Like many shooters, I started with a .22. My dad taught me the fundamentals of sight picture, grip, trigger control, breathing, mindset, and stance, with a Ruger Mark III Target. As soon as I was familiar with the basics of shooting, I moved up to shooting his Springfield M1911 A1 Loaded. That’s when my love of the shooting sports really took off. I immediately felt accustomed to the 1911 grip in a way that I have never achieved with a Glock (I have nothing against Glocks, they just don’t fit me as well). With the force of recoil of the .45 ACP cartridge, it seems ironic that I was more accurate with my first few shots with my dad’s Springer than I had managed after months of plinking .22s through the Mark III. I started saving up money to purchase my own firearm, and soon after I turned 21, I became the happy owner of a used Kimber SIS Pro 1911. Two years later, the Kimber is my go-to carry piece because I am more accurate and comfortable with it than any of my other firearms. So, when I discovered that SIG SAUER had a mini 1911 chambered in .380, my interest was piqued. Enter, the P238.
Much to my delight, the P238 feels just as it looks, like a baby 1911. But SIG’s miniature emulation does it with particular style. The model featured in this review has a Nitron® finished steel slide with a black hard coat anodized aluminum frame, capped with diamond checkered rosewood grips. However, the P238 is sold in a whole host of style options, featuring diamond plating, rainbow titanium finish, desert tone, and more.
While the female in me appreciates the wide selection of styles, its practical value lies in its petite size. At 5.5” long, and only 3.9” tall, it is no struggle to pocket this pistol ( …unless you wear girl jeans, in which case, it disappears in an IWB holster). Being used to carrying my full-size 1911, the SIG feels like a featherweight, but in truth, it’s one of the heftier baby .380s on the market. For example, Ruger’s popular LCP is 5.2in tall by 3.6in wide. The Ruger also wins out on narrowness of grip, measuring in at .8” to the SIG’s 1.1” width. However, the LCP, and many ultra compact .380 pistols like it (e.g., the Kel-Tec P3AT or Kahr P380) feature a polymer frame, as opposed to the full-metal construction of this SIG. The benefit of the extra weight (15.2oz, to be exact) and wide frame come into play in its range performance, but I’ll get into that later.
As I mentioned before, the grip perfectly mirrors the 1911 angle I enjoyed when I first started shooting regularly. But, with its small stature, it only provides purchase for two fingers. SIG sells an extended magazine that accommodates for your pinky as well as increasing the capacity by one round (cheaperthandirt.com sells them for $40). However, the P238 offers a smooth and enjoyable shooting experience (for me, at least) just with the flush mag.
The trigger and sights go a ways in making the P238 easy to shoot well. Similar to the 1911, the SIG has a frame-mounted thumb safety (there is an option for ambi safety, but the model in this review does not include that feature) and is meant to be carried “cocked and locked.” The single action trigger is a crisp 7.5lb pull. The sights are large SIGLITE® night sights. While the pistol has a miniscule sight radius of only 3.8”, the large 3-dot configuration is easy to track, even in low light conditions.
As the great caliber debate rages on, there are many who feel .380 ACP is not adequate for self-defense (it is not a caliber known for its penetration or expansion, namely due to the small bullet and low muzzle velocity). On the other hand, there are those who prefer the caliber because it lends itself well to the smallest (and most easily concealed) firearms, among other reasons. So, for some, the fact that the P238 is chambered in .380 ACP will serve as a detraction in and of itself. For those, I’d recommend giving the P938 a look (SIG introduced the 9mm version of the P238 at SHOT Show 2012). Another downside to the P238 inherent to its construction is the limitations to capacity. Out of the box, the P238 comes with one 6 round single stack magazine, putting cap at 6+1. Granted, the pistol’s petite design lends itself better to concealment than pistols that can carry larger rounds, or greater capacity. But, the lone magazine with which it’s shipped seems like a cop out, especially when you have to spend so much to purchase the SIG (this rosewood model retails for $723).
The SIG P238 really shines at the range. The 1911 angle allows for a firm grip, despite the 2 finger purchase. The wider aluminum grip makes shooting .380 even easier. The recoil sensation isn’t much more intense than a .22 (which is significant, especially when compared to other .380s, such as the Smith and Wesson Bodyguard 380). The trigger is relatively light (not quite as light as the famous 6.5lb Glock trigger), but with the clean break for which 1911 triggers are known.
The .380 round lacks the ballistic strength of larger calibers, and therefore isn’t known for its long range accuracy. The P238’s 2.7” barrel doesn’t do anything to maximize the long range performance. However, the P238 is a reasonably accurate pistol. At 25yds, I was still keeping rounds in the black a 9 inch diameter circle. But, with a pistol this small, it’s more likely to be fired at self defense distances of 3-5yds. At these distances, it’s as accurate as its shooter will allow. The large sights and clean trigger break make followup shots easier to keep together, and the frame and small caliber result in a recoil experience that’s nearly as slight as a .22.
In addition to being enjoyable to shoot, it’s also reliable. So long as the SIG was oiled every couple hundred rounds, it ran like a top. I’ve fired in the neighborhood of 600 rounds through this little P238, and the only errors I’ve had with it resulted from running dry (after a couple drops of the gun oil I keep in my range bag, it kept on eating up ammo like M&Ms) and one or two misshapen cartridges. Out of some 700 rounds fired, those errors amount to a couple FTFs and a couple of stovepipes (see chart below for details). With regular maintenance and decent ammo, it has given me no issue.
[Brand (bullet type) – bullet weight, muzzle velocity, # of rounds fired]
PMC Bronze (FMJ) – 90gr, 920fps, 200rds: 2 stovepipes, 2 FTF
Federal American Eagle (FMJ) – 95gr, 980fps, 200rds: 2 FTF
Federal Range and Target (FMJ) – 95gr, 980fps, 200rds: 1 FTF
When considering a pocket rocket like the little P238, ease of concealment is a large appeal. Although the SIG isn’t the lightest .380 option, that doesn’t make it a brick either. At 15.2oz, it’s less than half the weight of my 35oz Kimber. Because I’m a female college student, I am often limited in what I can conceal, especially when the summer sun makes conceal-friendly garments like jackets or hoodies nigh impossible to wear. There are many occasions when my only options are: carry small, or not at all. In these circumstances, the P238 makes for a carry piece whose small footprint is its most winning attribute. The 1911 feel of the handgun also makes it familiar in comparison to my full-size setup. That point takes on particular significance because my training for self defense situations includes flicking off a thumb safety before I prepare to take fire. That consistency in experience makes the transition between full size and small-scale carry options easier.
There are a couple of aspects of the P238 that serve as counterpoints to my initial enthusiasm over its 1911 style. For one, it’s a pocket sized .380, but it has a width of 1.1”. In fact, the P938, its 9mm counterpart, has a width of equal size, despite packing 6+1 rounds of larger 9mm. The limited capacity of the P238 is a downside of having such small dimensions, but shipping only one magazine with the pistol doesn’t do anything to help. If I’m going to drop somewhere in the neighborhood of $700 for a conceal carry pistol, it doesn’t feel like asking a lot for SIG to throw a spare mag in, too.
SIG’s dainty .380 struck a nostalgic chord with 1911 that first sparked my passion for the shooting sports, but shooting it has its own joys. The crisp trigger fires just when you expect it to without lengthy travel or creep. The large night sights are easy to track in low light or daylight environments. The compact frame and light weight make it a viable option for summer carry, or other CCW situations that are less forgiving for full-size pistols. The 1911 grip angle and the thickness of the metal frame provide a smooth shooting experience with little perceived recoil. The P238 looks hot and shoots well; it’s a .380 bombshell.
This is my video review of the pistol, and it includes some footage of the P238 at the range.
Caliber: .380 ACP
Weight: 15.2oz (unloaded)
Frame material: aluminum alloy
Slide material: stainless steel
Finish: frame – black hard coat, anodized; slide – Nitron
Barrel length: 2.7in
Overall length: 5.5in
Overall height: 3.9in
MSRP: $723, $752 (w/ ambi safety)