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Gear Review: The STI Spartan 9mm


UPDATE -- October 9th, 2012:

A few months after this post I finally managed to get over to my 1911 gunsmith and he found a tiny burr inside the magazine catch hole. A few minutes of sanding and ALL of the magazines I have for the Spartan now function flawlessly. It seems there was just enough drag on the magazine catch to keep from fully engaging the magazine. All fixed.

The only trouble I've since then had are almost certainly ammo related. I recently got some bulk UMC 9mm and it occassionally stovepipes. But then the UMC does it even more often in my FN FNX-9 so I'm pretty sure it's just crappy ammo as the other ammo I've fed the Spartan has worked perfectly.



A few months ago Sean invited a bunch of bloggers to meet up and attend a training class. The schedule included shooting about 500 rounds in a single day. Usually I'm a  .45ACP shooter so just thinking about it started to hurt. Not so much the actual shooting part but rather the cost. A thousand rounds of .45ACP runs about $350-$400. The same amount of 9mm is about $200. Ouchie.

In fact, the cost of .45ACP has been keeping me from shooting as much as I'd like. The Mrs. and I have a weekly range day every Tuesday at PDHSC and I've been trending more toward just shooting .22 because of the expense.

Being the kind of person that likes to have more than one reason for doing something I took this as an opportunity. I needed to buy a pistol chambered for 9mm.

But then another dilemma. I normally carry a 1911 in .45ACP. Do I buy some Tactical Tupperware? Or shell out for a Sig? I have rather small hands so I've never found the double-stack pistols to be comfortable to hold or shoot. Decisions, decisons....

I tried a Sig P226 and liked it okay and was leaning toward a Sig P239 when the Mrs. did some looking around and discovered that STI (yes, THAT STI) makes a single-stack 1911 in 9mm. And the price was pretty good too. So I called Dawson Precision and ordered an STI Spartan in 9mm. They were having a special and would mount a fiber optic front sight for free so I took them up on it.

While I was waiting for it to come in I ordered four 10 round Tripp Research magazines and three boxes of 9mm. I got some different brands of ammo in case it was picky but made sure I stuck with fairly major brands that I wouldn't have any trouble getting. I figured Federal, Remington and Sellier & Bellot were pretty safe choices.

About a week later PDHSC called me and said it had arrived. I headed over after work and picked it up.

The Spartan came with a single 9 round magazine, a pair of fired casings, the requisite lock and an instruction manual in an industry standard plastic case. I pulled it out and checked it for function then ran three magazines through it, one mag full of each brand.

During the first mag I noticed a disturbing problem. After about three shots the magazine would fall out of the gun. Considering that STI has a reputation for quality and as Tripp Research makes the factory mags for STI I was pretty puzzled. I popped out to the PDHSC front desk and checked to see if they had any single stack 9mm mags for a 1911. Lucky me, they had a bunch of Wilson Combat ETMs. I bought two and tried them in the STI. They worked fine leaving me to believe that the STI just didn't like the Tripps. I've had several guns that were picky about mags but generally not with quality mags. Very odd.

There was one thing that I didn't check and it popped up at TigerSwan to haunt me. But more on that later.

I wanted about a month between the receipt of the Spartan and the class and I timed it pretty well. I'd have four range days to break in the pistol before I attended the class and what I didn't want is to show up with a gun that didn't run. The point of a class is to learn and it helps if your stuff all works. The range days went pretty well. The Spartan ate up the S&B ammo in the ETM 10 round mags with almost no issues. I did notice that when the Spartan had just been cleaned it liked to stove-pipe on the second or third round of the first magazine but after that ran just fine. I suppose it doesn't like being clean.

Satisfied with the ETMs I bought four more. Sean had noted that at least five magazines were best unless you wanted to be stuck loading like a madman between drills. As it turns out six was just about perfect. I bought a Butler Creek Magazine Loader/Unloader from Amazon and it was extremely useful. Usually after 100 rounds my thumb is sore from loading mags. I don't want to think about what 500 rounds in one day was going to do to my thumb.

During the first parts of the class I noted no problems with the pistol. The drills were mostly 10 shot drills that would empty the gun and I'd just pop in a new magazine, drop the slide and go. Later, however, we started doing tactical reloads and drills that required more than 10 rounds.

I discovered that if I fired a few rounds dropped a mag with a round still in the chamber and slammed in a new, full mag the gun would fire once and then go click! An examination found that the mag had come unseated. I tried this several times and while it didn't always happen it happened enough to make me very unhappy.

Considering the earlier problem with the Tripp magazines I've pretty much decided to blame the magazine catch in the Spartan. Now remember when I said that I always like to have more than one reason to do something? And remember when I complained about having small hands?

The stock magazine release on a 1911 is just out of reach of my gun hand. If I shift my grip to where I can eject the magazine I'm no long in shooting position. I've generally just used my support hand to drop the magazine before I reach for a reload. This is not entirely satisfactory. It works, but it's kind of slow.

Cylinder & Slide makes an ambidextrous magazine release for the 1911 that doesn't appear to require a trip to the gunsmith. As the Spartan is going to be a range queen ( I still carry the 1911 in .45ACP) having the extra stuff hanging off of it really isn't an issue and since I'm pretty sure that the magazine release is faulty anyway here's an opportunity to fix both problems.

If it works and doesn't hang up or expose itself to random magazine ejections I'll consider putting one on my carry gun too.

I'm a little disappointed in the Spartan for the magazine problem but considering that I paid less than $700 for a gun that eats any ammo I put in it, ran through 473 rounds at Tigerswan without any issues other than the magazine drop problem and it duplicates my carry gun so I don't have to re-learn grip or sight picture or function I'm generally happy with it.

I bought some other stuff for the class too so I'll be doing some more gear reviews soon.
*** Dear Federal Trade Commision, I paid for everything in this review and have received no compensation.  So there. ***

Posted by Knitebane

Comments (8) Trackbacks (0)
  1. At least yours mostly worked. I got a lot of practice clearing malfunctions.

    • There’s value in learning that too but yeah, it sucks to have to deal with it when you’d rather be shooting.

  2. I’ve been scanning the web looking for a reason NOT to buy a Spartan. Your the first one I’ve run across with a problem.
    I have six Tripp mags waiting for a pistol to put them in. I sold the first “dog” of a 1911 9mm. I’m really gun shy trying to decide what the next 9mm 1911 will be.
    Thanks for your honest gun review.

    • Hi Chet. Thanks for stopping by.

      My review might seem a bit negative compared to all the other STI reviews out there but that’s because I have *very* high expectations for a 1911.

      The Wilson ETMs seem to work just fine as long as you don’t load a mag with 10 rounds in it onto a closed slide. If you use a mag with 10 rounds in it with an open gun and drop the slide it works fine. The problem appears to be the pressure on the spring with 10 rounds in the mag.

      I’ve replaced the magazine release with an ambidextrous model from Cylinder and Slide (Part Number CS0121B – Brownells has them.) and it is much better. I plan to try some Metalform magazines too. STI ships their guns with Metalform mags so I have high hopes that this will completely cure the problem.

      I also plan on doing a bit of surgery on the Tripps and Wilsons and shave a few millimeters off of the bottom of the follower in hopes of making that 10th round not be so much of a problem. I’ll probably try the Wilsons first as they have a plastic follower.

      In the mean time I just load 9 rounds in the mag plus one in the chamber. No issues at all carrying and shooting like that.

      Also, after having about 2000 rounds through the gun the stovepiping on the first magazine has cleared up. It’s not terribly surprising that the gun needed a bit of break-in.

      All in all, I’m pretty happy with the Spartan and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend one as a range gun. I’m not quite as willing to recommend one as a CCW gun due to the magazine issue but if I can get that cleared up you can bet I’ll be dropping mine into my IWB from time to time.

  3. In your review, the 9th paragraph you said that Tripp make the Factory mag, but in comment 4, 3rd paragrah you said they come with Metalform mag’s.

    • Yes, the people I bought it from indicated that the mag that ships is a Tripp, and it made sense since Virgil Tripp was the “T” in “STI” but actual examination of the mag that came with the Spartan is, in fact, a Metalform.

      Sorry for the confusion.

  4. I’m looking to purchase a target pistol with a limited budget. I heard that the STI spartan 9 mm would be a great purchase. But with my limited experience with handguns I’m a little on the fence. I guess I m looking for a little more confidence In the review of the spartan. I m not going to be a professional shooter but I want the gun to function well. Is the clip problem pretty common with any pistol you buy or just the spartan. I don’t want to buy anything twice lol. I like the 1911 style and the 9 mm price of ammo. And I’m looking for a all around quality pistol without paying for the name. Which guns do you recommend. Even if I have to save a little more.

    • Let me start by saying that I personally own three 1911s including the Spartan and Mrs. Knitebane has a 1911 as well and neither of us has ever had these kind of issues with magazines falling out before I got the Spartan. The Spartan IS our first 9mm though and that might have something to do with it. Honestly though, I just don’t know.

      As the gun wears and breaks in the Metalform magazine seems to want to stay in better but the Tripps can still be pulled out. Coincidently Mrs. Knitebane is off to our 1911 gunsmith tomorrow to have it looked at and to put a shorter trigger in her Rock Island Tactical. I’ll post an update when he tells me what he finds.

      The Wilson Combat ETMs run okay in the Spartan. The only time I’ve had issues with them is inserting a full 10-round magazine on a closed slide. If I download one round I can’t make it fall out no matter what I do. My suspicion is that it’s a minor factory goof but we’ll see.

      As to what I recommend all I can say is: it depends. Not much help, is it? Seriously though, it depends on what you’re going to do with it.

      For a carry piece I’d recommend a Commander-size or CCO-size 1911. I have an Officer’s model and while it’s just the right size for concealed carry it can be a bit uncomfortable to shoot. The short slide and lower weight make the recoil heavy. The short slide makes for a short sight radius and accurate shooting is harder. I have other 1911s that I shoot so that isn’t as much of an issue but if it’s going to be your only gun it will end up collecting dust in the safe. For me, I shoot my Springfield Government or the STI and the Officer’s model sits on my hip. I shoot it about twice a year right after I change the batteries in the Crimson Trace Lasergrips.

      For generic target shooting, the STI Spartan is a good choice. It’s 9mm so it’s cheap to shoot, reliable (other than my magazine issue it’s been flawless), and in all of the ways that count, it’s pretty much a generic 1911 albeit with better sights than most. Once I found out how to avoid the magazine issue I shoot between 50 and 100 rounds through it just about every week.

      As far as a gun to take to training classes then I’d say that you should take either a gun that you carry or almost exactly like it. I carry a .45ACP 1911 so I train with a 9mm 1911. If .45ACP cost the same a 9mm I’d have taken my Springfield and not bought the STI or perhaps bought a .45ACP STI.

      One thing I noted during the my class at Tiger Swan is that the Butler Creek magazine loader was a must-have for me. I was at a disadvantage with the single stack magazines even if they did hold 10 rounds. Having the magazine loader and six magazines made it bearable. The lazy part of me would have preferred one of the double stack STI models but they are quite pricy.

      If I had it to do over again I’d seriously consider the FN FNX-9 instead of the STI. 15+1 rounds and basically the same manual-of-arms as a 1911 for about $550.

      If a 1911 in 9mm is what you want though the Spartan would be a fine choice. I won’t be parting with mine any time soon.

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