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Pocket Parabellum: SIG P938 Review

by Patrick Sweeney   |  May 22nd, 2012 33

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.

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.

  • Diana W.

    What about reliability? I love Sig but we all know the first P238's had problems. I'm the type that cherishes the flawless performance of my Sig P229. How does the new baby sister compare?

    • SteveK

      I have put 500 or so rounds through my P938 Nightmare Edition with no failures what so ever. I have tried both Target ammo and some self defense rounds. All flawless.

      • Diana W.

        Thank you for the reply Steve! I can't wait to get my hands on one.

    • Jason birdsong

      I just brought my 938 nightmare to the range, I put 400 rounds through it with amazing accuracy and very low felt recoil (about the same as the p238) I shot a mix of factory brass, aluminum, and reloads. 100% functionality. I highly recommend this gun to everyone looking for a quality pistol that is accurate, dependable, and gorgeous

  • Mark

    I would really like Sig to offer a matched box set containing a p238, a p938, and a 1911 with matching serial numbers and a display case.

    • Jeremy

      Sounds a tad to close to safe queen's for my liking..

    • bobbss

      They do,not sure about the serial numbers but I seen a set at local gun store.

  • Jeremy

    On the aside..From reading I'm unclear if the author liked the pistol or no….were you woo'd?

  • Todd

    I just picked up my P938 today, Extreme version. Very well done, fit and finish are excellent. I have to get use to shooting a 9mm from a 3" barrel, but overall the pistol shoots great. I got two mags in the box, one with the extended round and one without. The P238 i have only came with one mag, well done Sig.

  • Ken W

    I have a Nightmare with 150 rounds or so launched. IBecause the trigger is rather firm have to think about it as I pull or I end up shooting low I. That and avoiding sticking 380 ammo in the magazine are it so far. Believe it not it fired the 380 fine and even cycled properly. I noticed the shot felt soft and looking down suddenly realized what I had done so I ejected the magazine and ejected the 380 that was waiting to be fired.

  • Claude Clay

    while waiting for this gun ( i got a C-3 back in March–great gun!! and i wanted this to be its back-up) a Shield found me. flawless and has the re-coil of a cap gun. carried a K-T P11 for many years so i am ok with a 3" 9mm; and the P11's recoil was wicked bad. the p938 i shot is like described here…not for the uninitiated. im patient and when some hammer blocking holsters are made and the safety is extended…

  • T Alan

    Just bought wife one shot 100 rounds. The gun is just what the doctor ordered for a concealed weapon! My wife is a realtor and she gave me her Glock 9mm. Badass gun

  • Chuck

    I would love to hear more about Ken's comments about running .380 rounds through this P938. The diameter is identical.

    • John

      I also misloaded a 380 shell, it fired but would not eject. Lesson learned, hide the P239 and shells when shooting the P938.. Has anyone had several misfires? Thinking it was the result of firing a hundred shells, maybe a little dirt?

  • Rich Murphy

    I can't believe all of the great reviews here. I must be a Murphy.

    Just received the 938 yesterday. Went to the range today with remington 9mm ammo.

    The gun feels great but on first mag I experienced a host of problems just like I experienced with the 238. Extraction problems, failure to load round into full battery, firing issues even when in full battery.

    With great frustration I put 200 rounds through the gun and never was able to get a full-mag cycle. the longer I shot, the more I had to double-strike the rounds to get a fire. The real kicker – the firing pin fell out before I loaded my final round. Yes – fell out. I felt something hit my shoe and found the retainer next to my foot. The firing pin was laying on my bench and the spring was on the ground a yard or so from my feet.

    I have to say that ,once fixed, my 238 shoots like a dream but SIG never fixed it in 3 visits to service. I fixed the feed problems by polishing down brass-shaving edges and by adjusting the neck on my mags.

    I guess I’m in for another ride but I do look forward to a working p938.

    • Greg L.

      I just got the p938 for my wife. We fed some Remmington fmj through it with no issues. When I ran some Federal fmj through it, there were some failures to load the first round. No problems after that. I assumed it was just needing to get broken in.

      However, my Springfield Armory XD 9 Sub had the same failure to load issues with the Federal fmj. I think I might have just gotten a bad batch of shells.

  • Rob H.

    I just bought a new P938 Nitemare and shot it yesterday. I fired 50 rounds of WWB ammo with zero failures of any type. The gun prints about 3" high at 25 yards and the recoil is highly manageable. This little gun is amazing. I'm going out today to test it with Walmart Remington hollow points. I'm expecting a good day like yesterday. Love my P938 !

  • cliff v

    Can you give any info on the holster? Is Sig going to come out with a paddle style like for the p238 ?

  • Bradford

    I had picked up a p238 a few weeks ago and fired about 200 rounds through it with ZERO failures of any sort. After conceal carrying a Kimber eclipse pro II, then a glock 23, I had found what so far was the best CC handgun I have ever had. Then I went to the range and they had a used p938. The gentleman at the range is a friend of mine and told me the first owner bought it and brought it back within a week. There had only been 10 rounds through it and the price on it was $575.00 !!!!! I could hardly find any reason in the world not to trade in my p238 for the 938. So that I did. I then put 150 rounds through the 938 including mostly American eagle practice rounds and then some hotter load hollow point federal ammo so that I would be familiar with what I would be carrying. I had once again ZERO failures of any sort. Between size, weight, dependability, comfortability in my holster, and amazing style, I would HIGHLY reccomend this gun to everyone. It is truly a great piece of engineering.

  • Rich Murphy

    update from my previous post:
    Ok, SIG returned my 938 within a week. Shot 50 rounds of PMC, 50 rounds of AE, and 50 rounds of Remington UMC. 3 ejection failures on Remington and 2 on AE. PMC shot without issue.

    SIG's report what that they "upgraded extractor" and "polished feed ramp". Of very interesting note – they did not mention that they changed out my barrel. The barrel that is now in place looks very worn and obviously not what I sent in.

    I do really like the the way this handles. It shoots tight and it feels good.

  • JGunner

    Bought one today. Took it straight to the range.WOW Best CC gun EVER! Hit the target with nice groups every time. ZERO malfunctions. Best Buy Ever!!!!

  • J. B Smith

    Those looking for a holster, the P938 fits a standard, full frame 1911 holster perfectly.

  • Jon

    Bought mine about six weeks ago and the number of failure to extract issues. Send it back to Sig for repair. I believe they changed the spring, polished feed ramp. Went out again shot a hundred rounds, no issues whatsoever. When I went to clean the gun the spring was so tight shot across the room! I had to have my local gunsmith clean a nasty scratch off the barrel, common Sig? Also have him smooth out the trigger, so sharp it cut into my finger.
    I also have a P238 never had an issue with that gun, but bought it after the problems were worked out over the years.

  • gene b

    Just got my 938 a few days ago and I am VERY happy with it! Being a southpaw, I have to have a amby safety. my favorite guns are 1911 pistols. I like everything about this gun . I have put several hundred rounds through it (federal hydroshock, remington golden sabre, hornady critical duty and several other brands of cheap ammo without a single hickup! With a center hold it shoots dead on. The trigger was 8.5 LBS and is now down to 6.9 LBS.
    It is going to be my favorite carry gun. The recoil is mild as compared to other mini 9MM. It is also easy to rack the slide. Some small 9's are almost impossible to rack. Being a gunsmith , I an going to smooth the trigger and lighten it a small bit. I hate DAO autos and was very glad that sig came out with a single action only. The same goes for double singles also. The night sights are a plus also. I was able to buy two extended mags when I bought the gun. As I have very small hands, I can shoot the original short mag almost as well as the extended mag. The extra round is a plus though. The only down side I have is the mags are very to load because of a very strong mag spring.

  • http://www.facebook.com/earl.chambers.39 Earl Chambers

    Bought mine a week ago and traded my LCP with CT. Wanted a mini 9mm so ammo would not be an issue after the election. Looking for a holster size and very little info out there. I like Desantis pocket holsters mainly

  • Bill Childs

    The best CC holsters out there now are the Crossbreed, who make one for the P938 with or without the laser — By the way, I think the Sig laser for the P238 will also fit the P938 —
    The other great holster is The N82 — May be the most cofortable ever — They don't have a Professional model for the 938 yet but the Original or the Tuckable made for the Sig 290 will fit the 938 perfectly and you can buy it for a laser or not —

  • jay kay

    In the review in the May 2012 issue, of the Sig 928, there is a picture of the pistol in a holster on someone's belt. Can you tell me who makes that holster? I could not find a reference to it in the article (on line) or as a caption.

  • JHVaughn

    Need a holster, call Sig. They sent me a very good one for $20 something. It will work for a 238 or a 938. Regarding loading failures: I had none at first and then started having failures. I spoke to a range pro and he suggested that in the beginning I was tense and held the gun tight. After many hundred rounds I was relaxed and not holding the gun tight enough. My loose grip was absorbing the recoil energy needed to properly eject and reload a new round. I tightened up my grip and the problem went away.

    • Griz

      This can be a problem with all small semi-auto handguns and causes lots of them to be returned for service or traded or sold through no fault of the gun. I was at the range with a friend who wanted to shoot my P238 and couldn't get through a mag without a FTE. I had had zero problems in over 500 rounds. Once he quit limp wristing the pistol, the problem went away. These little "mouse guns" need a very firm platform to recoil against in order to function properly, so if you're having a problem with FTF or FTE, tighten up that grip, lock up that wrist and usually the problem cures itself.

  • JHVaughn

    PS, I love the gun. Small and easy to carry. Great groups. Same caliber as my P226 MK25 that is the finest gun I have every owned but too large to carry comfortably. Only need 1 type of amo. Call me "Sig Fan"!

  • MikeCumpston

    “…nor give you any “seven-yard combat accuracy” BS.


    The above quote is great. Some people are even benching these things at 7 yards…nonsense. The line about blowing away chronographs is also a nice touch. It’s amazing what a .44 magnum handload does to one of those things.
    A very credible and welcome article across the board.

  • Charles P.

    I just bought a Sig P838 Equinox. It has a 7.5 to 8.5 trigger pull, even though it is a single action. To say the trigger is “crisp” is an understatement.
    The magazine is impossible to get the 6 rounds loaded it is supposed to hold. I took two hours load to shoot 50 rounds (at 5 round loads). I was worn out by the experience. I checked with Sig’s Custom Shop online and they do not modify the P938 to relieve pressure on the trigger or magazine. I don’t want to modify the gun and ruin the warranty or make it unreliable.
    The answer to the mag spring is buy a speed loader. The answer to the trigger pull: I is hope it will weaken with time. I ‘ve read where that if you slide your finger high against the frame and the trigger; the gun is more accurate.
    I can agree that this will never be my wife’s gun!

    • Russ Grimes

      Charles, Sorry to hear that! I love mine, Trigger pull is negligible and accuracy is pretty darn good considering the diminuitive barrel and overall size. I do, however, have the extended magazine so that does help tremendously! Make no mistake…the 938 is not designed to drive tacks at 25yrds but I find it to be a VERY effective belly gun with an instinctive point and shoot fit that rivals very few in this class! Of course, I have a buddy who struggled with it when he first bought his but that’s just his way! BTW, My wife has the P238 and loves it!

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