By Tom McHale
Storied Guns: The Sig Sauer P226
USA -(Ammoland.com)- “In 1853, Friedrich Peyer im Hof, Heinrich Moser and Conrad Neher began what they thought would become a successful wagon factory above the Rhine Falls in Switzerland. Little did they know then, that their company would become one of the world’s most renowned manufacturers of small arms.” ~ Sig Sauer Corporate History
I’m not sure if the original founders had the intent of building wagons with “to hell and back reliability” but somewhere along the line, that ethos came into play.
Just seven years after entering the wagon-making business, the company won a contract with the Swiss government to produce 30,000 muzzle-loading Prelaz-Burnand rifles. A name change to Schweizerische Industrie-Gesellschaft (Swiss Industrial Company) was the birth of part one of the iconic Sig Sauer brand. Part two came into play in the 1970’s with the merger of German company Sauer & Sohn, although the company didn’t officially change the name from the original SigArms until 2007.
It was during the 70s that Sig Sauer got serious about producing handguns.
The Sig P226 was originally developed as Sig’s entrant to the 1984 XM9 Service Pistol Trials held by the United States Army. This competition aimed to select a 9mm replacement for the .45 caliber M1911. Based on the Sig P220, a single-stack design, the P226 added new features required for the XM9 program. First, the magazine was changed to a double-stack to meet capacity requirements. Also, an ambidextrous magazine catch was added to meet program requirements.
In the end, the Sig Sauer P226 lost out to the Beretta M9 for the primary handgun contract. The public word is that cost was a factor in the final decision, but who really knows what politics were at play behind the scenes, and who took who to fancy dinners in Georgetown. In any case, the Sig P226 and Beretta M9 were the only two entrants to complete the rigorous test protocols.
None the less, the Sig Sauer P226 found homes within the ranks of the US military, being adopted by SEAL teams in the 1980s. More on that later.
The P226 Design
Most P226 models are double-action / single-action designs with a decocking lever only. I say “most” because at least one current variant is a single-action only model – the P226 Elite SAO (http://tinyurl.com/kqb5ypg) . The action is the Browning locked breech short-recoil system. Lugs on the barrel allow it to travel backward with the slide for a moment before the barrel tilts down and stops while the slide continues to eject the spent cartridge case.
The double-action P226 models feature a decocking lever just forward of the slide stop lever, opposite placement on the 1911 and other designs. The decocking lever travels down into the grip area a good half-inch or so to safely decock the hammer without risk of inadvertent discharge. A firing pin block makes the pistol drop safe – it can’t fire without a press of the trigger, and the decocker does not deactivate the firing pin block.
The takedown of P226 models is simple. Just lock the slide back and rotate the takedown lever. The slide will move off the front of the frame, allowing separation of the barrel and recoil spring.
We’ll talk about variants of the P226 in a minute, but for now, know that in order to handle pressure of larger calibers like the .40 S&W and .357 Sig, the slides are now milled from a solid block of steel. The slide alone could make an effective impact weapon!
One feature that apparently did not carry a lot of weight with the XM9 pistol selection judging committee is the sights. Unlike the original Beretta M9, both front and rear sights are mounted with dovetail grooves, so military and consumer customers alike can order the P226 with choice of sights, and aftermarket customization is easy.
Sig Sauer P226 Variants
Sig Sauer is by far my most challenging vendor to follow. They have a penchant for producing infinite varieties of every gun model in their catalog. That’s just fine with me though, as one can order a “stock” handgun with a very specific feature set.
As previously mentioned, the “classic” P226 is a double-action pistol. However, there are several single-action only varieties including the Elite SAO, the X-Five, X-Six, and other X-Series competition pistols. You can think of the X-Series models as the competition Cadillacs ( http://tinyurl.com/ho2puhg) , complete with hand fitting of parts in Germany and adjustments to customize grips, trigger, and sights.
Not satisfied with just double-action and single-action only models, the folks at Sig Sauer came out with their DAK action. Intended to offer a blend of advantages of single and double-action designs, the DAK models feature a 6.5 pound trigger pull that requires more deliberate action on the part of the operator, and eliminates the double-action to single-action transition that stymies so many.
Developed by German engineer Harald Kellermann, the DAK (Double-Action Kellermann) system also offers an intermediate trigger pull action about half way to the traditional full-reset point.
You’ll find the normal model varieties that feature differences like threaded barrels, two-tone finishes, and smooth or railed dust covers. More importantly, the P226 is available in four different caliber offerings: 9mm, .40 S&W, and .357 Sig. A .22LR version allows for training with that rimfire ammo that used to be plentiful and cheap. A conversion kit can turn a stock P226 (http://tinyurl.com/hdfxtsn)into a rimfire plinker or trainer with easy replacement of the magazine, slide, and barrel.
While identified by a different name, the P229 model is really an evolution of the P226 intended for more concealable carry. The compact size of the P229 is the least of the differences, however. Original P226 pistols used a stamped steel slide, which is fine for 9mm use, but potentially problematic for higher pressures and slide velocities generated by he .40 S&W and .357 Sig calibers. The P229 introduced the one-piece milled steel slide to handle the hot rounds with normal recoil springs.
This slide change was later phased into P226 production, allowing standard P226 models to handle the newer and heavier calibers.
Shooting in Good Company
An old Sig Sauer marketing campaign claimed “to hell and back reliability,” most likely a result of Sig marketing folks taking notice of the number of elite military and law enforcement teams that chose the P226 as their primary sidearm.
The U.S. Navy SEALs were among the first to recognize the benefits of the 9mm P226, with adoption beginning sometime during the 1980s. Not wanting to miss an opportunity to share the model with the civilian market, Sig introduced the MK25 (http://tinyurl.com/9aonrlj) in 2011. This model claims to have the exact same feature set, including a special non-corrosion coating, as models ordered by the SEAL teams.
Other elite military teams around the world have used Sig Sauer P226 models too. How about Poland’s notorious GROM, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and British SAS (Special Air Service) just to name a few?
Interestingly, many organizations in the United States have latched onto the DAK models. The Coast Guard began wide scale adoption of the Sig P226 DAKR in 2004. Since that time, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs Police and Postal Inspection Service officers have chosen DAK models too.
The Sig Sauer P229 compact variant of the P226 has found its way under dark suit coats of serious looking government types too.
They’ve been used by the Secret Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Homeland Security (DAK model), and Federal Air Marshals.
If you spot a serious guy or girl with one of those ear pieces in place, chances are they’re carrying a Sig P229.
And the renowned Texas Rangers? Last I heard, they’re using the P226 chambered in .357 Sig.
With a history like this, I figure the Sig Sauer P226 is a pretty good gun.
Tom McHale is the author of the Insanely Practical Guides book series that guides new and experienced shooters alike in a fun, approachable, and practical way. His books are available in print and eBook format on Amazon. You can also find him on Google+, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.