Every firearms manufacturer has their signature handgun. For Ruger it’s the Mk. III. For H&K it’s the USP. For Glock it’s the 19. And for SIG SAUER it’s their P226. Whenever I think of these companies an image of these firearms pops into my mind. But for me, the P226 is the greatest of them all.
The SIG P226 was the first handgun I ever bought. I had just turned 21, was already issued a concealed handgun license by the great state of Pennsylvania, and had some money to burn. Not too much money, though — starving college students have that problem. So I picked up a police trade-in P226, and at first glance it looked rough. The bluing was completely worn away on some parts, others had dents or dings in them. But despite the wear, the thing still ran like a champ. And there’s a reason for that.
In the 1980s, the U.S. military was looking for a replacement for the M1911A1 handguns that had been in service since World War One. The platform was still useful and deadly, but NATO was standardizing around the 9mm cartridge and the powers that be decided that 8 rounds wasn’t enough for their soldiers. They wanted a new gun.
SIG SAUER saw the opportunity to get in on some of the sweet government contract money that the U.S. was being thrown around and redesigned their existing service handgun that they had designed for the German military (the P220) as a double stacked 9mm and submitted it to the trials. Thus, the 226 was born.
When the dust cleared, only the P226 and Beretta’s 92FS remained standing over the corpses of FN, H&K, Colt and S&W’s entries. The 92FS was eventually chosen, it’s said, due to a lower cost of ownership, but the Navy SEALs and police departments nationwide dismissed the results and purchased P226es anyway.
The biggest difference between the P226 and the 92FS is plain to see — there’s no safety on the P226. There are only three controls: the slide stop, the magazine release and the decocker. The gun is meant to be carried with a round in the chamber and the hammer decocked. That converts the relatively light single action trigger to heavier double action that’s much less likely to be accidentally pulled.
The lack of a safety means that the P226 can be quickly drawn and employed if deadly force is required. The shooter doesn’t have to worry about flipping a mechanical safety on or off. As soon as it’s out of the holster it’s good to go.
Another nice safety feature on the gun is the fact that the hammer, when decocked, is nowhere near the firing pin.
On a gun like the 1911, the natural state for the hammer to be is flush against the firing pin. If the hammer is back, it’s under pressure from the spring to snap forward. With the P226, the natural state for the hammer is decocked and sitting just behind the firing pin (a few millimeters away, in fact) – not touching it. The spring isn’t under tension, and the hammer has no way of impacting the firing pin. When the hammer moves to strike the firing pin when the trigger is pulled, the hammer actually slingshots forward across the gap between the resting position and the firing pin, strikes the pin and snaps backwards again.
A secondary safety feature is actually built into the slide itself. The firing pin is held back and away from the primer of the cartridge by a spring, and locked in place using a locking bar built into the slide. When the trigger is pulled, a small lever rises up out of the frame to disengage the locking bar and allow the firing pin to move forwards. Without this safety disengaged, the firing pin wouldn’t move even if struck by the hammer.
This gap between the hammer and firing pin combined with the firing pin block safety means that not only is the gun drop safe from reasonable distances, but it actually requires enough force to bend some serious metal before the gun could possibly go off. More force than you’d expect when being dropped onto concrete from standing height, at least.
SIG tops off the battery of safety features by fashioning a hood on the back of the gun that protects the firing pin from anything coming in the sides.
Besides safety, the other area where this gun shines is how it fits my hand. I have gigantic manly hands, and not many handguns can properly fit these paws. This gun fills them perfectly, almost as if the handgun was designed to fill them.
The real test of a handgun, though, isn’t how pretty it looks or how well it fits your hand — it’s how well it fills the role you need it to. And for me, that role is competition shooting.
For the last three years I’ve been using my P226 in every 3-gun and USPSA competition, and in general it runs amazingly well. It does, however, have one or two rough spots.
Rough spot number one is the trigger. SIG has since fixed this issue, but the standard P226 trigger has a ton of overtravel and a very long reset. In other words, it’s slower to fire than other modern handguns. There’s now a trigger called the “Short Reset Trigger” or SRT that SIG has started installing on their guns (and will happily upgrade your existing P226 for a price), and it fixes every complaint I have about my trigger.
The other issue I have is with the slide stop. On a 1911 the slide stop is positioned far out of the way of the shooter, but with the P226 it’s right under your right thumb. This design feature, while making it easy to release the slide, has led to some interesting moments on the range when I’ve gone to TAP/RACK the gun only to find the chamber and magazine empty. My meaty thumb seems to be drawn to the slide stop and thoroughly enjoys resting on it, defeating its entire purpose for being.
The final flaw with the P226 is the reason I like it: its size. I carried this gun (concealed, IWB) for well over a year, and it was massively uncomfortable. It was like having a boat anchor in my pants, dragging them down. I actually had to buy my pants a size or two larger just to fit the thing inside. It’s one of the reasons I eventually switched to OWB carry, and I haven’t looked back.
This is not my original P226. That gun has been passed (well, sold) to a TTAG reader in Virginia. This P226 has much more sentimental value than the other one ever could have. It was made the year I was made, it was built in a country that no longer exists, it was imported down the street from where I took my first job in the real world and sold to me by a firefighter at my station back in Virginia. The gun is 24+ years old, but when I got it, it had only been fired a handful of times. It’s the perfect version of the perfect handgun.
Despite the small flaws, the P226 is a masterpiece of firearms engineering. It’s a beautiful firearm that fits my large hands well and performs perfectly in competition. If you’re looking for a DA/SA handgun with double stacked magazines this is your man.
SIG SAUER P226
Caliber: 9mm Parabellum
Weight: 34.0 oz. empty
Capacity: 15 (factory) / 18 (flush aftermarket) / 30 (lolwut)
Ratings (Out of Five Stars)
All ratings are relative to other similar guns, and the final score IS NOT calculated from the constituent scores.
Accuracy: * * * * *
I regularly get one ragged hole in my target at the range.
Ergonomics (Handling): * * * *
For me, it’s perfect. If you have small hands it may be a little less perfect. The only reason I knocked a star off was the damned slide stop.
Ergonomics (Firing): * * * * *
Besides the trigger issue I mentioned there’s nothing wrong with this gun. Nothing at all.
Reliability: * * * * *
SIG has a habit of making extremely reliable handguns. My first P226 was made in the 1980s but ran thousands of rounds a year without a single issue.
Customization: * * *
You can swap the trigger, the sights and the grip, but that’s about it.
Overall Rating: * * * *
My ideal handgun. Except when it comes to concealed carry.