I will begin this review by stating that I am in no way a Sig Sauer fan boy. In fact, up until I had the opportunity to get trigger time on the MPX, I hadn’t ever been impressed by the lineup of firearms put out by Sig. This was an opinion developed after shooting a couple of their firearms, namely a Sig P226, a Sig Scorpion 1911, and a Sig P220 Combat, and not being thoroughly impressed. Don’t get me wrong, they are all nice to shoot and are of exceptional quality, but they’ve never really connected with me in any meaningful way. The only handgun of their’s that had ever come close to speaking to me was the Nightmare version of the Sig Sauer 1911, but the abhorrently mushy Series 80 trigger revolted me to the core. Nonetheless, there have been a few pocket and micro carry handguns that they’ve offered in recent years that have deeply aroused my interests: The P238 and P938 series of pistols.
The Sig Sauer P238 is a small, pocket sized pistol chambered in .380 ACP with a standard magazine capacity of six rounds. Its layout and general ergonomics are like a scaled down 1911, quite similar to the Colt Mustang or Kimber Micro. At the time of writing this review, the P238 features (good lord…) 22 different configurations that vary mostly by finish type, color, and grip panels. The highest grade models I’ve seen are the Extreme (black) and Scorpion (FDE) models, which sport aggressively-textured Hogue Piranha G10 grips and an extra magazine with a seven round capacity and a remarkably ergonomic pinky extension. One shared feature among the 22 different configurations of the P238 is that all models come from the factory with tritium night sights.
From the first time I laid hands on the P238 and P938, a subtle growth of fondness developed in the deepest cockles of my being. They looked nice, they felt excellent in the hands, and their size makes them excellent for carry. Before the P938 came out, I had admired the P238 from afar. At first, I never really considered it as a pistol I’d use for personal defense, partially because of the caliber, but mostly because of the price. Firstly, my mind has always been tainted by paper ballistics, and .380 ACP isn’t commonly considered a man-stopping powerhouse. Secondly, the price was a considerable obstacle that omitted this gun from my consideration. At the time of first exposure, I was but a lowly college graduate, just fresh out of school and still looking for a good paying job. Bound by the financial hierarchy of needs, a pocket pistol coming in at over $600 was well out of the question. Albeit, every time grasped the P238 in my hands, I could feel it growing on me; whispering for me to buy it. Alas, my pocket book always forced me to wait for another day.
Halfway through 2013, I laid eyes and hands on a Sig P938. I had similar feelings about this gun that I had for the P238; it looks and feels so sexy, but much too sexy for my pocket book. But, with time comes progress, and after a few job upgrades with hefty pay increases, the price tags of the Sig P238 and P938 began to look less daunting. This brings us to this year of our lord 2015. An old friend of mine purchased a P938 Scorpion in the summer and offered to let me shoot it… BIG MISTAKE. It just so turns out that the gun shoots just like I’d imagined. The trigger break is clean and conducive to accuracy (and boy howdy, is it accurate), the recoil is comfortable and manageable, and the size of the sights make it easy to get back on target… As a gun, it shoots exquisitely. As a CARRY GUN, it shoots like an EFFING DREAM. You see, now that I’ve shot the P938, there is no longer any choice about owning this firearm… I have to have one. WHY!? WHY DID I SHOOT THIS GUN!?
So, I go back to work at the sporting goods store the next day and I see the P938 sitting on display… It’s looking at me with a seductive gaze… It knows I want it… As I pick it up and fondle it a bit, I start to have those lustful memories of my trigger time behind the gun. At this point, I look down at the price and realize that this is going to be quite an investment at $749.99. Yet, out of the corner of my eye, I see the P238, my first crush of the pair, sitting on display as well. I pick it up and fondle it a bit, noting that there is something about it that speaks to me more than the P938. It feels just as good as the P938, but smaller and about $100 less… At this point, I toiled back and forth for the following five days trying to decide which firearm I should get. Let’s go over the points, shall we?
Caliber: 9mm Luger
Weight: 16.0 oz. (with empty mag)
Barrel Length: 3.0”
Overall Length: 5.9”
Overall Height: 3.9” (ACCORDING TO SIG’s WEBSITE – this is blatantly incorrect. Actual height is much closer to 5″ or so with the extended mag)
Magazine Capacity: 6 round flush (7 round extended)
Slide Composition: Steel (Nitron finish)
Frame Composition: Anodized Aluminum
Caliber: .380 ACP
Weight: 15.4 oz (with empty mag)
Barrel length: 2.7”
Overall Length: 5.5”
Overall Height: 4.46” (with extended mag)
Magazine Capacity: 6 round flush (7 round extended)
Slide Composition: Steel (Nitron finish)
Frame Composition: Anodized Aluminum
Now, I look at both guns and note that the differences between the two look marginal at best on paper. Regardless, I decided that both guns are of the same exemplary quality, and I’ve been told from first-hand accounts that the P238 also shoots like a dream. After a great deal of internal deliberation over five days or so, I came to the ultimate conclusion: I must own both of them. However, the real struggle begins: Which one first?
- 9mm luger, which is cheap to shoot, I already have lots of ammo, and I hand load for it
- It’s Lightweight
- Recoil is comfortable and manageable
- A tad bit big for my pocket to carry (but that’s a personal opinion)
- Magazines are uncommon and stupid expensive
- Magazines are welded shut and non-serviceable (from what I can tell, anyway)
- Even lighter weight than the P938
- Just fits in the pocket perfectly with no outlining or printing
- Magazines are interchangeable with Colt Mustangs and Kimber Micro
pistols, thus making them common and are normally about half the price of Sig magazines (the Kimber magazines also have removable floor plates and ARE user serviceable)
- Supposedly light recoil and easy to shoot
- .380 ACP, not as cheap to shoot, I don’t already load for it, and people talk shit about it
In fact, now that I’ve got you sitting here, let’s take a moment to discuss .380 ACP. First, people talk a lot of shit about it. Why? Because it’s a nubby little round and the ballistics look unimpressive on paper. Well, before you inundate me with your ‘facts’ about ‘knockdown power’ and ‘combat effectiveness’, I want you to ask yourself this simple question: If both guns are using proper self defense ammunition, would I rather be shot by a gun that shoots .380 ACP or one that shoots 9mm Luger? TRICK QUESTION. I’d rather not get shot at all. I bet you feel that way, and I’m fairly positive that most people feel that way as well. Both bullets are .355″ diameter and both are designed to expand in soft tissue; one just weighs more and goes faster than the other. .380 ACP works just fine to stop two-legged threats; 9mm Luger just works better. Honestly, it doesn’t matter which one is used; if someone is shot by either caliber, they are going to have a very bad day.
I digress… Ultimately, the pros and cons will differ from person to person, but after careful thought, I decided upon P238. Now, $649.99 is a good chunk of change for a tiny mechanical device such as the P238. There are much more logical ways to use that money, such as purchasing exactly 100 live mallard ducklings of assorted gender from eFowl.com. Ducks make excellent fowl for both eating and egg harvest, which makes them easily a logical investment. However, after considering the consequences of building a coop (or duck box) in my backyard and feeding the ducks every single day, ducks began to feel a bit impractical, so I chose the P238 instead.
The night after I purchased it, I took it home and disassembled it. The disassembly process is kind like a 1911, but without the recoil spring plug or barrel bushing. You have to use your thumb in the grip recess under the beavertail and the other four fingers on that hand to pull back on the slide to line the slide stop up with the disassembly notch.
Once lined up, you pull the slide stop lever out like you would on a 1911, and then the slide, barrel, and recoil spring comes right off in a single unit like it would a Glock or other modern pistol.
After taking it apart, I found one design feature in the P238 rather interesting. First, when you pull the slide off, there is a little stainless steel finger that pops up from just behind the magazine well.
It’s a peculiar looking object, and it made me curious as to its purpose. It turns out, this little finger cleverly provides two crucial functions:
Function 1 – When the lever is fully erect and the slide is in battery, it activates the drop safety plunger in the slide. When you pull the trigger, it pivots forward and out of the way, which allows the plunger to drop (deactivating the drop safety) and lets the firing pin travel freely into the primer of the cartridge.
Function 2 – When the gun fires and the slide moves rearward, the slide activates the sear disconnector, the sear resets, and the little finger returns to a fully erect posture. In this posture, it ALSO ACTS AS THE EJECTOR (Whaaaaaat?).
I probably find this more interesting than it actually is… In any case, what most people will want to know is that the little erect finger-majig will need to be pivoted forward to get underneath the slide when you reassemble the gun.
Other notables about the gun’s disassembly is that the slide, barrel, and recoil assembly come apart just like a Glock… Just know the recoil spring is not captive and might launch the guide rod off into your precious porcelain egg collection should you accidentally nudge it out of alignment. Make sure you hold onto the guide rod as you remove it and the recoil spring from the slide. It can be a pain to get the guide rod and spring back in at first, but once you figure out how to do it right, it won’t be an issue in the future.
After I finished gawking at the internals of the gun, I cleaned out all of the residual factory schmutz from the barrel, applied a dry lubricant to the moving parts, and reassembled the gun. At this point, I reflected upon the purchase. I’ve always wanted a P238 and now it is in my possession… yes… it is a precious possession of mine… a precious possession… my presssshhhhioussss… but deep down inside, I began to question my purchase. Did I make the right choice? Should I have gone with the P938 instead? What if the P238 isn’t as good of a gun as the P938? Should I have just gotten the ducks instead?
That night, I had a strange nightmare that involved me trying to coach a rhythmically handicapped flute ensemble on a piece of music by Paquito D’Rivera (not flutes, but here is a recording of the part I’m talking about). There is a synchopated ostinato in the bass line that the bass flute player kept rushing and the rest of the players were inept at counting, so no matter how hard I tried to subdivide for them, they were just incapable of getting the rhythm right and in-time. When I woke up, I assumed my subconscious was telling me I needed to get to the range and come to a conclusion about my purchase decision. So, since I was up early (and unable to sleep after that nightmare) I decided to take a brief trip to the range before work.
I only had 50 rounds of Sellier & Bellot 92gr FMJ and a few rounds of Hornady Critical Defense 95gr FTX to get acquainted with the gun, so I tried to make the range session as efficient as possible. I set up a target at eight yards and got settled in at the shooting bench, load up both of my magazines, and slid the extended magazine into the gun. I pulled back and released the slide to slingshot it into battery. The slide stripped the first round off the magazine and fed it into the chamber smoothly and confidently. I pointed the gun at the target, disengaged the thumb safety, and proceeded to take seven shots.
Having never shot the gun before, I didn’t know what to expect. What came of those first seven shots gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling of confidence about the gun. I chose to start by using a point of aim sight picture, which netted an impact low and to the left of the center of the target. I played with my grip a bit on each shot, but eventually established a proper hold for the gun. In the course of playing with my grip, I managed to get a bout a 2.5 inch group out of the first magazine.
I will assert the fact that I am by no means a marksman, but I thought for a gun I’d never shot before, the group was pretty good.
After practicing the proper grip and trigger finger placement, my shot groupings became less erratic and began to group consistently. I eventually discovered that the best sight picture for 8 yards was what someone online called “driving the dot,” or placing the center of the front sight dot over the center of the target. It can be best illustrated by sight image 3 in the graphic below (stolen from: http://pistol-training.com/archives/1361):
My best groups with the S&B were the last two groups I did, posting 2 inches or so. Finally, after exhausting the 50 round box of S&B ammunition, I moved to the Hornady. I always like to test a few rounds of my carry ammunition to see what kind of accuracy high quality defense ammunition would produce in a gun I plan to carry. The first four shots of the Hornady blew my mind: Four rounds in under an inch of space (that’s roughly the size of the average human eyeball). Unfortunately, I got so excited about this exceptional group that I lost focus and botched the last shot, opening it up to about 2 inches (the story of my life).
Range time information:
Firearm: Sig Sauer P238 Extreme
Magazines: 6-round flush fit (x1), 7-round with pinky extension (x1)
Caliber: .380 ACP
Ammunition: Sellier & Bellot 9mm Court (.380 ACP) 92gr FMJ
Temperature: 37 Degrees Fahrenheit
Elevation: Somewhere between 50 to 100 feet above sea level
Total Rounds spent in session: 55 rounds
Final Disposition: Lust (affectionately)
I left the range that day with the following observations:
First, the recoil is exceptionally light and smooth. I’ve shot other pistols chambered in .380 ACP, and they all have the same light, but snappy recoil; the P238 is completely different. It’s almost like the recoil is much slower than other .380s, so the impulse gives pleasant feedback when shooting. Next, the gun is stupid accurate. I am a terrible handgun shooter and I was able to get four shots into the space of a human eyeball… That tells me the gun is considerably more accurate than I will ever be. Finally, this gun is just plain fun to shoot. I wish I had bought more ammunition instead of the single box I bought with the gun…
If there is one thing I have failed to mention throughout this entire review, it would be that there wasn’t a single failure of any kind experienced while shooting this weapon. I mean, it was so reliable that the people shooting next to me had 100% reliability with their firearms while in this gun’s presence. That’s reliability by proxy! Then again, I only shot 55 rounds through it… Regardless, I have no doubts that this gun will run 100% all of the time… Or at least until the magazine springs begin to wear out. I hope that doesn’t happen any time soon…
To conclude, the P238 is an excellent firearm. Do I have remorse about buying this gun? HELL NO. I love this thing. Since I don’t have a small gun for concealed holster carry, the P238 is now my go-to gun for pocket carry. Moreover, since this gun is such a light recoiling firearm, it won’t be intimidating for my wife to use or carry (LIKE THAT WOULD EVER HAPPEN). I feel like .380 ACP is still a bit under powered, and with that said, I’d still prefer to carry 9mm. However, since I chose the P238, .380 will do until I get that P938. Do I recommend this gun? Hell yes. Even if you are not looking for a pocket carry gun, this is just an excellent gun to have. If you collect and you want an exceptional pistol in .380 ACP, do not hesitate to get one. I will warn you, however, that this gun is only half of a matched pair. If you buy a P238, you will have to also purchase a P938 to complete the set… I still have to get one, myself, but that will have to wait for another day.