SIG Sauer P239 239M40BSS 40 S&W

Recoil was controllable and accuracy was good. We needed to pay attention to the controls. The design felt dated, but we’d definitely consider buying a used P239 in 40 S&W.

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When speaking about the 40 S&W Auto cartridge these days, we’re reminded of that famous Samuel Clemens quote: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” While you may think the 40 S&W is dead, it is very much alive. Albeit, it is not as popular as the 9mm is today. The irony is the 40 S&W became law enforcement’s darling when it debuted in early 1990 and nearly eclipsed the 9mm in popularity. The 9mm back then was considered an underpowered cartridge. The FBI geared up with the 40, and other law-enforcement agencies followed.

Smith & Wesson and Winchester designed the 40 S&W, which is basically a shortened 10mm Auto cartridge. As you will recall, the FBI was keen on the 10mm Auto until it was discovered the round had too much recoil, and agents found it difficult to control. So, the FBI had a reduced-velocity 10mm Auto round produced, and that was better until Smith & Wesson and Winchester suggested the same velocity and energy could be had in a medium-frame pistol instead of a large-frame pistol. Hence, the 40 S&W Auto was developed, and the S&W Model 4056 and the Glock G22 and G23 were the first pistols chambered in 40 S&W. By 2007, the pendulum was swinging back as the FBI changed from the 40 S&W to the 9mm due to advances in ballistic technology. So long 40 S&W, hello 9mm.

There still are a number of LE departments that use the 40 S&W, and what improved the 9mm also improved the 40 S&W, as well as other cartridges. Regardless, gone are the days of 9mm pistol introductions followed by the same pistol chambered in 40 S&W. In fact, there are fewer 40 S&W-chambered pistols these days. Still, we think the 40 S&W has a lot to recommend it for self defense, and three manufacturers apparently agree because we found three new pistols in 40 S&W: the Glock G23 Gen5, S&W M&P40 M2.0 Compact, and H&K P30. We also picked up a police trade-in SIG P239 to complete this quartet. We last evaluated the 40 S&W-chambered P239 in the November 2003 issue, in which it earned a “buy it” recommendation.

We liked the used SIG P239 (bottom right), but we thought the striker-fired pistols were easier to operate.

All of these 40-caliber pistols are similar in dimensions and barrel length. The P30 and P239 are hammer fired, and the G23 and M&P40 are striker fired. All feed off a double-stack magazine except for the P239, which uses a single-stack magazine. In general, the hammer-fired pistols were a bit more complicated to operate due to the additional controls. The decocking button on the SIG was initially confused with the slide stop, and that is due to user error and lack of training. Across the board, we feel the Glock and the S&W were simpler to handle and operate. What can we say, we like simple.

We chose these particular pistols since they represent a good variety of proven, reliable pistol designs. Our test checklist included reliability, accuracy, concealed carry, and ease of use. It had been a while since some of our testers fired a 40 S&W, but the snappy recoil of the round brought back memories. Yes, the 40 S&W is still alive, and kicking. A thin-grip pistol can produce more felt recoil in the palm of your hand, and we anticipated that as well as lots of muzzle flip.

How We Tested

Ammunition consisted of training and defense loads. For defense loads, we used Hornady Critical Defense with a 165-grain FTX bullet. For training, we used MagTechs loaded with a 180-grain FMJ-FLAT and a handload with a 155-grain JHP. These bullet weights are the sweet spot for the snappy 40 S&W.

With these rounds, we saw the wider-grip pistols transfer less felt recoil. We anticipated getting rapped in the palm with the P239, which wasn’t the case, but we do have other gripes about this pistol. The G23 offered a totally new 40-caliber shooting experience in the Gen5 variant. The P30 is a good hammer-fired pistol, but it’s more complicated to operate. The M2.0 variant of the M&P40 was a stellar shooter with good accuracy and good recoil management.

We fired the pistols for accuracy using a rest and cardboard targets at 25 yards. For speed work, we moved the targets in to 7 yards and fired many Bill Drills. We started with our gun at low ready and fired six rounds. We found with these guns that following the front sight was easy, so follow-up shots were quick. The average five-shot group for these pistols averaged 1.7 to 2.9 inches, good accuracy for a defense pistol. In the speed test, we found the H&K was a bit snappy with muzzle flip, while the SIG had flip but was more controllable. The S&W and Glock were the clear winners in the speed shooting, with much softer recoil.

We carried the Glock, H&K, and S&W in a Safariland GLS 575 IWB Pro Fit Compact holster ($68; Safariland.com), which is a multi-fit holster, meaning it can be used with a litany of guns. That said, because of the very nature of being multi-fit, it is slightly oversized. Fine by us. The holster shell is nylon and has a bit of flex and does not scratch the pistol’s finish. We like the Grip Locking System (GLS), which is a retention device. When drawing, your middle finger deactivates the lock. We found the retention device did not impede the draw, and we were able to draw quickly and smoothly. The 575 comes with two clips: an over-the-belt and under-the-belt. We thought the under-the-belt design could be thinner to reduce bulk. Other than that, this is a nice holster with the added value of a retention device. We plan on adding this holster to our EDC routine.

Here’s why we think the 40 S&W will be around for the foreseeable future and is better chambered in striker-fire designs.

Gun Tests Grade: A-

$600

The other hammer-fired pistol tested was a SIG P239. This was a police trade-in that came with three steel single-stack magazines. The P239 was produced from 1996 through 2018 and is a metal-frame pistol designed for conceal carry. It has a DA/SA trigger with an exposed hammer and the typical SIG controls, that is, a decocking lever located on the left side of the pistol just forward the slide stop. The controls are best suited for a right-handed shooter. One tester, not that familiar with this style of SIG pistols, confused the decocker with the slide stop. Obviously, this was our mistake, but it’s something to consider if you are a striker-fired-pistol shooter.

ActionSemi-auto, recoil operated, hammer fired, DA/SA trigger
Overall Length6.6 in.
Overall Height5.1 in.
Maximum Width1.2 in.
Weight Unloaded27.4 oz.
Weight Loaded30.9 oz.
Barrel3.6 in.
Capacity7+1 (single stack)
SlideBlack, steel
Slide Retraction Effort15.0 lbs.
FrameBlack, alloy
Frame Front Strap Height2.1 in.
Frame Back Strap Height2.5 in.
GripTextured polymer
Grip Thickness (max)1.1 in.
Grip Circumference (max)5.2 in.
SightsFixed; 3-dot SIGLITE Night Sights
Trigger Pull Weight Double Action9.7 lbs.
Trigger Pull Weight Single Action4.1 lbs.
Trigger Span Double Action2.9 in.
Trigger Span Single Action2.5 in.
Magazines3; steel
Manual SafetyDecocker
WarrantyLimited Lifetime
Made InUSA
WebsiteSIGSauer.com

The magazine release was the traditional thumb button located near the trigger guard. While this was a used gun, it did not look like it had had a lot of use. The only discernible wear was the top of the breech block, which was shiny from use.

Like the H&K, the SIG is hammer-fired (arrow).

In hand the P239 was a bit nose heavy, but it has a nice grip angle and felt comfortable. The aluminum-alloy frame was made in Germany. The slide was slightly tapered. The grip girth was thin due to the single-stack magazine. The grip is a textured two-piece black plastic piece that covers the back of the frame, but it left the front grip strap exposed. The rear of the grip was smooth, with no sharp edges. The front grip strap was finely checkered and provided a good grip, especially with the snappy 40 S&W. The trigger had a smooth face, and though the trigger pull was 9.7 pounds, but it felt less. Sights were long-extinguished SIGLite night sights, but the three white dots provided a good sight picture. The rear sight also created a ledge that would allow cocking the pistol on the edge of something with one hand. Slide-retraction effort was 15 pounds.

The steel magazines were easy to load, even to the last round. The plastic floor plates had a slight lip to hold your small finger. There are only rear slide serrations on our P239, and they provided enough traction when manipulating the slide. We missed forward serrations for doing a press check.

Going hot at the range, we felt the P239 offered excellent control. Recoil was pleasant due the design of the grip and the weight of the pistol. We really liked this old-timer.

The SIG’s dots are long-dimmed tritium night sights, which is a function of the gun being used. They would be easy enough to change out, but new ones would be spendy.

Our smallest five-shot group at 25 yards (1.56 inches) was with MagTech 180-grain FMJ-FLATs. This is good accuracy. With the handload and the Hornady ammo, we averaged 2.9- and 2.7-inch groups, respectively. In single-action mode, there was about a quarter-inch of take up and then slightly more press to fire the pistol. Shooting for speed, we found we could run the P239 fast. One tester gripped the gun with high thumbs and accidentally hit the slide stop, so the pistol would not lock back on last round fired. Again, this is user error, but does illustrate the slightly more complex mechanism of this hammer-fired pistol and the need to modify your grip per platform. We found right-handed users could decock the pistol using the thumb of our support hand or reposition the pistol in their shooting hand to press the lever. The slide stop was easy to slap with the thumb of the right hand. Users who like DA/SA triggers found the trigger was easy to preload and hold, anticipating the break. This gun ran very well with no malfunctions.

Our Team Said: Recoil was controllable with the P239, and accuracy was good. We did find we needed to pay attention to the controls, but soon became acclimated to them. We wondered why SIG would drop this model, but the future seems to be simpler striker-fired pistols with polymer frames and double-stack magazines. If you find one of these used and it’s not abused, consider buying it.

40 S&W Range Data

MagTech 180-grain FMJ-FlatHeckler & Koch P30S-V3Glock G23 Gen5SIG Sauer P239Smith & Wesson M&P40 M2.0
Average Velocity949 fps918 fps929 fps916 fps
Muzzle Energy360 ft.-lbs.337 ft.-lbs.345 ft.-lbs.335 ft.-lbs.
Smallest Group2.54 in.2.30 in.1.56 in.2.35 in.
Average Group2.87 in.2.33 in.1.89 in.2.60 in.
Handload 155-grain JHPHeckler & Koch P30S-V3Glock G23 Gen5SIG Sauer P239Smith & Wesson M&P40 M2.0
Average Velocity1049 fps1025 fps1090 fps1025 fps
Muzzle Energy379 ft.-lbs.362 ft.-lbs.409 ft.-lbs.362 ft.-lbs.
Smallest Group1.48 in.2.71 in.2.65 in.1.26 in.
Average Group1.65 in.2.79 in.2.90 in.1.72 in.
Hornady Critical Defense 165-grain FTXHeckler & Koch P30S-V3Glock G23 Gen5SIG Sauer P239Smith & Wesson M&P40 M2.0
Average Velocity1065 fps1095 fps1096 fps1098 fps
Muzzle Energy416 ft.-lbs.439 ft.-lbs.440 ft.-lbs.442 ft.-lbs.
Smallest Group2.37 in.1.30 in.2.35 in.1.60 in.
Average Group2.61 in.1.65 in.2.75 in.1.80 in.
To collect accuracy data, we fired five-shot groups from a bench using a rest. Distance: 25 yards with open sights. We recorded velocities using a ProChrono digital chronograph set 15 feet from the muzzle.

Value Guide: 40 S&W & 10MM Handgun Rankings

Gun NameIssueGradeComments
Springfield Armory XD-M 5.25 10mm Auto, $681Sept. 2020A-Best Buy. To take backpacking in the boonies, the XD-M and its 16-round payload might well be our choice.
Colt Delta Elite 02020RG 10mm Auto, $1134Sept. 2020A-When we were firing the Buffalo Bore stompers, we were just fine with the Colt’s smooth front strap.
SIG Sauer Tacops 10mm Auto 1911R-10-TACOPS, $1050Sept. 2020B/A-Had extraction issues initially. SIG fixed the problem fast, so we upgraded its marks to include customer service.
Lone Wolf TWL-S Frame/Gray Man Slide 10mm, $884Aug. 2020AThe Grey Man G20 is a handful. The small grip made this pistol easier to conceal. Trigger was excellent.
Springfield XD-S 3.3-Inch XDS93340BE 40 S&W, $378Sept. 2019ABest Buy. Completely reliable, accurate enough for personal defense. Useful trigger action and good sights.
Kahr CW40 CW4043 40 S&W, $301Sept. 2019BA well-made and reliable handgun, despite a number of corners being cut to offer the pistol at a low price.
SIG Sauer P224 SAS 224-40-SAS2B 40 S&W, $800Sept. 2019BA compact pistol with a short barrel and grip that takes some getting used to, yet excellent accuracy.
Taurus G2C 1-G2C4031-10O 40 S&W, $250Sept. 2019BAn upgrade over the original, with superior grip treatment and a new matte-finished slide.
Smith & Wesson Shield 180020 40 S&W, $337Sept. 2019D/DWe tested two Shields, one with a safety and one without. The 180020 with safety short-cycled. The 10034 non-safety Shield had a failing trigger return spring that caused a stoppage.
Glock G40 Gen4 MOS 10mm Auto, $706Mar. 2019ALonger sight radius and ability to mount a red-dot optic made the G40 a close contender for top dog in the test.
Springfield 1911 RO Elite Operator 10mm Auto, $1145Mar. 2019AWell adapted for the 10mm cartridge. We like the sights and love the trigger. Grip texture is a bit raspy.
Springfield Armory XDM 10mm Auto, $779Mar. 2019ABest Buy. Great ergonomics, nice grip angle, modular grip strap, crisp trigger, nice sights. Reasonable cost.
Glock G35 Gen3 PI3530103 40 S&W, $560Jul. 2017AThe G35 in 40 S&W is a good competition pistol. A 9mm barrel makes it more affordable to shoot.
Smith & Wesson Model 1076 10mm Auto, $800-$825Nov. 2017A-As a compact 10mm, a used 1076 is an excellent choice. Trigger could have been better.
Colt Delta Elite O2020XE 10mm Auto, $1099Nov. 2017AThe latest Delta Elite is an excellent full-size 1911 chambered in 10mm. We liked the trigger, sights, grip.
EAA Tanfoglio Witness 10mm Auto, $665May. 2017ABest Buy. Relatively compact and accurate, plus it is affordable.
Dan Wesson Bruin Bronze 1881 10mm Auto, $2194May. 2017AIf you are in need of a 10mm hunting pistol, the Bruin is an excellent choice, despite its expense.
Kimber Custom TLE II 3200347 10mm Auto, $1028May. 2017A-Excellent version of a full-size 1911 platform chambered in 10mm. Grips chewed up our hands.
SIG Sauer P226R Factory Certified 40 S&W, $725Jun. 2016A-The pre-owned SIG P226R Certified turned in as-new performance. Reliable and fast handling.
Beretta Model 96 Vertec Inox 40 S&W, ~$600 UsedJun. 2016AAccuracy was good, if not outstanding. The pistol was reliable and we liked the safety features.

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