Home Tactics Gun News SIG Sauer P238 HD Nickel: Sure-Shooting Single-Action .380

SIG Sauer P238 HD Nickel: Sure-Shooting Single-Action .380


One of my past off-duty guns that I carried in the 1980s was a Colt Mustang Pocket-Lite 1911-style .380. The Mustang, with its aluminum frame, was reliable and easy to carry. The problem was that the Mustang was only capable of mediocre accuracy at best. I could easily qualify with it, but the accuracy was nothing like that of the Walther PPK.

SIG Sauer has changed all that with their reasonably priced P238 line of 1911-style .380 pistols. Using all stainless steel construction—with various finishes and grip options available—the Sig Sauer P238 runs flawlessly right out of the box—a characteristic that is critical for me. I don’t have the patience to run a bunch of “break-in rounds” through a defensive handgun to get it to run reliably. It should come that way from the factory, especially considering that a lot of folks new to the firearms world won’t read the directions and break the gun in. I know that is wrong, but many people just stuff ammo into their new guns and start carrying them.

The model sent to me for evaluation was the beautiful P238 HD Nickel. For those of you unfamiliar with the once popular nickel finish, nickel was the very first coating applied to firearms that provided real protection against the elements (and sweat) and that kept the gun from rusting. Bright nickel, considered un-tactical today, is a particularly attractive finish that imparts a slightly gold colored hue to the metal. The P238 HD Nickel uses a matte nickel finish, but the gold hue is still there. It doesn’t get much more rust resistant than this.

Other features of the HD Nickel include smooth Blackwood grips with SIG medallion, SIG-style cocking serrations, flush fit stainless steel six-shot magazine, stainless recoil guide rod (my Mustang used a plastic guide rod), black contrasting controls (safety, slide release, and magazine ejection button), and the most important feature of all: full-size 3-dot Tritium combat sights.

This last feature can’t be stressed enough. Unlike the tiny or vestigial type sights found on various small defensive pistols, the full-size sights on the P238 stand out proud above the slide, while their contrasting black color makes them quick to visually separate from the nickel slide. They are among the best I’ve seen on a pistol this small, and they really enhance accuracy.

I went to the range for testing with the two .380 loads that SIG now markets, their Elite 100-grain FMJ practice load with a stated velocity of 910 feet per second and 184 FPE at the muzzle, and their 90-grain V-Crown load with a listed muzzle velocity of 980 feet per second and 192 FPE at the muzzle.

Shooting the P238 was as easy as it gets. It ran flawlessly right out of the box with both loads. There was not a single hitch during the test. The 20-ounce weight imparted by the stainless steel frame allowed the HD Nickel to stay right on target between shots as muzzle flip was non-existent. The trigger pull, which SIG says runs between 7.5 to 8.5 pounds, was, in my book, just right for a defensive pistol of this size, and certainly did not hinder accurate shooting. A small pistol with too light a trigger and no grip safety—like a full-size 1911—is inviting trouble. Speaking of safeties, the thumb safety clicks on and off in a positive fashion, and is not likely subject to accidental disengagement, making it ideal for “cocked and locked” carry. Note on almost any 1911-style .380 of this size that the safety does not lock the slide when the hammer is cocked and the safety is in the “on” position. However, on the P238, if the hammer is down and the safety is applied (which can’t be done on a standard 1911), the slide is locked.

Accuracy results were remarkable, and just about what I am able to get from my fixed-barrel Walther PPK/S, which was quite surprising, considering the accuracy level I had been used to with my Mustang Pocket-Lite. At 30 feet, I was able to place seven rounds of the .380 FMJ load into a 3-inch group. Using the V-Crown load produced the same 30 foot results. I was impressed. On to 100 yards.

At 100 yards, I was almost in disbelief. I was not expecting a lot from a tilting barrel design pistol. But the quality of SIG manufacturing, combined with the high profile sights, allowed me to get three hits on the silhouette out of five shots. One hit was dead center, one was in the groin, and the third was in the left arm. The two missed shots were not the fault of the gun. Considering the cold conditions and my two-handed standing shooting position, I was quite satisfied. There is no need for a magazine pinkie finger rest on this gun.

Measured velocity over my chronograph was a bit off the stated numbers, likely due to the P238’s 2.7-inch barrel length. V-Crown velocity averaged only 821 feet per second with 135 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle. The .380 is no .45, or even a 9mm for that matter. But who wants to get shot with one?

While I was surprised at the accuracy, I was not surprised at the out-of-the-box reliability. After all, SIG Sauer is a top-tier firearms manufacturer for the military (think Navy Seals) and law enforcement alike. They build their P238 line with the same quality as their other handguns. If you are looking for a 1911-style .380, the SIG Sauer P238 line is the one that I would choose from. MSRP is around $ 750, and an open top polymer belt holster is included. For more information, go to www.sigsauer.com.

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