It is no surprise that optic-ready pistols are making their way to the forefront of the market. Driven by optic choices, quality red dot sight (RDS) training, and a multitude of pistols that are either optic ready or able to be outfitted with an optic, it has become clear that RDS equipped pistols are here to stay. STI International has certainly taken note and has entered the RDS ready market with their Holographic Optic Slide Top (H.O.S.T.) option for certain models of their guns. Historically known as a provider of competition guns, STI enters the arena of self-defense/duty ready guns with a push towards equipping law enforcement with a duty and optics-ready 2011. With this push towards an optics-ready law enforcement duty gun, STI has been aggressively touring the gun to get it into the hands of law enforcement officers and on the list of approved guns at law enforcement agencies. I was fortunate to get an STI Tactical H.O.S.T. in my hands for a few days prior to running Illinois’s first law enforcement certified red dot class. While I only had the gun for a brief period (far less time than I would have liked with this gun) it was certainly enough to form some initial impressions and through the 500 rounds I was able to get through it combined with class demonstrations, I was able to develop a feel for what the gun offers.
Arriving in the black zipper case that anyone who has had the fortune to recently purchase an STI knows the pleasure of unzipping, I was greeted by what you would expect from an STI 2011. Aesthetically pleasing, the STI Tactical H.O.S.T. has tree bark grips that end in a slim magwell. With front and rear serrations, the slide is pleasing to the eye while still retaining a “let’s get down to business” appearance. The undercut trigger guard melds up into the picatinny rail that allows secure mounting for any accessory you may want to attach. This gun chambered in 9mm with included 126mm and 140mm magazines gives an acceptable number of rounds in the gun for duty carry. So, at first glance, it’s a 2011. Being an optics guy, these observations were made within seconds as I was picking the gun up to look at the optic mounting platform. With optics on pistols in full swing you can almost pick up a gun and see if it was designed with an optic in mind or if the optic addition was a secondary thought to enhance the offerings of an already existing model. With the STI Tactical H.O.S.T. it is clear that STI was thinking about the optic and how it would integrate with the slide. Looking at the included plate options for Trijicon RMR, Leupold Delta Point Pro, Vortex Viper, as well as a filler plate if you don’t wish to use an optic, it is clear that time was taken to ensure that the plates for the optics met the reliable and solid standards of the gun itself. Mine came with the Trijcon RMR plate already installed as that is what I had informed STI I was going to use, so without wasting any time I put the RMR onto the plate and it seated right into place, falling into the recoil bosses manufactured into the plate. The first thing I noticed was that the optic sat low in the slide, the correlation being that the lower the optic can sit the easier it will be to pick up the dot on presentation. RMR seated, screws in, and torqued down it was time to see how the dot presented with the gun.
There is little argument that a 1911/2011 grip angle just presents naturally, it’s designed that way. The STI Tactical H.O.S.T. is no different. With the addition of a red dot on top this becomes even more apparent as your presentation becomes much less forgiving. A few practice presentations later and it was clear that the optic mounting was designed so that the addition of an optic would not diminish the ability of the 2011 to naturally “point” well and be on target. The 2011 double stack grip felt comfortable in the hand and the manual safety, mag release, and slide stop were controllable with the dominant hand. Some may find the slide stop a bit far forward given the double stack grip but the great thing about the platform is that there are options to further customize your gun to work more efficiently for you.
Zeroing the optic at 10 yards was done with ease. The single stage trigger was smooth and had the consistent and repeatable feel that you would expect. This made zeroing fast, easy, and as accurate as possible with the ability to get rounds touching on the zero point. The STI Tactical H.O.S.T. comes equipped with co-witness iron sights. Thought was clearly put into the iron sights that would accompany the gun as they were unobtrusive but easy to pick up if necessary. The tritium sights are not “busy” in your sight picture during the day and in reduced/no light the tritium does not detract from the dot. A few confirmation rounds later with the irons and the gun was ready to get to work. Confirming my zero at 25 I decided to shoot a cold 25 yard B8. To preface this, I am not a 25 yard B8 shooter. I should be more of one, I know, we probably all should be but in all honesty I am not. A cold 25 yard B8 yielded a 294 3x. With the STI Tactical H.O.S.T. I just might become a 25yd B8 shooter. With a 4.15 inch barrel in 9mm the felt recoil was minimal, even at 25 yards with my dot turned down low for accuracy a fast repeatable sight picture on recoil was easy to acquire. Talking with STI the 4 inch outperformed the 5 inch versions and they have the data to prove it, for me a cold 294 B8 at 25 yards was starting to make me believe them without even seeing the data. To put that to the test it was time to run a 10-10-10, with the target at 10 yards, at the beep 10 rounds went at a B8 in under 10 seconds (7.52 no draw due to range rules). This resulted in a clean run 9x, showing that the 4.15 inch barrel when coupled with 124gr lawman ammunition certainly resulted in a controllable gun. The movement in my dot was minimal across the string of fire and I was able to quickly and accurately put rounds on target. Various courses of fire continued to yield similar results in the ability to control the gun and consistently track the dot for accurate courses of fire. Ending my 500 round session in an accuracy mode with cascading diamonds at 3 yards the last 47 rounds (forgot I had taken 3 rounds from that box earlier) were cleanly stacked inside the diamonds in about a minute and a half.
Class day arrived and I decided I was going to give the STI Tactical H.O.S.T. a run as the demo gun for the class and was glad I did. With the short amount of time I had the gun, practicing dry fire and draws from a Blackhawk Omnivore there were no issues disengaging or engaging the manual safety coming from a gun without any manual safety. The initial grip on the draw was consistent with the beavertail placing my hand in position to disengage the grip safety every time. Transitioning dots was easy and the weight of the gun made transitioning targets quite smooth and fast. Even from a Blackhawk Omnivore I was able to produce a .97 second draw and hit on about a half A zone box from 7 yards. Safariland holster support is imminent and with a familiar holster I would venture to guess that results from a familiar holster would be even better. At the conclusion of class, officers were provided the opportunity to shoot the demo guns that were brought out with a variety of different optics and the feedback was positive to say the least.
With a turn towards less finicky internals that press the STI Tactical H.O.S.T. into the duty acceptable realm the concern of reliability has been addressed by STI. Demonstration guns are currently in the thousands of rounds with no identified issues. With multiple options for optics there is a plate that will fit any optic that would fall within an agency policy. The addition of standard co-witness iron sights make the STI Tactical H.O.S.T. ready to go out of the box. Holster support has been an issue as new optics-ready guns hit the market, given policies and officer’s preferences towards Safariland. This has made some guns unable to be put into use on duty. With STI working closely with Safariland and prototype 6300rds series holsters already in existence officers can take comfort knowing they are selecting a gun that they don’t have to hope that a holster someday appears in the Safariland catalogue. Overall after my impression from a little over 500 rounds I wouldn’t hesitate to carry the STI Tactical H.O.S.T. on duty and after getting to see the H.O.S.T. option, have added STI H.O.S.T. to my recommended optics ready firearms list for agency approvals.