Sunday, December 06, 2009

Sig P238 1911 Style .380 Semi-Automatic Pistol

It is very safe to say that .380 pocket pistols have become very popular. With the proliferation of States that have passed Concealed Carry Laws people have been looking for their own solution for the compromise between power and size. The .380 renaissance started back in the middle of this decade with the introduction of Kel-Tec's diminutive P3AT. Kel-Tec's offering was somewhat controversial as many people branded them unreliable. Gunsmiths began offering reliability tune-ups and the internet was abuzz with posting on how to perform your own P3AT fluff and buff job (which darn near sounds like a service offered at the Moonlit Bunny Ranch in Nevada). While it may have been a controversial pistol it gained near cult status due to it's size and weight. I owned one for about a year and a half and found it to be completely reliable. My problem involved the trigger pinching my finger and the slender polymer grip frame gave me nothing to hang onto. I solved the latter issue by wrapping rubber bands around the grip and eventually I found some decal grips that fit nicely.

Fast forward about 5 years and we are now awash in .380 pocket pistols. Two SHOT Shows ago Ruger introduced its LCP which was so much like the Kel-Tec that internet folk lore had Kel-Tec producing them for Ruger. In my opinion the Ruger was better made and smoother in both the manipulation of the slide and the pull of the trigger.

At last year's SHOT show .380's from Taurus, Kahr, Walther, and SIG debuted.

I wanted one, but which one.

Pistol

Weight

Width

Kel-Tec P3AT

8.3 OZ

.77 Inches

Ruger LCP

9.4 OZ

.82 Inches

Taurus 738

10.2 OZ

.775 Inches

Kahr P380

9.97 OZ

.75 Inches

Walther PK 38

19.4 OZ

1.2 Inches

SIG P238

15.2 OZ

1.1 Inches


I eliminated the Walther right out of the chute because it is not really a pocket pistol. There are 9mm pistols about the same size as the Walther PK38. The Ruger LCP and the Taurus 738 share the same "thin-ness" issues I had with the Kel-Tec P3AT. They were so thin that is was difficult to get a good grips on them and, post firing recoil, they needed to be repositioned in my hand. The Taurus was tempting due to it's very smooth trigger pull. The other problem I have with the Ruger and Taurus offerings is that they are pretty much devoid of useful sights. Technically they have sights but practically they are of little use. This leaves the Kahr P380 and the SIG P238. Both of these models come with useable sights and optional night sights are available. Upon further consideration I decided not to go with the Kahr for the following reasons:

1. I have found that their long trigger pull erodes accurate firing under stress.
2. The sights on the SIG were larger and therefore more useful.

The SIG also has a lot going for it:

1. The bi-tone model with blackwood grips and night sights is just a downright beautiful pistol.
2. The single action trigger with a 7 pound pull will be perfect for shooting under stress.
3. At 1.1 inches in width it is the widest of the true pocket .380's currently made. It is thin enough to conceal in my pocket but thick enough to get a good hold around the grip.

SIG P238 At-A-Glance

Handling

Terrible

Poor

Acceptable

Good

Excellent

Fit & Finish

Terrible

Rough

Acceptable

Good

Excellent

Sights

None

Too Small

Useable

Good

Excellent

Trigger

Terrible

Poor

Acceptable

Good

Excellent

Power Scale

.22LR

.380 ACP

9mm

.40 S&W

.45 ACCP

Carry/Concealment

Too Large

Compact

Ultra Compact

Micro Compact

Pocket Pistol

Reliability

Unreliable

Somewhat Reliable

Fair

OK

Completely Reliable

Accuracy

Poor

Fair

Acceptable

Combat

Bullseye


(The SIG P238 is smaller than the Walther PPK which set the standard for pocket pistols back in 1931)


(The SIG P238 along side the Colt Model 1908 "Pocket Hammerless" . This was the standard for pocket pistols in 1908.)

Let’s examine the individual characteristics of the SIG P238:

Handling

Terrible

Poor

Acceptable

Good

Excellent


The SIG P238 is a SIG redesign of the Colt Mustang .380 ACP. With seemingly little foresight Colt stopped marketing this little pistols just as the acknowledgement of concealed carry started to be formally recognized by many states. In very short order the Colt Mustang .380 and its predecessor, the Colt Government .380 ACP, became sought after handguns selling for double or triple their original retails. I have already talked about the handling characteristics that caused me to select the P238 over the rest of the field so there is not much more I can say other than one of the obvious design goals was to keep this pistol flat. As such the slide stop lever has been flattened and the frame mounted safety is flat compared to the larger sized safeties that have evolved onto the major caliber 1911's over the past decade or so. Also, there is no ambidextrous safety to add extra bulk. The safety on the P238 does not block the movement of the slide. I like this feature as it allows me to work the slide for loading or unloading with the safety still engaged. I also like that the safety locks with a very positive "click" and stays in place. On both my Mustang and Colt Government model there was some loose "play" in the engagement of the safety. I was always mindful that the safety might become disengaged while in my pocket. I do not have this phobia with the SIG.

Fit & Finish

Terrible

Rough

Acceptable

Good

Excellent

The fit and finish of the P238 is superb. SIG took the Colt mustang platform and improved upon it. SIG did hit a snag when the pistols were first issued. Pre-production promotional media stated that the pistol would have some very attractive aluminum grips. Many people who had eagerly awaited the arrival of the 238 were disappointed when they found the grips to actually be silver colored plastic. This was a sore point since the SIG was the highest priced .380 on the market. Not too long after that SIG began producing them with beautiful rosewood and black wood grips. The pistols with wooden grips seem to out number the plastic handled ones now. The fit of the pistol is just what you would expect from SIG which is known to be a prestige brand. The two toned model I located is just simply classy.

Sights

None

Too Small

Useable

Good

Excellent


Most pocket pistols were made without sights of any useful fashion. The original pocket pistol, Colt's Model M 1903 Pocket Hammerless is an excellent example of this (see the model 1908 pictured above with the SIG P238). The Colt Government .380 and the Colt Mustang also were manufactured with sights that left a lot to be desired. Once upon a time I recall seeing a Colt Government .380 on the Cylinder & Slide website that they had worked over and one of their improvement was a set of decent sights. The P238's sights are the most visible and useable of all of the current crop of .380 pocket pistols. The model I was able to find had night sights (thank you SIG). I had the gunsmith at the range drift the rear sight slightly to the right and I am now able to hit man sized targets out to 25 yards.

Trigger

Terrible

Poor

Acceptable

Good

Excellent


In my youth I used to think that light trigger pulls were a fantastic thing. That ceased when I realized that 2 to 3 pound trigger pulls were an invitation to negligent discharges. They may be good on bullseye competition guns but you do not want them on a carry pistol. The SIG P238 has a trigger pull of 7 pounds. It feels lighter because it is smooth with very little creep or over travel. I believe that most gun scribes who are paid to write reviews would call it "crisp".

Power Scale

.22LR

.380 ACP

9mm

.40 S&W

.45 ACP/GAP


Most things in life involve compromise and so it is with carry pistols. The easiest to carry are the least powerful and so it is with the SIG P238. It is easy to carry. I suppose one very positive way to describe the power factor would be to say that...ahem, "The .380 ACP is the most powerful of the weak pistol cartridges". One of the benefits of the popularity of the .380 pistols has been that ammunition manufacturers are continually looking to produce more efficient ammunition. They are stretching the velocity which provides very reliable and maximum expansion from the hollowpoint bullet. This is wonderful although we have to realize that there is only so much expansion that a 95 grain .380 inch diameter bullet can produce. This is a pistol caliber that can help change the attitude of an assailant that assessed you to be a weak target. This is not a pistol to take into combat hostilities.

Carry/Concealment

Too Large

Compact

Ultra Compact

Micro Compact

Pocket Pistol


While not as small as the Kel-Tech P3AT or the Ruger LCP the SIG is still a pocket pistol. Mine rides either in an Uncle Mike's pocket holster or a Galco U.S.A. ULTIMATE SECOND AMENDMENT inside the waist-band tuckable holster.

Reliability

Unreliable

Somewhat Reliable

Fair

OK

Completely Reliable


As expected, SIG has ensured that these pistols are completely reliable.

Accuracy

Poor

Fair

Acceptable

Combat

Bullseye


When I first began shooting the P238 I was not happy with the accuracy; it was acceptable.
It was on par with my recollections of what the Colt Mustang has to offer but I was never really
overwhelmed by the Mustang's accuracy. After having the rear sight drifted over I found that
moving my trigger finger almost all the way to the first joint have me much better accuracy. So
let's see the targets:

Here are the first 50 out of the box. 25 fired at the head and 25 fired at the torso from 21 feet.


38 rounds at 15 feet.
3 from 21 feet.


I then decided to see what the excellent sights on the P238 were capable of . It was difficult to get head shots at 50 feet (35 rounds were fired):


It was easier to get torso shots at 75 feet (again, 35 rounds were fired):

I have but one stingy little complaint and it deals with disassembly. Because this is a concealed carry pistol one of the design goals, as mentioned above, was to keep the pistol as flat as possible. Because of this the slide stop pin which holds the pistol together is flush with the frame where it exits the right side of the pistol. This requires me to line the slide's take-down cut away arc with the slide stop on the left side of the pistol while holding it in my left hand while I try to gently tap the pin through the hole on the right side of the frame. If my left hand lets the slide slip just a centimeter, the alignment is fouled and the pin will not come out. Most of the time this has not been a problem, however today it was about 19 degrees outside when I attempted to disassemble the P238. I don't know how much warmer it was in my garage but I do know it was cold enough that my fingers did not have the necessary dexterity to pull this off in one attempt. That being said this is a minor complaint for an otherwise superb pistol.

My normal carry pieces are chambered for either 9mm or .45 ACP however there are times when circumstances dictate deeper concealment for my carry piece. The SIG P238 fills this niche very nicely.


10 comments:

Anonymous said...

I would like to hear your thoughts on actually carrying and deploying this pistol from I assume a pocket holster and I assume "cocked and locked" condition. If this is the case, do you have any apprehension about the idea of a cocked and locked pistol without a grip safety in your pocket?

Alain said...

Excellent review I've read quite a few reviews of this pistol over the last year or so its going to be next pistol purchase. I owned and of course now in retrospect sorry I sold a colt 380 southern bell edition with faux pearl grips she was a beauty and shot well but was plaqued with almost constant "breakdowns" not being very skilled at repairs you get the picture. Now I feel this little gem has the bugs worked out
Again great review
Appreciate your insights
Al

Jim said...

I bought the pistol before the recall. Nothing changed after the fix at Sig and they handled everything first class. The only thing I disliked has the cheap plastic grips. I worked with Larry Davidson (owner of Monkey Grips) to come up with the right G-10 grips. He has several designs (my favorite is his RADIAL design). This is a terrific pistol for everyday carry and has replaced my Walther's and LCP. I am waiting for a custom holster from Andrews Custom Leather to arrive, but to date have been fairly happy with the Galco IWB clip holster. I have shot all types of ammunition thru the P238, well over 300 round with only one failure from that Extreme Shock junk.

1911Man said...

Great shooting gun. VERY comfortable for front pocket carry, with or without a holster. The only ammo I've found that it won't shoot reliably is Buffalo Bore, probably due to the sharply angled shoulder/meplate at the front of the truncated cone.

Anonymous said...

Joe I normally agree with you pretty much on most things but I have to relate my experience with the P238. In particular I very disappointed in the trigger.

The trigger I feel is not adequate. First off it is a hinged trigger and not a track/slot moving like on a real 1911. The battery of arms may be "like" a 1911 but I think the trigger is the heart of the 1911. Its bad enough it is a hinged design which will likely affect accuracy but then they go and put a nearly 8 pound SA trigger with not much travel on it. On such a small gun that is hard to fit your hands on already this 8 lbs really effects accuracy. The final straw for me is the "defect" in the trigger. IF you release to the reset very very slowly you will feel a double reset. If you do not catch both resets then the hammer will not fall. Where is Mr Kellerman when you need him.

My barrel came with a very serious wavy defect on the inside of the barrel and has got to go back.

The recoil spring is already--after only 150 rounds of generic FMJ--down to the minimum length of 2.5 inches; anything below 2.5 should evidently be replaced. Reviews online show that the pistol doesnt handle more poiwerful SD ammo (over 215 ft lb) very well--ie buffalo bore

I also think for most normal sized people that this is really a pretty darn big "pocket" gun. I'd say it is too big for pocket but more of a small micro compact.

Yes the sights, recoil, comfort, shooting dynamics are very good but again the crappy trigger, manufacturing defects, and questionable durability spoil the sauce on a $600+ 380.

Basically so many of the pocket pistols are so awful that people are excited by something with a few very good aspects. Well there are some lousy ones and I would see what you think of the Kahr P380in comparison.

Best.

Fan of Joe

Average Joe said...

Anonymous,

What a dull world it would be if everyone agreed with each other all the time. But I digress. I will agree that the trigger is not great but much better than the Kel-tec and the Ruger LCP.

From the accuracy standpoint I got better shot placement out of the 238 than I ever did out of my long gone Colt Mustang. The Mustang's trigger was better by my recollection but the sights were not very helpful and I think the 238's accuracy was assisted by better sights and a tighter fit.

While the pistol I purchased was fine I have seen many reports about the shortcomings in regards to quality control in other specimens. This surprises me about SIG and is probably due to a rush to bring this pistol to market and jump on the .380 pocket pistol band wagon. I have not had the opportunity to shoot a Kahr .380 as they seem to still be in short supply around here. However I am to the point where I am beginning to question the where is line is that marks the diminishing returns of carrying a micro compact pocket pistol whose small size becomes a detriment to the shooter's ability to deploy it. I have been playing with a Beretta Tomcat and find it much more ergonomic to handle and wish they could design it to handle a .380 ACP. I am coming to the mindset that the size of these small pistols may actually be a hinderance (I don't even want to begin to discuss the raspberry sherbet colored Ruger LCP in the case at one store) and am beginning to feel that one would be better served by a .380 PPK or S&W J framed .38 Special.

Rosewood Ranch said...

I am waiting for a custom holster from Andrews Custom Leather to arrive, but to date have been fairly happy with the Galco IWB clip holster. I have shot all types of ammunition thru the P238, well over 300 round with only one failure from that Extreme Shock junk.

FatManOnABike said...

Really nice work. I had no idea this pisol existed. I turned up your page on a "1911 style .380" google search. Thanks for the good work.

Anonymous said...

I have a P238 SAS on order, and can't wait to get my hands on it! I have been carrying a PPKS, but found it wasn't all it was cracked up to be. While it has proven to be very reliable, it is a fairly heavy gun when you are looking for a pocket gun alternative. This, coupled with the fact that it has almost non-existent sights, and no slide lock, drove me to look for an alternative.

Thanks for the great review on the little Sig - very informative!

Anonymous said...

One of the most informative reviews out there. I currently own the SAS model and LOVE it. I traded a DB9 and minimal dollars for the SAS and it was a VERY good trade indeed. My db9 was reliable w no problems, however the trigger sucked to the point that it was a deal breaker. Also, the FTE rumor is hogwash, if ou shoot any pistol weak wrested you will get FTEs. Again, my db9 functioned better than expected, but the trigger was a deal breaker.

So far this little SAS has proven to be a Fantastic little pistol. It is FUN to shoot, which is not the case for the majority of the nano guns out there. Regarding size, you are right on the money about over-thinness concerns, the sig is really JUST right.

I also own and love my PM45 and my G27. I seldom carry either, in favor of the sig, however when power is a concern I go with the pm45. If its a true combat situation then it is Glock. Period.

Again, kudos for this awesome, very objective and informative review. It played a role in me buying my SAS and again, I am thrilled with it. For all the pros, there are nearly no cons for me and I have zero worry carrying in condition one- my safety is firm with no play. At the range I find I have significantly better groups and overall accuracy versus the DB9 and comparable to PM45 (PM is a Great, very accurate shooter for me). Still, there is no beating the short stroke Glock auto trigger.. But that's precisely why there are different tools for different applications. Bottom line, if you are looking for a daily carry that is rock solid, tiny and yet still super comfortable, don't waste time looking anywhere else, at the end of the day the sig is THE 380 for the job. It is notable that I have over a dozen range buddies who have ditched their LCPs in big time favor of the sig.