All civilian practitioners of concealed carry want to carry the most potent handgun they can handle proficiently. Unfortunately, constraints caused by weather, clothing, and/ or social environment preclude this.
One of the reasons I am so fond of the cooler months, besides the beginning of hunting season, is the ability to layer clothes in a way to allow the return to shoulder holsters, IWB and belt holsters containing full-sized handguns.
SIG Sauer has created in the P238 a compact, almost petite, 1911-style all-metal handgun chambered in .380 ACP with dimensions that lend it to pocket, ankle or other deep cover methods of concealed carry.
The P238 is a single-action semi-automatic measuring 5.5 inches in length and 3.9 inches in height and weighing 15.2 ounces empty. An alloy beavertail-style frame is mated to a stainless steel slide. The magazine holds six .380 ACP cartridges, giving it a total capacity of seven with a round chambered.
SIG Sauer was somehow able to duplicate the ergonomics and natural pointability of the 1911 in the small P238 package. The P238 is blessed with a good set of sights that instills confidence that the P238 is capable of accurate fire past bad breath distances.
Many forums and discussion boards allude to the similarity between the SIG P238 and the Colt Mustang, which was discontinued over a decade ago. I am fortunate to have handled my late father’s Colt Mustang. While the Mustang was reliable and shared similar dimensions with the SIG P238, I consider the SIG to offer better handling, sights and trigger compared to its Colt predecessor.
Some may find the SIG’s all-metal construction preferable to the multitude of polymer-framed .380s on the market. The kissing-cousin similarity the P238 shares with larger 1911 models will further sway others—never underestimate 1911 charisma on the American shooter.
I am going to stay away from both the 1911 versus polymer and the caliber debates related to what should be considered the best handgun and what is the minimal personal defense round. I refer readers back to the opening paragraph to get a sense of where I stand. It is better to have some form of firearm with you than leaving your custom 1911 on the dresser due to its not fitting in with your summer outfit. After decades of concealed carry experience, I have found flexibility is the key in terms of weapons, holsters and carry options. That is why I have everything from a .22 Magnum mini-revolver to a .38 Special Snubby, several full-sized handguns, and now the SIG Sauer P238 in my daily carry arsenal to choose from.
I have experience utilizing the small polymer semi-automatics in daily carry, but had transitioned to a small frame, lightweight five-shot revolver equipped with Crimson Trace Laser grips over the last couple of years. The slim profile semiautomatic was appreciated for its “carryability,” but did not instill the most confidence either in terms of accurate fire past a few feet or reliability.
The SIG P238 has brought me back around to the slim attributes of the automatic versus the revolver, combined with an increase in capacity due to its seven rounds as compared to the Snubbys’ five rounds, not to mention the ease of carrying a reload in the form of a magazine versus a speedloader.
The SIG P238’s SIGLITE Night Sights are a huge improvement on both revolver and polymer crude rear notch and front ramp sights. The single-action trigger on the P238 measures a crisp five pounds. The combination of good sights and trigger, along with SIG quality control, has produced a sub-compact weapon that can run plate racks at 12 yards with monotony.
Detractors may point to the risk of carrying a single-action semi-automatic “cocked and locked” in your pocket, ankle, bellyband, etc. I am not about to decide what is the best way to carry the P238 for other users. Peace of mind and confidence in this matter are based on individual preferences. All of us have our own comfort level with how best to balance safety with practical carry. I suggest that, no matter which carry method is employed and whether in Condition 1, 2, or 3, practice and familiarization are the most important factors.
My primary method of carry for the P238 is in a DeSantis Nemesis pocket holster with the P238 in Condition 1—“cocked and locked.” For me there is no other way of carrying a 1911 no matter the size. If I were not comfortable with Condition 1 using the P238, I would have stayed with my Snubby. However, there is nothing wrong with Condition 3—full magazine without a round in chamber. The Israelis and others have shown that racking the slide during a well-rehearsed presentation does not take that much more time versus snicking the safety off.
The important thing is to practice with whatever method is to be employed and utilize good awareness of surroundings to prevent a total surprise attack. Other modes of carry I used consisted of a Galco Stow-N-Go IWB and DeSantis Insider IWB. Neither of these holsters was specific to the P238 due to its new status. The Galco Stow-N-Go was for a Kahr P9 and the DeSantis Insider for a Colt Mustang. Mike Barham with Galco indicated that a spike in customer interest might lead Galco to introduce a fitted holster for the SIG P238 in the future.
It has been some time since my last evaluation of a .380 ACP handgun, which means I have a decent stock of .380 ACP on hand. As most readers know, finding .380 ACP of any flavor at your favorite gun shop is next to impossible right now. Winchester 95-gr. FMJ, Wolf 94-gr. JHP and 91-gr. FMJ, and Black Hills 90-gr. JHP were available for range testing and familiarization.
Testing consisted of normal protocol establishing reliability first, then getting into combat accuracy and handling. Several magazines’ worth of ammunition was spent engaging plate racks and man-sized steel targets. No malfunctions were encountered. In the beginning, it was difficult to rack the P238’s slide with a full magazine. The slide would not go forward into battery fully when released. I attributed this to pushing the bullet nose down when the slide was retracted, along with a stiff magazine follower.
By the end of the first day’s range session, the P238 no longer exhibited this characteristic. The slide moved freely when chambering a round. Accurate fire was easily achieved at distances normally reserved for full-size handguns. The SIG P238’s ergonomic design allowed for minimal felt recoil and ease of getting multiple shots off quickly.
After reliability was verified, I began manipulating the P238 from a pocket holster during visits to the range. More of a point shooting or flash sight picture was utilized, along with a one-handed firing grip. I found this to be a more realistic way of analyzing what the P238 brings to the table for shooters considering using it in the role it was designed for—concealed carry personal defense.
The single-action trigger combined with 1911 handling produced acceptable accuracy in terms of personal defense. This accuracy was superior to what I had found with the polymer semis or beloved Snubby revolver, plus in less time and ranges that were measured in yards versus feet. Early attention had to be paid to getting the safety disengaged on the P238, especially for a longtime Glock user such as myself, but this was easily relearned with practice.
The P238 does not have a grip safety, and the safety lever on the frame does not lock the slide. This enables the safety to stay engaged when chambering or unloading the P238. I greeted the lack of a grip safety positively, because I have had problems getting the grip safety engaged when hastily acquiring a firing grip on the smaller 1911 models.
Along these same lines, SIG issued a mandatory safety upgrade for early production P238s to rectify a problem found with the safety lever. (Please consult the SIG Sauer website to verify what the serial # range was. SIG Sauer moved quickly to publish this and get the issue resolved at no cost to purchasers of the P238. The P238 I acquired for testing was not impacted by this mandatory safety upgrade.)
The SIG Sauer P238 will find its way into several roles as a personal defense handgun. It will definitely find a niche as a backup gun, especially with 1911 aficionados. Many will find the handy nature of the P238 makes it indispensable and won’t be able to leave the house without it, even when also carrying a larger weapon. Others will adopt it as their primary carry weapon by default, especially in the summer months or under social conditions where discovery of a concealed carry weapon is undesirable.
The reliability and accuracy of the P238 evaluated here leads me to believe that it’s a viable carry pistol. The .380 ACP cartridge has benefited just as much as the 9mm in terms of bullet development increasing its terminal capabilities. The P238 handled JHP profile bullets as well as it did FMJ profiles, with a couple hundred of each fired during range tests. Ultimately, the weapon on your person is more important than the full-sized 10mm you leave at home because you don’t feel like dressing around your handgun on any given day.
The SIG Sauer P238 is a good balance of size to firepower for the practitioner of concealed carry.