Gun Review: SIG Sauer P938 Nightmare

One of the main benefits of living closerthanthis to the SIG SAUER Academy in Epping New Hampshire: the guys in the Pro Shop know me better than Daniela De Jesus Cosio knows Mexican food. Familiarity breeds contempt? Could be. I’ve been asking about the P938 pistol for months. And then it happened. While I was attending SIG’s Civilian Response to Terrorist Threats class one of the guys said they’d just received a shipment of ten P938s. I did the AMEX thing in reverse: I didn’t go home without it  . . .

I would have preferred an Equinox P938, but availability was a Nightmare. Which could be a dream come true for gun collectors. The Nightmare doesn’t appear on the official website nor was it one of the four P938’s models originally announced. The Nightmare is the first P938 out of the gate; ‘net buzz suggests SIG may be producing as few as 500 guns.

Aesthetically, the Nightmare is a bit of one. The model ditches wood grips for Hogue G-10 plastic handles, a tactical solution that looks slightly out of place for such a diminutive piece. SIG sells one six-round flush-fitting magazine, which is at least one too few (both in terms of rounds carried and magazines included).

I’m going to have to ding the Nightmare in terms of fit and finish however. Again, that trigger is a bit of a disappointment to me given my experience with SIG’s other guns. On top of this, the grip screws tend to loosen about every 50-75 rounds and frankly that just sucks. I put a drop of Locktite blue on them, which should take care of that problem, but that’s not something a new gun requires.

The Nightmare P938 ships with a standard Siglite night sight set. Even before I left the SIG Pro shop I had them swap out the front sight for a Tru-Glow fiber optic/tritium set-up. It’s the same sighting system that comes standard on SIG’s Equinox pistols and I’ve grown rather fond of them. Persistence has its privileges; the guys mounted the Tru-Glow on my P938 while I waited.

The P938 is based heavily on the popular P238 .380. Like the P238, the P938 operates like a miniature 1911: single action only with an external safety. Unlike the 238, the Nightmare ships with an ambidextrous safety.

The P938 specs on SIG’s website might lead you to believe the new gun is nothing more than a slightly stretched P238. It’s a bit heavier and 4/10 of inch longer, but otherwise they’re the same gun, right? Not exactly. Looking closely, a few of the differences pop up:

P238 P938
Empty weight w/o magazine 13.6 oz. 15.6 oz.
Weight with loaded 6 round mag 16.08 oz. 17.4 oz.
Width of the slide near the tip of the barrel .81” .88”
Front to back width of grip 1.764” 1.922”

As always, the devil’s in the details. In this case, ol’ Lucifer’s been playing with the slide width. The slightly wider slide means most—if not all—of the P238 Kydex holsters on the market won’t fit this gun.

On the other hand, holsters made of more pliable material may stretch just enough so the P938 will fit, provided they have an opening in the bottom to allow for the longer slide. The P938 fits into my P238’s Crossbreed Mini-Tuck perfectly. As the aftermarket is not up-to-speed on P938 holsters, a prospective owner should check existing holster options before plunking down their hard-earned cash.

I’d have preferred a SA/DA operating system to the 938’s SAO setup. My regular shooting irons are all SA/DA and as I found out recently in classes and in my speed draw range exercises, I’m just more successful when all I have to do is draw and pull the trigger. Go figure. The extra motion of disengaging a manual safety tripped me up on more than one occasion and if it happens in a real gunfight I’d be totally hosed (you can probably picture Farago nodding his head about now).

As with the P238, SIG went with a serrated trigger. I’m not a huge fan; it magnifies the feeling of the pull weight. Surprisingly for a 1911-style gun, the P938’s trigger pull clocks-in between 7.5 and 8 lbs. Worse, it had some grittiness to it. The reset was also sandy and a little long. This will remedy itself once I’ve put a few hundred rounds through the gun. In theory. It’s also possible that the go-pedal will improve as SIG gains production experience. Also in theory.

The P938’s safety protrudes far enough for rapid disengaging on the draw—but not so far that you’re likely to accidentally bump the safety while it’s holstered.

My biggest concern before taking delivery of the P938: the Nightmare would shoot like a LC9. Farago praised Ruger’s pocket nine for its minute-of-bad-guy accuracy but I can’t shoot the LC9 worth a damn. After fifty or so rounds my hand stung more than a paper cut dipped in rubbing alcohol.

I loaded my first P938 mag with trepidation (and 9mm FMJs). The kick was more noticeable than the smaller-calibered P238, obviously, but it was a pleasure to shoot.

When it comes to accuracy, SIG’s X38 guns share a common problem with all sub-compacts: shooters with average-sized hands will likely find the smaller grip means using a different portion of your trigger finger than you do on your larger guns. There’s a greater tendency for your shots to pull to the left as trigger jerk becomes harder to avoid.

As with any gun – but especially with a new sub-compact – you need to make sure you get in plenty of range time to develop the muscle memory necessary to properly grip and fire this gun. The good news: the P938’s slightly deeper grip gives it a small advantage over the smaller P238 in keeping your trigger finger from moving as far inside the trigger.

While I don’t have any seven-round P938 mags with the extended floor plate (they’re on order), my experience with seven-round mags on the P238 suggests that the gun will be easier to hold and shoot with a place to stick my pinkie finger. The seven-round magazine is an absolute necessity for anyone with average to large hands. But A SIG instructor’s wife with smaller hands felt that the pistol in its standard configuration fit her hands perfectly.

Over several shooting sessions, I have fed the 938 all kinds of ammo; both FMJ range stuff and a number of hollow-point rounds from various manufacturers. The P938 cycled everything that I could throw at it. I did have one failure to feed, though, shooting Winchester White Box 124 grain NATO ammo.

At 7 yards, the P938 put on a fine performance:

A bad guy at this distance would have some serious difficulty with his heart valves’ performance.

The red dot in the lower right portion of the target was my point of aim for this string. Whether it was an improperly aligned sight or that trigger jerk I mentioned earlier, I consistently shot high and to the left. I suspect the problem is a combination of both. Then again, it could just be me; I’m going to have a couple more experienced shooters give it a go and figure out what is happening.

Moving back to fifty feet, things opened up a good deal more:

Not great, but not terrible either. All six shots would have done some damage but I can probably just forget about nailing the head shot with any reliability. Once again, I had to hold lower right to center the group on the target and with the target so far down range, that probably contributed to the spread.

All thing considered, not bad for a metal-frame pocket 9 that’s a hair smaller than the Ruger LC9 in length and height and an ounce lighter (plus I could never have produced these results with the LC9).

I can’t help feeling this pistol was rushed. Why, after all, would the first 938 that SIG shipped be a configuration previously unannounced? One could conclude that SIG was feeling some pressure to get some 938s out the door before the end of the 3rd quarter and this is the result. I can, however, hope that if the 938 becomes a success and if the Nighmare is indeed a limited model, it may gain some value in a few years to a determined collector.

All that said, I’m not about to trade this baby in. The P938 represents a nearly ideal convergence of size, capability, and shootability. It weighs only an ounce or so more than my Smith & Wesson 642, yet it packs six or seven rounds to the Smith’s five (slightly more powerful .38) rounds. Plus, as it uses magazines, it’s much faster to reload and bring back into the fight.

Compared to the P938, it’s hard to see the value of the P238 any longer. Sure, the P238 is a slightly smaller and a little lighter, but not enough for me to want to give up the more powerful parabellum cartridge. I just can’t see too many situations where the P238 would be of any benefit when compared to the P938.

All-in-all, this is not a bad gun, though not perfect. It’s the closest I’ve come so far to my “holy grail” convergence of size, accuracy, comfort, and power.

If you want a P938, this is the only game in town – assuming you can find one at all. That said, even when the other models come out, I probably won’t be getting rid of this one. I can always pick up some alternate grips when they hit the market and let’s face it, I plan to use this gun for defensive purposes, not to display in a showcase.

Specifications:

Length                          5.9 in
Height                          3.9 in
Width                           1.1 in
Weight w/o mag      16 oz.
Capacity                      6 or 7 +1
Trigger                         SA
MSRP                           $829

Ratings (out of five stars)
Overall rating is not a sum of the individual ratings

Style * *
Relatively unimpressive. If this gun were a teen-aged girl, she would likely develop an eating disorder from the taunts she would get from her better looking BFFs. The other models of the P938 are a lot better looking – they’re just not shipping yet.

Ergonomics  * * *
To put it bluntly, the trigger sucks. It may get better with use…and it may not. The safety is ambidextrous, though, and easy to disengage on the draw stroke. Being a small pistol, it doesn’t fit the hand as well as a full-sized gun, but no points off for this since after all, size is why you buy one of these.

Reliability * * * 1/2
It ate almost everything I threw at it…so maybe it’ll avoid the aforementioned eating disorder after all.

Customize This  * *
For now, don’t hold your breath. A few holsters made for the P238 may fit, but most won’t. Then again, it’s a new gun so we need to cut it some slack in this category.

OVERALL RATING * * * *
This was a hard one. The reliability is pretty decent, but fit and finish is not.   The customization isn’t great, but again, it’s a new gun. Ergonomics is a mixed bag, some of which is a function of the form factor.  Style sucks, but better looking models are on the horizon. All that said, however, if you’re looking for the ultimate convergence in sub-compact guns, you’d be hard pressed to find much better. And heck, it’s a friggin’ SIG – you know this gun is going to be rock solid or Sig will make it so.