Gun Review: Shooting SIG-Sauer’s P226

If the right-handed shooter fires with thumbs curled down, thumb won’t block operation of slide lock lever.
If the right-handed shooter fires with thumbs curled down, thumb won’t block operation of slide lock lever.

In the 1970s, the SIG-Sauer brand was new to American firearms enthusiasts, and the company's pistols took America by storm. For a long time, the P226 was the most popular of the series, for very good reasons, according to Massad Ayoob. He shares his views in detail, in Massad Ayoob's Greatest Handguns of the World Volume 2:

Shooting the P226 by Massad Ayoob

The P-series double action SIGs are all “point and shoot” guns, whose designs do not require manual safeties. Some single action variations, the P220 SAO and the X-5 for example, have ergonomic frame-mounted thumb safeties that allow them to be carried cocked and locked. If you prefer a safety catch with your double action mechanism, you’ll need to look to Beretta, S&W, Ruger, or any of several other makers. On the other hand, if you buy into the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid) theory that a safety/decocker on a double action pistol should only be used as a decocker, it should only function as a decocker. Otherwise, there is always the chance of the gun being inadvertently left on safe. An owner who draws and pulls the trigger is in for a nasty, silent surprise, because if he has not been using the lever as a safety he will not be habituated to flip it into the fire position.

Raise Your Sig Sauer IQ

The KISS principle’s permeation of police training helped boost SIG sales considerably. Beretta, Ruger, and S&W have decocker only models, with their spring-loaded levers mounted on the slides. Many people’s thumbs can’t reach that location as effectively as they can the SIG’s decocking lever, which is located on the left side of the frame behind the trigger. In the right hand, it is actuated by the thumb, and in the left, by the trigger finger. This kind of effective ergonomics is one reason for the SIG’s popularity among people who carry guns constantly and shoot them a lot.

Ayoob has often used the SIG-Sauer as a teaching gun, as have many on his teaching staff. It stands up to heavy and demanding use. Here he demonstrates recoil control at a Texas class by sending a stream of brass upward, and a stream of 230 grain .45 hardball downrange, with P220 SAO.
Ayoob has often used the SIG-Sauer as a teaching gun, as have many on his teaching staff. It stands up to heavy and demanding use. Here he demonstrates recoil control at a Texas class by sending a stream of brass upward, and a stream of 230 grain .45 hardball downrange, with P220 SAO.

One ergonomic downside, however, is the location of the slide lock lever. As the photos show, it is farther back on the frame than is the case with most other pistols. A right-handed shooter habituated to the high thumb grasp will over-ride the lever and prevent the slide from locking back when the pistol is empty. This problem can be solved with a lower thumb grasp. With no safety for the thumb to be verifying in the “fire” position, there is no need for that digit to ride that high on a SIG-Sauer.

Mechanically, the pistols are superb. Expect your P226 in 9mm to shoot under two inches with most ammunition, sometimes well under. It may be a little looser than that with the .40 S&W round, which has never earned a great reputation for accuracy. On the other hand, in .357 SIG it is an absolute tack-driver. That cartridge is inherently more accurate than the .40. When testing various specimens for The Gun Digest Book of SIG-Sauer, a P226 fired from the bench at 25 yards put five CCI Gold Dot 125 grain .357 JHPs into an inch.

People will tell you that it’s difficult to transition between the double action first shot and the single action follow-ups with a traditional double action pistol like the standard P226. Actually, it’s all a matter of technique. Use a firm grip, get the index finger to the distal joint on the trigger for more leverage, and keep it there for the whole string of fire. If the first double action shot is giving you trouble, spend a day at the range doing all DA shooting. Fire, decock, fire, decock…a long session or two of this will condition your finger to both trigger pulls.

The short-reach optional trigger helps fit this pistol to a great many hands, including my own. It’s a simple retrofit for a gunsmith or SIGARMS certified armorer to accomplish, or you can just send it back to SIGARMS at Exeter for the retrofit. Magazines? Trust only SIG and MecGar brands. Grips? Springs between the frame and the grip panel are sensitive to incorrectly sized stocks. Hogue grips seem to work out well. SIG grip screws tend to work loose, and you want to pay constant attention to that.

Raise Your Sig Sauer IQ:

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  1. Thinking of using the ultra modern designed Sig P220 for NRA bulls-eye shooting with the H&G no. 68 lead bullet? Forget it, the gun doesn’t work with them and here is why.

    During the insanity of the Lee Juras era when every one including law enforcement thought “the answer” was the very short light weight bullet at high velocity there was a rush to shorten the height of the or steepness of the feed ramp to enable the gun to feed shorter than normal rounds with the short light weight bullets. Shortening the height of the ramp ruled out shooting any lead bullet with a sharp shoulder and here is why.

    When the first round is fired the guns slide recoils to the rear of the frame and the round is extracted from the chamber. As the empty case moves out of the chamber the short feed ramp enables the fired case to drag itself over the top of the live round in the top of the magazine. When the empty case rim hits the sharp lead shoulder of the lead H&G no. 68 bullet it ploughs a groove through the shoulder and then crashes into the brass case mouth pealing it back like a banana peel. The mangled round is then fed into the chamber resulting in a jam so tight a man with huge hands as powerful as a gorilla will not be able to pull the slide back to eject the now hopelessly jammed tight live round.

    This does not happen with the steeper feed ramp of the 1911 gun or other guns with same steep feed ramp design. Unknown to the computer chained internet crowd hard cast sharp shouldered heavy weight bullets make deadly hunting rounds that often give superior results in comparison to modern soft point or hollow point bullets, (notice I did not use the propaganda nomenclature “expanding bullet” as it implies that the bullet will always expand”).

    The hard cast bullet assures penetration to the vitals and if it hits bone it is still ply-able enough to deform as well. Jacketed bullets do not have sharp shoulders and sometimes expand to the point where they do not penetrate deeply enough, that’s why many hunters use the archaic sharp shouldered cast bullet because it is literally fool proof in its guaranteed performance. Sadly this bullet will not work in the “latest and greatest” “new wave” technology of the Sig-Sauer P220.

  2. One dangerous glaring mechanical design defect I forgot to mention on this modern made piece of junk is the hammer spring and strut. I once asked no less than 3 self-anointed grand poobahs of notorious Internet infamy if they could see anything wrong with the design of the hammer strut. After quite some time all admitted it was the “latest and greatest” of “new wave” firearms technology, light years ahead of the antiquated 1911 pistol.

    What none of them realized is that the hammer strut and main spring dangle precariously and totally naked on the outside of the back strap. A soldier running down a street and suddenly taking a fall would instinctively through out both hands to break his fall thereby running the risk of slamming the back of the gun on the pavement resulting in the grips being shattered or crushed which in turn would bend the main spring strut putting the gun out of commission. Now contrast this to the well thought out old fashioned design of the 1911 main spring housing that encases the strut and the main spring inside a steel housing. This design makes it highly unlikely that the gun would be put out of commission with a bent main spring strut.

  3. Original German made guns were in some respects much better than the American made ones but not in all areas. The German guns had better workmanship, better accuracy and better trigger pulls but they had cheap stamped sheet metal slides that were known to crack, the American guns have slides made of bar stock.

    The gun was designed as a cheapy like most modern made junk and it was never meant to be stripped down to the frame. If it is it will take a heavy duty arbor press to get the breach block out of German made guns and both the American and German guns were put together with cheap junk sheet metal roll pins that must be replaced once they are taken out even if you do use a special roll pin punch.

    There is also a small spring located in the rear upper portion of the frame that is easily damaged when cleaning the gun. Never take out the magazine release button either as it has a hairpin spring that will rocket out into the stratosphere never to be seen again. A 1911 this gun certainly is not as it was never meant to be taken apart.

    The aluminum frame is easily damaged and care must be taken when handling the gun because if you drop it the aluminum frame will shatter.

    The gun has very poor balance and it extremely top heavy

    The operating controls are placed way to close together and those used to the 1911/Browning High power type safeties will inevitably and accidentally hit the hammer drop lever under stress when trying to hit the slide release lever.

    Unfortunately this poorly designed gun is actually issued to U.S. Airmen as a survival pistol. A baby 1911 would have been light years more reliable and rugged. Considering the fact that a modern cheap cast frame 1911 could have been produced for about the same price shows how little the arms procurement Neanderthals know about weapons.

    • Fascinating that such a “poorly designed gun” is actually issued (and was specifically chosen by) the United States Navy SEALS. “How little” do they know about weapons?

      How about the British SAS or the Texas Rangers? Hell, the list of the Agencies using the Sig platform is a long and distinguished one:

      I think that when it comes to survival and when my life and those that I care about are in danger, I’ll stick with sidearm that is a –Proven– performer.

      Been using mine with deadly accuracy over 2 decades (bought it when “Made in West Germany” was stamped standard on the slide)

      “Neanderthals” Indeed.

    • Your economy of thought is truly astonishing. There isn’t a grain of truth in all that miasmatic bloviating – and yes I do own a bunch of world class 1911s (Wilson Combat, Les Baer, Springfield Custom, etc). Bang for the buck at the 1k price point, Sigs are the best guns going – period.

  4. I apologize ahead of time for pointing out the obvious. However. Concerning the SIG P226, I have a suggestion. For those who are having trouble making the transition from DA to SA: Pull back the hammer before shooting the first shot. Then all shots will be SA. Training with this strategy may be much easier than training all day at the range with DA only. And the SA first shot will probably be more accurate than the DA shot. After all, it’s a lot easier to keep the sights on target while pulling that short, crisp SA trigger.

    • Doing that only works if you have the time. In a life & death situation, you might not have time, and adds more mechanical & mental work WHICH, IMHO, not KISS.

      • Those carrying wheel guns have learned to draw and cock the hammer with one hand. It is not the noise you make or the shots you get off, but rather the hits that count. Some of us train out to 50 yards.


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