Gun Review: SIG SAUER P290

 

Like the Brady Campaign Against America, I’m downsizing. Now that I downsized my home by a couple of thousand square feet I’m all cozy and don’t have quite as much vacuuming to do. My cats are happier because they hate the vacuum cleaner, and I’m happier because I have more time to visit the range. I also downsized my waistline by six inches, and now I can actually tell whether my socks match without taking them off and holding them up to eye level under a strong light. And just to keep the theme going, I’d like to downsize my carry gun from my current compact .40 . . .

Finding the right small gun is not as easy as one might think. The choices have never been greater—or more bewildering. Some pocket pistols are good, some are average and some blow like Nancy Pelosi on a slide trombone. Many of the best compact handguns are not legal for sale in The People’s Republic of Massachusetts. Enter SIG SAUER’s tiny-niney, the P290.

My first impression upon opening the box: what a charming little toy. It’s 5.5” long and 3.9” tall; I can easily cover this pistol with my hand and I do not have large hands. SIG SAUER P290’s under an inch wide not counting the slide stop lever. So it’s quite slender, which is something that I wish I could say about myself. The slide’s black Nitron® finish is as stealthy as an undercover Mossad agent in Teheran. What, you didn’t know that there are Mossad agents in Teheran? See what I mean.

As soon as I removed the small SIG out of its plastic container I realized that the P290 is is a hefty little pistol, evidencing the liberal use of strong steel alongside the obligatory black polymer. The P290 weighs about 20 ounces with its magazine inserted, which is on the high side of light, but still light.

Handling the P290 was, well, curious. The test gun arrived with one single-stack six-round mag. The small capacity magazine shortens the stock to the point where there’s little room for even two of my fingers. My pinky was an orphan. Oh well. As Gunter Grass wrote, life is full of compromises. High capacity rapid fire assault clips are not available, which will please Frank Lautenberg, Michael Bloomberg, Carolyn McCarthyberg and the rest of the willfully ignorant knotheads who think they own the world.

When I saw the SIG P290’s external hammer, I assumed that the pistol is SA or DA/SA. According to the literature, the P290 has a DAO trigger with a nine-lbs. pull. Rack the slide and the SIG’s hammer is pre-cocked, or partially cocked. The hammer stays in that position until the trigger is fully depressed.

Firing the P290 requires a fairly long trigger pull to fully cock the hammer from the half-cocked position, disengage the hammer-block and trip the sear. There’s no de-cocker or external safety. None needed. Partial tensioning works to lighten the trigger pull and the gun’s quite safe. Still, carrying the P290 with a round under even a partially retracted hammer kinda creeps me out. And appendix carry could give an entire new meaning to the phrase “half-cocked.”

Dry firing revealed that the SIG’s trigger has plenty of take-up. It stacks, too. Not like a bunch of stevedores unloading cargo containers, but stack it does. I prefer a two-stage trigger on a carry gun for safety’s sake; the take-up cuts down on negligent discharges without slowing you down in the heat of battle. While I didn’t particularly like or dislike the way the P290’s trigger operated, I appreciated its smoothness.

At first, the P290’s solidly-built six-round magazine was a little stiff to load. The last round thumb-wrestled me until I managed to subdue it. While subsequent full reloads became easier as the springs loosened up, I decided to shoot five rounds to start.

SIG sells the P290 with bright three-dot night sights. Acquiring the target and lining up the shot is quick ‘n easy. The pistol points naturally; there’s no period of adjustment. I simply picked up the P290, shot it and hit what I aimed for. Palm-sized or smaller groups were the norm at fifteen yards. Recoil was the same or less than that of a full-sized 9mm pistol. The pocket pistol returns to point-of-aim as if it had ESP.

When I first started shooting pistols just after the flintlock passed into history, Jack Weaver was an unknown deppity from somewhere on the left coast, the Chapman Stance hadn’t been invented, and the isosceles stance was only for girls. I was taught to shoot one-handed, using a bladed stance with the strong-side leg forward and the weak hand clenched and rested on the trailing hip, making me look like I was ready to duel with Alexander Hamilton.

That old-fashioned stance worked perfectly back in the day, but that’s when we were all shooting High Standard .22s with minimal recoil. Since there’s not a lot of gripping room on the P290, I tried the old technique just for giggles. At one point, shooting the P290 one-handed from the strong side, I managed to put all five rounds in the ten ring from five yards [above]. I impressed myself.

Then I switched to my weak side just for guffaws. As a lefty, I’m as hopeless as Arianna Huffington. With a lesser gun firing left-handed, I’d be happy with a group the size of a manhole cover. What I got was everything in the nine ring. For me, that’s like hitting the lottery without buying a ticket.

The faster I shot, the tighter the groups. I credit the SIG SAUER’s P290’s trigger. When I pulled hard and fast, my point of aim was less disrupted than when I pulled through slowly. At ten yards, I was firing two inch groups and hitting the red. At fifteen yards, groups opened about the way I expected from a pistol with a barrel less than three inches in length. At 25 yards, which is an absurd distance for a popgun, I was on paper but not where I wanted to be.

The only problem: the trigger’s reset point. It’s too far forward, which slows the rate of fire. Otherwise, what I thought would be a problem trigger was no problem at all. Nevertheless, if this pistol featured a five-pound trigger, it would rule the world.

As with life, all was not perfect. I had one FTF using the Russky Brown Bear ammo that I love to shoot because, like me, it’s cheap. When I examined the unfired cartridge, I found that the primer had been properly struck, deeply and in the center. The round just didn’t go bang. There was no hang fire, and no squib. I blame the cartridge, which was obviously a dud. I’ve never had a dud shooting Brown Bear before, but stranger things have happened.

The second failure was certainly magazine related. I fired four of five, but the gun held open and did not return to battery after the penultimate round went downrange. That left the last soldier just sitting there in the dark, wondering where all his buddies had gone. I unlocked the slide, retracted the mag and struck it against my palm, then reinserted it.

Racking the slide again, the round chambered properly. I pressed the button and Five-of-Five flew away to join his pals. The cause of that little fun-fest probably was excess oil or a bit of dirt that impeded the magazine spring or follower. In the defense of the gun, I ran 350 rounds through it with only these two hiccups and no cleaning, before or after.

Why no cleaning? Here are the instructions for field-stripping the P290. “Manually pull the slide until the slide stop notch is aligned with the slide stop tab.” Okay, I can do that. “Retract the slide stop from the frame.” Well, I can’t. Why? Because I was born with only two arms and two hands, that’s why. Forgive me for my handicap.

Take-down seems to be a common complaint among P290 owners, at least on the SIG forum and other gun sites that I explored. I contacted SIG. Tim Butler, Sig’s Product Manager and nice guy sent the following email, to which I’ve added my own commentary in brackets.

Typically removing the slide from the frame gives one the impression that they will need three hands. [Roger that.] The method I found best is to lock the slide to the rear [OK] Place one finger on the right side of the slide lock and press on it while releasing the slide forward. [Done]. Slightly after the slide release you will feel the slide lock line up with the disassembly notch and will push to the left. [Safecrackers will have no problem with this step.]

Once the slide lock is drifted out it can be grabbed from the left and removed for disassembly [Wait, what? Once I release either hand to drift out the lock, the slide lock no longer lines up with the disassembly notch and slide lock removal becomes impossible. So how do I drift it out when I’m holding the pistol with my two other hands?]

I’m sure that P290 owners have figured out how to make two hands do the work of three. For those who are very dexterous and have a drift punch handy, field stripping is no more difficult than vascular surgery. But – how do I say this delicately – field stripping the SIG SAUER P290 is a royal flaming PITA and about as frustrating as an eight-minute lap dance.

The SIG SAUER P290 made me a better shooter and, if not a better person, at least a happier one. It’s a whole lot of gun for such a little gun. Even though I couldn’t clean the sumbitch, shooting that little jewel is about the most fun a person can have standing up. Fun equals range time equals proficiency equals safety. If you need to downsize to a compact gun, SIG says small is beautiful. I agree.

SPECIFICATIONS

Model: Sig Sauer P290
Caliber: 9mm
Magazine capacity:  6 rounds
Materials: Polymer frame, stainless steel slide
Weight empty: 20.5 ounces
Barrel Length: 2.9″
Overall length: 5.5″
Sights: Contrast / SIGLITE® Night Sights; optional custom laser.
Action: Double action only
Finish: Nitron black
Price: $758 msrp

RATINGS (out of five stars)

Style * * * * *
You’re the cutest little thing that I ever did see. I really love your peaches, want to shake your tree.

Ergonomics (carry) * * * * *
Fits easily in a pocket or can be carried IWB. Either way, it’s thinner than a poor man’s wallet and as comfortable as loose shoes.

Ergonomics (firing) * * * *
Barely a two-finger grip, but it lends itself well to the lost art of one-handed shooting. The recoil shy should apply here, where there are no recoil issues whatsoever.

Reliability * * * *
Three hundred and fifty rounds with two fails, both reflecting on ammo quality and cleanliness.

Customize This * * * 1/2
More customizable than one would think. Four major variants are available, including two different slide finishes. No rails, but the Laser model comes with a custom-fitted laser. On all models, the grips can be swapped out for something sexier, if so desired.

OVERALL RATING * * * *
Uncanny out-of-the-box accuracy elevates the P290 into the top tier of subcompact 9mm pistols. A half star was deducted for the frustrating field stripping experience.