Sig Sauer P226 : Storied Guns

By Tom McHale

Storied Guns: The Sig Sauer P226

Sig Sauer P226 line also includes .357 Sig
Sig Sauer P226 line also includes .357 Sig
Tom McHale headshot low-res square
Tom McHale

USA -( “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.

The Sig P226 features dovetail front and rear sights
The Sig P226 features dovetail front and rear sights.

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 ( . 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 traditional P226 is hammer-fired with a decocking lever.
The traditional P226 is hammer-fired with a decocking lever.

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 ( , complete with hand fitting of parts in Germany and adjustments to customize grips, trigger, and sights.

One of my favorite P226 models is the Elite SAO (single-action only)
One of my favorite P226 models is the Elite SAO (single-action only)

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 ( a rimfire plinker or trainer with easy replacement of the magazine, slide, and barrel.

Sig Sauer even manufactures their own P226 air gun models as of this year.
Sig Sauer even manufactures their own P226 air gun models as of this year.

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 ( 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.

The Sig P229 is not just a compact version of the P226, it brought improvements like a solid steel slide to the P226 line.
The Sig P229 is not just a compact version of the P226, it brought improvements like a solid steel slide to the P226 line.

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?

Navy SEAL diver with a Sig Sauer P226 Pistol
Navy SEAL diver with a Sig Sauer P226 Pistol

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.

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Wake up people. We used the Sig 226 for a year in the 80’s and then a Beretta in the Rangers. The Sig was reliable and accurate as hell. It did the job. Unfortunately, budget contracts pushed for something other than the Sig. It was our preference and a great gun, and still is for tight shot groups and real combat reliability. Many guns can do the job is you are looking for a one shot wonder in a clean environment and at the range. But real use in combat is the test. Either way a .40 or a 9mm… Read more »

Navy K

Both the Glock and Sig are awesome pistols, as a former seal I must say tho that I found the sig p226 to be a superior weapon to the Gock 19, I own both and a side by side comparison leaves no doubt the Sig comes out on top…


A former seal? What the hell does a marine mammal know US Navy SpecWar? The word SEAL is an acronym, a seal is ocean dog that swims and sleeps on buoys.



Ed Scott

You’re a superb writer, Tom. We writers–it has been my experience–quite rarely are complimented on our handiwork. I wanted to be certain that I provided you with deserved kudos this time around. Your pieces always are interesting, well-researched, and well-crafted, and it is past time that this occurred to me about your output–and to congratulate you for it. All of the information that you detailed in the Sig Sauer P226 article I found to be particularly intriguing, as I know a minimal amount about the company, its genesis, and its pistols. They sure are beautiful handguns, and I now am… Read more »

Bud Stamm

OMG….I have no doubt that ever seal is now carrying Glock 17’s…..NOT!!!….since the Government will buy them whatever arms they want…..mmmm….wonder why they still carry Sig 226’s?…..could it be that they are the finest combat handgun made?…Funny how the Sig 226 and the Beretta were the ONLY hand guns to pass the govt reliability tests. Glock can only wish they were good enough, every manufacturer wanted that contract as well over 400,000 were order on the first PO…..maybe one day Glock will put the quality in their guns and be able to “cut the mustard” but not yet…..

Clark Kent

Josey: WOW! I really touched a nerve with you, amigo. Do your parents know you are posting such immature, laughable, ignorant comments on their computer? By the way, if the Glock did not make the Sig 226 obsolete then why did Sig just come out with a new pistol that is a Glock clone? THINK before you post……..


Clark Kent: Several firearms manufacturers have produced Glock clones, all for the same reason. There is an ample market for them and STAMPED parts are cheaper to manufacture thus providing a greater profit

Clark Kent

As usual, the Glock haters have nothing but crapola to spew. I told you the truth hurts……..

Josey Wales

Please try with all your might to grow up – to mature. My hopes are that you will be successful. You started the insults flying about Glocks when you stated that the Glock 17 rendered the Sig obsolete…your version of the “truth” is pathetic, probably as pathetic as your shooting skills. When you have engaged something other than cartoon zombie targets on a shooting range, THEN criticize others for the choices they make. Your comments make me think you are somewhere in the 16-23 years age of the done nothing, been nowhere, talk garbage generation.

Bill Smith

I don’t usually respond to much, but it’s an endless discussion on who makes a better gun. The only thing I question is a plastic gun gonna last a life time of shooting. Me personally, I,m gonna pass on several 1911’s from different gun makers to my kids and hopefully they pass those 1911’s on to their kids.

Gregory Seybold

Correct me if I am wrong, however I believe the P226 locks up by breech block into slide just as my p229. There are no locking lugs on the barrel to mate with recesses in the slide as with my 1911 pistols. Great article though and I love my Sigs!


i remember when the Yugo was released, it made my Benz obsolete.


Do you remember the Adobe, “the little care made out of clay” from Saturday Night Live? Didn’t that make the Yugo obsolete?

Clark Kent

The Sig Sauer P226 was rendered obsolete the minute the first Glock Model 17 arrived. The truth hurts.

Felice Silvestri

Actually, my Rolex was not rendered obsolete the minute the first Swatch arrived.


Typical knothead response that emanates from most jealous Glock owners. Sig is for those who can afford a real gun!

Eric X Equis

Thanks for the laugh tonight, I needed it!


Really Clark Kent, Superman needs a Glock, No Sir I do not think so! and if he wanted a gun he would buy the best, A Sig! Glocks are good guns if they are you preference. My I prefer a all metal gun, I can shoot all day and not hurt from shooting a plastic gun.


I purchased a Sig-Sauer 1911-22 a few months ago. This is a sweet shooting pistol, accurate and fun to shoot. Cheaper than my 45 ACP but runs the same for practice purposes. I’m saving for a Sig 1911 in 45 ACP now. I looked at it in the store and fell in love with it. I believe this gun would compare with custom guns in many instances.


can someone tell me when the air gun models will be available please?
and if they are then where to get them?


The last news I heard on the air pistols availability is August-ish, so it should be very soon. I tried some early models and they’re impressive. Perfect fit in P226 holsters, about 60-70 shots per CO2 canister. Lots of fun!