If you’ve been following the gun world for any length of time you’ve likely noted that it tends to be cyclical. The resurgence of the .380 ACP is an excellent example. Twenty-five years ago, when it came to pocket pistols in semi-auto, the .380 ACP was the most potent of the class with .25’s and .32’s trailing.
As the era of the polymer-framed pistol dawned, the popularity of pistols chambering the .380 ACP cartridge began to wane. Many manufacturers discontinued or scaled back their production of these compact guns.
Here we are in 2010, and the .380 ACP is back with a vengeance. During the past couple of years, numerous little pistols chambering the century-old “.380 Automatic Colt Pistol” cartridge have been introduced. Not the least of which is the new P238 from Sig Sauer.
Veteran shooters will recognize the exposed hammer, single-action compact pistols as very similar to another classic model from a different parentage. The P238 operates like most single-action autoloaders that have come before it. Chambering a round/racking the slide cocks the hammer. A manual thumb safety is found on the left side of the receiver/frame. Unlike the M1911, the manual safety does not lock the slide in place.
The minute pistol uses a single-stack, 6-round magazine—yes, the gun will hold 6+1 rounds of .380 ACP ammunition. There is a manual slide lock located in the normal spot on the left side above the magazine release button. As for the trigger, it is a serrated design with a single-stage release.
Sig Sauer offers several varieties of the P238 with a numerous metal finishes, grips materials and sight set-ups. The pistol featured here is their Equinox model. The slide and frame are two-tone polished stainless steel, contrasted against a dark, hard anodized finish. Grip panels are a polished hardwood with the Sig Sauer logo in the center. A blend of rough texture and traditional checkering gives the grips a very distinctive look.
The fixed sights are the SIGLite luminous design. Up front you have a combinations green fiber optic and Tritium blend. The rear sight is two-dot Tritium that is drift-adjustable, though it’s highly unlikely that would be necessary.
“Small,” “Sub-Compact” or “Micro”—however you define them, pocket pistols are notoriously finicky eaters and many models have had reliability issues. I tested out the P238 with jacketed hollow point, controlled expansion and full metal jacket ammunition from several manufacturers.
From Hornady I would test their 90-grain XTP (jacketed hollow-point) and their FTX Critical Defense controlled expansion round. Full metal jacketed training ammunition would come from Federal’s American Eagle brand and PMC. The American Eagle employed a 95-grain FMJ projectile and the PMC was 90 grains.
As this is a relatively close-range pistol, all of my accuracy work was conducted at 10 yards. Slow fire groups for each load averaged in the 2- to 3-inch range consistently. The sights were set point-of-aim/point of impact from the factory.
For reliability testing I pumped 100 plus rounds of .380 ammunition from all the aforementioned makers through the tiny single-action pistol. Numerous drills were run two-handed, single-handed and weak-handed. I encountered a total of two “stovepipe” stoppages. A quick “tap-rack” cleared them out just as it would a much larger handgun. Felt recoil was a bit snappy, as you would expect, but not entirely unpleasant.
As the P238’s primary duty will be personal defense, all of my following range sessions would focus on practical training drills. In addition to the normal cardboard silhouettes, I had a new target to work on.
While roaming the aisles at a show, I stopped by the Mako Group booth. The product that interested me the most was their polymer shoot-through target system. They call it their “Reactive Target System” and the unit includes a ¾-sized polymer silhouette, a polymer mounting pole, hinged mount, and base plate.
In total the unit weighs about 25 pounds, with the majority of the weight at the base. The silhouette stands about 5.5 feet off the ground and can be set to fall when hit or remain upright.
When held upright the target does weave a bit when hit, and that’s a good thing. The polymer target is a semi-flexible material. Rounds pass directly through it and leave a tiny hole behind. Mako’s literature says the target should survive 2,000 plus hits. The entire target package should cost you less than $200.
My teenage daughter, Paxton, accompanied me to range for the christening of the new Mako target. She demonstrated her skill by taking 10-yard headshots on the silhouette. We spent the afternoon rocking the green polymer target and generating plenty of empty .380 ACP brass.
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In a world of “double-action only” compact pistols, one might find it odd that Sig Sauer would introduce a single-action, sub-compact like the P238. Be that as it may, the P238 seems to be wildly popular with numerous variations available.
The model I had on hand to try out was well built, reliable, and attractive with its two-tone finish. It certainly performed as advertised. Don’t look for a match-tuned trigger like your custom M1911. The pull weight on the Equinox pistol was right about 6 pounds. From a safety-conscious standpoint this is about right. If you ever need to use it to defend your life you’ll be able to muster the required strength.
As for the .380 ACP cartridge, the gun/ammo boom of last year seems to have leveled off and ammunition in both controlled expansion and FMJ is once again available on the gun shop shelves. From a self-defense point of view, any pistol cartridge, particularly the stubby .380 is a fight stopper. Put your rounds in the “X” ring, look for cover and come up with an evacuation plan.
Specifications: SIG SAUER P238 EQUINOX
15.2 ounces (empty)
Two-tone slide, black hard anodized frame
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This article was originally published in CONCEALED CARRY HANDGUNS® 2011. Print and Digital Subscriptions to CONCEALED CARRY HANDGUNS® magazine are available here.
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