Friday, November 17, 2006

Blue Ribbon Blue Label

If you've read my post about the Benelli Nova Tactical shotgun, you may remember that the aftermath of Katrina got me thinking about upgrading my short-range portable firepower options.

Well, Father Duvall, a nominally anti-gun person, was moved to consider the same issue in terms of protection following the breakdown of social order. Dad isn't completely against firearms, he has a Wingmaster 870 in the closet, and a family heirloom Colt 1878 DA that he's never fired. It's a handful, .45 Long Colt and older than both of us put together. Its provenance is a story for another post, but suffice to say that it's not the kind of thing he felt confident in depending on in a stressful situation.

So back around Christmas, Dad asked to go to the pistol range and try out my various handguns, a partial selection of which is shown here:

In order, those are the SIG Sauer P229 in .40 S&W, the Beretta 92F in 9mm, the Walther P-22 in .22LR and the Glock 17 in 9mm. He also sampled the SIG Sauer P220 in .45 ACP, as well as a J-frame S&W 639 in .38 Special.

Now, my secret intention was to buy him a pistol he liked for Christmas, and I figured he'd appreciate the Glock 17 for its mechanical simplicity, low-recoil 9mm caliber and (for me) moderate cost. As fate would have it, his favorite pistol and the one he performed best with and appreciated the ergonomics of the most was the most expensive of the bunch -- the SIG Sauer P229. What's more, it seemed he had a little difficulty with the recoil of the stouter .40 S&W round in the short P229, and as he has hands like mine (roughly the size of a dinner plate), the shorter grip wasn't helping. A solution was found that kept him and my wallet happy: the Blue Label SIG.

SIG Family History

The SIG family of pistols has a long reputation for accuracy and reliability. The first SIG pistol of prominence was the SIG P210, the service pistol of the Swiss Army from 1949 to 1975. A single-action 9mm with an 8-round capacity, the P210 was highly accurate but prohibitively expensive to manufacture.

The successor to the SIG P210 was the SIG P220, which introduced a couple of nifty features to the SIG line: the decocker and DA/SA operation. The first trigger pull with the hammer down will both pull the hammer back and release the hammer, requiring 12 lbs or more of force. While not overly conducive to accuracy compared to the SIG P210's light single-action trigger, it's considerably safer as it requires an intentional effort to pull a 12 lb trigger. The SIG P220 introduced a new slide and a new profile, and was adopted by the Swiss in 1975.

The inventive folks at SIG saw a potential market for the P220 outside of Switzerland, and in order to maintain neutrality they formed a partnership with Sauer, a Germany company that manufactured the SIG P220 for export. The SIG P220 was adopted by several other countries and manufactured in a variety of calibers, in fact the P220 in .45 ACP is considered one of the best double-action .45 automatics out of the box due to reliability and accuracy.

The 1970s and 1980s saw a move by US police departments to switch from revolvers to the easier-to-load automatics, and most importantly in 1984 the US Army had trials to select a new service pistol in 9mm, to replace the aging M1911A1, get the US to a NATO-standard pistol round, and provide opinionated gunwriters everywhere a reason to be upset, elated or both. The SIG-Sauer entry was the P226, a P220 with a wider grip to accomodate a 15-round magazine stuffed full of 9mm goodness. At the end of the Army trials, two pistols remained: the Beretta 92F and the SIG-Sauer P226. Beretta beat SIG's entry on overall cost, and thus the M9 pistol was born, and is borne to this day by pistol-armed soldiers in all branches of the military.

In this trial, though, the SIG-Sauer P226 won a number of fans who believed the extra cost of the SIG would have been worth it. In particular, the SEALs of the US Navy took the SIG P226 to heart and had it issued to them in small numbers with some SEAL-specified upgrades, like tritium sights and a corrosion-resistant phosphate finish (useful for people who like to hang out in salt water). Many special operations units that are required to (or choose to) use 9mm pistols use the SIG P226, including the SAS who considered the P226 good enough to displace their venerable Browning Hi-Power 9mms.

A few years after the M9 competition the military had another competition for a concealed-carry pistol for covert or undercover operations, and a version of the SIG P226 with a shortened slide and grip, called the P228, won the competition and became the M11 in US service. When the .40 S&W round came out in the early 1990s, SIG's response was the SIG P229: a P228 frame with a heavier slide to help control the heavier round. This is my carry pistol of choice. Ten (or eleven) rounds of .40 S&W in a small package is a lot of firepower, and compared to the .45ACP I find the .40 S&W more controllable and much easier to fire rapidly. This is the first real centerfire handgun I bought, it's my favorite, my baby, my safety blanket. And Dad wanted it.

Blue Label to the Rescue!

SIG pistols are common, but expensive. Compared to a Glock at about $550 gun store retail, a SIG P229 will run $800 or more. SIG has an innovative program (for the firearm industry) called the SIG Certified Pre-Owned program. SIG Pistols traded in to SIG, typically by police units, are inspected in a five-point process by SIG armorers and any worn parts repaired or replaced. The SIG alloy pistol frame is good for 30,000 or more shots before cracking, and most police pistols are carried a lot and used a little, meaning that a SIG that has been gone over by SIG's in-house armorers still has a whole lot of use left. Certified Pre-Owned SIGs are indicated by a blue label around the grip, and are colloquially referred to as "Blue Label SIGs".

What I needed was a pistol larger than a P229, firing a 9mm, with the same controls and feel of a P229, for a good price. At The Gun Doctor, a local gun store, that's just what I found in the display case. The Certified Pre-Owned SIG P226 came out to about $580 with tax, comparable to a Glock or Springfield XD. It came with a red plastic storage case, instruction manual, a lock, and two 15-round magazines.

Removing the P226 from the packaging, it rests in all of its utilitarian glory on the kitchen counter.

The sights are nice, clean and simple. Front dot goes on the target, rear stripe touches the bottom center of the dot, pull trigger. Repeat as necessary. (Note to safety Nazis: image obtained with magazine out after clearing slide and assuring an empty chamber, with hammer dropped, finger out of trigger guard and children evacuated to a bomb shelter.)

With a couple of boxes of 9mm 115gr hardball, we decamped to the beautiful East Texas Rifle and Pistol Range, with Dad and brother Dan in tow. Sadly, the Canon A530 didn't make it that trip, you'll have to do with the text version.

The P226 is a big enough gun to get hold of, and the trigger pull in both SA and DA was smooth, rivalling that of my P229 and even of the pistol I consider to have the best trigger, my Beretta 92F. It's worth noting that the SIG has no external safety. If you don't want to shoot something, don't put your finger in the trigger guard. The only controls (and they're set up pretty much exclusively for easy right-handed operation) are the slide release, the magazine release and the decocker. The decocker is a lever that when moved downward and released, will lower the hammer and decock the pistol, changing from a single-action light trigger pull to the longer and heavier double-action pull.

Some people argue the 9mm isn't big enough, my counter-arguments are a) that's why there's hollowpoints and b) nobody can tell you the caliber of a round as it enters their heart. Accuracy counts more than anything, and statistically the 9mm in an expanding round is an effective fight-stopper if you can hit the torso. Others will differ and I offer no criticism of those who choose larger calibers. Bigger holes are better, but the 9mm is nowhere near a .25ACP in terms of uselessness, and ammo for the 9mm is plentiful and cheap, allowing for the practice that makes accuracy possible.

The P226 functioned flawlessly over multiple magazines. Dad could keep all 15 rounds in the torso of an IPSC target at 7 yards, most in the 'A' zone. I put all 15 rounds into the head of an IPSC target at the same distance. If 7 yards doesn't sound like a long shot, consider that police shootings occur at an average of 7 feet. That's functional accuracy, certainly enough for self-defense situations. If you are in a situation where you need to put a bullet into the medulla oblongata of someone at more than 7 yards, you're already overmatched IMO. Call the police snipers.


The P226 has had more ink spilled over it than most firearms. It's a proven design with 20+ years of history. It's durable, reliable, accurate and now, reasonably-priced. The only thing I would have added to it would have been an accessory rail for a Streamlight M3 or similar flashlight, but as this is an old-style SIG there was no frame rail attached. Knowing what you're shooting at in a home-defense situation is vital, so I also got Dad a SureFire G2 Nitrolon lithium flashlight. It's blindingly bright and fits in the palm of your hand.

If you need a pistol that works, there's a new sheriff (or at least, an old sheriff's gun remanufactured by SIG) in town at the $500 price point. SIG's Certified Pre-Owned pistols are highly recommended.


Troy M. Stirman said...


Great, and I mean GREAT- review!
I fully agree with your stance on caliber choice- if it's what you are comfortable with and it's accurate, then you have a winning combination for any self-defense situation. My caliber of choice (for concealed carry), is the venerable .45ACP. It's been fun getting to know the ins and outs of this long touted, proven defense round. In my Kimber Custom Carry I can put the full clip inside a 3-1/2" ring at defense distances. There's nothing like a .45ACP (and that HUGE, intimidating black hole at the muzzle) when it comes to backing your position. I've known guys forced to pull their weapons in self-defense and the minute the assailant sees that gaping hole, they run for cover. Sometimes, that's all that is needed to settle the question...

Good for you- getting your family involved and interested in America's favorite and longest running pasttime- the shooting sports!


shimmy said...

I like the tricked out s. american gang version.


Out of ammo? Those aren't ordinary rosary beads.

Darren Duvall said...

Wow. That is one gaudy pistol, I mean, that would make Saddam Hussien's decorators say, "That's kind of over the top, don't you think?"

link here

I have far more respect for the SIG P210 than to dress it up like that. It looks like an exhibit from "Queer Eye For the Shooting Guy":

"Black black black! All this black in the firearms industry! I mean, I can understand for formal occasions, but since when do fatigues say, 'FORMAL!'? This SIG P210 looks fabulous, this says something besides 'look at me, I'm a ninja'."

shimmy said...


It's pretty nice. I would feel very sophisticated getting mugged with that one. Like perhaps my mugger wasn't using my money for crack, but to add to his philanthropy.

Troy M. Stirman said...

Just saw the link to the "fancy" or rather "gaudy" clone in the above note. Looks like a Browning Hi-Power...?


Darren Duvall said...

I'm pretty sure it's a SIG P210. Check the picture here

SIGs are somewhat unique in that the frame rails are on the inside of the frame, not the outside. The Browning (also a fine pistol) is more traditional with the rails outside the frame.

Anonymous said...

It is a SIG P210 made by Swiss Arms - the sister company to Sigarms in the US and J.P. Sauer & Sohn in Germany. Looks like one of the special additions they have made to commemorate some milestone or as a special project for one of their super high-end customers. They make several guns for the various oil barons in the middle east.

Great review. I think that the more common term for the CPO SIGs is "Red Box SIG" because all the CPO pistols are shipped in red boxes which started shortly after they introduced this program.

Again, great review.