In the last few months I’ve spent a lot of time looking at sub-compact/pocket/Rule One guns to aid in making a purchase decision for a family member who needs one of these pistols for carry. As many good points as the Glock 42 has, the tendency to get lateral push and the requirement to pull the trigger to disassemble the weapon made me uncomfortable giving that my recommendation for this situation. That prompted me to go out and look hard at a segment of the handgun market that I hadn’t really given much consideration.
If you do the same, you’ll find yourself feeling some level of sympathy for Colt. Colt started manufacturing sub-compact .380 semi-autos in the early 1980’s and eventually discontinued production of the “Mustang” pistols before the dawn of our new millennium…which was right about the time that shall-issue concealed carry laws were sweeping the nation dramatically expanding the market for concealed carry. Sig-Sauer apparently noted the sales success of the Ruger LCP and decided that they should snag a slice of the sub-compact market. Sig had made .380 pistols before (notably the fairly large but very nice P230 and P232) but never one in the size category of the LCP. What to do? Well, they could spend considerable time and money designing a new pistol from the ground-up…or they could make a Sig-ish version of the discontinued Colt Mustang. Sig was already manufacturing their own version of the 1911 so there was already some level of know-how about manufacturing the weapon in house.
Sig chose to make the Mustang, only with a few tweaks. They installed decent sights (including night sights) on the pistols instead of the tiny, hard-to-use sights that Colt had been putting on the Mustang. Sig also went on to manufacture the P238 in a wide variety of finishes and configurations to match pretty much any preference you could possibly imagine. I’ll admit up front that I thought this was the silliest damn thing I had ever seen. I started seeing P238’s with tribal tatoos and rainbow finishes and frankly it made me wonder if they had a position at Sig dedicated to coming up with the goofiest possible finish combinations for what was basically a borrowed design. Then I actually started watching people buy these pistols. It turns out that a chunk of the market really likes what I would consider a goofy finish. And some of them actually do want a sub-compact .380 with a steel frame. And some of the buyers for that steel-framed .380 want rubber grips while others want rosewood grips…
The “have it your way!” approach seems to have worked out for Sig. They’ve sold a bunch of P238 pistols and there are so many different versions of the little guns out there that I don’t know if even Sig employees can tell you the difference between them without looking at some sort of manual. Sig has sold so many that recently Colt started making the Mustang again, including a new polymer framed version. Unfortunately all of the Colts still have the same tiny sights, and that’s ultimately why I bought the Sig instead.
The specific version of P238 pictured is the now discontinued P238 “Sport.” The deciding feature for this particular pistol for my situation was the presence of a TruGlo TFO fiber optic/tritium front sight as the person who is going to be carrying this pistol reported that they could see that particular front sight most easily.
The Mustang-style pistols like the P238 have a lot to recommend them as a Rule One Gun. Even the little .380 ACP is a pretty stout cartridge to cram into pistols of this size. Requiring the slide to cock a hammer uses up quite a bit of energy so that you don’t need a heavy recoil spring in the pistol to keep it from beating itself to death. This has the happy side effects of making recoil feel very mild and making the slide easy to operate. I’ve noticed that a lot of the buyers for Rule One Guns tend to be older and perhaps due to various injuries or conditions mild recoil and ease of manipulating the slide factors heavily into their need for a pistol.
If someone struggles to run the slide on a semi-automatic pistol it’s also highly likely that their grip is sufficiently weak to cause reliability issues with the pistol. Small semi-automatic pistols in general tend to be rather finicky about ammunition and intolerant of a weak grip, but this P238 does not seem to care very much about those things. I’ve fired a number of different brands of .380 FMJ and JHP ammunition through this P238 without experiencing any stoppages or malfunctions. Even using the weakest two-fingered grip I can manage (essentially placing the backstrap of the pistol against my thumb and pinching the trigger with my index finger) hasn’t induced a stoppage or malfunction with the P238.
The most outstanding feature of the P238, though, is the way it shoots. I actually used this pistol for day 2 of the FPF Training Concealed Carry Foundations & Street Encounter Skills class I took a few weeks ago. The little .380 proved to be very easy to shoot with superb accuracy thanks to the decent sights and the smooth trigger. Even with my rather large hands manipulation of the safety was no problem. The trigger is so forgiving that I was able to shoot the pistol with excellent accuracy even if I ended up with a sub-optimal grip trying to wedge my big hands onto this little gun. I’ve found that everyone else I have put behind the pistol has been able to shoot it better than any of the major competitors in this size range. The smooth single-action trigger covers for a world of sins, it seems…
You will note in the profile picture that I have added a Crimson Trace laser module to the P238. Sig sells a model with their own branded laser on it, but I would strongly encourage you to avoid buying that package. It may be a little cheaper than buying the pistol and the Crimson Trace unit separately, but I’ve tried the Sig branded unit and frankly I think it sucks out loud. The pressure switch activation on the frontstrap of the Crimson Trace unit is the best way to go for a laser mounted on a handgun, in my opinion. In terms of laser solutions Kimber’s Micro Crimson Carry has the best setup around. Crimson Trace, if you are listening, please make that grip setup for the P238.
Right about here is where I ordinarily put the “Not So Good:” section of the writeup, but I honestly don’t have anything “not so good” to say about this pistol. It has been a very pleasant surprise, exceeding my expectations up to this point. I’ve seen reports on the web of folks who have had some issues with P238’s out of the box, but as best I can tell most who have encountered an issue have had it quickly resolved by the factory. To be perfectly honest, I would have preferred to buy an actual Colt Mustang…but the fact that Sig was putting better sights on the gun by default made the P238 the smarter purchase.
The P238 is smaller than the Glock 42 and is easier to shoot. When you factor in the cost of replacement sights for a Glock 42 the P238 with some careful shopping can actually come out to be less expensive than the G42 package. The P238, being an all metal gun, probably needs to be lubricated a bit more carefully than the Glock 42 (all firearms should be properly lubed, but Glocks are pretty tolerant of neglect in that area) but that seems to be the only place where the P238 loses out to the smallest Glock.
In the Rule One Gun Roundup, the P238 is the pistol I would recommend for most people’s needs.
Good call Tim. I had honestly not giving that pistol any thought at all, as a rule one gun, since the abalone shell finish made it seem silly to me, and those were the only samples I’d seen. I have a G42 and my impressions mirror yours. I may trade up! Keep up the excellent writing!
Why thank you, good sir! I didn’t want to like the P238…but since the one I bought actually works and it is unbelievably easy to shoot it’s hard to really fault the little pistol. I actually bought this gun for my mother. It’s the first handgun she’s ever owned and even she can get good hits with it.
It is certainly an enticing package, especially being offered in so many variations of design. As I already owned an LCP and a P232 I chose not to dump a bundle on one of these and am glad I waited. Sig went the extra mile and brought out what I think is a far better choice in the P938. It is almost the same size, but in the most popular & cost effective caliber 9mm Luger. I highly recommend shooting both of them if you are considering either, to see which one fits your needs, and abilities best. Price wise, there is about $80 difference in the MSRP, but you can certainly find them for quite a bit less than that if you shop around. I picked up my P938 SAS under $700.
The 938 is also quite tempting and since I’ve done the deep dive with this P238 I’ve been looking very hard at them. My primary concern is reliability…it seems to me based on looking at people reporting their experiences online that you have about a 50/50 shot of getting one that works right out of the box. Even then I’m not sure what sort of service life the pistol will have. It’s a really small package for a 9mm. I tend to shoot my carry guns quite a bit and I’d rather not sink that kind of money into something that proves to be essentially disposable. I’m hoping with a little more time I’ll get some good data on the 938 that disproves all my concerns about it. For now I think the P238 is a safer bet from a reliability and service life standpoint.
Well I’ve had my P938 for 1 1/2 years and I have not had one problem with the reliability with regard to operation. It did however have a front night sight that died, which was replaced free of charge. I run mixed mags of ammo, various brands and bullet style and no malfunctions have occurred. I am not a 200 rounds per use shooter, so I would say it’s only had about 500 rounds through it, most at one time was probably 75. Usually I run about 50 per outing. I’m not a big Sig fan, the P232 and P290 are the only others I own and I had issues with both of them,
re-strike needed too often. I guess it’s good they had the ability to do so. The P232 finally works right after 3 years of trial, but I had to send it to Sig. They replaced 3 or 4 parts including the grip panels (?) not sure why. For me, the P938 has been the best Sig I’ve ever owned and I like it a lot. The SAS carry melt is excellent and I use the extended mags and put on the Sig/Hogue rubber grips to absorb some of the recoil; it works marvelous.
I have a 938 that desperately needs to go back to Sig, the pin on the mainspring housing has eroded itself, and it doesn’t like my carry ammo (124gr HST) or several other HPs that I’ve tried to run, (I get at least a couple failure to feeds out of a box of ammo and different mags.) It also tries to strip the second round when chambering from a fully loaded mag. I really do like the pistol, and I want to be able to carry it with confidence, but until it goes back to Sig, it’s pretty much dead in the water.
That’s pretty much my worry with the 938. As best I can tell, it’s really iffy as to whether or not you get one that works properly. Let me know if it works once it comes back from Sig.
I have one “not so good” complaint about the P238: The thumb safety is a bit on the wee side. I have thumbs that vaguely resemble bratwurst sausages, and the safety is a bit difficult to manipulate when I’m paying attention, I can only imagine how tough it might be under stress. I’ve seen where you can modify aftermarket Colt Mustang thumb safety, but I’d rather have a better option available from Sig.
I was worried about that as well, but at least for my anatomy disengaging the safety doesn’t seem to cause me any problems. Perhaps all my years of 1911 worship have helped me out in that regard.
How do you carry the gun? Cocked and locked, hammer down, etc? Also pocket to holster? Reason I ask is I looked at the p238 and kept coming up with more questions than answers, but I was talking to myself.
Cocked and Locked…just like any other 1911 pattern pistol.
I have a Mustang made in the 80’s. Very nice gun. I would like to have a 238 for cc. The only problem is with it’s safety it is for right handed people and I am left handed. It was pointed out to me that Sig did or does make an ambi 238. Those are next to impossible to find or the ones I have seen online have a good surcharge on them over other 238s.
Mine is carried in a Galco pocket holster during the warm months of the year. It literally disappears from view. Point of Order: P238 frames are anodized aluminum.
To each his own, but I would not recommend a single-action auto to a non-expert, especially one who wanted to carry it in a pocket. Carrying cocked and locked requires wiping off the safety during the draw (and reactivating it during reholstering); this requires practice that most non-gun people aren’t willing to spend enough time on. Carrying with the hammer down requires cocking the hammer during the draw, and is very difficult to do safely, even if you’ve practiced. Non-gun people who just want a gun to carry are liable to forget to either wipe off the safety or cock the hammer, and they will have to do one of those two things. Those of us to whom 1911 manipulation is second nature tend to forget the 1911’s complexity for a novice.
To my mind, a DAO auto (so there’s no decocking involved) or a revolver is still the way to go for this purpose.
> I would not recommend a single-action auto to a
> non-expert, especially one who wanted to carry
> it in a pocket.
Everything is a trade-off, but I agree that this is a valid concern. Not a deal-breaker, but a valid concern.
Darryl Bolke (aka “nyeti”) makes a good case for the LEM trigger action in “Why I Like The LEM” at http://pistol-training.com/archives/8549 . Long story short: the LEM is as simple to use as a Glock or a double-action-only gun, but with a long trigger pull of a double-action — making it safeer — and lighter than a double-action, making it easier to shoot than a DA. Unlike a striker-fired action, the hammer on the LEM provides a visual cue that the trigger is being engaged (and allows the user to place thumb-on-hammer while holstering).
“I like the L.E.M. Here is why. It is a consistent trigger. It has all of the take up of the DA, without the weight and effort. The trigger goes back to the same long take up location when the finger comes off the trigger. Essentially, it is like de-cocking without having to use a de-cocker, just a simple removal of the finger from the trigger to its register location. Lots of take up and both tactile feel that the trigger finger is on the trigger, and a visual input from the hammer. That same visual and tactile input is also there during the reset and every other movement of the trigger-you can always see the hammer moving with the trigger. The negative, is there is a lot of trigger movement going on. This is an issue when pure speed is the goal. It is not an issue when you have to think and justify every single movement of the trigger when employing the gun against people. All that tactile and visual trigger input is a good thing for most people.”
The only other similar style trigger I am aware of is SIG’s DAK. I’ve never shot a DAK gun, so I can’t comment, but Todd Greene wrote a comparison of the two: “HK LEM vs. SIG DAK” at http://pistol-training.com/articles/hk-lem-vs-sig-dak .
If somebody made a gun like the SIG P238, but with a LEM style trigger, I’d have no reservation recommending it as a “Rule One Gun”. I don’t know if such a gun is possible from an engineering standpoint. But if it is, somebody should be making them.
As it is, I’d still recommend the P238 — I know both men and women who carry them — but Old 1811’s concern is valid. And the same is true of its competitor, the Glock 42.
> Those of us to whom 1911 manipulation is second nature
> tend to forget the 1911’s complexity for a novice.
Heretic! I’m sure that Jeff Cooper is spinning in his grave.
But seriously, I absolutely agree with this point, and would even expand on it. Those of us who are “into” guns tend to forget that a lot of what we take for granted is not only complex, but intimidating, for novices. And we also tend to forget that not everybody who wants a gun for protection is looking for a new hobby, but merely a tool. But that’s a rant for another time.
Anonymous: Thank you for your input. Your agreement with some of what I said shows that you are an exceptionally intelligent person. (That’s humor. Sometimes it doesn’t come through in print.)
Regarding the LEM and DAK trigger systems: At different times in my career, I was issued an HKUSP with the LEM trigger, and a SIG with the DAK. In my opinion, the LEM (this was the 2000 versions; newer ones may be different) sucked. It was a two-stage trigger with a good trigger pull almost to the end, then an abrupt change to a much heavier pull that caused the shooter to shoot way low and left. My agency’s academy instructors claimed that it was easy to learn if you had learned to shoot with a 1911, and impossible if you had learned with a revolver. They claimed that they could make and win bets on shooting contests based on what the shooters had learned on. My personal qual scores on a 360-point course went from the 350s on a standard DAO auto to around 300 with the LEM. (Passing was 252.) I was not happy.
One of our best DAO pistol shots joked that he only hoped someone he had to shoot wasn’t wearing armor on his right knee.
Several years later, we transitioned to the Sig 229 with the DAK trigger. That trigger was a dream. I loved it, and so did all our agents.
Both triggers had second-strike capacity. It was about a 200-pound trigger pull, but it worked.
The point about the hammer is a good one. We taught our agents to put their thumb on the back of the slide when holstering, so that if something snagged the trigger, they would (hopefully) be warned by the hammer coming back, and avoid an ND. Of course, you can’t do that with a striker-fired pistol.
I used to tote an old Colt 1903, in a basic pocket holster. One fine morning, I was helping a buddy de-cement a driveway, and was running a jackhammer. I realized that the vibration may not be the best thing for a cocked and locked single action auto’s safety mechanisms. I shortly moved on to a J framed S&W, and later to a Shield.
Joe in PNG: Another good point. JMB probably never envisioned his creation bouncing around like that.
I was thinking more of the author’s statement that buyers of Rule One Guns “tend to be older”. I know from observing older people (one of them is in the mirror all the time) that besides losing hand strength for racking slides, they also often have hand stiffness, and sometimes memory problems, that would prevent them from safely manipulating a 1911-style action. Especially when they’re novices. Single-action autos violate the KISS principle.
I’ve fired most of the tiny 380s on the market, and I’ve owned many of them. The Sig 238 is my favorite. Mine has been completely reliable. Recoil is reasonable, the trigger is sweet, and the sights are good. It is a delight to shoot. The only negative I see is that it is a bit heavier and bulkier than the likes of the Ruger LCP, S&W Bodyguard 380, etc.
I, and my wife, see that as a plus. YMMV
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