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Summary: Walt Rauch’s review and rating of the SIG Sauer P238 pistol, including a range report, photos, pricing, specs and user ratings and comments. (Click here to see all of Rauch’s handgun reviews.)
With SIG Sauer’s introduction of the P238 semi-auto pistol chambered in .380 ACP, those who favor the 1911 handgun for personal defense can now obtain a 1911-based handgun of a size and caliber well-suited for concealed carry while still providing an effective defensive handgun caliber. Of course, others simply can’t abide the concept of carrying a visibly-cocked handgun despite the ability to do so safely, and they will pass over the P238 for personal carry and self defense.
To be sure, carrying cocked-and-locked requires the attention and respect due any loaded firearm, particularly when carried on-body. Such weapons must be carried in a holster that prevents the gun from being dislodged. The holster should also shield the trigger and the manual thumb safety so that any external pressure or object can’t activate or move them. (One would think these requirements would be considered obligatory for the carry of any handgun, but unfortunately they’re often seen as an unnecessary inconvenience.)
The P238 is, in appearance, a miniature 1911, and it does have some of the same controls. But it’s not identical; for instance, it doesn’t have a grip safety.
The P238 is also based on the now-discontinued series of Colt MK IV/Series 80-380 Auto pistols, which included the Government Model, Government Pocketlite, Mustang, Mustang Plus II and the Mustang Pocketlite. Indeed, the P238 follows, but does not copy, the Colt Mustang Pocketlite, with both having a similar outward appearance, including a shorter slide and grip, as well as a magazine capacity of six rounds.
I can’t identify the first effort to copy the 1911 in a much smaller package (save for Colt’s prototype efforts), but two firms that did sell such guns commercially were Spanish arms makers Llama and Star in calibers .32 ACP and .380 ACP. One model, the Star Starfire, chambered in .380 ACP, measured 6″ long, held six rounds and, thanks to an alloy frame, weighed only 14.5 oz. These and others were imported into the United States until the Gun Control Act of 1968 prohibited them.
Now, given Colt’s use of the Star’s design in its .380 ACP pistols, it’s safe to view this SIG P238 as sharing some DNA with all of these guns.
The P238 has an overall length of 5.5″, measures 3.96″ in height and weighs just short of 16 oz. with an anodized alloy frame. Its slide is stainless steel, with both front and rear sights dovetailed into it. SIGLITE Night Sights are optional, as is a red tactical laser that integrates with the pistol trigger guard. It features single push-button operation and is removable with an enclosed tool.
Seven diagonal grasping grooves are at the rear of its wide ejection port, and each side of the slide has been given the SIG look with a centered relief cut running from the muzzle to the rear of the ejection port. A passive firing pin safety of the Colt Series 80 design is used.
The frame has a decent-sized beavertail, relieved at its top to allow the exposed grooved and skeletonized hammer to move down into it when the gun cycles. Both front and backstrap as well as the supplied grip panels are longitudinally grooved, which combined provide very good gripping surfaces without any sharp edges. The grip panels are attached using two allen screws to a side.
The slide stop, thumb safety and magazine release are all in the 1911 positions—left side only (Update: You can now get an ambidextrous safety as well. —ed.). (Important safety note: The slide can be manipulated for loading, unloading or chamber inspection with the safety in the up or on position.) The pivoting polymer trigger is vertically grooved on its face. Trigger pull weight measured 6 lbs. (Factory specifications list a range of 6–8 lbs.) Measuring three other samples at my FFL dealer, two had pull weights of 7-plus lbs. and one came in at 9 lbs.
For a side-by-side comparison of the P238 and the Colt Mustang Pocketlite, I asked SIG if there might be some commonality of parts, but the SIG engineer to whom I spoke correctly pointed out that the pistol design is in the public realm. He also pointed out that he could not identify which parts, if any, would interchange between the two because he lacked the Colt specification drawings.
Having a Colt Government Pocketlite model, I did a limited side-by-side comparison. First, the Colt magazine works in the P238. The manual safeties appear to be identical, as is the slide stop and magazine catch. The slide assemblies don’t interchange, though, and the P238 uses the SIG system of barrel and slide lock-up in the ejection port window. The extractor and ejector are similar.
To disassemble the P238, after ensuring the gun is unloaded and magazine removed, move the slide rearward until the slide disassembly notch is aligned with the slide stop tab. With slide stop removed, the slide comes off to the front of the frame, but take care not to lose control of the non-captive recoil spring on its full-length, stainless steel guide rod. (The Colt uses plastic here.)
Remove this assembly with forward pressure and a lift. Then drop the barrel down and out of the slide. (For those familiar with the Colt version, there was a problem of sear spring over-ride of its ejector, which Colt corrected with a user-installed metal clip. SIG addressed this by having the lower edge of the sear spring captured in a notch cut in the lower forward face of the mainspring housing.)
SIG has also addressed a problem I found with my Colt; that is, its thumb safety is too easily dislodged. To the contrary, the P238 thumb safety moves positively but with authority when moved to either on or off safe.
The engineers at SIG have added what is, for me, a hitherto-never-observed mechanical change to the cartridge pickup rail. The end of this centerline ridge pushes the cartridge out of the magazine so it can be chambered. The lower front edge is often beveled to assure better feeding. Here, a dome-shaped projection has been placed on the bottom forward portion of the rail. According to the SIG engineer, this was done to help ensure the last round’s empty case fully clears the gun. As best I understand the concept, the dome presses against the magazine follower when the case is extracted and ejected.
A wide variety of finishes are available, including, two-tone, corrosion resistant Nitron, copper colored and rainbow titanium. Available grips include rosewood, blackwood, aluminum, black checkered aluminum, polymer and fluted.
The P238 ships in a lockable hard case with one six-round magazine.
At the range, three of us shot this sample gun with a limited amount of ammunition, which included Black Hills 90-grain JHP, CCI Gold Dot 90-grain JHP, Cor-Bon 70-grain Pow’Rball, Hornady 90-grain Critical Defense FTX, Remington 102-grain JHP, Winchester 95-grain SXT and Winchester 85-grain Silvertip HP. Shooting at 55 feet, seated, over a gun bag rest, groups ran 2″–3″ for five rounds, and all the ammunition worked without any failures. (Note: SIG recommends changing the recoil spring every 1,500 rounds.)
The only limitations I found were that its accuracy depended on how well or not the shooter was able to manipulate the single-stage 7-lb. pivoting trigger, along with how well or not the shooter was able to maintain a consistent hold on the gun while firing. Also, with its short sight radius, sighting errors are magnified (as is the case with all such short-barreled guns).
We also obtained some chronograph results with the P238 using a Chrony chronograph. We shot at 300 feet above sea level, in an ambient temperature of 43 degrees F. Here are the five-shot average numbers for three types of ammo:
- Cor-Bon 70-gr. Pow-R-Ball: 1,055 fps
- Hornady 90-gr. Critical Defense HP/XTP: 948 fps
- Winchester 95-gr. Ranger SXT JHP: 844 fps
A short-barrel, lightweight pistol is not the best tool with which to consistently shoot very small groups. However, at more realistic defensive distances, the P238 has the mechanical ability to dot someone’s I.
SIG Sauer has not re-invented anything with the P238, but it certainly has improved on an existing design and has provided those devotees of the 1911 with a choice of caliber and operation well suited for personal defense in a highly-concealable package.
Walt Rauch received a BS degree from Carnegie Tech and completed service as a Special Agent in U.S. Army Intelligence. Rauch was a U.S. Secret Service Special Agent and a Philadelphia, Pa., Warrant Unit Investigator. He now operates a consulting company for defense-weapon and tactical training. Rauch & Company services include expert witness testimony on firearms use and tactics.
Rauch is also a writer and lecturer in the firearms field. He’s published in national and international publications including InterMedia’s Handguns, several Harris Publications specialty magazines, Police and Security News and Cibles (France). He is the author of a book on self-defense, Real-World Survival! What Has Worked For Me, as well as Practically Speaking, a comprehensive guide to IDPA defensive pistol shooting.
|.380 ACP||6+1||2.7″||5.5″||1.1″||3.9″||15.2 oz.|
Pricing & Shopping
MSRP: $543 (base model w/Nitron finish)
MSRP: $558–$650 (other models)
Retail: $649 (Black Pearl model) @ Brownells—
Retail: $629 (Equinox model) @ Brownells—
Retail: $599 (Nitron, w/night sights) @ Brownells—
More SIG P238 Photos (click each to enlarge)
38 thoughts on “SIG Sauer P238”
I’m lucky enough to own two P238’s, a SAS and a Rosewood grip two-tone model. This little pistol is as much or more gun than my little Colt Mustang of the same caliber. I believe the Sig is better made. With the right ammunition the .380 is very effective. The P238 is certainly in my carry gun rotation (usually .45 Kimbers), actually carried most of the time during the summer months. I am well satisfied with this pistol and shoot it at the range on a regular basis. It’s very easy to shoot and accurate for such a small pistol.
I think Sig went for looks on this one. Not exactly your dad’s P230 and a long way from performing like it too. I’ll pass on this pistol, Thank you very much
This P238 HDW is a wonderful pistol, light, pretty, smooth shooting, it’s the best go to gun I’ve got. I couldn’t say enough about it and would recommend it to anyone that has more than a little experience. The only reason I didn’t give it a 10 or recommend it to all is, it is a single action pistol. I don’t feel this is for the beginner.
It shoots like a dream, and runs like a sewing machine when firing it. It melts away on your waste and you forget its there.
At the range you can shoot it all day long and not have a sore hand, elbow. And as for .380’s I have three others to compare it to, also .22’s, 9’s, and 45’s.
I love this gun. As a 1911 person(I was a corpsman with the marines in ‘Nam, and the 1911 was my T.O.weapon and I’ve owned one or more of them since the 60’s)I don’t like changing types of gun for different situations. With this gun, my thumb knows, instinctively, where the safety, slide release, and mag release, are located. It’s not for everyone, but if you like 1911s and are comfortable with condition one carry, it’s hard to beat as a very concealable, anytime, anywhere, weapon.
i am not seeing the 1911 comparison. it does not have the grip safety and i would never recomend carring it locked and cocked 1911 style. other than that it is a great gun. i got it for my wife since she has injuries on her hands that reduces her grip and abiltiy to work the slide on most ACP models.
A wonderful little gun. Picked it (a P238 Liberty) up 9-11-2010. Have fired a bunch of mixed ammo and it eats everything. The extra mag was a bit pricee!! $40.00
Excellent little gun. It shares several characteristics w/my 1911: thumb safety & activation, single action only, takedown lever, well-balanced, smooth shooting. It is unlike the 1911 in that it has no grip safety, the p238 can be racked w/the safety engaged, and the barrel action is different.
I bought the all black Nitron model w/Siglite tritium night sights. It has eaten every kind of ammunition cycled through it flawlessly through 200 rounds now. Accurate enough to tear up an 18″w x 24″h piece of plywood hung at 25 yards. Tight groups at 5-10 yards. It’s a keeper.
I bought this weapon as my primary CHL weapon a few days ago after reading many reviews including this one. I really like the way it feels in my hand compared to the LCP and P3ATwhich were the other two I was considering. I cleaned, lubed it and took it to the range. I put 200 rounds of cheap ammo through it without a single failure to fire or failure to extract. The trigger is great. I gave it 9 stars because it only came with 1 mag and it’s a bit heavier than the LCP and P3AT.
Great little conceal and carry weapon, I pack it all the time (where legal). I’ve fired about 500 rounds through it without any failures on the range. The features I like on it are the sights, operation, and thumb safety. It’s very accurate for being a small gun. To me, it is worth the price I paid for it. Also, the magazines are very robust, I’m not gentle with them.
I own several 380s. The Sig P238 is the best made and most reliable of all my 380s. I own a Llama, Kel-Tec, AMT backup and a Beretta. The Sig is the only one that has not jammed and is most comfortable to shoot.
I guess I am the only one that had trouble when I first took it out. Smoke stacks, and would not feed right. Factory has a lifetime warranty on it, and that is where it is not.
First time owner of a handgun and the Sig P238 seems to be the perfect fit. First time at range, five of mr first seven rounds were bullseyes at 25 feet. Great feel and little recoil. As a home defense weapon one could go wrong with this. It has the optional laser that provides a measurable level of confidence to my wife.
I LOVE this little gem. Very easy slide to rack, hardly any recoil (rare for a compact), and easy to conceal. I’ve fired 2000+ rounds through mine, and I love it. Very accurate. When I bring it to the range, everyone asks what I’m shooting. They’re not used to seeing a pocket pistol handle so well.
I have had this gun for a week. I initially wanted the HDW (full stainless model). Once I had it in my hand, comparing the SAS model to it which has the aluminum alloy frame & stainless slide… I realized that the extra .5 ounces of stainless heft can be done without. I took it to the range the night i bought it, put 100 rounds of Federal whitebox through it… smooth; no feed or eject issues. The next day another 150, the same…. a real nice feeling gun also (I put Hogue grips on it too) right out of the box. For added comfort while shooting, the hand formfitting Hogue grips are well worth $20.
I feel the gun is a very well made firearm. As a picky guy, I feel that there can be improvements in finish. The stainless slide coating seems spotty on some, my Sig has a blemish area or two on the slide. BUT…. you can pick up pretty much any gun made by any manufacturer, if you study it long enough; you’ll find a finish flaw. Will the bad guy notice, no…. does this thing shoot well, YES! I am glad to own this little Sig. It will be in my carry mix using Speer Gold Dot’s my round of choice! This Sig was purchased because the other .380 backup gun I have, kept throwing it’s takedown lever at the range… happened 2x leaving me scrambling on the floor looking for it. S & W 380 BodyGuard…. sent it to S & W, they replaced it with all new.. rebadging the same serial number. i have since put 125rds through it, going well so far.. but sorry I cannot have full faith in it for carry. I’ll just make sure I have my fast running sneakers on when i do…
Bought two P238s not too long ago for conceal carry; one for me and the other for the Frau. Love the gun. The extended mag is a must if you have medium to large hands. Without the extended mag I can only get 2 fingers on the grip. Fantastic weapon, easy to fire, accurate straight out of the box. SIGLIGHT night sites are great. Would highly recommend this weapon. This has nothing to do with the weapon but be advised, there is some difficulty finding .380 ammo. This was true even before the current nonsense/ammo rationing.
Bought my 238 last Sat. and fed it 150 rounds of American Eagle right out of the box. No problems at all, with a good pattern at 10 and 21 feet. I have several larger handguns, but this will be my carry gun as soon as I can get my head around carrying a cocked and locked pistol in my pocket pointed at my crotch!
I would recommend only carrying this gun with an empty chamber. This gun is not designed to be carried cocked and locked like that.
Took my new P238 to the range. I had cleaned it prior to going. It functioned perfectly with hardball and several kinds of hollow point. It is pleasant to shoot. I think best pocket holster is to get an Uncle Mike’s inside the pants holster, cut the threads that hold the belt clip and discard the belt clip. Then use it as a pocket holster. It also covers the safety. I found that the same sight-pusher used on the 1911 pistol works fine on the P238 for sight adjustment. It will be my carry pistol most of the time from now on. I carry it cocked and locked (condition 1) because I trust the safety.
Yes – great little gun.Its one of those guns a person keeps forever. I tried other holsters to carry in pocket. They work and don’t print but I’m just not confortable that way. I keep going back the to holseter that came with the gun.
The safety: We all have a habit of keeping with what we first learn.I have no doubt the 238’s safety works just fine. For me, any gun, rifle saftey I used very little. One of the first things I learned was ‘A safety is a mechanical devise and mechanical devises fail’. It goes with the old US Military 1911/45 memo on.45 mags. ‘When loading a 1911 mag, and the mag holes 7, only 6 will be loaded’. No matter what mag, I still do that.
I’ve had my P238 for a year and a half and put 1380 rounds through it so far. Every ammo works. The included holster makes it easy to put on for a quick trip to the store. I typically carry a Shield or 4″ M&P but never have to go without with the Sig handy, and I don’t like the idea of having any pistol in a pants pocket, so belt carry is the way to go for me. If it were about 10% bigger it would be perfect; but it is what it is. I give it 8 stars.
Fits in the best CCW available, the MaelWear Industries, LLC PPH-007.
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I have a question – What is your technical opinion concerning carrying this pistol loaded with a shell in the chamber with the safety on? Please give a technical overview with reference to the pros and cons.
For a pocket carry, and my CHL, I purchased the Sig P238 “Nitron” model. It’s easy to pocket carry, with an extra clip. Mechanically well made, stainless slide, alum. alloy frame, stainless cartrige magazines. This gun is fast in removing an empty clip, and inserting a full clip. And, the bright night sights are awesome…they stay bright all evening, and bright enough to find the gun from across a dark room. Amazing ! And, aiming this fire arm in darkness with these sights are absolutely the best — I prefer over and above a LAZER.
For HS Orgel, the gun can be carried condition one, there are holsters available that will cover the trigger including several for the pocket. Although it has no backstrap safety, neither do my hi cap nines with thumb safties and I carry everything condition one. Some who carry condition three say it only takes a second to rack the slide. From arms length, I have fired a round center mass from a concealed holster at the hip in .47 seconds. Guns don’t go off by themselves, follow nra and Col. Jeff Cooper’s rules of gun safety and you should never have a negligent discharge. For Will, stove pipes are never the fault of the gun. Quit limp wristing. For louis Holub, it is a magazine, not a clip. I have the equoinox, would have preferred the HD, but the gun is reliable, accurate and dependable. Keep in mind no matter which model you choose, it is a pocket gun and more suitable as a back-up rather then a primary defensive carry gun.
Anyone have trouble with the trigger not functioning correctly? I’ve had multiple instances where I pull the trigger on the second or third shot and nothing happens, no matter how hard I pull on the trigger. If I release the trigger completely and try again, it fires. This is an obvious concern that could lead to a negative outcome in a stressful situation. Might need some trigger work. Suggestions?
Great little gun, goes everywhere with me and is reliable and on target right out of the box. I got mine online from GunGalaxy.com
This firearm is definitely quality. It shoots very smooth. Some say it is too small in a .380 but I disagree. Having other pistols and revolvers, I still think this is a great choice. I would like to see a little lower cost on mags. They are all steel but $40 is a little steep.
I purchased a Desert P238 a year ago. Trigger periodically “ground” and would often fail to reset after firing. I called Sig. They paid the shipping both directions, replaced a couple of parts, and had it back to me within 10 days. Outstanding!
Pushing 1000 rounds down range. Smooth as butter, not a single issue.
Wonderful shooting little gun @ 7, 10 & 15 yards! I had a lot of problems with a new mustang. After two times sending it off for fte’s & ftf’s. I gave up took the loss and traded it in for a new sig 238 sas. Now I have something that can be dependable in a defensive situation. Thanks, Jim
Shot one a few weeks ago and did not like the SA trigger. WAY TOO light. There were a few times when I lined up the target and began to squeeze and it went off far too early for any gun I would want to tote around. In a tense situation if your finger gets anywhere near the trigger I can see it going off unintended. You can say all you want about “training” but in a tense situation, I don’t want a gun with this light of a trigger. I will gladly suffer the heavy DAO pull of a 380 bodyguard pistol because I know it will only fire if I really intend it to fire…..
I carry mine with chamber loaded but the hammer down with safety off. I also don’t like carrying with hammer back, don’t trust safety’s. I can pull it out and cock hammer back pretty quick with a little practice.
I purchased a P238 SAS on Friday March 2, 2017 with the intent of using the pistol as a back-up to my 1911 carry. The pistol seems well balanced, solidly built, and has very good reviews for reliability and accuracy. Plus, I loved the night sights compared to the ones on other guns in that size and caliber.
The following Sunday night I cleaned the factory lube off the pistol to prepare for a trip to the range on Monday morning. When finished, I performed a function check and found the safety almost impossible to engage with the hammer cocked.
The next morning I called Sig and they requested I send the pistol to them for adjustment at their expense. I shipped the pistol that day and it was returned yesterday with a note describing that the safety was repaired and the pistol was test fired and all functioned ok.
Sig obviously test fired the pistol, as it was quite dirty, but now the safety seems fine. I cleaned and lubed it again and put it in the safe. I carry 1911’s cocked and locked so I depend very much on the thumb safety. It was my intent to also carry the P238 cocked and locked but that has changed. I was okay carrying the pistol without the grip safety because it has a firing pin block and a thumb safety. However, even though the thumb safety is repaired, it seems I developed a mental issue about it’s reliability. So now I decided not to carry this pistol but instead to absorb the loss and trade it in for different back up pistol.
For the record, I’m the one with the problem, not the gun.
I bought a new P238 HD CA and it’s quite a nice shooter. 500 rds through it with no failures of any kind.
Stainless slide AND frame makes it a little heavier but VERY LITTLE recoil for a micro carry pocket pistol.
My Ruger LCP is definitely not fun to shoot at the range but this gem is a blast and I shoot at 15 yd targets with tight groups of 4″ or less……….that is super considering the barrel length is only 2.7 inches !!!!!!!!!!!!!! The standard night sights are excellent!
Mike B said this pistol was not designed to carry cocked and locked…..that is total nonsense because that is exactly what the pistol was designed for.
It was pricey but my life is worth much more than $750 plus tax………but for the money you get a great carry pistol and a fun range gun!
Best compact micro 380 acp I’ve owned! It’s easy on the hands…to rack and shoot. There’s enough weight to feel controllable but it dissappears in the pocket. I purchased this this Sig for my wife (I have a P938) but I carry it more than she does. Never once let me down at the range and it’s surprisingly accurate. I love the single action trigger, just right and not to light. Fit and finish are top notch.
It’s crazy how long this thread has been active. Had mine 6 years and it still performs. By the way, single action only sidearms were designed to be carried condition 1. That is round in the chamber, hammer cocked, safety on.
I have owned and fired many pocket guns. The Sig P238 is the best in my opinion for many reasons. It’s also fun to shoot and accurate.
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