Monday, July 29, 2013

MArooned Product Review: SIG SAUER P238

So, a lot longer ago than I realized I received a SIG SAUER P238 for review:

That's the MA-compliant Nitron version (there are over 20 versions!) which comes with one magazine, a very cute kydex OWB holster (or IWB for lefties), a small tube of lube, and a chamber flag (along with several trees' worth of paper in the form of manuals, warnings, and other assorted legalese). It all comes in the standard SIG plastic lockable box, and this model comes with SIG's SIGLITE night sights.

The P238 is obviously influenced by the Colt Mustang. The design, controls, size; everything about the P238 is similar to Colt's 1911-based micro-380. Barrel length, overall length, and weight are very close to the littlest Pony; in fact, don't tell anyone, but I picked up a second magazine for the P238 - a Colt Mustang magazine - and it worked fine. Being a fan of the 1911, and also of the pocket pistol, the P238 was a natural fit for the armory.

Fit and finish on the P238 is top notch. The slide is done in SIG's Nitron finish, the frame is anodized black, and the grips are polymer (although I couldn't resist and found a nice pair of Hogue wood grips for it - much dressier!). While it weighs in at less than a pound loaded, it feels solid in the hand - not like you're trying to hang on for dear life. It's an excellent balance of light weight and usable size.

Carrying the P238

Obviously, a firearm this small is designed to be carried, and it was carried quite a bit. Some have issues with the idea of pocket-carrying a single-action only firearm with the hammer cocked on a loaded chamber, and while I can understand the issues, the safety on the P238 is very solid and did not move in all the time it was carried. It fits all the standard holsters that I have for pocket pistols:

It's in the molded kydex SIG holster, and under it are an Uncle Mike's #1 pocket holster, a Dragon Leatherworks Chimaera, and a DeSantis Nemesis pocket holster. The P238 fits in all three (although I will admit to bias towards the Chimaera, naturally) and doesn't carry any differently than the Smith & Wesson Bodyguard 380 that is normally in the Chimaera. The weight is within an ounce or so of the Bodyguard 380, and the dimensions are so close that they fit the same holsters.

Here's the P238 in comparison with two other pocket 380s:

Kel-Tec P3AT on the left and the Smith & Wesson Bodyguard 380 on the right. There's little appreciable difference in size between the three pistols, although the Kel-Tec is significantly lighter than the other two (and thinner). The P238 carries just fine in a pocket, and I saw no noticeable difference between it and the Bodyguard 380 when carried in a front or rear pocket.

Shooting the P238

What sets the SIG SAUER P238 apart from other pocket 380s is the single-action only trigger. It's much lighter than the DAO triggers of the other guns, which translates into less of a learning curve from a long pull, heavy trigger DOA. The size and heft of the P238 are well-suited for the 380 ACP - it's nowhere near as snappy in the P238 as in the P3AT - and it was much easier to shoot the P238 than even the Bodyguard 380. Up until I shot the P238, the BG 380 was my gold standard for "shootable" pocket 380s. It's still one of my faves, but the P238 is easier to shoot.

Not too shabby for a pocket pistol with a 2.7" barrel! That's at 25 feet with the magazine emptied as quickly as I could pull the trigger. Slower, more carefully aimed fire results in even tighter groups - and superior handgunners were able to shrink the 25' groups to a single ragged hole.

Reliability was excellent, with the only notable exception being the steel-cased Tulammo .380 ACP. I could not get the P238 to function with the Tulammo at all. All brass-cased ammunition, from Winchester White Box to Federal Hydra-shoks, fed, fired, and ejected reliably in the P238. It didn't seem to prefer any particular bullet shape - the flattened nose WWB worked just as well as the pointier hollowpoints and the standard round FMJ from Remington/UMC.

Recoil, while noticeable, was entirely manageable (although this is coming from someone that shoots a 12 ounce .357 Magnum, so consider the source). The P238 doesn't jump around between shots, making followup shots (a necessity for the marginal 380 round) much easier. The SIGLITE night sights are easy to use even in daylight, and while I didn't do any night shooting, they really do stand out in low light conditions (and they scared the HELL out of me the first time I opened the pistol safe...)

Cleaning the P238

Another pleasant surprise from the SIG SAUER P238 came at cleaning time. It's quite easy to take apart for cleaning: simply rack the slide so that the dimple behind the slide lock notch is over the edge of the slide release, push the pin out, and slide the slide off the frame. Remove the barrel and recoil spring, and it's ready for a scrubbing:

There's no pins to punch out (or have a hard time getting back in, yes, Smith & Wesson Bodyguard 380, I'm looking at yooooouuuu), it slides out with the push of your finger (or a pen cap or other non-marring pointy surface). Everything comes apart quickly and easily and goes back together the same way. It's entirely possible to clean this on the fly like a full sized gun.

Specifications (from SIG SAUER Spec sheet):

Item Number: 238-380-BSS, 238M-380-BSS
Caliber: .380 ACP (9mm short)
Action Type: SAO
Trigger Pull DA: N/A
Trigger Pull SA: 7.5-8.5 lbs
Overall Length: 5.5 in
Overall Height: 3.9 in
Overall Width: 1.1 in
Barrel Length: 2.7 in
Sight Radius: 3.8 in
Weight w/Mag: 15.2 oz
Mag Capacity: 6 Rounds
Sights: Contrast or SIGLITE Night Sights
Grips: Fluted Polymer Grips
Frame Finish: Black Hard Coat Anodized
Slide Finish: Nitron
Accessory Rail: No
Features: Beavertail style frame, fluted grips
MSRP: $679.00


The SIG SAUER P238 has an identity crisis. It's a small gun that thinks it's a full size gun. This might lead to problems for the P238 in schoolyard fights, with it picking on guns much larger than itself for caliber wars, but it makes for a pleasant shooting experience, a small gun that shoots like one much larger than itself. It's easy to carry, disappearing into a pocket or inside a waistband, with a size (and weight) suitable for having with you all day long.

There are less expensive pocket 380s out there, but none have the panache of a micro-1911 in your pocket!

That is all.


libertyman said...

Are you bringing it Saturday?

Roger said...

It is worthy of note that the little SIG is a locked breech pistol, not blowback. This would account for its milder recoil. Also a tip of the hat to the progenitor of locked breech pistols of this design, John Moses Browning (PBUH).

Dave H said...

Libertyman: I'll have mine there.

It took me a little while to convince myself it was safe to carry the P238 cocked & locked. I carry it in a SIG pocket holster (similar to the Chimaera but thinner leather) in my back pocket, and I was concerned that standing, sitting, and walking all day might nudge the safety off. But I tried carrying it for a week loaded with dummy rounds and the safety never budged. So I carry it hot now.

It took me longer to get used to the combat sights. I kept shooting low. I had a similar problem with my LC9, because everything I'd shot before it had target sights. But even after I got that figured out I thought I needed to change the sights on the P238. But I kept at it and finally got it right. This is the shortest pistol I own and the short sight radius is unforgiving. The soluton is practice.

Joshua said...

Yeeeessss, one of these little beasties is on the short list to buy or its bigger sister the 9mm version.

You've covered the bases pretty well for everything I would ask though can we get a picture of it in pocket?

Sdv1949 said...

Mine is my usual summer carry and is great for an "all 1911" family as they all run exactly the same.

Mine runs the Tula fine, admitedly after 4-500 rounds of WWB first.

Jay G said...


I can bring mine on Saturday, although Dave is bringing his. Doesn't take up much room... :)


Excellent point, thanks!


I had the same issue, and resolved it the same way. I tend to shoot most of my defensive pistols low, mainly from jerking the heavier trigger. Takes a LOT of practice to smooth that out, and I find if I don't practice often enough, that skill goes away...


I really can't say enough good things about the P238. I'd love to review the P938 if/when it ever becomes MA-legal (it *should*, since it's the same design as the P238, but with MA you never know...)

Let me see what I can do about getting a picture/pictures tonight. Basically it looks like a wallet...


Ooh. Maybe I'll try the Tulammo again, then. Sure is cheaper...


1911Man said...

My P238 refuses to load Buffalo Bore ammo. Other factory ammo and hand loads run just fine. Never tried Tulammo in anything, and won't allow Wolf to poop near my guns.

Anonymous said...

Jay, I have one correction, and one only. The P238 IS a Mustang, only with a Sig-style slide and barrel, and without the prancing pony on the side.

The two guns don't just share magazines. As I recall, they share pretty much all parts, with the exception of the slide, frame, and barrel.

And it's also Exhibit A in showing why Colt is producing the Mustang again.

Jay G said...

"they share pretty much all parts, with the exception of the slide, frame, and barrel."

So, they have the same springs, then?

(Kidding, I know what you mean).

Dragon said...

I'm the one you reviewed a 1st Gen Sig 238, or a Second Gen Sig 238...

Yes, there are TWO versions of this gun in the wild...I found out the hard way when I made a holster for it for a customer, and he told me the gun didn't fit.

He sent the rig back, and I tested it. Fit just fine.

Borrowed a friends P238, and it fit fine.

Went to the local gun shop and tried the one in the display case....and the damn thing didn't go into the holster.

Compared the brand-new-in-the-display-case one with my friends version, and the two have different slide widths.

First Gen P238 have a slide width of 0.6785" (measured across the front of the slide at the muzzle) where the Second Gen is 0.7850".

Seems that the slides were a bit on the lean side in the first gen, and SIG was experiencing heavy warranty repairs on slides that were cracking right at the detent where you line up the slide stop when field stripping it.

What really pissed me off is that when I called SIG, explaining that I was a holster maker and trying to get some specs on their obvious two generations of guns, they acknowledged that there actually was a design change, and yes it was making the slide beefier.

But they refused to help me out when I asked the VERY simple question of " at what serial number was the change made? This way I can ask my customers what serial number they have, and can fit the holster properly."

14 months later, and I still don't know when the change was implemented. And I loose more sales from Regular Joe who bought the P238 because the guy in the store said it was the best pocket gun EVAR, who wants a nice holster...but he can't read a caliper to give me an exact measurement, then tells me that I must not be a good holster guy because the salesman INSISTED that there was no such thing as a change in the SIG design, and the gun fits JUST FINE in an Uncle Mikes...

Yeah, the SIG P238 is a sore spot with me... ;-)

Dave H said...

Dragon: Knowing the s/n where SIG went to the larger slide won't help people whose older guns have had the slides replaced. Maybe ask prospective customers to try some simple way of measuring, like laying a penny on the end of the muzzle and seeing if the slide is wider or narrower than the coin. (A penny is .750 inches.)

If you think it might help I can email you my s/n and slide width, although from what I've read online the change occurred several years ago. I bought mine a year ago in February.

Ed and Jackie said...

To toss in my me too's:

I have the HDW (all steel, beefier slide) with crimson trace laser.

It would not feed TulAmmo reliably at all. Mostly extraction failures, some fail to feed. That was a thousand to two thousand rounds ago, so might do fine now.

S&B wasn't a problem, but a thousand rounds I got about a year ago (but am shooting now) has had about one fail to eject/extract in fifty rounds or so. I've noted some pretty soot marked cases and weird looking mouths to the case (dunno how to explain that better) and suspect thin cases. It fed a few hundred of the same brand a few months before that without a care.

PMC Bronze is actually mine's favorite, by far. Dirty as all get out.

Hornandy Critical Defense is the most accurate defensive I've found in mine. Can't find it regular in .380 though.

Crossbreed Supertuck is very cozy. Because I have the all steel, pocket carry makes for droopy pants (I tend to loose fitting pants) and just isn't that cozy for me. Plus, I have stuff in my pockets already. I also use this tucked when I have to wear a suit and haven't had any printing issues.

Crimson Trace laser is awesome, though the change in grip for the laser is noticeable. Finding a holster was a pain.

The 9mm, so I hear, uses the same holsters and laser as the 238. Ran into one on the range and, frankly, it didn't shoot much different. the Owner claimed some reliability issues, but he let me put 50 rounds of silver bear 147 grain through it, which it dispensed quite well.