I recently had the opportunity to professionally evaluate a pair of Steyr M-A1 pistols in 9 millimeter. I've been interested in testing Steyr's handguns for a few years but never had a professional reason to do so.
Prior to testing, I found the engineering and ergonomics intriguing on paper and wondered how well this design would hold up under extreme use. I’m happy to report that this pistol surpassed my expectations.
In my opinion a general issue service pistol must be absolutely reliable under normal and severe service conditions. It must be easy to maintain in the field and be durable enough to hold up to frequent training use. It must fit a wide variety of users and be flexible enough to fill tactical, duty and concealed carry roles. I feel the Steyr M-A1 does all of that.
For this test I started with two pistols purchased through two different gun dealers. I did not ask for special test pistols or price breaks nor did I let the dealers know what I had in mind with them. I also ordered 6 extra magazines.
I read all the paperwork and instructions included with the pistols. Then I fieldstripped and cleaned each pistol. Before assembly I lightly lubed every contact point. Then I dry fired and manually cycled the pistols about 200 times each before arbitrarily settling on one pistol that would be the victim of my torture testing. Both pistols felt identical but I chose the one with the lowest serial number (#1) for general reliability testing.
Pistol 1 – General reliability testing: Without further cleaning or oiling Pistol 1 digested 1000 rounds of 124 grain Black Hills FMJ without failure. It was then field stripped, cleaned, oiled and reassembled. Pistol 1 then digested 500 rounds of 147 grain Black Hills FMJ and 500 hundred rounds of 124 grain Black Hills 124 grain +P JHP ammo. I then shot 65 rounds of Pow’RBall 100 grainers and 15 rounds of Corbon 115 grain DPX.
No malfunctions occurred during these 2080 rounds.
Pistol 2 – Severe duty testing: This pistol was prepared identically to Pistol 1. 500 rounds of 115 grain FMJ and 350 rounds of ancient 147 grain Hydrashocks were run through the gun without malfunction. It was then field stripped, cleaned, oiled and reassembled. 700 rounds of 147 grain Black Hills FMJ were fired as fast as possible. Hot as hell with a full magazine and empty chamber, the pistol was dunked in a bucket of water then pitched into a bucket of sand and potting soil where it was roughly stirred about for 1 minute. The pistol was pulled from the bucket, shaken off, charged and digested a full magazine of mixed ammo, reloaded and shot ten more times.
Note - The pistol had two failures at this point both of which were instinctively cleared by the shooter without stopping for close examination. The slide simply failed to go all the way into battery and a light tap on the rear of slide seated the round and allowed the weapon to fire. The pistol was extremely dirty and cruddy at this point. Since the malfunctions were so easily cleared, I felt they were worthy of note but not necessarily derogatory regarding performance.
Pistol 2 was then scrubbed clean, lubed and fed 300 rounds of 124 grain FMJ, 50 rounds of Corbon 147 grain FMJ, 23 rounds of 80 grain Glazer safety slugs and 460 rounds of 124 grain Black Hills +P. The dirty pistol was then unloaded and stirred into a slurry of ice, salt water and dry ice for 15 minutes. The frozen pistol was then loaded and fired 200 more rounds of old Mil Spec hardball.
2583 rounds fired with two rapidly cleared malfunctions.
Somewhere along the line the front sight came off of Pistol 2. I didn't notice when it happened since my assistant and I were point shooting at a 7 yard target just as fast as we could. A broken sight does not prevent a pistol from being effective out to 25 yards so this problem did not represent a critical failure. We had really beaten this gun up so I'm not surprised we broke something.
Accuracy testing: After each gun demonstrated the ability to digest 2000 rounds without critical malfunction, I considered the Steyr pistol reliable enough for further evaluation. In my opinion a combat pistol must be able to hold 5 shot two inch groups at 25 yards. I can do this off-hand with a 1911 style pistol and I was able to do this off-hand with the Steyr as well. The Steyr is plenty accurate for combat and coupled with it's superior ergonomics it makes a very desireable gun for serious shooting.
Shooting impressions: I found the pistol to be very easy to control and pointed naturally. Recoil seemed exceptionally light and very linear allowing for rapid target reacquisition. I ran Pistol 1 through the Federal Air Marshal, and standard FBI qualification course with very high expert scores. I played with some steel plates and pop ups also but they were no challenge for the Steyr.
Pistol 1 has now digested over 8 thousand rounds without problem and Pistol 2 has been sent in for warranty repair of the front sight. I was upfront with the dealer about the torture I put the pistol through but they said the warranty was still valid.
In short, the Steyr is a good general duty pistol that I can recommend without reservation. I just wish they would make a .45 auto version.