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.380 ACP vs. 9x19mm: (another look at the SIG P238 and P938).

The ongoing demand for small, 41 easy to conceal self-defense pistols started out with .32s and .380s and has over recent years progressed to the point where small semi-autos chambered for the 9x19mm cartridge aren't that much larger than their .380 ACP predecessors. The two pistols examined here are a perfect example of this and they are the SIG P238 Nitron and the SIG P938 Nightmare. The P238 Nitron is a .380 ACP caliber pistol while the P938 is the 9x19mm caliber model, but both are very close in size, weight and method of operation, so which one would best fit your needs?

Caliber Wars ...

Years ago the standard argument that appeared on the cover at least once a year of every gun magazine out there was "9mm vs. 45." It was done so often that it became the butt of numerous jokes about lazy gunwriters and their unimaginative editors. Of course much of this editorial was done years before the handgun world had what today we take for granted--state-of-the-art, modern, advanced self-defense ammunition.

Back then the effectiveness of a handgun round could be predicated on its bore size, weight and muzzle velocity, because most hollow-point projectiles that were said to expand didn't! Or if they did, they did so reluctantly.

Today, it's different because of scientific study with protocols establishing what a defensive round should do and what it shouldn't. Recently, I was able to witness firsthand some .380 ACP factory loads that were simply spectacular in their ability to both penetrate and expand in ballistic gelatin.

Of course, its these same advanced projectiles that have pretty much eliminated the old joke of "9mm vs. .45" because in many cases the best 9mm ammunition works as well as .45 in terms of penetration, expansion and the resulting incapacitation, so now the comparison could be between the .380 ACP and the 9x19mmm when the platforms are so close in size, weight and operation.

Designs Seen Before ...

First of all, both pistols are single-action semi-auto designs with the P238 bearing an extremely close resemblance to the Colt Mustang and Mustang II seen in years past. There are, however, major differences between the SIG designs and the previously seen Colt pistols. Both SIG designs feature black stainless steel slides due to their Nitron finish. The frames on bath the P938 and the P238 are black anodized alloy. Each has a pronounced rear projection which I won't call a beavertail, because there is no grip safety on either model, but the frame extends far enough to the rear that for most hand sizes there is no chance of the dreaded slide-bite happening to the web between the shooter's thumb and trigger-finger.

For decades, small pistols chambered for the .380 ACP round were blowback operated. The SIG P238 And the P938 are a short recoil, locked breech, semi-automatic pistols with features and profile that mimic the 1911 pistol. .

They are not, however, a close copy, as there are major differences. The barrel on both SIG pistols locks to the slide by means of the chamber block on the barrel fitting to the large ejection port of the slide. The Colt designs used a barrel lug and corresponding recess in the slide.

Of course, the profile of the SIG P238 and the P938 bears more than a casual similarity to the well-known 1911 design, but there are differences.

The first is, as mentioned previously, neither of the SIG pistols has a grip safety as seen on the 1911 pistol, or the previously seen Colt 1903 or 1908 smaller self-defense pistols manufactured before World War II.

Additionally, the frame-mounted manual safety does not lock the slide when it's engaged. For the modern consumer this feature is actually a good thing, because it enables the shooter to charge the chamber from a loaded magazine while at the same time keeping the safety on.

This was once only seen with those designs that featured slide-mounted safeties, but the drawback with them is the difficulty encountered when attempting to disengage the manual safety prior to firing the pistol. The frame mounted manual safeties that are located at the left rear of the pistol frame are more natural and quicker to operate.

The SIG P938 Nightmare had ambidextrous safeties while the smaller P238 Nitron only had the left side manual safety. For the left-handed shooters this is a problem, but being right-handed I found the location of the manual safety on either gun to be natural. Additionally, in terms of the pressure needed to engage or disengage, they were Goldilocks safety levers in that they felt just right. During all the testing they did not swipe off easily, but then neither were they difficult to operate quickly.

Another difference between the 9x19mm caliber P938 and the 1911 is the fact it features an external extractor, while the P238 features an internal extractor like that seen on the Government Model.

The triggers on both pistols are pivoting and don't use the sliding bow so many have become accustomed to when working with a 1911 Government Model. These pivoting triggers require a different touch as they provide a different feel to pistols that one would assume, incorrectly, would shoot like miniature 1911 pistols. They don't. That's neither a criticism, nor an accolade, but rather a statement of fact, but it becomes an important element when either of these guns is taken to the range.

Shooting Comparisons ...

Testing these pistols on the range reveals the true difference between them and raises some serious issues about what the specific mission and use the end-user/consumer intends for either pistol.

The reason is quite simple. The SIG P938 has a lot of felt recoil, and I personally doubt it will ever be a casual plinking gun for any but the most dedicated, perhaps even degenerate, pistol shooters Out there.

Is it as painful as a 13-ounce .357 Mag. five-shot revolver shooting full-house loads? No! It isn't that bad, but the recoil, even with aluminum-case 124-grain Blazer ball ammo was sharp and over time, unpleasant.

With the 115-grain Cor-Bon JHP loads, it was even more so, and the same could be said with the Black Hills 124-grain JHP loads as well. It should also be mentioned none of these previously mentioned loads in any common service pistol are known for their sharp recoil, but in the SIG P938 they were.

By contrast, the SIG P238 was a delight and it should be mentioned normally I take a rather dim view of most .380 ACP pistols as it's been my experience they usually have all the recoil of a full size gun with about half the bite, so to speak.

However, the SIG P238 is an extremely pleasant .380 ACP pistol and one authority, my good friend Walt Rauch, feels it is probably over-engineered for the cartridge and the classification its fits into. Whether that's true or not is beside the point because in my view it is one of the few small .380 ACP pistols that I feel is both comfortable and easy to shoot. Still, I like the power demonstrated by the P938 even if I don't like long range sessions with the test sample. Both pistols came equipped with SIG's SIGlite night sights, and they are exceptional. I found the sight picture. clearly defined and the tritium inserts bright even on a well-lit indoor range.

Having said all that I can't say I shot any good groups with either pistol and the fault is a combination of my limited skill and the pivoting trigger found on both examples. It is a difficult trigger to master because it is so unpredictable. I'm sure that given time I could master it on either pistol but with the current short ammunition supply I can't say I was blessed with an abundant cache of test ammo for either.

The P938 Nightmare weighs 16.0 ounces empty while the P238 weighs 15.2 ounces empty. The barrel length on the P938 is 3.0 inches and the barrel length on the P238 is 2.7 inches. The overall height is the same for each. The magazine capacity with the flush-fitted magazine is six rounds for each pistol, but the P938 does have an optional magazine with a small grip extension that holds seven rounds which also makes it a little more difficult to fit easily inside a front trousers pocket.

Both pistols are extremely good examples of the small, state-of-the-art, easily concealable self-defense pistols. It used to be that .380 ACP with its maximum chamber pressure of approximately 16,000 psi was at a severe disadvantage to the 9x19mm Parabellum with its 32,500 psi chamber pressure, but recent advancements in bullet design and new propellants have really closed the distance between these two mid-bore calibers.

In terms of caliber wars and potential usage, if you want a pistol to carry a lot and shoot little, then I would recommend the SIG P938. If you want a pistol that you can practice and train with over extended range sessions, then I would recommend the SIG P238 because it is a far easier gun to manage for long strings of fire, plus the fact there really is some extraordinary .380 factory defensive loads available now that narrows the performance gap between this round and the 9x19mm.

Both the SIG P938 and the P238 are available from SIG Sauer Inc., 18 Industrial Drive, Dept. SGN, Exeter, NH 03833, web: www.SIGsauer.com, tel: 603-772-2302. The SIG P938 has a MSRP of $823 and the SIG P238 has a MSRP of $679.
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Title Annotation:comparison of SIG P238 and SIG P938
Author:James, Frank
Publication:Shotgun News
Article Type:Product/service evaluation
Date:Apr 10, 2013
Words:1600
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