STI is under new management. A gentleman from Taos, New Mexico took a shine to the Texas gunmaker and added it to his portfolio. Smart move. (They’ve got an average eight-month backorder for their firearms.) As regular readers will know, STI makes top quality guns for the top end of the market, designed and hand-finished for both carry and competition. The STI HEX Tactical SS single stack is one their newest models, blending 1911 functionality and concealability with 9mm capacity and reduced recoil. Best of all worlds? . . .
The HEX Tac has a heavy four-inch barrel, requiring no tools to disassemble or reassemble. Combined with the steel frame and the 9mm caliber, the HEX Tac’s barrel helps reduce muzzle rise. The result: a gun with a shorter sight radius that not only carries well, but returns to target with life-saving alacrity. More on that later . . .
The HEX Tac’s extended magazine well is wider than normal — and for good reason. The pistol doesn’t print when carrying inside-the-waistband, while still providing extra room for fast reloads. An ambidextrous thumb safety comes standard. I used to dislike an ambi safety on a carry gun; I was worried it was likely to become disengaged. After carrying a few guns with ambi safeties — including a full length Les Baer — I’ve never had this happen.
The reason I like the ambidextrous safety now isn’t so much the ability to use the safety with my left thumb. It’s picking up the gun. An ambi safety on a 1911 makes the handle sit up off a solid surface; I can pick up the gun faster and get a solid grip more quickly. The odds of needing a fast gun recovery are greater than the odds of having to fire the gun left handed (after disengaging the frame-mounted safety).
The HEX Tac’s sights are one of the only two combinations I find acceptable for a “tactical” gun. Ideally (for me), the front sight must be either tritium or a bright fiber optic unit. The HEX Tac sports a red fiber optic front sight; there’s nothing better for picking up that sight in the daylight. In the dark, I prefer tritium. But any light at all — as in any light bright enough to see your target — will illuminate the fiber optic from sight enough to shoot. The HEX Tac’s rear sight is the Heine sight I’ve grown to love. I can easily use it to rack the gun one-handed off my pocket, boot or belt.
The HEX Tac’s two most prominent features: the large hexagonal cuts on the sides of the slide and the tri-topped milling of the slide itself. I’ve always liked a flat top slide. It makes the sights pop. The HEX Tac’s front sight is a variation on that theme, with two angular cuts on the slide up to a thin flat top. The geometry drives my eyes to the sights from behind the gun as I raise or lower the muzzle, and they look pretty cool too. The textured cuts on front and back of the slide certainly do their job, but beware . . .
I like a heavy textured carry gun with aggressive grips and slides. That’s because I’ve worked guns in gloves in the bitter cold. Also, as a medic, I’ve held a pistol in one bloody hand while holding a patient with the other bloody hand. It’s an experience that’s taught me to value those deep valleys in the HEX Tac’s metal skin.
There is a price to pay for that grippiness. If you don’t pay attention to your technique, the HEX Tac will remove skin and meat from your hand. When I used a little too much grip to lever down on the gun, my thumb pushed over onto the slide. Normally, it wouldn’t be a problem, and I wouldn’t even notice it.
The first time out, the HEX Tac’s rear slide’s big cuts acted like a cheese grater on my thumb. I spent the rest of the session wiping blood out of those grooves in the slide. But hey, it was a good lesson in proper grip technique; riding the slide with your thumb can induce failures.
Although it has a lot of angles, the HEX Tac was snag-free in either a leather outside-the-waistband holster or my well-used El Paso Saddlery inside-the-waistband summer special. The HEX Tac’s dimensions are almost identical to my current EDC (STI Duty One 4.0). My holsters all worked with it so I was comfortable with how the HEX Tac draws. Yes, the sight radius of a five-inch slide is nice, but the four incher rides easier on my hip, draws faster and points better.
The heavens had opened up before my range time at the Best of the West Range in Liberty Hill. I was cleaning the mud out of the HEX Tac’s maganizes after dropping them to the ground when I got an idea.
I intentionally loaded rounds into a muddy magazine. The HEX Tac ran just fine. I ran a mixed ammo can of everything from 80-grain Ruger Polycase to 147 grain American Eagle FMJ’s through the gun with zero malfunctions of any kind.
I had one issue on the HEX Tac that I’ve had with some other 1911s, but never with an STI. Shooting the gun with my right hand only, with a high grip and my thumb on the thumb safety, the grip safety wouldn’t engage enough for the gun to fire. The high grip with my long, thin hand was creating a pocket for the safety and wasn’t depressing it far enough.
Though rare, people with similarly slim hands may have the same problem. STI or any competent gunsmith can change this for you, so that any grip that allows you to hold the gun and depress the trigger will reliably disengage the safety.
The HEX Tac’s accuracy is very good, but not exceptional. Like the STI DVC, the HEX Tac didn’t like the 147 grain American Eagle rounds, scoring a 3.5″ group. Firing Team Never Quit 100 grain frangible hollow points rounds off a bag at 25 yards I scored a more respectable 2″ group, with Winchester White box 115grain FMJs printing all around that.
As the HEX Tac was so controllable, I fired it again a day later to see if I could do better. I couldn’t consistently get below the 2″ mark. That’s certainly respectable, but the HEX Tac is high-end gun that should do better (IMHO).
All firing was done after the reliability testing. As usual, the gun was never cleaned at any point during the testing. It should also be noted that the gun was well fired and dirty when it came to me, so I don’t really know how many rounds went through it and shooting it clean, or cleaner, may improve accuracy.
The HEX Tac is the gun that convinced me that a 9mm 1911 carry gun is better than a .45ACP 1911 carry gun. Obviously enough, it’s significant easier to make follow-up one-handed shots with the 9mm gun than the .45ACP. Sure, the .45ACP makes a larger total wound channel than the 9mm. But take it from a combat medic, the difference is academic, and doesn’t make up for the increased capacity, accuracy, and reduced time to get back on target offered by a 9mm firearm. If this gun came with an aluminum frame, the HEX Tac would be my EDC.
I’m not writing another STI review for a while. It’s not because they aren’t great guns. They are. It’s because they’re boringly great. At this point I know that an STI gun is going to shoot accurately and reliably. I’ve put over 4,000 rounds through STI guns for thetruthaboutguns.com. In all of those, I’ve had a total of one failure, and that was almost certainly from an overpressured round. So the next gun I review won’t be an STI, but the next pistol I buy might be.
SPECIFICATIONS: STI HEX Tactical SS 9mm
Frame – Steel, accessory rail, narrow extended magwell
Barrel – 4″
Weight – 40 oz. (my scale)
Finish – Cerakote, black
Capacity – 10 rounds
Trigger – 4-5 Lbs.
Sights – Rear ledge and fiber optic front
Grips – VZ Alien
MSRP – $2,099
Ratings (out of five stars):
Style * * * * *
It gets a lot for being a 1911, but sometimes that rail can just destroy the lines of Browning’s design. The cuts to the slide, both texturing and the tri top, actually compliment the rail and make it work. Plus, the bonus of the quality grips really make the gun look great.
Accuracy * * * *
More than very good, just not amazing.
Reliability * * * * *
It shoots every kind of bullet, and mud, flawlessly.
Customization * * * * *
It’s a 1911, you can change just about everything on it and get it all from STI. That said, other than setting it up with tritium sights, this is how I’d do it.
Overall * * * *
I’ve been carrying a gun similar to, but not exactly like this gun, for years. Over those years, and because I get to shoot a lot of different guns for TTAG, I’ve imagined what my next perfect EDC would be. What I kept coming up with: something a whole lot like the HEX Tac. If the grip safety was less sensitive and the gun was lighter and a tad more accurate….