Chris Tran recently had a chance to take a look at San Tan Tactical’s revolutionary AR lower dubbed the STT-15. After initially dismissing it as just another gimmicky lower, he took a closer look, was absolutely won over and wrote up a comprehensive review.
Left-handed shooters have learned that, like in many other aspects of life, we simply just need to adapt and overcome – especially when it comes to the AR market. For a leftie, using a standard AR platform really only offers us one advantage over our right-handed brethren, the ability to lock the bolt catch back using our trigger finger instead of taking the dominant hand off of the FCG.
Other than that, we have to adapt to and overcome the right-handed bias of the stock AR platform. Let an empty mag drop free for a speed reload? Nope. Tactical reload? No. The closest we can get to that is a mag change with retention. Lefties have to either reach around the magwell or up under the trigger guard to depress the bolt catch to release the bolt forward on a fresh mag. We’ve become adept at flipping the safety on and off with our trigger finger, instead of being able to ride the safety with our thumb. Don’t even think about running a 3-point sling. All of these obstacles can be overcome with training and familiarity, but I have always believed there must be a better way.
Like most lefties, the first piece of ambi hardware I bought for my AR was an ambi safety selector. The advantages are obvious and I don’t think I need to go into great detail about the advantages of being able to ride the safety with the thumb. Ambi safeties usually range from about $30-$60.
That brings us to the second aftermarket add-on: the ambi mag release. Off the top of my head, I can think of four manufacturers that make aftermarket mag release levers geared towards the left-handed market. Prices for these aftermarket parts usually range from about $65-$100.
With the advent of the ambi mag release, lefties like me were finally able to let spent mags drop free, conduct actual tactical reloads and so on and so forth…However, ambi mag releases present a new issue: a reduced area for the shooter to fit their fingertip to depress the bolt catch/release paddle. I have found myself quite frustrated when wearing gloves; sometimes, with the ambi mag release bar so close to the bottom of the bolt catch, I cannot reliably lock the bolt back at speed due to the lack of surface area decreased by the presence of the ambi mag release.
The last and mostly superfluous issue that lefties have to deal with is releasing the bolt on a standard AR configuration. We use our right hand to either slap a fresh mag into the mag well and then reach around the magwell to release the bolt, or we reach up under the trigger guard. This can be overcome with clean training reps, but it does take more time to get back up on the gun and on target.
The San Tan Solution
San Tan Tactical bills itself as “Lighter but Stronger.” The San Tan Tactical lower, dubbed the STT-15, is fabricated from a billet of 7075-T651 aerospace grade aluminum and finished with Mil-Spec, MIL-A-8625 Type III hard anodizing. The lower weighs in at 9.4oz including its proprietary controls.
- Huge 1.38” Integrally Machined Magazine Well Flare
- Ambidextrous Quick Attach \Detach Sling Swivel Points with Anti-Rotation Stops Every 45 Degrees
- Ambidextrous Bolt Release
- Ambidextrous Magazine Release
- Bullet Pictogram Safety Selector Markings
- Set Screw Trigger Creep Adjustment
- Set Screw Upper Take Down Tension Adjustment
- Shooter Ready Finger Rest
- Oversized Winter Trigger Guard
- Dowel Screw Assembly
- Ultra Grip Texture On All Controls
The San Tan lower is very pleasing to the eye with linear basic billet lines, and thoughtful angular sculpting of edges. The vast majority of these features are well laid out and thoughtfully executed. Simply put, after building out the lower with a lower part kit, furniture, and a quality ambidextrous safety selector such as the Battle Arms Development BADASS, every leftie issue I described above is addressed.
The mag release lever on the left side of the receiver is well thought out in terms of placement, with the activation surface near the bottom foremost section of the trigger guard, as it melts into the magwell. I can easily depress the mag release lever and not have to break my grip or contort my hand as with most other aftermarket ambi mag release levers. The mag release button on the right side remains the same, and San Tan Tactical has included a “Shooter Ready Finger Rest” on the right side of the trigger guard, as a physical trigger finger indexing point for right-handed shooters.
Left side bolt catch/release still remains constant. Right side bolt release is bolt release ONLY; right handed shooters cannot lock the bolt back with their trigger finger.
All four activation surfaces of the mag release lever/button and bolt catch/release levers are deeply textured with a deep hexagonal pattern that provides excellent traction with or without gloves.
San Tan Tactical took it even one step further by offering many other features such as, set screws options for trigger overtravel and takedown pin tension, the aforementioned shooter ready rest, integral QD attachment points, dowel screws for the takedown pin spring and detent, and an enormous yet understated 1.38” wide magwell.
With only the addition of the ambidextrous controls, the San Tan Tactical lower is a very good deal economically. What the user will pay for the STT15 lower is comparable if not less than what a user will pay for a quality stripped billet lower and the necessary standard and aftermarket parts to build what San Tan offers directly out of the box. With all of the additions listed above, what’s not to like?
San Tan Critiques
When the STT-15 first hit the market, I read a lot of comments from readers on social media. One of the first critiques, and the one that came out of my mouth after handling the STT-15 for all of 15 seconds was, “That the right side bolt release sticks out too far and will catch on my kit.” The last thing a left-handed shooter needs are things sticking out on the right side of a firearm to get caught in our gear.
The right side bolt release was redesigned after end user feedback. It is now beefier in profile, and It does not seem to be as prone to catching on kit or gear as the old version appeared to be doing. There were only a handful of end users that had received STT-15’s when this feedback came to light – San Tan Tactical sent retrofits out to those customers without prompting. This speaks well to San Tan Tactical’s responsiveness to their customer base and commitment to a quality product.
Another critique I read was in reference to the integral QD points. Some were concerned that the integral QD points were placed in an area that would weaken the structural integrity of the lower and make it prone to breaking. Most of the cracks on lower receivers I’ve seen are either polymer receivers, due to installers breaking a trigger guard ear tab off, or high on the receiver perhaps due to torquing down on the castle nut too tightly. I’ve never seen a billet lower break near the rear takedown pin area, but stranger things have happened. I brought this perceived issue up with San Tan Tactical owner Dennis Harless, who had this to say:
"I have seen several folks ask about the strength of the lower with the QD points. I placed them in such a way that the material thickness is just as thick as a forged lower when measured from the bottom of the QD socket to the inside where the rear upper receiver lug sits."
I personally would be surprised to see a STT-15 lower break in that area, but again, stranger things have happened; only time will tell for this perceived issue.
One sticking point to be aware of is due to the placement of the QD points, you will not be able to attach a QD sling on the right side and use a teardrop forward assist on the upper because they run into each other. Just something to keep in mind for your build. For my builds, this is a non-issue, as I attach all of my slings to the underside of the receiver end plate so I can transition from lefty to righty without getting strangled by my sling, but your mileage may vary. If you’re deadset on using an upper with a teardrop forward assist, then don’t attach your QD sling to the right QD point on the STT-15. This will obviously not be a problem for right handed shooters.
The second problem with the QD point on the right side is the QD swivel gets in the way of my thumb, making it difficult to access my safety selector. Again, a non-issue for me since I use a different attachment point for my sling, but this poses an issue for lefties. Again, right handed shooters will not encounter this. At some point in time, I wonder if San Tan Tactical will do away with this feature on the right side if not altogether, as I don’t find it beneficial for left-handed shooters at all, due to the above issues.
The last critique I had personally, and had read online, was in reference to the expansive San Tan Tactical logo on the right side of the magwell. I thought it was way too big for such an otherwise perfectly understated lower. Is it a petty grievance? You bet. Does it matter? No, not from a functional standpoint of course, but I had heard and read more than once someone state, "I’d buy that lower in a heartbeat if it wasn’t for that frikkin’ logo!"
Again, Dennis Harless proved extraordinarily responsive to the feedback. When asked, he replied:
"I have heard this from a few people. The logo doubles as ATF markings as it has our name in it. I am working on putting out name over with the city and state of manufacture. We have had a lot of people purchase the lower because they love the logo but I am definitely going to cut lowers without the logo to address the folks who don’t like it as well!"
The Universal Appeal of the STT-15
Southpaws only make up about 8%-10% of the overall population, so we’re a small percentage of the shooter population. On one hand, anything ambidextrous for the AR platform is going to be met with a high buying percentage by lefty shooters, so there’s definitely a market. On the other hand, however, is it a niche market that will reach a saturation point? Is it worth it to throw stock into the lefty/ambi market, knowing that a possible 80%-90% of the shooting population is right handed?
Again, the biggest selling point of the STT-15 is that it completely useable for left and right handed shooters right out of the box. For lefties, we will have the opportunity to get up to par with tactical and speed reloads. We also now have the added benefit of inserting a fresh mag and releasing the bolt with the right hand, allowing us to get back up on the gun faster.
Right handed shooters can choose to operate the AR as they always have, or add all of the benefits us lefties now have to their repertoire as more and more schools and training classes encourage shooters to learn how to safely operate their ARs from their strong as well as support sides.
The only unresolved point I was not able to look at before this article went to print was whether or not right handed shooters could mount a Battery Assisted Device (BAD) lever to the lower, thus allowing right handed shooters to lock/release the bolt back with their trigger finger. I will try mounting some of the more popular brands to see if there is enough clearance, and updated this article when I have an answer.
All in all, I am very pleased with the STT-15. I have not encountered any mechanical issues with my build, and everything has functioned exactly as I should with no failures of any kind. The fit and finish is solid, the lower does not appear cheap or flimsy, the anodizing is uniform and silky, and San Tan Tactical has proved extraordinarily responsive to end-user feedback. If a no-logo lower run comes out in the near future, I will definitely pick another one up and I look forward to seeing what else San Tan Tactical has to offer in the future.
Visit San Tan Tactical at http://www.santantactical.com/.