April 2007

9mm Sub-Compacts: Sigarms P239 DAK Earns A-Minus Grade

In our view, the Sigarms P239 was the only gun that begged to be carried as a full-time primary pistol. The Glock 26 also did the job, but Smith & Wesson’s M&P malfunctioned.

The 9mm pistolwas the breakthrough sidearm that ushered in today’s massive popularity of the self-loading pistols. One of the ways in which the semi-auto has evolved is in its variation in size, making it possible to wear a full-size gun and/or conceal a smaller complement of the same make and model.

Sigarms P239 DAK pistol

Maro Johnson of Top Gun of Texas (topgun-range.com) is ready to ?re the Sigarms P239 DAK pistol. Of our three 9mm compact pistols, the P239 DAK was the only one that handled like a full-size gun. Its ?at pro?le and rectan-gular shape helped us point naturally at the target. The DAK trigger system can be over analyzed — the key to accuracy was to keep the gun level and stroke the trigger quickly and evenly. We were able to land tight groups from support and wringing the gun out on Top Gun’s combat range resulted in high marks in our action test. The standard issue magazine carried eight rounds, and the narrow alloy frame left room for a full grip. A ten-round magazine is also available from sigarms.com.

In this test we will look at three 9mm pistols that are smaller and more concealable versions of full-size duty weapons. The Smith & Wesson M&P 9mm No. 209001, $624, fires from a 4.25-inch barrel and measures approximately 7.5 inches long by 5.5 inches in height. Our test gun here is the Smith & Wesson M&P 9mm Compact No. 209004, which has a shorter grip, 3.5-inch barrel, and sells for $624. Glock’s standard bearer, the full-size Model 17, comes with a 4.5-inch barrel; our test gun here is the $599 Model 26, whose tube measured 3.4 inches in length. The Sigarms full-size duty pistol is the model P226. The $739 Sigarms P239 DAK tested here is the smallest in the line. It came with the Double Action Kellerman or, DAK trigger. The P239 is fed from a single-column magazine, unlike its bigger brothers that pile rounds into the magazine staggered side by side.

Before shooting we removed the top ends of each gun, separating the recoil springs and barrels. We lubricated the slide and frame rails along with other obvious weight bearing points such as lockup marks along the barrel with KG-4 Gun Oil (kgcoatings.com). Our testers have noticed a level of improved accuracy in their weapons using KG-4 to coat the inside of their barrels, so we followed suit and swabbed the bores of each gun with KG. We also applied KG-5 Trigger Oil to the action. The difference in trigger pull weight was too small to measure in the Smith & Wesson and Glock pistols, but it did help lighten the action of the Sigarms DAK mechanism by as much as 1 to 2 pounds. Testing was performed indoors on the combat range at Top Gun of Texas (topgunrange.com) in Houston.

As soon as we began firing, we noticed that each gun demanded a different technique for accurate shooting. Unlike the single-action 1911 or typical double-action revolver, learning to shoot a double-action semi-auto can challenge the shooter to master a different technique from gun to gun. So our first step was to practice with each gun and master the trigger. While the public rattled away on Bays 1 and 2 with handguns and rented machine guns, we calmly fired five-shot groups from a bench at targets placed 15 yards downrange. We followed this with an action test performed standing at a distance of 7 yards with the pistol beginning at low ready. With the office of Hoffners Training and Holsters (hoffners.com) just next door to Top Gun, we’re sure the HoffnerABC16 target felt right at home being assaulted with ten separate strings of two shots to the body and one to the head. The ABC16 target featured a humanoid silhouette marked with an A at the chest, a B over the cranial pocket, and a C over the groin area plus six 3-inch circles.

Our test ammunition included two hollowpoint rounds and a full-metal-jacket target round. They were the Winchester USA 115-grain JHP rounds, Federal’s 124-grain Hydra-Shok JHPs, and 115-grain FMJ rounds from Black Hills Ammunition. We wanted to know if each gun would run reliably and if accuracy achieved from the bench would translate to accuracy in our stand and shoot action test. Here is what we found.

Glock Model 26 9mm, $599

The popularity of the Glock pistol is undeniable. It is the preeminent polymer design and the G26 can be found in lots of tight spaces, purses, fanny packs, or inside the boot of a Texas state trooper. The Glock pistol is simple, relatively inexpensive and a natural complement to carrying a full-size model on the hip. But it is stubby and wide, with a short grip that can be a turnoff.

Companies such as Pearce Grip offer a $10 replacement basepad aftermarket to add a third finger groove that makes room for the pinky finger of all but the largest of hands, (pearcegrip.com). We tried using a magazine with such enhancement at the bench, but we did not always find it to be an advantage.

Firing our 115-grain ammunition from the bench left us with five-shot groups measuring approximately 2.5 inches across. We felt that the reason for this mediocre performance was that there just wasn’t much gun to support with the sandbags. The dustcover was very short.

Our best accuracy was achieved by loading the G26 with Federal 124-grain Hydra-Shok ammunition. A 2.4-inch group ruined a succession of sub 2-inch groups to expand the average to about 2.0 inches across.

The Glock trigger actually offers a fair amount of takeup without a strong sensation of stacking or gathering resistance. At the bench we applied even pressure with both hands, read what little light could find its way around the wide front sight and padded the trigger until we felt we had a go.

Elsewhere, we noticed a couple of other nits. Racking the slide to load a round or pulling it back slightly to make sure there was one in the chamber should always be performed by pinching the rear of the slide. Grasping the slide of a short gun such as the G26 forward of the ejection port puts the shooter’s hand dangerously close to the muzzle. In terms of reloading, the wide mouth of the magazine well was easy to fill, but when pressing the magazine release care must be taken not to block the falling magazine.

In our action test we had no trouble landing hits to the A zone center mass in a one-two stroke of the trigger. Even without the support of the basepad magazine extension, the G26 rocked back on target after each shot. Seventeen of our twenty shots to the body were on target. But elevating to the B zone we landed only five of ten hits.

The reason for this in our opinion was simple. We were rushing our shots. Aiming directly forward on to the body was easier than transitioning to a smaller target. Without the support of a full grip we needed to take more time between shots and allow the sights to settle.

To many eyes, Glock pistols have changed little since their introduction. But several design changes have taken place each without any fanfare that we can recall. For example, the grip angle has become more user-friendly, including finger grooves and a palm swell to the rear with added texture to enhance grip. Carefully inspecting our G26, we couldn’t help but notice that the barrel crown was recessed and polished. The cut appeared to be even and flawless, with the recess serving to protect the rifling.

Smith & Wesson M&P

9mm 2009004, $624

The M&P (Military and Police) series of pistols are a distinct departure from Smith & Wesson’s previous efforts to produce a polymer handgun. There are more than eight M&P autoloaders listed on the smith-wesson.com website. (The M&P pistols are not to be confused with the five revolvers also listed as M&P models distinguished by a numerical suffix such as the M&P 360, .357 Magnum.)

The M&P semi-automatics are full-time double-action striker-fired pistols with stainless-steel slides that resemble the top end of the 1911 design. The trigger is hinged as part of a safety system, but only the .45 ACP model, catalog number 109156, has a true thumb safety as an on/off switch. Each of the M&P semi-autos come with three alternate backstraps that offer distinctly different characteristics to the grip. Our testing was performed with the medium-sized backstrap in place.

One other feature that is unusual is that the bottom-most section of the backstrap is actually a tool necessary for removing the top end. This tool resembles a punch and can be pulled from the receiver by twisting it 90 degrees to the left or right. If this seems odd, we think it is comparable to a 1911 with a bushing wrench stowed beneath one of the grip panels. Field stripping continues by locking back the slide with magazine out and chamber clear. The tool is used to reach inside and pull the sear deactivation lever away from the mainspring side of the magazine well. The slide latch located on the left side of the frame can then be rotated and the top end removed.

After conditioning ourselves to press through the longer travel of the Glock trigger we found ourselves breaking shots on the M&P sooner than we wanted to. Both the Glock and Smith & Wesson triggers presented about 8 pounds of resistance, but the M&P required much less travel. We’re not necessarily prepared to say that the Smith & Wesson trigger offered less control or feel, but accuracy from the bench lagged slightly behind the Glock. This gun shot the most groups measuring more than 3 inches across.

Unfortunately, our M&P Compact also suffered repeated malfunctions wherein the slide would lock back with one round remaining in the magazine. Failure rate was nearly 70 percent. The M&P arrived with two magazines. One offered a flat basepad for deeper concealment and held 10 rounds. The other magazine was fitted with a basepad that added a third finger groove and housed 12 rounds. This malfunction occurred with both magazines and each type of ammunition we tried.

Given the wide range of accuracy we experienced from the bench we weren’t expecting much success in our rapid-fire action test. But we were wrong. The quick, responsive trigger and favorable ergonomics helped us attack the target and land all twenty shots cleanly in the A zone. Up top the clear sights helped us transition quickly to the head and land eight of ten shots in the B zone. The two shots off target were within one-half inch high and one-half inch low of the cranial pocket. The Smith & Wesson M&P Compact also led the way in producing the most velocity and power with all three choices of test ammunition.

Sigarms P239 9mm DAK, $739

The Sigarms P239 series pistols are fashioned in stark contrast to the Glock 26 and Smith & Wesson M&P pistols. The P239 works from an alloy receiver that houses a narrow single-column magazine. Capacity for the 40 S&W and .357 Sig models is 7+1, but the 9mm pistol tested here carried an eight-round magazine. This puts the P239 DAK in the same league as a Government Model 1911. A 10-round magazine can be purchased separately for $40 from sigarms.com, but its length may compromise its concealability.

Our P239 DAK was the base model, meaning it had a blued frame and slide and Sigarms Contrast sights. The grips were plastic and wrapped around the back of the frame. More expensive models feature a satin stainless colored slide ($815), and Sig-Lite night sights ($895). The top-of-the-line SAS pistol adds wood grips and has been radically dehorned (rough or sharp edges removed) for $930.

In our opinion, the base model P239 was way ahead of other pistols in terms of being snag-free and slick. In the hand the grip is long enough to offer a full grip, and its narrow rectangular feel helps the gun point. Everyone liked the way it felt in their hands and how it indexed naturally at the target.

The P239 DAK is a full-time double-action pistol with ignition by a spurless hammer and slide-mounted firing pin. The DAK trigger supplies a longer first pull, presenting about 7 pounds of resistance that resets to a shorter stroke trigger with about 2 pounds more resistance. The P239 DAK models use the same grips as the traditional double-action models, so the relief for the decocker lever was still in place. This gave the gun an unfinished look, in our view.

To shoot the P239 DAK accurately and quickly, we had to throw out everything we had learned about shooting the M&P and the Glock 26. First, we tried slowly pressing the trigger and holding the sights steady. This resulted in a pattern of split groups. Our targets showed a group of two or three hits to the left and two or three off to the right.

Next we tried to stage the trigger. This meant taking up slack in the trigger and stopping short of the break. Then, pressing off the shot. The result was a chorus line of holes in the target at approximately the same elevation stringing from left to right.

Ultimately we were able to solve the DAK trigger by taking sharp focus of the front sight and pulling smartly through without jerking the trigger. The results left our other pistols in the dust. Shooting the Black Hills 115-grain FMJ rounds, a single 2.4-inch group expanded our average group size to 1.7 inches. The P239 DAK did not excel with Winchester’s 115-grain JHP rounds, but a number of groups fired from support at 15 yards put Federal’s 124-grain Hydra-Shok JHP slugs into a series of sub 1-inch groups. A 1.1-inch average for five shots at any distance is a welcome source of confidence.

In our action test the Sigarms P239 DAK tied with the Smith & Wesson M&P. Twenty hits to the A zone were clearly visible as well as eight out of ten hits in the B zone. The difference in pattern between the two pistols was in the density and shape of the group inside the A zone. The M&P’s group was round and wide. The Sigarms pistol produced a tighter group with variation seen in a narrow line from top to bottom. Indeed, our test shooters felt that the key to accuracy with the DAK trigger was keeping the front sight from dipping as they rolled through the trigger.

The narrow profile of the P239 pistol helped it conceal much better than either of the double-stack pistols, we thought. The P239 frame is a natural for inside-the-waistband carry. Of our three pistols, the Sigarms P239 was also the only gun that did not suffer from an undersized grip. The alternate grip panels of the M&P did make up for some of its shortcomings, but the Sigarms P239 was still the only gun that begged to be carried as a full-time primary pistol.