I have been looking for a concealed carry pistol, and in my previous reviews, I was considering a Bersa .380, a Beretta 21 Bobcat .22 LR, and the Ruger LCR .38 Special. After a trip to the range with our friend’s LCR, I decided that my desire for a revolver was misplaced. Even with the light trigger of the LCR, I have a tendency to pull the gun to the side, and, being a short barrel, my aim was way off. It reminded me of the snub nose .38 Smith & Wesson I inherited from my grandfather. I could not hit the broad side of a barn with that thing, so I traded it in years ago towards a used hunting rifle at a local dealer’s shop. I hadn’t owned or shot handguns for years, until 2008, when we got a S&W M&P 9mm. And I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with it for accuracy and use. In fact, I love that gun. But it is too big for me for a concealed carry. Some larger guys may be able to carry and hide something that large, but at 5’ 8”, the only way I can carry that is in a holster. So the quest was on for a smaller concealed carry pistol.
Visiting my local dealer, Nesbit’s Guns, in New Castle, PA, I compared the Bersa and the Beretta, and found that the Bersa was not as compact as I remembered, although it is an easy pistol to operate and it shoots well. I was also considering the Beretta for size and concealability, but Jeff Nesbit’s original shipment of Berettas had a safety that took two hands to flick off. I thought that would not be very advantageous in an emergency situation. (Jeff returned those and got another shipment I tried out later and the safety was just fine on those.) I think, all in all, the Beretta would have been my second choice, and I’d still like to get one for my wife when she gets her concealed carry permit.
Jeff encouraged me to consider the Sig Sauer .380 as a concealed carry. While not as small as the Beretta, it fits nicely in my pocket if it is the only thing I have in there. It has a safety switch, and the quality of construction is superb. Jeff’s main line of reasoning was this: “If you are in a life or death situation, God forbid, what price is your life worth? Do you want something inexpensive, or do you want something that is top quality?” Jeff and I are friends, he’s not just a store owner, and he was speaking to me about his belief in the quality of the gun for himself. In the end, after a few weeks of reading reviews and research, I decided to get the Sig Sauer P238 Blackwood. I like the feel in my hand and it looks nice, although looks are a secondary consideration.
To the Range – Breaking In the Sig P238 with Different Types of Ammo.
Even though I have a concealed carry permit, I will not carry a gun until I am completely familiar with it and comfortable with it’s operation and peculiarities. So over the past several weeks, I’ve taken the Sig out to the range. Reviews I’ve read of almost all compact 380’s say that they have a tendency to jam when new and that you have to break them in, preferably shooting at least 200 rounds through them. To date, I’ve had the Sig fail to eject a cartridge two times: once on Hornady Critical Defense 90 grain FTX and once on Winchester 95 Grain Full Metal Jacket Target/Range load. When I say fail to eject, the casing is partially ejected and the slide closes on the casing, locking up the firing mechanism. However, there was a cartridge in the chamber. To clear the slide, I had to drop the magazine and roll the pistol sideways and pull back on the slide. If a cartridge is in the chamber, once you pull back on the slide, the cartridge will drop out through the empty grip. I have now shot just over 200 rounds in this pistol.
The only other problem I have had with the pistol is that 2 times, when I released the slide, a cartridge was not loaded into the chamber. I am not sure what happened the first time, but the second time I did not have the magazine completely inserted into the pistol. It should snap into place when fully inserted. Since then, I always roll the pistol to check and see if a cartridge is in the chamber, and this problem has not recurred. So, I would say the problem was user error and not the pistol itself.
Aiming the Pistol:
Unlike my other pistol, where you aim in the 6 o’clock position, I found the P238 to be most accurate when I put the front site right on the target to cover it. When I aimed at 6 o’clock, I was shooting low. The other difficulty with a short barreled pistol is that is is much harder to line up the sites accurately and you are more apt to be at a variance on the target with the slightest misalignment. I found that was shooting consistently to the left of the bulls-eye, and it took me a long while to get on target. As I begin to practice with a new firearm, I start slowly, taking full time to aim with one eye, until I get used to the feel of the firearm. But as I progress, I try to operate it as if I were in a panic situation without being able to take time to slowly aim. In this case, I keep both eyes open and look at the target, not the sites. As I get used to the pistol, my accuracy with this method improves markedly. I learned this technique, since I have not been through a self defense training course, from years of skeet shooting, where you must watch the target and anticipate, but not try to aim down the barrel of the shotgun. If you try to aim, you’ll miss every time, but if you follow the target with your eyes and move the gun with your body, you can become very accurate.
To date, I’ve shot four types of ammunition through the Sig.
The first time out, I shot 50 rounds of Blazer while getting used to the gun. I had no problems with it, but I can’t vouch for its accuracy, compared to the Winchester, because I was just learning how to shoot it. I also shot about 70 rounds of the Winchester ammo. One of the odd things I noticed is that several of the Winchester casings were bent when I retrieved them. I suspect that the force of the ejection, hitting the low roof of the range, and thin brass casings on the target load made this ammo subject to damage.
- Winchester .380 ACP Casings Bent on ejection
I don’t think you could use these casings for reloading. However, aside from the one ejection failure noted above, I had no problem with the Winchester ammunition. I was able to improve my accuracy shooting the rest of the 100 rounds my next time out.
My last time out, I was sent a box of Sellier & Bellot ammo to test. Now, as an amateur to intermediate pistol shooter, you’ll have to take my review with a grain of salt, because any inaccuracy on the target itself may be due to my limited abilities and not to the ammunition. But wanting to give this ammo the fairest test that I could, I set a target up at 25 yards (arguably too far for short barreled .380 ACP accuracy). I then rested my hands on the bench and aimed carefully. At 25 yards, the L&B seemed to be shooting left and in a 14” group. So, I put in some of the Hornady ammo, and did the same bench rest shooting. I was able to bulls-eye the target at 25 yards. The grouping was more like 8”.
- Final Grouping at 7 yards
After moving from the bench and shooting up about 20 rounds of the S&B at 25 yards, I then moved in to 7 yards and started again. This time the S&B performed very well using two handed, standing position.. See the target.. I could not see any difference between the performance of the S&B at that range and the Hornady. Since most assaults or confrontations that might require an armed response happen within 7 yards, I feel perfectly comfortable putting either the S&B or the Hornady in my concealed carry, and don’t have any fear that either will fail to hit the target. Hopefully, the ejection jam problem will not ever occur again, but even if it does, I hope the first shot will be all I need. I’ll keep practicing with it and see if I encounter any troubles.
One other thing I notice with all the ammo except the Hornady is the burn marks on the brass. Not sure if this is a characteristic of .380 short barrel powder burns or just the way these cartridges are made.
By Jefferis Kent Peterson
Specifications of the Sig Sauer P238
||.380 ACP (9mm short)
||SIGLITE® Night Sights
| Frame Finish
||Black Hard Coat Anodized
| Slide Finish
||Beavertail style frame, Blackwood grips