Friday, June 20, 2008

SIG P229 – 9mm

One of the most popular and certainly most respected pistols in law enforcement and military circles is the SIG P226 or P229. The 226 in 9mm was adopted by the Navy Seals after they encountered too many problems with their Beretta pistols and the 229 in .40 S&W was selected by the United States Coast Guard and the Department of Homeland Security and from all reports everyone who has put the SIG into service has been very happy with them. Well, I had neither a 226 nor a 299 and I wanted to be happy too.
In doing some quick research I chose the 229 as it was slightly shorter in length than the 226 (7.1” versus 7.7 inches). The P229 is also slightly shorter in terms of height and, as such, carries less ammo; 13 + 1 in the chamber as opposed to the larger 226 (15 +1). I called three gun shops; the first two wanted $990.00 (the MSP is $929.00) and the third wanted $783.00 (these were all new in the box and the same basic 229, no nights sights, fancy grips, etc.—I miss Boise where all firearms could be found for 20 to 30% below MSP)—well, I don’t have to tell you where I went.
The SIG P229 hit the drawing boards in 1990. That was the year that Smith & Wesson debuted the .40 S&W round as a compromise between the 9mm and 10mm. After the devastating 1986 FBI shootout in Miami the Feds felt that their 9mm pistols, loaded with Winchester Silvertip 115 grain Hollow-Point ammunition failed them. While they toyed with the idea of switching to the time and battle tested .45 ACP, they eventually settled on the Smith & Wesson Model 1076 in 10mm. The 10mm was a pretty hot cartridge and the S&W 1076 was a fairly large pistol so this was not a fit with female and smaller male agents. So Smith & Wesson convinced the Federal Cartridge company to make the .40 ammunition and Smith & Wesson began making a pistol to shoot it, although Glock beat them to the marketplace with their own pistol chambered in the new .40 Caliber.
While many firearms manufacturers began chambering existing 9mm pistol for the new .40 Cartridge SIG realized this would be a mistake. As the ammunition was hotter and faster than the 9mm existing 9mm pistols would suffer from both higher stress fractures and malfunctions due to the slide moving too fast to pick up the next round. Browning made this mistake by re-chambering their 9mm Hi-Power pistol and it cost them dearly. While Browning eventually designed a heavier slide sales hit bottom and, while they still show a .40 Hi-Power in their catalogue I haven’t seen one in gun stores for ages.
With SIG’s outstanding reputation for reliability quickly rushing a problem pistol to market would not do, so it was in 1992 that the P229 was released chambered only in .40 S&W. It would be two more years before they brought it out in 9mm and then .357 SIG (which I would love to get a hold of but both the pistols and the ammunition are scarce). The 229 in 9mm has a slightly heavier slide than the larger 226 (it is only 1.6 ounces lighter than the P226) and this helps in recoil reduction.
While SIG has earned an almost iconic reputation with shooters who have tried them I have seen discussion forum posting from people who are revolver shooters or only have semi-automatic experience with 1911’s or Glocks and are reluctant to try the SIG because of the different manual of arms, primarily the decocking lever. This is a shame because they are missing out on experiencing a truly fine pistol that is accurate, extremely reliable, and tolerates recoil and hotter loads very well. Let’s try to allay these fears one at a time:
1. The revolver shooter will have to get used to the semi-automatic operation, which provides a different a different type of recoil. In shooting comparable calibers there will be less muzzle flip and some of the recoil energy is spent in retracting the slide. The revolver shooter will also have to learn to use the slide release to bring the slide into battery when a fresh magazine has been loaded. For the Glock or 1911 shooter this is very much the same operation as the pistols they have become used to.
2. Disassembly will be a new experience for the revolver shooter but it is simpler than they might thing. Retract the slide to look to make sure that there are no cartridges in the chamber. Remove the magazine. With the slide still back and locked open, rotate the take down lever downward until it stops. Push the slide release down and slide the slide, barrel and recoil spring and guide assembly off the frame. Remove the recoil spring and guide, take out the barrel and you are ready to start cleaning. Some semi-auto shooters find this slightly easier than field stripping a Glock but it is certainly much easier than field stripping a 1911.
3. Loading with a magazine which is easier and faster than a revolver
4. After loading the magazine the SIG pistol’s hammer is cocked just like the hammer on a 1911. However, unlike the 1911 there is no external safety to employ with the SIG. The de-cocking lever must be pushed down which drops the hammer (don’t worry it is blocked from making contact with the firing pin). The shooter must understand that the pistol is only safe when de-cocked (and the finger is off the trigger) and definitely not safe when it is cocked. They will need to understand that if they do not fired a full magazine of ammo, then the pistol must be de-cocked immediately before putting the pistol down and most certainly before re-holstering the handgun.
5. The standard 229 is a Traditional Double Action pistol meaning the first shot is fired via a long (but very smooth) trigger pull requiring ten pounds of pressure to pull. The pull is longer as you are cocking the hammer just as you would on a double action revolver. After the first shot is fired the retracting slide cocks the hammer and the pistol reverts to Single Action which gives you a shorter and lighter trigger pull requiring only 4 pound of pressure to fire. The single action pull may take revolver shooters some time to get used to and they should watch themselves for negligent discharges when the pistol is in the Single Action mode. While the double action pull is longer and heavier it does not hamper accuracy. Every time I fired the first double action round it usually went right down the pipe into the center of the bulls eye.
Shooting and Handling Impressions
This is by far the least challenging pistol I have ever shot. Recoil is nil, even when shooting +P ammo. If any shooters have only fired revolvers then this will be a new manual of arms to learn and a few things to get used to; but there is no reason why anyone should not be able to shoot this pistol well and probably better than their revolver once they get used to it. Reliability is everything a SIG is supposed to be it easily digested Independence and Remington 115 grain FMJ ammo and easily fed hollow points from Remington, Speer, and Corbon.
Here are some targets from Saturday:
The first target is 20 rounds if Independence 115 grain FMJ ammo and the target on the right is 20 rounds of Remington 115 grain FMJ ammo. The third target was hit with the same Reminton ammunition. All targets fired at 21 feet.

The next target below is 20 Rounds of the Remington 115 FMJ ammo at 31 feet:
This next target is 20 round of Remington 115 grain FMJ at 50 feet:
This target shows 50 rounds of the same Remington hardball ammo fired at 75 Feet.

The next targets have 10 rounds of Remington 115 grain JHP, followed by 1 target with 10 rounds of Speer 115 grain JHP ammo at 21 feet followed up by two targets hit 10 rounds of Corbon 115 grain + P jacked hollow points.

Next is 10 rounds of Magtech 115 grain hollowpoint + P ammo fired at 21 feet

And last, 10 rounds of Remington Golden Sabre 124 grain JHP + P ammo fired at 21 feet.

The 229 puts me in a pretty good pedigree as a number of Federal Agencies have adopted them it is easy to see why; they are rugged, reliable, ergonomic, and accurate. They are expensive, but definately worth the money.