Concealed Carry & Home Defense

Gun Test: SIG P238

Mike Piccione Editor, Guns & Gear
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By Gracie McKee, Packing Pretty

Four of the Sig P238s have come through my classes in the recent past, and I have had the opportunity to both shoot them as well as observe them in the hands of my students.

I realize that the P238 is by no means a newer gun, but with them recently becoming more popular with the female students in my classes, I would like say a few words regarding it’s functionality for both myself and my students.

The Specs:

The Sig Sauer P238 is marketed as sub-compact pistol, with a 2.7 inch barrel chambered in .380ACP, a capacity of 6+1. It comes in many different finishes with my personal favorite being the rainbow finish.

This pistol clearly resembles the 1911 in appearance and function.  The action type for all models is Single Action Only (SAO), just like the 1911.  Trigger pull is a heavy 7.5 to 8.5 pounds.

Measurements are 5.5 inches in length, width is 1.1 inches, and height is 3.9 inches with an empty weight of 15.2 ounces.

Most models come from the factory with SIGLITE night sights pre-installed.  According to Sig Sauer’s website the MSRP for the basic model begins at $679.00, however better prices can be found at most gun shops.

Why My Students Purchased The P238:

All of my female students who brought the P238 to class were in agreement when asked why they choose this particular pistol. They stated that they were attracted to its looks, size, and the fact that none of them had any problems cycling the slide.  All of them went on to say that they were also advised by the dealers that the .380ACP would be a good choice due to the relatively light recoil produced by this round.

How The P238 Functioned In The Hands of Female Beginners:

In the basic course, all four of my female students had no problems loading and firing the P238 in the course of fire.  Most pistols performed well, with the exception of one that had a tendency to “stove-pipe.” A “stove- pipe” is when the spent casing gets caught in the ejection port of the gun resembling a stove’s pipe.  In this case, it appeared to be related to the grip of the shooter combined with the gun needing a little more lubrication (Sigs like to run fairly wet).

One thing that confused these students was that about 50% of the time, when they slammed a magazine in the magazine well, the slide cycled forward what seemed to be automatically. After a little investigation, we realized that this was because the gun is so small,  the thumb on their strong hand (the one gripping the gun) was  resting on the slide release button. When the magazine was inserted, their grip tightened, and the slide cycled forward.

Most of the ladies, all new shooters, had no problems keeping the majority of rounds on target at the 3 yard distance with the P238 and found the recoil to be very manageable and comfortable to shoot.

At the end of the day, the biggest complaint was that there wasn’t enough real estate on the grips to get a good grip on the firearm.

In my more advanced course, we go through a much more challenging course of fire.  In this class, we work on drawing from a holster, single-handed shooting, reloading, shooting with a flashlight, and much more.  The course of fire for this class is designed to force reloads under stress and challenge both the student as well as the equipment.

The first challenge for the students presented itself when learning to draw from a holster with the P238. The largest complaint with drawing was the difficulty in releasing the safety with one hand.  The safety on the P238 tends to take a great deal of force to release.  Both ladies had to use their off-handed thumb to release the safety, which could be problematic in a defensive situation.  With enough practice, I believe they can learn to manipulate that safety single-handed.

Another concern with drawing from the holster was that the holster that came standard with the P238 had a tendency to come off the belt and stay on the gun. This is probably due to the lack of sturdiness and tightness of the belt, and can easily be fixed with a good tactical belt.

Throughout the day, both of my female students who brought the P238 to class had difficulty with continual stove-pipes. At which point, it was no longer the student’s grip on the gun (as that had been corrected) but how dirty the gun had gotten throughout the course of the day along with the fact that it had basically run dry. More lubrication was added and the problem was mostly resolved.

Yet, another concern with this pistol was revealed when we practiced tactical reloads. A tactical reload is the process of reloading the gun before it runs out of ammunition. The idea is to retain the old magazine that still has ammunition in it as you load the new magazine into the gun. If you have not practiced this drill, it can be quite a juggling act.

Tactical reloads appeared to be a difficult for both shooters with the Sig P238.  The largest complaint was with the narrow single-stack grip, which made it a real challenge for the shooters to depress the mag-release with the shooting hand thumb.  The grip was actually so small that the ladies had difficulty curling their shooting hand’s thumb in far enough to hit the release. This is important since when performing this kind of reload, the off-hand is occupied managing the magazines, while the shooting hand is managing the pistol.

At the end of the class, both ladies performed well with the P238, however, they learned that much practice with this model (jam clearing and manipulating the levers and buttons) will be needed in order to operate this pistol smoothly under stress.

Both ladies liked their Sig Sauer P238’s, but, I know one of them will be shopping for a larger pistol.

One of the author's students with her P238

How the P238 Functioned in My Hands:

When I tried the P238, I found it to be very accurate and fun to shoot (it’s just so cute!).

I also noticed that the small frame size could make operation of this pistol more difficult than a larger framed pistol (depending on size of the operator’s hands); but it was still manageable ergonomically. The only complaint I have about the operation of this gun is that the safety levers seemed to be a little sticky, taking more force and strength then most thumb safeties.

Everything cycled very smoothly. I had no “stove-pipes” when I shot it, and the extractor and ejector had no visible issues. The magazines that come standard with the gun fed well, no problems there.

Trigger pull was noticeably heavy, especially for a single action, 1911 style pistol. It was not, however, heavy enough to cause any issues with accuracy or speed.

I would definitely consider the P238 as an option for a backup gun.  Some of my reasons for not choosing the 238 for primary carry would be caliber, capacity, and possible difficulty of operation due to the frame size.

All in all, I think that unless the shooter is in love with the 1911 design, he/she might want to take a look at other pistols in the sub compact category that offer a larger caliber at a lower price point.  Alternatives worth looking at might be the Springfield XDS in .45ACP, the Kahr PM9, or the Smith & Wesson M&P Shield. Seeing the issues I have seen with this gun in the hands of new shooters, I would recommend extensively handling and possibly renting or borrowing this gun before purchasing it for a beginner.

Thanks to Gracie at For more on concealed carry please visit her site

Mike Piccione