As we move further into 2019, firearms manufacturers have been increasing their focus on the industry trend of pocket-sized pistols featuring 10 rounds or less in capacity. This phenomenon can be interpreted as a strong sign of things legislatively to come about in our country since last year’s “Industry Only” trade show, SHOT SHOW. (In case you’ve been recently hiding under a rock from all the SHOT social media hype this time of year). Over the years, SIG SAUER has earned a solid reputation for producing several great pistols in this category. Recently, SIG decided to re-release two of their most popular small pistol models under their elite “Legion” series banner. This week’s article features the Legion P238 chambered in .380 ACP. Let’s check out some reasons why this pistol is so heavily favored by men and women alike who choose to carry concealed every day.
SIg P238 Background
First, let’s start by outlining that the firearms market is no different than any other industry. By this, I mean, just like the music or fashion industry. Its trends go in cycles. The SIG P238 is a perfect example of patience and hard work paying off. In 1986, during an early market trend for semi-automatic pocket pistols such as the Raven .25 ACP and Jennings .380, Colt Manufacturing decided to capitalize on their historic 1911 design by shirking its scale down from the large .45 ACP to host the smaller .380 cartridge. Taking a cue from the Spanish firearms company, Star, and their version of a mini-1911, Colt’s released the “Mustang.” Outside of collectors who would purchase a Colt product regardless if it was a new pistol or a set of hubcaps, the Mustang was met with a good amount of commercial success. This led to different variants and even a slightly altered design named the “Pony” coming to the market. As with all good things, it had to come to an end. Sales dwindled until Colt ceased production and the Mustang would quickly become just another collectable in their long history of arms.
In the 2009, SIG SAUER announced the release of the P238 chambered in .380 ACP. This “new” pistol was built from a license of the Mustang from Colt. With a few tweaks to the then 23 year old design, the P238 was an instant hit with shooters. SIG’s new release sparked the resurgence of the pocket pistol tread. What once was considered a “dead” design by Colt was now a solid success for SIG. The P238 would stay in SIG’s catalog even as this trend seemed to yet again fade. This time, the small frame, semi-auto trend would only be gone briefly, before reigniting stronger than ever.
As SIG is famous for doing with a lot of their popular models, the P238 would see different variations in grips, sights and finishes as it was reintroduced as part newer product lines as time passed. This coincided the same timeline as when women started to become a bigger part of the firearms industry. With the emergence of nationwide “women only” shooting organizations such as The Well Armed Woman and others, thousands of ladies entered the firearms market learning how to shoot. As marksmanship skills rose and more education and confidence in concealed carry became wide spread, the pocket pistol niche in the market exploded to record proportions previously never seen. Not only did the gun market but the firearms training industry grew immensely as well and continues to hold strong.
To meet the demand for top quality, concealed carry weapons, SIG decided to once again release the P238, but this time, working in a few more upgrades than just its snazzy new grey color. The Legion program is SIG’s new series of proven designs in their catalog that have been reworked and upgraded based on years of feedback from shooters. This program is just as much about the lifestyle as it is the high-quality firearms within it. When you purchase a Legion product, you are eligible for Legion membership perks such as exclusive branded holsters, knives, shirts, hats and other gear from some of the industry’s top manufacturers all sporting the iconic Legion chevron.
In 2018, the P238 and its larger counterpart, the P938 chambered in 9mm were introduced as the newest members of the LEGION program. After seeing both pistols during the 2018 SHOT SHOW, I put in a request to have the pair sent for review. (As previously mentioned, the focus through the remainder of this article will be on the P238, with the P938 coming in a follow up article.)
When the pistols arrived, I opened the standard black plastic SIG branded box to find the P238 taking up roughly a ¼ of the overall internal space within. Being vastly familiar with the original Colt design, the SIG’s diminutive size didn’t surprise me, but the sight of tiny gun in large box was a bit humorous. Unlike the Colt, I was delighted to see the Legion 238 shipped with not two but three 7 round magazines. These magazines were all steel and fit the gun perfectly. For those of you curious to know if the old 7 round Colt Mustang mags would work in the SIG, the answer is YES.
The first difference readers will notice in the new series is obviously the signature Legion grey Cerakote finish. I enjoy Cerakote’s matte coatings for their non-reflective properties when shooting in sunny Florida on our outdoor range. The finish offers a tough, scratch resistant surface that I have found to be easier to keep clean from dirt and residue. What once was only an aftermarket option by select certified finishers is now a welcome industry standard option with a lot of manufacturers.
Also new for the Legion version of the P238 is a precision machined trigger that offers a crisp, straight rearward pull much like its 1911 roots. The extended magazine well allows the 7 round magazine to seat close to the bottom of the grip, while allowing the bump plate to protrude out for a positive grip in case the shooter needs to rip it from the mag well. The front and rear strap checkering is minimalist but well placed to provide grip only where needed. This allows me to keep a firm three finger purchase on the pistol during magazine changes on the move.
Perhaps my favorite additions to the P239 were the ambidextrous safety and X-Ray sights. Although a bit small, the safety was easy to reach and manipulate with both the largest and smallest of hands. In addition, bright and clear, the X-Ray3 Day / Night sights looked great sitting atop the slide. These sights would be commented on positively several times during the testing period. (More on this shortly)
I liked the overall look of the P239 Legion with its signature G10 black grips sporting the Legion chevron embedded in them, but I was eager to see if could live up to the performance of its predecessors. Over the years, I have had plenty of experience with both the Colt Mustang and SIG P238 in a few of its various configurations. It was time for the new Legion addition to show what it could do so I called up fellow Swanson Media Group writers, Jerry Moody and his wife, Stephanie to lend a hand.
SIG P239 Specs
- CALIBER: 380 Auto
- ACTION TYPE: Semi-Auto
- FRAME SIZE: Micro-Compact
- GRIP TYPE: Custom
- FRAME FINISH: Legion Gray
- FRAME MATERIAL: Alloy
- SLIDE FINISH: Legion Gray
- SLIDE MATERIAL: Stainless Steel
- BARREL MATERIAL: Carbon Steel
- TRIGGER: SAO
- TRIGGER TYPE: Flat
- BARREL LENGTH: 2.7 in (69mm)
- OVERALL LENGTH: 5.5 in (140 mm)
- OVERALL WIDTH: 1.1 in (28 mm)
- HEIGHT: 4.3 in (110mm)
- WEIGHT: 15.2 oz
- MAGAZINE CAPACITY: 7
- MSRP: $850
Once at the range, I loaded up magazines throughout the day with ammunition from SIG, Winchester and Hornady for testing function and reliability. As we took to the range, I slowly worked through the first magazine focusing on the feel of the trigger and trying to find its reset point. Due to regularly shooting my Glock 19 with its 3.4 lb. trigger and short reset, my first couple of shots with the heavier trigger felt a bit jerky. On the third shot, I noticed the reset “click” and adjusted my trigger pull tension. Afterwards, shooting the P238 started to feel comfortable and relaxed. At 7 yards, I was hitting 6 out of 7 shots onto a 2” by 3” orange reflective sticker on our makeshift yard sign target.
During reloads, I noticed the magazine slid in about half way without any resistance at all then stopped. With a firm slap from the bottom, the mag snapped into place with an audible click of the magazine catch. This was evidently a design feature to ensure the user firmly seated the magazine in each time. The design worked because I found myself dropping mags and slapping fresh ones in much faster and firmer than I would with my standard polymer guns.
As Jerry and Stephanie took turns with the pistol, I could tell there was a similar learning curve due to neither having shot that model before. Fortunately, by the second string of fire for both, it was business as usual. With Jerry being an NRA firearms instructor and Stephanie regularly attending training with him, these two are a great example of a husband / wife fire team. While Jerry liked how much control he had over the small framed pistol, Stephanie really enjoyed the clear, crisp sights. Both finished the range session shooting great slow pace shots and controlled double taps.
My next dedicated range day would be a few days later in which another fellow Swanson Media Group writer, Clint Steele would join me. For those of you familiar with Clint, he does two things well, shoot accurately and FAST. It was time for Clint to put the P238 through its paces for himself. Loading up his magazines with ammunition supplied by SIG SAUER, Clint slowly worked through the first couple of strings of fire to get used to the trigger and trigger reset.
After approximately 28 – 35 rounds, Clint started working through controlled double taps and then came a few mag dumps fast enough to run dry quickly, but not too fast as to lose defensive accuracy. According to Clint, the frame felt a bit too small in his large size hands but still enough to hold on to and control. Additionally, Clint commented on how much he enjoyed the ease in which it was to rack the slide. This is an issue that Clint has been trying to address while helping his wife, Bonnie find the perfect defensive firearm.
During the three month test and evaluation period, the P238 saw several more trips to the range to gather data on various brands of ammunition and loads. One of my favorite test sessions came when my wife, Candace and I taught her North Jacksonville, FL chapter of The Well Armed Woman Shooting Chapters. This class would feature an hour in the classroom discussing both the P238 and P938 before spending the second hour on the range working through drills as each member took their turns on the pistols.
The experience levels of the ladies ranged from relatively new shooters to a weekend competition shooter with the average age of group being above 50 years old. Feedback from these wonderful ladies included more comments on the ease of the slide to rack, the clarity of the X-ray sights and the crisp trigger reset. The P238 won their vote for the recoil control and size while the younger shooters enjoyed the power of the P938 instead. By the end of the night, I was convinced we had some new fans of SIG SAUER!
Overall, I was impressed with the Legion P238 pistol. Going into the review, I had some quiet doubts that I was going to find anything new or interesting about the relaunch of the SIG outside of nostalgia for the original Colt design. I am happy to say, I was wrong. One of the drawbacks of the Mustang was it used a 100 year old design just on a smaller frame without much additional innovation. The Legion version had a much better trigger and real sights that were every bit as good as the one’s on my full size Legion P226 9mm.
In comparison to my daily carry Glock 42 chambered in .380 ACP, the SIG is smaller in overall size, but slightly wider and noticeably heavier due to the all metal frame. When shooting both pistols, I enjoyed the weight of the P238 absorbing more felt recoil than the Glock which resulted in quicker follow up shots. The down side of this weight difference was noticed when I carried the Legion P238 for a few weeks in the pocket of my jeans in an old Uncle Mike’s holster I had from my law enforcement days.
The width and better grip of the P238 over the Glock prevented it from being drawn from the pocket faster. Where the pistol excelled in carry was in my jacket pocket or tucked inside the waistband at the appendix position. The weight kept the pistol positioned perfectly and I could access it in nearly any seated or standing position. This gave me a solid piece of mind knowing I would be fully prepared to react to an immediate threat situation.
For those who are a fan of the .380 platform, I believe the SIG SAUER P238 is a great option for daily carry. Too many guns on the market designed for CCW are built to be carried often but not shot regularly due to heavy recoil, but this is not the case for the P238. It is a true shooter and proven performer. Until next week, Train Hard and Continue the Fight!