Forty-Five Faceoff: Glock 21 vs. SIG SAUER P220

If great grand-pappy was a Doughboy and shot a pistol, it was probably a .45. When our grandfathers and fathers were doing the business at Omaha Beach, Inchon or Khe Sanh, they loved having their trusty .45s handy. We civilians are still shooting the same round today, so if any pistol cartridge can claim to be America’s own, it’s got to be the .45 ACP.

Grampa’s bullet delivery system was the 1911. While the 1911 has never fallen out of favor, even its most ardent supporters must acknowledge that the hundred year old platform is showing its age. Thus, the 1911 has been challenged for .45 caliber supremacy by more moddish pistols made in strange and distant lands with exotic names, like Porto Alegre, Uherský Brod, Karlovac and Springfield, Massachusetts. However, despite all the competition, two manufacturers continue to rule the modern .45 roost — Glock and SIG SAUER.

Glock claims to be “America’s Gun,” an assertion that the folks at SIG SAUER would dispute if they could speak English. In a replay of the Austro-Prussian War and hoping to provoke a border incident, I shot the Austrian pistol side by side and round for round against the Swiss-German pistol to try to determine, for myself if no one else, which gun from mitteleuropa does the better job of firing the cartridge from Middle America. The results will shock some, inflame others and put 1911 lovers to sleep. So, on with the show.

Checking Them Out, Side by Side

This comparison isn’t a matter of potato against potahto. This is an epic throwdown. As sportscasters are apt to say, these two pistols flat out don’t like each other. This is the Red Sox against the Yankees, Ali against Frazier and Mothra against Godzilla (without the singing Japanese midgets).

Both guns fire the same caliber, both dress in basic black and both guns use an adaptation of John Browning’s short-recoil, locked breech system. That’s it for points of convergence.

The differences twixt the G21 and the P220 are far more abundant. The G21 has a polymer frame; the SIG’s is alloy. The Glock carries thirteen rounds in its double-stack magazine, while the P220 loads eight cartridges stacked up like spoons. The Glock is a striker fired, DAO pistol. The SIG is a hammer fired, SA/DA pistol. The two pistols have about as much in common as Khloe and Lamar, and we know where that’s going.

More than any other functional factor, it’s the triggers that set these pistols apart from each other. Okay, sure, they both have them, but they work differently. Because it’s a DAO pistol, you’d expect that the Glock’s pull would be as long, tedious and heavy as the album version of “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” Well, it isn’t. The Glock’s short-ish trigger pull trips the sear at a gentle 5.5 pounds give or take a few ounces. But worry not about carrying the gun safely. Even if you tuck a Glock into your Thunderwear and testicle carry, the gun will not go boom unless someone or something presses the trigger. The someone is you; the something I leave to your imagination.

The SIG’s sublime SA pull is rated at an even more ultralight 4.5 pounds, which is probably too light for an SA pistol without a safety. But aha! SIG makes its feathery trigger as safe as a Nerf gun, without any safety, by means of a decocking lever that lowers the hammer. With the hammer down, it takes a 10 pound long-ish double-action pull to touch off the first spark. Subsequent shots are SA. And carry away, lads and lassies, because toting the P220 decocked is just as safe as carrying a revolver with its hammer down, which is a hundred times safer than not carrying at all. You will not go all Tex Grebner on your own ass with the P220 unless you do something really dumb, like carrying the pistol in Condition Zero.

There’s another difference between the two pistols that more subtle, but obvious once I looked. The barrel of the Glock is much thicker, and while I didn’t put either barrel on a scale, I’ll bet it’s heavier, too. That might equate to better long-term durability, but it might not. I just thought I’d mention it to keep y’all guessing.

Finally, there’s the acid test for all things that must be purchased, and that’s the price. Stretching our armament-buying dollar, the G21 Gen3 sells for a measly $500 or so of our hard-earned US American greenbacks. That’s not a lot to pay for a high quality, big-bore handgun. On the other hand, the SIG lists for a palpitation-inducing and wallet-emptying $993 bones. That’s a whole lot of scratch for a duty/service type pistol. I think it’s fair to say that the G21 is a gun for everyman, while the SIG P220 is a gun for everyman with a trust fund.

Capacity also favors the Glock by 13 to 8, so why the face-off? The Glock’s the clear winner, right? Not so fast. If the proof of the pudding is in the eating, then the proof of the pistol should be in the blowing up of, uh, stuff. So, to the range I went, armed with the two guns and enough ammo to storm Tora Bora. Man, I love my job.

Touch Testing the Triggers and Stocks

Both pistols are justifiably famous for their triggers. I found the G21’s trigger pull spongy and somewhat vague, but it’s still a good trigger. Interestingly, several hammer-fired DA pistols, such as the SIG Sauer P290, utilize a similar partial pre-cocking system lighten the trigger pull of hammer-fired pistols. Proof positive, I think, that in the world of guns there’s nothing so novel that another manufacturer can’t copy it.

SIG chose something different for the venerable P220, using the DA pull in lieu of a safety. I was expecting two different trigger pulls for the P220, depending on whether I was firing DA or SA. What I found instead was one trigger pull with two different weights and lengths. Both pulls were very intuitive, easy, smooth and crisp. The DA pull broke like the proverbial glass rod. The SA pull, being lighter, snapped like one of those skinny Alessi breadsticks that they serve up in the neighborhood trattoria.  Yum! The SIG’s trigger isn’t just good or even very good. It’s great, in either mode.

As for the stocks, I placed one pistol atop the other to show how different the thicknesses are.

It’s a huge deal. The SIG is a single stack pistol with a handle that’s as sleek as Kathy Ireland. The Glock, being a double-stack pistol and, well, a Glock, has a handle about as comfortable as sharing a sleeping bag with Rosie O’Donnell. Guys with hands the size of oven mitts will love the Glock. Those of us who are less deformed will prefer the SIG.

Slide to Slide Shooting Comparison

I have never liked Glock’s goofy plastic sights, especially the rear with its inexplicable U-shaped highlight that does nothing to help form a sight picture. In contrast, the SIG sports conventional three dot sights. Lo and behold, in the low-light conditions of the indoor range, the Glock sights fore and aft remained highly visible, while the SIG’s rear dots tended toward obscurity and the front almost disappeared. I didn’t see that coming. Literally.

Peering down the barrel of the Glock, I formed the best sight picture that I could and slow-fired five rounds of hardball at five yards. The shots formed a lovely cloverleaf, all in the red. Take that, SIG.

From a previous expedition to the range, I knew that the SIG’s sights were maladjusted, aiming low and as far left as a Massachusetts Attorney General. I’d had the front sight drifted, but it wasn’t by enough to correlate point of aim with point of impact. I should have tapped the rear sights along with the front, but I didn’t, so sue me.

I compensated for the skewed sights by holding a couple of degrees to the right. I got a very nice four shot grouping, still left but very tight. Trying to hit dead center, I overcompensated on the last shot, hitting the red but losing contact with the group. When all was said and done, at five yards the Glock outperformed the SIG. Not by much to be sure, but the results on paper could not be denied.

Videos shot from the side revealed another telling point — the Glock exhibited less muzzle rise than the SIG.

Comparing the two pistols side by side, it was apparent that the Glock’s bore axis is slightly lower slightly than the SIG’s, which reduces muzzle rise somewhat. Glock achieves this by placing the barrel close tighter to the guide rod and by flattening out the top of the slide, which makes it work a little bit better but makes it look like the slide got a buzz cut. It’s butch, but ugly. Both pistols returned to point automatically, as they should. Still, once again, the Glock was marginally outpacing the SIG.

Both guns proved boringly accurate at five yards as I burned through a couple of million rounds of Winchester 230 grain ammo. Feeling confident in both pistols, I ran the target out to 25 yards. After watching the Glock kicking the SIG’s butt, I was expecting more of the same. What I got instead was a big dose of WTF.

Shooting offhand at a target that I could barely see in the range’s, uh, romantic lighting, I managed a 3.5” group with the SIG.

Naturally, I expected the G21 to top that easily. The Glock didn’t come close, barely managing an 8” group.

I imagine that shooting either pistol from a Ransom rest or sandbags would have shrunk these groups down by at least 50%, but the point is that the SIG was more accurate offhand than the Glock might have been if it was benched. That’s another thing that I didn’t see coming.

As an SD pistol, I awarded the red ribbon to the Glock by a razor thin margin. In truth, any BG on the wrong end of either gun would find himself drilled like Abu Dhabi. On the other hand, shooters of targets and plates might find the SIG more to their liking.

Conclusion

These are two outstanding pistols. They’re powerful, accurate and, like 18 year old Macallan’s, they satisfy shot after shot. I’d be very confident shooting either one of them in competition or in defense of hearth, home or heinie – especially my heinie. Still, to quote Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, there can be only one.

Independent of price, I’d choose the SIG. It’s an all-metal, German-made Swiss watch of a pistol. It felt better, looked better and had a better trigger than the G21.

Price dependant, I’d choose the Glock, because it’s a damn good shooter, as reliable as an old bluetick hound and let’s face it, there’s just no way that the P220 is worth almost twice the price of the G21.

And now, if you don’t mind, I’d like some syrup and whipped cream with my waffle.