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Pocket Parabellum: SIG P938 Review

by Patrick Sweeney   |  May 22nd, 2012 38

SIG-P938_001

Back before Archduke Franz Ferdinand took that fateful ride in 1914, Browning had designed—and Colt had made—a beautiful little carry pistol, the M1908. It was everything you could want in a packing pistol: flat, no sharp edges, comfortable in the hand and easy to carry. Perhaps the only two faults it had were the sights—they were small and sucky—and the calibers, .32 and .380.

But back then, both were viewed positively. Big sights risked getting hooked on a pocket, and the calibers were considered, in the dawn of the Machine Age, to be more than enough to get the job done.

In the Net Generation era we’ve been in a search for a carry gun that will have it all: the attributes of the old Colt (long since out of production), plus good sights and in a serious caliber. The SIG P938 is the latest and perhaps will be the end result, with no further research needed.

Nine by Design
It is, in a word, the P938 chambered in 9mm. Obviously, to handle the Parabellum cartridge, Sig had to do more than just rudely shove a 9mm chambering reamer into a P238 barrel. They had to first increase the frame size to handle a bigger magazine for the longer round, then reproportion the slide to handle the extra energy. But if you saw it on a counter or table and had nothing else to give you a sense of perspective, your first thought would be, “Isn’t that a Sig P238?”

One of the changes is a recoil spring and guide that handles the 9mm cartridge. The recoil spring is a flat coil, not wire. The flat spiral allows for more coils of spring and handles the energy generated by 9mm Parabellum ammo mo’ better.

The recoil-spring guide has a cup at the rear, and the spring rides back into it. At first glance, I had one of those “Huh?” moments. But in talking with Tim Butler, pistols product manager of Sig, I found they came up with the design to keep the recoil-spring guide rod from self-destructing. As the frame of the P938 is aluminum alloy, and an open channel as well, letting it take the impact of the barrel directly would be bad. Whenever you’re testing a design, you should listen. As in, listen to what the parts are telling you. Clearly, a self-destructing guide rod of the old style indicates that the pistol needed more. So Sig gave it more. Clever. The spring is not a captured unit, so when you take it apart, the spring and guide rod won’t stay as a single assembly. No problem; we shooters have been dealing with that for more than a century.

The P938 is an alloy-frame single-action pistol in 9mm. The frame is short, so the magazine only holds six rounds. The frame is so short that my pinkie finger had nothing to hang on to and was relegated to simply riding under the magazine baseplate. The sights are Sig night sights, in transverse dovetails, and offer the standard three-dot combat sight setup we have become accustomed to. The safety is an ambidextrous thumb safety with a positive detent (a spring and plunger in the frame) and works positively from both sides. I found it to be a bit on the small side, but as the safety levers themselves are steel, they would be amenable to custom gunsmithing. And in time I’m sure there will be aftermarket safety levers for those of us who want more.

The slide has the Sig styling cues, with the slide stepped from the ejection port forward. While you may mistake it for the Sig .380, you won’t mistake it for any other brand. The interior of the slide has the expected clearance slot for the ejector and an external extractor, pinned into a slot in the slide. Interestingly, the pick-up rail of the slide (that’s the part that strips a round out of the magazine) has a top cartridge control bump. The lump you’ll see under there keeps the top round in the magazine in position, so the violence of the recoil doesn’t cause it to shift around and then cause feeding problems.

As it’s a compact 9mm, you won’t have any lack of holsters to pick from. The P938 will fit all the “one size fits all” holsters, plus a slew of others. A few minutes at the gun shop checking holster fit will work in the short time until the holster makers come up with P938-specific versions.

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Range Work
All gunwriters have worked out a test process and range routine. We have to, otherwise we would not have enough time in a day, and we’d get back from a range trip lacking some essential detail, an experience our editors would never let us forget. Mine, when testing a new handgun, is to start by plinking a couple of magazines’ worth on one of the gongs on the club’s 100-yard range. This is a reliability check and a zero check. If I hit, I hear. If I don’t, I can see the splash on the hillside, plus get a grasp of how accurate a handgun is and if the sights are off. I also do it to save wear and tear on my chronos. I am a serial chronograph killer, having plugged enough of them to fill a closet. (There are two kinds of shooters: those who have plugged their chrono and those who will someday.)

With the first magazine through the P938, I went five-for-five on the 100-yard gong, a ¾-scale silhouette, which set me up for the entertainment to follow. My first group on paper at 25 yards would not have had all five shots covered by a dinner plate. The second was worse. Figuring there was some pistol/ammo disagreement, I switched ammo and had the same results for my efforts, with shots missing the eight-inch-circle Birchwood Casey Shoot-N-C targets.

Then the light went on. A lightweight, short-barreled handgun, especially one in a serious caliber, is like a high-horsepower sports car. Especially one that has a low curb weight. Handle it cavalierly, or wrong, and it will make you pay. I had let the five-for-five lull me into sloppy shooting. I wasn’t watching the sights well enough, and I wasn’t following through.

So I took a break, then when I tried again, I had much more gratifying results. But you should keep that experience of mine in mind. If you get sloppy, your targets will suffer. At least the P938 didn’t wrap me around a telephone pole.

Remember: Weight to Power
With a barrel of a mere three inches, you’d think the P938 is going to be merely a loud .380. You’d be wrong. Yes, you’ll get more velocity with any given load of 9mm out of a longer barrel than this, but it isn’t as if the three-inch barrel makes the P938 inconsequential. Far from it. Of the seven loads I tried, five of them were fast enough to make USPSA/IPSC Minor, this from a short-barreled carry gun. And my hand told me which ones they were, without having to look at the chrono screen to read the velocities. One cannot shoot a hot-loaded 124-grain JHP out of a 16-ounce handgun and not notice the recoil.

This is not the gun to hand to your wife or girlfriend because “It’s light, small and easy to carry” and expect her to enjoy practicing with it. Especially if you give her a magazine filled with defensive ammo. I would go so far as to suggest that if you do intend for her to carry the P938, you will want to get into reloading. Load up some softy practice ammo, like a 125-grain roundnose bullet at 950 fps, and let her learn to shoot while also having fun. Heck, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for all of us to start soft and work up.

Accuracy? First, keep in mind that this is a preproduction prototype. Sig took two pistols, a nonfiring one for the photos and a firing one, and shipped them. The studio photographer got the nonfiring one. When I hear “preproduction,” I’m just happy that it doesn’t make me bleed, and I figure the engineers will have left messages on my phone while I’m at the range, asking how things went. Combine that with light weight, small size and robust ammo and we cannot expect bullseye-accuracy performance.

I did not take it easy on Sig, nor give you any “seven-yard combat accuracy” BS. I shot the little beast at 25 yards, as I usually do. I did, however, chuck any target that I felt I hadn’t properly done my job on. If I saw the sights twitch, or felt the trigger-pull slap, pull, crunch or wobble, I ditched the target, topped off the magazine and moved on to the next one. Each group was five consistent sight pictures and trigger pulls. Which, with a compact gun like this, gets to be work.

I anticipate that the production guns will be even more accurate than this one was, and this one gave no reason to complain. No, there were no ragged one-hole groups, but it isn’t that kind of a handgun.

At first glance, the best use for the P938 seems obvious: as a lightweight, serious-caliber carry gun. Yes, but for me the P938 can serve in a number of different roles. For all of us. If it is cold weather, or I’m in the mood for some serious artillery-packing, the P938 would be a second or even third gun, behind bigger, heavier, larger-bore guns. If they are all single-action pistols (and you should not mix trigger types), then a P938, backing up a Sig 1911, would be a primo setup.

Carry Considerations
In super-hot weather, or when my back is just not giving me any respite, then the small size and lightweight of the P938 would be a godsend. And, as a third or even fourth gun for someone in a more tactical setting, like a SWAT team, entry team or someone working in a place where open carry (and heavily armed) is the norm, a P938 in a holster attached to the vest could be a life-saver.

On top of all this, the ambi safety—standard equipment—makes it an easy choice as the backup you’d have ready for your left hand. (Southpaw shooters; right-handed backup.) It might be just a bit too bulky to be an ankle gun, but I’m sure there are custom ’smiths out there who could take some of the corners down a bit. The P938 doesn’t have sharp edges, so dehorning won’t be necessary, but in an ankle rig you might want just a bit of slimming. Or not—it may be easier to just have your tailor solve the problem.

Sig will have extended magazines available, holding seven rounds, and with a finger extension baseplate. They are already listed on the web page. The pistol I have is the Extreme model, with Hogue G-10 grips and an aggressive nonslip pattern on them. The P938 will be available in three other models: Blackwood, Rosewood and Equinox. If you have a bigger Sig you’re already carrying, you can match your backup Sig, your P938, to it. Or use the P938 as your carry gun and have the style you like.

SIG-P938_002

Bear down! To get 25-yard results like this with a 9mm as compact as the P938, you must pay attention to your shooting technique.

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