treason. But, as I have stated in earlier articles, with improvements in bullet design and propellants, the 9mm no longer has to take a backseat to larger-caliber cartridges when it comes to on-target performance. And in the 1911 platform, the 9mm provides a higher capacity (nine or 10 rounds versus seven or eight) and lighter recoil for faster, more accurate follow-up shots. To my way of thinking, chambering “Old Slabsides” for Georg Luger’s legendary cartridge is a win-win situation.
Having tested and competed with a number of STI pistols over the years, I was not surprised in the least when the HEX we received was an attractive item whose quality of parts, fit and finish were first class.
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My wife, Becky, and I took advantage of a mild November morning to escape from the office and run the HEX through its paces at our local gun club. Test-firing it from an MTM K-Zone rest at 15 yards showed it was capable of all the accuracy my crude efforts could wring out of it. As can be seen from the performance table, it was boringly easy to produce five-shot groups in the sub-2-inch range with four different brands of 9mm ammunition.
Instead of perforating cardboard combat targets, we decided it would be more fun to see how the HEX performed running drills on 12 steel plates that my club recently installed. Starting with a full 10-round magazine in the pistol, I engaged 10 plates, performed a reload, engaged the remaining pair and made up any misses. I am pleased to report that running this drill five times only required the expenditure of an extra five rounds of 9mm ammo.
As is my SOP with any new CCW handgun, I carried the STI HEX Tactical for the next week in a BlackHawk TecGrip IWB holster. The TecGrip’s outer shell is made of a special material that will hold fast to most any other material, eliminating the need for a clip. I can tell you that it remains where you put it and does not move around when you draw the pistol.
The following week, Becky used the HEX as her regular carry gun, toting it in a Galco Metropolitan Holster Handbag. Thanks to its short length, the HEX was easy to conceal, and the VZ Alien grips and frame checkering allowed her to get a firm purchase as she withdrew the gun from the handbag. She did feel that it was bit on the heavy side and thought the option of an alloy frame would make a lot of sense.
My only complaint about the HEX is the magazine release button, which is rather flat and on occasion I had trouble manipulating it. I would like to suggest that STI offer an extended release as an option. Other than that, I found the STI HEX Tactical SS 4.0 to be a very practical pistol, and I would not hesitate a moment in recommending it for those who prefer the 1911 platform for concealed carry.
For more information, visit stiguns.com or call 512-819-0656.
This article was originally published in “Combat Handguns” May/June 2017. To order a copy, visit outdoorgroupstore.com.