Product Review: SIG SAUER P239 in .357 SIG
I tested the SIG SAUER P239 in .357 SIG. I short-listed this gun about 500 rounds into the test. Here’s why: the SIG SAUER P239 (henceforth called the P239) is a single-stack, semi-auto pistol with classic SIG SAUER features, including a hard coated anodized aluminum frame and a stainless steel slide. It comes in the DAK, SRT, or DA/SA trigger. My model was a DA/SA trigger version in .357 SIG. It came with the Nitron-coated slide in a black hard coat and bright, “contrasty” SIGLITE night sights.
Before I go any further, in the interest of full disclosure, I have a personal bias toward the SIG SAUER P239. Of the dozens of handguns I shoot for testing, there are only five in the group to which the SIG SAUER P239 now belongs — my personal top five choices. That is, if I ever found myself in a target rich environment that required me to fight my way to a battle rifle, I would prefer to have one of these five (or all five) handguns in my possession.
My personal bias toward this product is well-founded. This gun has performed without a hitch. It has been torture tested, which included rapid firing 300 rounds in an attempt to induce failure. After that, it went three weeks without cleaning, except for a dry patch down the barrel after some very unusual weather on the range. One range session started out as a dry, windy day. I set the gun down on the table on the range. It rained, then the wind picked up. 30 minutes later, the gun was covered with fine sand. I ran a dry patch down the barrel, and then shot another 100 rounds.
More full disclosure: I’ve had this P239 a little longer than SIG SAUER would want me to have it. This gave me the opportunity to run thousands — not hundreds — of rounds through the gun. I holstered it and re-holstered it (no discernable sign of holster wear), dry fired it several days in a row, and swapped magazines in front of the TV for days. I carried it IWB, belt scabbard, in my pocket and in a waistpack.
Now, I must include a disclaimer. Nowhere in this article is there a recommendation or an endorsement to treat your handgun like I treated this one. I recommend regular cleaning. I tested this handgun at distances that should be considered outside of the design parameters of a handgun and the duty use of a handgun. My purpose was to show the reader the capabilities of the P239, not to encourage extreme use.
SIG SAUER is one of those companies that has a long-standing reputation for reliability, coupled with an ear to the ground for product improvement. The P239 is a smaller and slimmer version of the P229, reputably one of the most coveted combat handguns in the industry. Several of my coworkers had P229 duty handguns that were around 20 years old. They were as reliable as brand-new guns.
SIG SAUER uses quality components like hardened roll pins and full-length slide rails. The barrel and chamber of the P239 (and the P229) are markedly reinforced compared to most guns one would carry off duty.
The P239 overall length is 6.6” and its width is 1.2” which is small and thin enough for discreet carry. The single stack magazine holds seven .357 SIG rounds. I found the second magazine was slim enough for a back pocket or IWB magazine holder.
SIG SAUER offers three trigger choices for three distinct shooting styles. The DA/SA trigger has a traditional feel where the double action pull is fairly stack free (the tension doesn’t seem to increase as one pulls the trigger further). There is a decocking lever, which gives the shooter a positive tactile feel when the hammer goes to its reset position. The hammer rests without contacting the firing mechanism, which also has firing pin safety that prevents forward motion (firing) without a pull on the trigger. There are four separate safety features on the P239: Decocking lever, firing pin safety, safety intercept notch and trigger bar disconnector. Occasionally, I carry my P239 in the reinforced pocket of my jeans with confidence. At 29.5 oz, this is a reasonable carry for officers with extra large pockets.
The SRT trigger, which stands for Short Reset Trigger, is a version of the DA/SA trigger that has a much shorter reset than the DA mode. This was designed for competitive shooters, not for LE officers.
The DAK trigger is a smooth double action trigger that gives the user the same pull all the time, without the decocking lever. I’m not sure how SIG SAUER did it but it is a worthwhile option for this model.
The P239 comes in 9mm, .40 and .357 SIG. I was fortunate to have had friends who own P239’s in the other calibers. I got to shoot them all. I would choose the .357 SIG every time, especially after several ballistic gelatin tests.
The .357 SIG cartridge was designed to mimic the .357 magnum in an auto pistol. It is a bottleneck cartridge, which means the bullet has a narrower diameter than the base of the cartridge. In this case, the bullet diameter approximates a 9 mm bullet and the base of the cartridge approximates a 40 caliber cartridge.
Think about this: one factor in the reliability of a handgun is the ability to smoothly feed off the magazine and completely insert into the chamber. Imagine a 40 caliber handgun. The 40 caliber bullet goes into a .40 caliber chamber. Now imagine a 9 mm sized bullet being eased into the opening the size of a 40 caliber chamber. This particular design is inherently reliable.
There are some factors one must consider with shouldered cartridges, but that goes beyond the scope of this article. Succinctly, do not continuously chamber and re-chamber a .357 SIG cartridge. Rather, practice often to keep a rotation of fresh cartridges.
The .357 magnum had a reputation of excellent performance in ballistic gelatin tests, especially after barrier. That is, one fires through tempered glass into ballistic gelatin to test one aspect of bullet performance. There are several factors including the weight retention of the recovered bullet, the amount of expansion and what it actually does inside the gelatin. I compared the .357 SIG bullets to .357 magnum bullets after barrier.
The .357 SIG cartridges generally duplicated or exceeded the 357 magnum performance, except in heavier bullet weights. It appears that the nominal bullet weight for the 357 SIG was about 124 grains, simply because the 124 grain combinations were more accurate and tore up the gelatin. Compared to a 9 mm… well, there really wasn’t a comparison. I don’t think I ever went below about a 20 percent advantage in penetration over the 9mm. The 357 SIG gave after-barrier performance, which could only be described as remarkable.
One thing that must be addressed with the .357 SIG: bullet manufacturers should not load this cartridge with standard 9 mm bullets. The higher velocities tended to cause jacket shedding. First, the P239 should only be used with bonded Bullets. Second, the superior velocity generally requires thicker jackets.
SIG SAUER has a reputation for design ergonomics in their handguns. The P239 will fit a variety of shooters comfortably, especially the grip angle, which tends to absorb the recoil of this cartridge. The inherent design advantages of the 357 SIG cartridge are perfect for this handgun. I was shooting a superior cartridge that felt like a light 9 mm. All of this was in a handgun package small enough for off-duty carry.
If the P239 package sounds attractive so far, I have to talk about the final reason why I would carry this gun into a gun battle: it is accurate. Using duty rounds, I was consistently hitting 4’ steel plates at 50 yards. I completed a modified qualification with this gun using a B27 target at almost 100 yards. Oh yes, it is accurate.
The handgun is the short distance firearm. The rifle is the long distance small arm. The carbine bridges the gap between the handgun and the rifle. However, if I was really in dire need, the P239 is on my short list.