June 1998

Sig Sauer P239: A Very Good Compact .357 Sig Pistol

The Sig was the only reliable pistol in this three-gun test. The Glock 29 failed to extract, while the AMT DAO Back Up failed to feed and fire.

There are a number of firearms available that don’t have any competitors. They are unique in one or more respects, such as caliber, size or design. Since it wouldn’t be fair to compare dissimilar products, we occasionally evaluate them individually. This is the case for the Sig Sauer, Glock and AMT compact pistols in this article. The Sig Sauer P239 in this test is chambered for the .357 Sig cartridge. This bottleneck cartridge is based on a .40 S&W case that is necked down to accept a .357-inch bullet. Some of the ammunition in this caliber is touted as having velocities that are equal to the .357 Remington Magnum.

The Glock 29 is a compact 10mm pistol. Frankly, we are surprised Glock is offering another pistol in this chambering (the manufacturer also makes a full-size model, the Glock 20). The round isn’t as popular as it once was, so its future is very uncertain.

The AMT DAO Back Up included here is chambered for the .400 Cor-Bon cartridge. This round is currently only being made by Cor-Bon. Like the .357 Sig, it is a bottleneck cartridge. It is based on a .45 ACP case that is necked down to accept a 40-caliber bullet. This ammunition’s published velocities range from 1,300 feet per second with a 165-grain bullet to 1,450 feet per second with a 135-grain bullet. Since these compact pistols had almost nothing in common, we didn’t test them against each other. Instead, we evaluated them individually.

Here is what we found:

Sig Sauer P239
This US-made model is Sig’s second-most compact pistol. It has a double action trigger, an external hammer and fixed sights. Other features include the usual Sig-type controls, a 3 1/2-inch barrel and a single-column magazine. The P239 is available in 9mm, .40 S&W and .357 Sig. The latter version has a suggested retail price of $595.

Click here to view the Sig Sauer P239 features guide and performance table

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Physical Description
Our .357 Sig P239’s appearance was nothing special, but its workmanship was what we have come to expect from Sig—very good. The stainless steel slide had a dull black finish, as did the aluminum alloy frame. The barrel was finished in a dark blue/black. When locked in battery, there was only the slightest amount of slide-to-frame movement. There was no discernible movement between the barrel and slide. We could find no fault with the metal work, the fitting of the moving parts, or the finish of the pistol.

The two-piece black plastic grip covered the back of the frame, but left the front exposed. There was non-slip texturing on the sides. Both halves of the grip were cleanly molded and carefully fitted to the frame. Each was securely held in place with one slotted screw.

Two 7-round magazines were furnished with this pistol. Each was constructed of steel with a blue/black finish. The floorplates were removable and made of black plastic. The followers were flat and made of steel. We found no flaws in their construction.

Our Judgments
At the range, the performance of this .357 Sig pistol was truly outstanding. We encountered no malfunctions of any kind with the three kinds of commercial ammunition we tried. The internal passive safety prevented firing when the trigger wasn’t pulled all the way to the rear. There was no magazine disconnect device.

Our shooters considered the P239’s accuracy to be above average for a compact pistol. Its best five-shot average groups, 1.85 inches at 15 yards, were produced with Federal 150-grain jacketed hollow points. Remington 125-grain jacketed hollow point and UMC 125-grain metal case ammunition were good for 2.05- and 2.13-inch groups, respectively.

This pistol did not quite achieve .357 Magnum velocities, but it did come close with the 125-grain loads. The Remington and UMC ammunition turned in velocities of 1,361 and 1,371 feet per second, respectively. We thought this was good enough considering the P239 had a relatively-short 3 1/2-inch barrel. With another 1/2 inch of barrel, we felt certain it could have matched the published velocities of the .357 Magnum. The Federal 150-grain load yielded an average velocity of 1,096 feet per second.

Like all Sig pistols, the P239’s controls were best-suited for right-handed shooters. Instead of a manual safety, there was a decocking lever on the left side of the frame. The slide catch lever was directly behind the decocking lever. The magazine release button was at the left rear of the trigger guard. All of the controls were easy to reach and operate with the thumb of the shooting hand.

In our opinion, movement of the ungrooved trigger was satisfactory. After a slight amount of slack and creep, the single action pull released at 4 1/2 pounds. The long but smooth double action pull consistently released at 10 3/4 pounds. There was no felt overtravel.

The fixed sights were dovetailed to the slide, so they were drift adjustable for windage only. The 1/8-inch-wide front blade had a white dot on its face, while the rear had a white square under its 1/8-inch-square notch. The idea was to put the white dot on top of the white square. Consistently aligning the dot and square took an extra bit of effort. But, the sights afforded a crisp and easy to acquire sight picture. The pistol shot to the point of aim.

Although slightly muzzle heavy, we thought the P239 sat well in the hand. Shooters with larger hands said the grip was a little too slim, but those with smaller hands liked it. The grip’s rounded backstrap and squared frontstrap afforded a secure, comfortable grasp. The shape of the area at the top back of the frame, which we refer to as the tang, prevented the hammer or slide from hitting the web of the shooting hand. Felt recoil was about the same as a compact .40 S&W pistol, so the gun wasn’t especially difficult to control.

Glock 29
This model is a compact pistol chambered for the 10mm cartridge. Like all Glocks, it has a polymer frame with an integral grip, a striker firing system and a Safe Action trigger. This isn’t a true double action mechanism, so there isn’t a second-strike capability. The $668 Model 29 features a 3 3/4-inch barrel, a 10-round double-column magazine and fixed sights.

Click here to view the Glock 29 features guide and performance table

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Physical Description
The appearance of our Model 29 was typical of the Glock line of semi-automatics — plain and businesslike. Nevertheless, we judged its overall workmanship to be above average. Steel parts had a Tenifer finish, making them matte black, very hard and corrosion resistant. The front edges of the slide were beveled to allow for easy entry into a holster. The slide-to-frame fit was a little loose, but there was almost no play between the barrel and slide.

The one-piece black polymer frame and grip had a few molding marks, but was otherwise well constructed. There were two finger grooves on the frontstrap. It and the backstrap were serrated for slip resistance. The sides of the grip had thumb depressions and texturing. The squared trigger guard was undercut and serrated.

Both of the black polymer 10-round magazines furnished with this pistol had steel-reinforced bodies and removable floorplates. Neither had any obvious shortcomings. However, we were only able to insert 9, and sometimes only 8, rounds into one of them, even when the provided magazine loading device was used.

Our Judgments
In 200 rounds, this Glock failed to eject 22 times. These failures occurred 10 times with the Remington load and 6 times each with the Winchester and Federal loads. It was apparent to us that the ammunition wasn’t the problem. When clearing each of the stoppages, we found that the extractor was holding onto the spent case very tightly. This, in our opinion, was the reason why the ejector wasn’t able to kick the brass out of the pistol. Evidently, the extractor needed some work.

We thought the Glock 29’s accuracy was acceptable for a compact pistol. It seemed to prefer heavier bullets. At 15 yards, Remington 180-grain and Winchester 175-grain jacketed hollow points achieved five-shot groups that averaged 2.15 and 2.18 inches, respectively. The groups produced with Federal 155-grain jacketed hollow points opened up to 3.40 inches.

Average muzzle velocities ranged from 1,039 feet per second with the Remington 180-grain load to 1,248 feet per second with the Federal 155-grain ammunition. Our shooters felt these velocities were satisfactory for a small 10mm pistol with a 3 3/4-inch barrel.

The Model 29’s controls were very simple, and right-handed shooters could operate them with their dominant thumb without a grip change. The small slide catch and the rectangular magazine release were in their usual places on the left side of the frame. The manual safety, a pivoting lever that was pinned to the trigger, blocked the trigger’s rearward movement if the safety wasn’t depressed with the trigger finger. It worked properly.

The serrated trigger released crisply at an even 5 pounds with no overtravel. We thought this was satisfactory for a pistol of this type. However, as on all Glocks, there was about 3/8 inch of takeup. This long takeup was necessary to cock the internal striker.

Our test gun came with fixed sights made of black plastic. The rear was a dovetailed blade with a white-outlined 1/8-inch-square notch. It was drift adjustable for windage only. The front was a triangular 1/8-inch-wide blade with a white dot on its face. This arrangement was easy to acquire and provided a good sight picture. The pistol shot to point of aim with all of the loads used.

We found that the Glock 29 sat well in the hand, but pointed high. The grip was so short that it could only be grasped with two fingers. This was an aid for concealment, but not for establishing a proper shooting grip. However, the grip’s finger grooves and serrations afforded a non-slip hold. This lightweight little 10mm’s felt recoil was much milder than expected, thanks to the pistol’s well-designed recoil assembly. Kick and muzzle flip was only a little heavier than a full-size 10mm.

AMT DAO Back Up
The AMT DAO Back Up is manufactured by Arcadia Machine & Tool in Irwindale, California. This stainless steel subcompact double-action-only pistol comes in several different calibers. In .400 Cor-Bon, it features a ported 3 1/8-inch barrel, a 5-round magazine and a spurless hammer. The pistol has a suggested retail price of $399.

Click here to view the AMT DAO Back Up features guide and performance table

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Physical Description
Our Back Up’s workmanship was, we felt, below average. Except for the polished barrel, all stainless steel parts had a matte silver-white finish. There were two gas ports in the top of the barrel and slide, intended to reduce muzzle jump. The frame had a large trigger guard. When locked in battery, there was a moderate amount of play in the barrel-to-slide and slide-to-frame fit.

Both of the grip panels, which covered the sides of the frame only, were made of black plastic with molded checkering. They mated to the frame without any gaps, but the two screws holding each panel in place shot loose about every 50 rounds. Only one magazine was furnished with this pistol. All of its components, including the non-removable floorplate, were made of stainless steel. In our opinion, the magazine’s construction was barely adequate.

Our Judgments
During firing, the Back Up constantly had functioning problems. With Cor-Bon 165-grain JHPs, it almost always failed to feed the first two rounds in the five-shot magazine. This ammunition’s bullet was wider at the front than the others. This problem didn’t occur with the Cor-Bon 135-grain load or the Cor-Bon 150-grain load. However, we did experience two failures to fire with the 150-grain cartridges and two failures to fire with the 165-grain cartridges. Then, toward the end of the test, we had several failures to chamber with all of the ammunition. Ejection was very inconsistent. Cases were ejected everywhere, even at the shooter’s head.

Chronograph testing showed this AMT’s muzzle velocities averaged from 1,115 feet per second with Cor-Bon’s 165-grain jacketed hollow points to 1,262 feet per second with the same manufacturer’s 135-grain jacketed hollow points. These speeds were around 100 to 200 feet per second slower than the ammunition’s published velocities (listed at the beginning of this article). We considered this level of performance to be acceptable for a subcompact pistol.

Unlike the other pistols in this test, we shot the Back Up for accuracy at 7 yards. We selected this distance because the pistol’s only provision for sighting was a 3/16-inch-wide groove in the top of the slide. It provided a very poor sighting reference, so our shooters mainly had to guess when the barrel was level and centered on the target.

With the right ammunition, we felt this subcompact’s accuracy was suitable for close range shooting. Its smallest five-shot average groups, 1.58 inches at 7 yards, were obtained using Cor-Bon 150-grain JHPs. However, the 165-grain and 135-grain loads only managed 2.73- and 2.78-inch groups, respectively.

All of our shooters said the movement of the double-action-only trigger was about 4 pounds too heavy. Its long pull released at 15 pounds, according our self-recording gauge, and felt much heavier.

To keep its design simple and snag-resistant, this AMT didn’t have a manual safety, any provision for locking the slide open or an exposed hammer. The only control was a spring-loaded magazine catch at the rear of the magazine well opening. This control was ambidextrous and worked properly.

In our opinion, this Back Up’s handling qualities were unsatis-factory. It sat evenly in the hand, but pointing and target acquisition weren’t what we would consider to be good. The tang’s size and shape didn’t kept the slide from hitting and scraping the web of our shooters’ hands, so they ended up grasping the pistol lower than normal.

The gas ports in the top of the barrel and slide did a reasonably good job of reducing muzzle jump. However, felt recoil was still very stout with all of the Cor-Bon ammunition used. There was also a lot of muzzle blast, which was magnified by the ports.