SIG P238 380 Semi-Automatic Pocket Pistol


by Jeff Quinn

photography by Jeff Quinn & Boge Quinn

July 26th, 2010




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It was just a couple of decades ago that most folks in this country considered the 380 ACP cartridge as severely underpowered for social work. It was grouped together with cartridges such as the 22 Short, 32 ACP, and a child’s cap gun. However, in recent years, 380 ACP ammo has become more powerful, and is loaded with bullets that are capable of expanding at 380 velocities. The demand for 380 ACP ammunition and pistols is now greater than ever, as more and more citizens assume their civic duty to go armed. There are several very good small, lightweight 380 pistols now on the market, and SIG Sauer entered the market with another dandy choice a few months ago; the SIG P238.

The P238 is different from the other popular offerings available. Instead of a polymer frame, the P238 uses an aluminum frame with a stainless steel slide. It is also a single action design, with a thumb safety, very reminiscent of the defunct Colt Mustang of a few years back. The P238 operates with a locked-breech short recoil action. The hammer must be cocked either manually or by the action of the slide to fire each shot. The best way to carry the SIG P238 is in what is called condition one; that is with a round in the chamber, hammer cocked, and the safety on. In this mode, all one has to do is point the pistol, flip off the safety, and pull the trigger to fire. Most small 380 pistols now on the market do away with the thumb safety, relying instead upon a long trigger pull and a firing pin safety. Either system works very well, and is as safe as the person carrying the pistol. Some people prefer a manual safety, and for them, the P238 is an excellent choice, with one limitation. The P238 is a decidedly right-handed pistol, as there is no thumb safety for a left-handed shooter. Of course, a left-hander can fire the SIG perfectly well, but in a hurry, it is hard for a lefty to manipulate that thumb safety and keep a secure grip on the pistol. The thumb safety works very well, and secures the hammer from movement. The thumb safety is placed perfectly for a right-handed shooter to quickly sweep it downward with the thumb of the right hand to ready the pistol to fire. It is also easy to place back in the safety-on mode, when needed.

The P238 is a very good-looking pistol, with its matte black frame, wood grips, and stainless slide and small parts. The slide has diagonal serrations for easy manipulation, and the sights, while large and easy to see, are well rounded so as not to abrade clothing or skin. The P238 slide locks to the rear on an empty magazine, and the slide latch release is easy to reach with the thumb of the shooting hand. There are vertical serrations on the front and back of the grip, as well as stippling on the wood stocks, for a secure hold while firing the pistol. The frame has a generous beavertail to protect the web between the shooter’s thumb and trigger finger, and the hammer recesses into the beavertail section, to avoid any chance of hammer-bite while firing the pistol. The P238 is a very compact design, and while it is slightly heavier than the polymer 380 pistols on the market, it is just as small.

Critical specifications are listed in the chart below. The weight is listed in ounces, and linear measurements in inches. The grip and frame widths were measured at their widest points. Maximum width is measured to include the thumb safety. Height includes the sights and magazine base. The trigger pull is listed as pounds of pressure. Weight is listed with an empty magazine in place. SIG specs call for an unloaded weight of 15.2 ounces with magazine, but I weighed the sample gun repeatedly, and found it to be a bit lighter.

Weight 13.6
Height 3.9
Length 5.48
Slide Width 0.755
Maximum Grip Width 0.94
Frame Width 0.658
Maximum Width 1.1
Barrel Length 2.81
Trigger Pull 7
Magazine Capacity 6

I fired a variety of ammunition over the chronograph to check velocities, with the results listed in the chart below. Velocities are listed in feet-per-second. Velocities were recorded ten feet from the muzzle. Bullet weights are listed in grains. JHP is a jacketed hollowpoint bullet. DPX is a hollow nose homogenous copper bullet. FMJ is a full metal jacket roundnose bullet. FP is a full metal jacket flat-nose bullet. PB is Cor-Bon Pow’RBall. HC is a hard cast flat-nose lead bullet. Velocities were taken at an elevation of 541 feet above sea level, with an air temperature of ninety-two degrees Fahrenheit, and humidity of fifty-one percent.

Ammunition Bullet Weight Velocity
Cor-Bon JHP 90 914.7
Cor-Bon PB 70 1188
Cor-Bon DPX 80 950.2
Handload JHP 88 767
Buffalo Bore JHP 90 964
Buffalo Bore FMJ 95 903
Buffalo Bore HC 100 998
Remington JHP 88 755.8
American Marksman FMJ 95 885.2

Shooting the P238 held no surprises. The little jewel functioned perfectly, feeding, firing and ejecting every round fed it. Twice during testing, the slide failed to lock open on an empty magazine, but it was near the end of the day, and the pistol had become pretty dirty. The trigger pull averaged seven pounds even, and was very consistent. For a pocket pistol such as this, the trigger pull is just about right, stiff enough, but very crisp, with just a bit of preload. The SIG is very comfortable to shoot, being a little heavier than most of its competition, but still plenty light enough for comfortable carry. While on the subject of carrying, the little SIG comes with a very well-designed Kydex belt holster that fits the pistol perfectly. Of course, it is a right-handed holster, but this is a right-handed pistol. It is very thoughtful of SIG to include the holster with the pistol. The holster clips onto the belt, and has a very secure hook at the bottom to assure that the holster stays on the belt. The holster weighs only one and one-half ounces. SIG also offers a leather pocket holster online, for those who prefer pocket carry.

The sights on the P238 are highly visible and easy to use, unlike the sights on many 380 pocket autos. The SIG has an excellent set of sights. The ones on my test gun are standard three-dot sights. This 238-380-BG model is supposed to have SIGLITE night sights, and that is how the label on the box reads, but this gun does not have the SIGLITE tritium sights. However, I do highly recommend the SIGLITE option for a defensive weapon such as this. Accuracy was very good, due largely to the excellent sights provided on the pistol. Keeping all shots well within the kill zone of a standard human silhouette at twenty-five yards was no problem, and firing the P238 rapidly from anywhere from three to fifteen yards offhand proved that the little pistol would work very well for resolving distasteful social conflicts.

The SIG P238 is a dandy little defensive pistol. It is small enough and light enough that it can always be with you. If a fight comes, a larger weapon is preferred, but we never know when trouble will seek us out, so a weapon that is within reach is the weapon of choice. The P238 can hold its own. It is compact, reliable, accurate, and made in the USA.

Check out this and other SIG products at

For high performance 380 ammunition, go to and

For those of you having trouble finding good inexpensive 380 practice ammo in stock, go to

Jeff Quinn


P238 (bottom) compared to a Ruger LCP (top).



Pistol comes with hard case, instructions, one magazine, and holster.



Included holster is a handy Kydex unit.





Author recommends Cor-Bon DPX ammo in the 380.



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Click pictures for a larger version.


SIG P238 380 semi-automatic pistol.





Magazine release.



Stainless steel six-shot magazine.





P238 has a set of highly-visible three-dot sights.



Slide release.



Thumb safety.







Robust spring-loaded ejector.







Attractive grip panels are made of laminated wood, and are well-textured for a secure grip.



Slide locks open on an empty magazine.