Rule One Gun Roundup – Sig P238

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.

Sig's P238 "Sport" shown with a Crimson Trace laser module installed on the pistol.
Sig’s P238 “Sport” shown with a Crimson Trace laser module installed on the pistol.

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.

The TruGlo fiber optic/tritium sight glows day and night, grabbing your attention in almost any lighting condition.
The TruGlo fiber optic/tritium sight glows day and night, grabbing your attention in almost any lighting condition.

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 Good:

The tritium sights on the P238 sport work very well in low light.
The tritium sights on the P238 sport work very well in low light.

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 P238 proved easy to shoot well, even at speed.
The P238 proved easy to shoot well, even at speed. Note that this target represents over 300 rounds fired through the pistol.

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.