March 2005

Long-Slide .45 ACP Pistols: Springfield and STI Tee It Up

Though the $2,000 STI Target Master was Our Pick, it cost twice as much as the Springfield Long Slide 6-inch .45, which we rated as a Best Buy despite some hiccups.

The STI Target Master should prove to be a favorite with Bullseye and PPC competitors who want a pistol that is competitive out of the box. Even without shooting a match target load, we still found it easy to produce 1.5-inch accuracy at 25 yards.

The long-slide 1911 pistol has never been the most popular version of the Browning design, but it does have distinct advantages that should interest many shooters. Barrel length for this model is typically 6.0 inches, and the slide that houses the longer tube serves to stretch the pistol’s sight radius. This makes life easier for older eyes and offers a better sight picture. As a result, Police Pistol Course (PPC) competitors and Bullseye shooters favor long-slide pistols. At one point, long-slide 1911s were also the hot setup for USPSA/IPSC Practical Shooting competition, but this fad has abated. Though usually the province of custom gun builders, two major manufacturers offer long-slide 1911s in .45 ACP. Springfield Armory makes the Springfield Armory Custom Loaded Long Slide 1911-A1 No. PX9628L, while STI International’s entry is named the Target Master. The Springfield Armory gun sells for $1049, and the STI product costs nearly twice that amount, $2,016. However, the STI is touted as being match ready, and it comes with special sights to make it more appealing to the competitor.

Here’s what we found when we tested them head to head:

STI International Target Master .45 ACP, $2016

STI originally stood for Strayer-Tripp International. Founded in the 1980s, the company founded by Sandy Strayer and Virgil Tripp led the firearms industry into the precision world of EDM hammers, sears, and other components. But STI made a bigger splash when it began offering modular frames that connected the mechanical features of the 1911 pistol with a high-capacity polymer grip. This grip was of much higher detail than other polymer products and proved to be durable and precise. Mated with a sub-frame to create a completed receiver, this combination was a boon to competitive shooters who took advantage of the increased capacity and lighter weight. But the turn of the century found STI under new ownership, and the company expanded its lineup to include traditional single-column steel-framed pistols.

Our test gun, the .45 ACP Target Master, is also available in 9mm. Other long-slide models include the $1,250 Trojan 6.0 with its shorter dustcover.

The Target Master offered an all-steel long-dustcover frame with 30-lpi checkering on the front strap and the rear mainspring housing. The squared trigger guard housed an aluminum trigger that was grooved and ventilated, and the trigger featured an adjustment for overtravel.

A guide in the magazine well speeded reloads, and the drilled-and-tapped magazine-release button accepted a $15 extension, should the shooter want one. The high grade–wood grip panels were checkered, polished, and emblazoned with the STI logo. The wide beavertail grip safety extended well over the web of the hand, contributing to the Target Master’s overall length of more than 9.5 inches. The ambidextrous thumb safety incorporated two paddles, with the right-side paddle slightly narrower than the left side paddle. The natural colored aluminum trigger, the grip safety, hammer, thumb safeties and the barrel contrasted with the polished, blued finish. The matte frame finish and matte flattened top rib likewise counterpointed the polished sides of the slide. Wide and bold cocking serrations appeared on the front and rear of the slide. The ramped 6-inch bull barrel had full support. The two-piece guide rod included an Allen cut in the tip.

A tall, thin front-sight blade enhanced the sight picture, and a special rear-sight unit included standard windage and elevation adjustments and three pre-set elevations with the twist of a screwdriver. This Aristocrat Tri-Level Sight enables PPC competitors to quickly adjust to shooting at distances ranging from 7 yards to 50 yards (or meters). With the Tri-Level Sight, we were able to establish three different points of impact with the same hold or, point of aim, simply by resetting the elevation cam.

To use this feature, the shooter set the standard elevation screw so that it had plenty of adjustment left. Then the shooter addressed each of the three elevation set screws separately. With the cam set at position 1, we adjusted the (Allen) elevation screw for dead-on at 15 yards with a 6 o’clock hold. We then turned the cam to position 2 and adjusted the elevation screw marked number 2 for desired point of impact at 25 yards. Turning the cam to position 3, we set the last screw for 50 yards. We think this type of sight would be most advantageous to the competitor who has developed one load suited to the gun. Switching loads would require constant adjustment.

For collecting

accuracy data

, we shot targets at 25 yards from a sandbag rest. When the dust settled, we managed to record sub-2-inch groups across the board. In fact, both the Hornady 200-grain JHP/XTP rounds and the Black Hills 230-grain JHP rounds averaged 1.4 inches center to center for all groups fired. The 185-grain JHP round from Black Hills managed groups ranging from 1.4 to 1.9 inches. Only the remanufactured rounds from Black Hills (230 grain FMJ) produced a single group that measured larger than 2 inches, but we still managed an average group size of 1.8 inches.

From the driver’s seat, we recorded some distinct impressions. For one, we weren’t always sure if we were testing the pistol or the pistol was testing us. The front sight was so tall and thin we thought it was too vulnerable, and by day two of our tests, we could decipher a slant to the left. The magazine guide (held on with an Allen screw) managed to work loose. Of course some Loc-Tite fixed that, but we think any time a guide is added it should be welded and blended in. The supplied seven-round magazines lacked a bumper pad, so any time you might gain from the presence of the guide during a hasty reload was lost by having to reach in and seat the magazine.

We also tried some Wilson eight-round magazines and a variety of 10-round magazines. The Target Master did not malfunction at any time during the test. The drilled and tapped magazine release was a nice plus, but without an extension button, the release should be capped to give it a finished look and protect the threads from being clogged with debris. The slotted grip screws worked loose, and we would have preferred Allen screws anyway. But aside from these minor complaints, we have to admit that the STI Target Master made it easy to shoot one tight group after another.

Springfield Armory Custom Loaded Long Slide 1911-A1 No. PX9628L .45 ACP, $1049

For Springfield Armory of Geneseo, Illinois, the word “Loaded” has all but become a trademark. At least 10 of the 12-plus different 1911-style pistols listed on the Springfield Armory website, , have the word “loaded” in their names. The exact number may be in question because the list of available variations is a mosaic of options. Referring to the catalog number for the subject of this test, PX9628L, was easier than repeating the mouthful of words in the gun name above.

This is Springfield’s only 6-inch-barrel production pistol, so we’ll just go along with the manufacturer and refer to it from here on as the “Long Slide.” As stated on the company’s website, “…the Long Slide offers increased sight radius for improved accuracy and a longer barrel for higher velocity. Muzzle-forward weight distribution reduces recoil and allows quicker shot-to-shot recovery.” We think this pretty much encapsulates the design intention for the 6-inch 1911.

But we were also struck by the gun’s low price. The 5-inch-barrel Government models in Loaded configuration range in price from $860 (Parkerized version) to $999 (Black Stainless model). Priced at just over $1000, perhaps the Long Slide really does give you more for your money.

The Long Slide offered a number of heretofore aftermarket features in what we felt was a handsome, understated package. The 6-inch non-ramped barrel utilized a full-length two-piece guide rod. The barrel hood included a very small cutout to the rear that served as a loaded chamber indicator. The slide offered cocking serrations front and rear. The rear sight was a neat copy of the Bo-Mar design, and was adjustable for windage and elevation. The rear face of the sight was grooved to reduce glare, as was the front-sight blade, which was cleanly dovetailed and pinned into place. The ambidextrous thumb safety was slightly thinner on the right side. The grooved slide release and the magazine button sat on the left side of the frame. The fancy wood grip panels, covered in diamond-shaped cuts, stayed in place with the help of stainless Torx screws. The ventilated aluminum trigger allowed for overtravel adjustment, and the skeletonized hammer sat above a smooth beavertail grip safety, which had a high contour and a boldly raised contact platform. The gun fit our hands nicely as a result. The smooth front strap lacked checkering, but grooves on the backstrap/mainspring housing improved that grip surface.

A hard-to-spot feature, Springfield’s Integral Locking System (ILS) worked by freezing the mainspring. This mechanism makes disassembly of the receiver more complicated, but we the owner’s manual did a good job of explaining the proper procedure. The bevel on the magazine well presented a big hole for the magazine to slide into, and it looked like it would easily accept a magazine guide At the range we discovered that simple peripheral lubrication at points such as the barrel hood, outer surface of the muzzle, and the rear portions of the slide that were exposed with the slide locked back would not be enough. Our initial familiarization shots included many failures of the slide to go fully into battery. To solve the problem, we locked the slide back and loosened the two-piece guide rod with a 5/32-inch Allen wrench to begin removal of the top end. After letting the slide forward, we unscrewed the remainder of the guide rod and pulled it out. Aligning the disassembly notch on the left side of the slide with the slide stop, we pushed the stop out from right to left. With a hand underneath the dustcover to control the recoil spring, we removed the slide from the frame and pulled out the rear portion of the guide rod. Next, we used Break Free CLP to fill the lugs inside the top of the slide, the frame rails, the slide rails, and the disconnector slot, which is the indentation to the rear on the underside of the slide. In addition we lubricated the pivoting points on either side of the hammer and the disconnector itself, pushing it down repeatedly to work in the oil. While doing this, we noticed the spring on the disconnector was very stiff. We also bathed the barrel feet and link pin with oil.

Upon reassembly we replaced the supplied recoil spring (which we estimated to be a 16-pound part) with a lighter 14-pound spring. We experienced no further stoppages, and after firing approximately 150 rounds, we reinstalled the original recoil spring. The result was 100-percent reliability with a variety of ammunition, including loads topped with lead semi-wadcutter (SWC) and round-nosed flat-point (RNFP) bullets.

The gun came with two seven-round magazines, but we also fired the Long Slide with 8- and 10-round magazines from Wilson Combat and Metalform without malfunction.

In the hand the Long Slide did indeed feel muzzle heavy. The gun also had a very narrow feel to it, and if you are accustomed to checkering on the front strap you will notice the reduction in grip immediately. But we liked the look of the sparkling matte finish that adorned the front strap as well as the underside of the frame and slide, which contrasted with the gun’s polished vertical surfaces. This matte treatment was also applied to the relieved portions of the cocking serrations on the slide. After spending time with the STI Target Master, we thought the front-sight blade on the Springfield Armory Long Slide seemed positively fat. But there was plenty of room for light between the front and rear sight, even if personal preference would demand otherwise. We weighed the trigger pull to be one-half pound less than that of the STI pistol, (6.0 compared to 6.5 pounds). But the Long Slide’s trigger felt heavier to us — a likely result of the Springfield’s trigger being less crisp than the STI’s.

Results from our accuracy session showed that shots fired from a sandbag rest at 25 yards produced an overall average five-shot group measuring 2.2 inches. The best choice of ammunition proved to be the Black Hills 230-grain JHP round, with groups measuring from 1.5 to 2.0 inches across. This was about 0.4 inch bigger than the STI pistol’s groups, but velocities produced by our four choices of test ammunition consistently registered higher out of the Springfield Armory Long Slide.

Gun Tests Recommends
• STI Target Master .45 ACP, $2049. Our Pick. The Target Master proved easy to shoot accurately. The imposing look of this pistol begins with the Tri-Level sights, but they are easier to adjust than you might think. This gun will test your skill, impress your friends and give you a competitive edge.

• Springfield Armory Custom Loaded Long Slide 1911-A1 .45 ACP, $1049. Best Buy. We think this gun is a bargain because it provides a healthy head start on becoming a good Bullseye, PPC, or IPSC pistol. The Long Slide’s appearance is so understated you can almost miss all the upgrades — which in our view would be a shame.