Gun Review: SIG SAUER P238

The moment the SIG SAUER P238 disappears into your hand you know it’s a beautiful piece, a diamond that’s not even slightly rough. The Colt Mustang clone has all the solidity and precision that’s typified the Swiss-born company’s products since SIGARMS set up shop stateside in 1985. That’s quite a feat, given the the P238 weighs just 15.2 ounces unloaded. The gun’s light enough to stash in a pocket, yet heavy enough to make it a perfectly controllable pistol.

Lest we forget that is the point—despite the gun’s intrinsic appeal as a ballistic bauble. On the hitting stuff front, the .380 caliber P238 is good to go. Wayne from American Firearms School was kind enough to let me watch him break his mini-SIG’s cherry. (I know that sounds kinky, but watching Wayne shoot a gun as it’s meant to be shot is a thrilling experience for any gun nut.) At first, Wayne pronounced, “that’s not a bad group.” After I stopped making the above video, he proceeded to put all the bullets in the little circle.

My local gunsmith had an almost brand new Smith & Wesson Airweight for sale. “What was wrong with it?” I asked. “Nothing,” he replied. “Why’s the owner selling it?” “He shot it.” There are no such recoil-related problems with the SIG SAUER P238. While shooting the best-selling Ruger LCP is about as painful as an extremely vigorous high five, the more expensive SIG is one of the softest-shooting smallest .380 pistols made. The all-metal pocket rocket shoots as easily an all-stainless .38 revolver, with a “bonus” seventh round (if you keep an extra one in the pipe).

The SIG SAUER P238’s relatively gentle recoil makes it an extremely accurate little jewel and, well, fun. A P238 owner’s unlikely to treat his or her weapon like your average mouse gun (stick it in a secret cage and only pull it out when your life depends on it). The P238 is a range toy in the best sense of that term: a gun you’ll play with to the point where shooting it well will become second nature. And that means the gun may do you some good should you ever need to use it in a self-defense situation. IF you remember to switch off the safety.

We’ve been here before, Ruger SR9c fans. The SIG SAUER’s frame-mounted safety is not what I want from a combat gun. As I explained before, if your defensive gun has a frame-mounted safety, you have to train yourself to use it EVERY TIME you shoot. Between strings. The average shooter won’t think/know/remember to switch the safety on and off during practice (as demonstrated by a Walther .22 owner last night). They’ll only use the SIG’s safety when they’re done at the range, for holstering. When push comes to shove they may forget to switch the safety off. Oops.

In terms of size, shape, positioning and auditory feedback, the current SIG P238’s safety is an excellent design—considering that an over-sized switch would catch on clothing. But here’s another thing: even if you train with the safety, what happens when you  switch to a bigger gun for home carry or winter use?

Safety says you shouldn’t have two shooting systems—lest you get confused which one’s in your hand at zero hour. If you want to carry a 1911-style SIG SAUER P238—and why wouldn’t you?—it would be best to lose the combat-style sidearms (e.g. Glock, Springfield, M&P) in favor of a 1911, with a slide-mounted safety. Now that IS a painful realization.

Tactical considerations aside, ignoring a history of failure-to-feed issues (since resolved), the SIG SAUER P238 is the pocket pistol, available in a broad range of drop-dead sexy styles. Now would be an indelicate time to kvetch about the quality of the magazines (responsible for some of those early reliability problems). Or the difficulty of a speed reload—which is way easier than a revolver but still only gives you an additional six bullets.

And what of the “stopping power” of a .380 bullet? While debating the lethality of smaller caliber bullets is about as fruitful as trying to sort out that Miller Lite great taste / less filling thing, suffice it to say the rabbi recommends any caliber bullet you like—as long as its 9mm and up. It must be said: there are plenty of compact 9mm guns with bigger bullets and greater capacity. None of which are quite as small or anywhere near as deeply desirable as the SIG SAUER P238.

So, as always, it’s trade-off time. If you want a gun that’s lovely to hold and admire, dead nuts reliable and effortless to carry and use, buy a stainless steel revolver. I mean, sacrifice bullet size and buy a SIG SAUER P238.


Caliber: .380 ACP (9mm short)
Action Type: Single Action Only
Trigger Pull: 7.5 – 8.5 lbs
Overall Height: 3.9″
Overall Width: 1.1″
Barrel Length: 2.7″
Weight: 15.2 oz
Mag Capacity: 6 Rounds
Grips: Fluted Polymer
Frame Finish: Black Hard Coat Anodized
Slide Finish: Natural Stainless
MSRP: $643.00

RATINGS (out of five)

Style * * * * *
Available in a wide range of finishes and grips, suiting everyone from the traditionalist (rosewood grips) to retro-futurists (two-tone). The basic proportions are tight, right and (literally) out-of-sight

Ergonomics (carry) * * * * *
The perfect summer gun.

Ergonomics (firing) * * * * *
Superb recoil control.

Reliability * * *
When the P238 was launched, failure to feed problems were legion. And there was the “mandatory upgrade” on the safety. Later owners have shot over a thousand rounds through their mini-me 1911s without an issue.

Customize This NA
Some people like lasers on their mouse guns, but I reckon it’s point and shoot at close distances, so no, leave it as is.

Reliability concerns have faded, but this is a self-defense weapon. There’s no margin for error. That and the slide-mounted safety rob an outstanding gun of the coveted fifth star.