SIG P220 .45 ACP: P Series Flagship

By R.K. Campbell

Among the most respected names in the firearms industry is SIGARMS. In this author’s opinion, the SIG P220 is the best of the SIG handguns, although others are better suited to certain goals. Recently one of my associates commented on the SIG P series pistols. He felt that the SIG has reached its nadir in police circles. There are two problems with the SIG, he noted. First, the SIG will never win a contract on the low bid. And second, the SIG requires more training time than the competing double action only types. There is some homework required of the student, but the SIG is not unnecessarily complicated. There are features of the SIG that appeal to many shooters. Some of us prefer a handgun with a positive manual safety, some do not. The SIG has no manual safety but has good safety features. Others like the advantage of a long double action first shot trigger such as found on the original double action first shot SIG. The tactical doctrine calls for the use of the double action press at close range. Once the first shot is fired then you are in a gunfight and a crisp single action trigger press of four pounds or just a little more fires the following rounds. Single action trigger reset of the SIG is a little slower than some, which SIG adherents feel allows better control in a combat situation. There are other advantages of the SIG as well, not the least of which is reliability. The SIG has been proven in any number of extensive police and military test programs. Perhaps the most impressive was the Ohio State Patrol service pistol test program. A total of 190 pistols, ten each of nineteen types were tested to the tune of 228,000 rounds of Winchester and Speer ammunition. The SIG P226 emerged as the single most reliable and ergonomic pistol. Notably only .40 and .45 caliber handguns were tested.

When the U.S. military adopted the M11 (SIG P228) pistol, several were tested to 15,000 rounds. The SIG is as reliable as a pistol may be. Accuracy is second to none. It may be fair to say that the SIG is the single most accurate of service pistols. There are pistols that will out perform the SIG in running a combat course and others that may approach the SIG’s accuracy but none that will best the pistol overall. And running a combat course is not everything. Gun handling, safety features, reliability and accuracy are all important factors. And frankly when you holster a duty approved SIG you know that you have not holstered something that was chosen on the low bid.

Where did the SIG come from and what was the tactical doctrine that determined the features of the pistol? During the late 1960s and early 1970s the first wave of Soviet sponsored terrorism hit Europe hard. The police were largely unprepared and under armed. Most were armed with Walther PP or PPK pistols in .32 ACP caliber. A handful had on hand Smith and Wesson .38 caliber revolvers. The West German police began a program to choose a new service pistol. The pistol was to have god safety features, but no manual safety. The reason was the pistol was to be a backup to the long gun in the hands of the new German special teams. The pistol needed to be as simple as possible. There could be no cocking of a hammer or racking a slide to put the piece into action and neither was a manual safety desirable. The pistol had to be instantly ready for action with a press of the trigger. The pistol had to be safe if dropped, and accurate enough for a hostage rescue shot at moderate range. The SIG P220 was a revolutionary pistol in many regards. The slide is a stamping with a steel insert for a breech block. The slide runs inside of the frame, a unique arrangement that makes for a lower bore centerline. This low bore axis limits muzzle flip. The reversed slide rails are an aid in absolute accuracy. The pistol used an aluminum frame for light weight. The SIG introduced a positive firing pin block into police service pistols that would become mandatory for service pistols in the following years. The SIG’s double action trigger offered a long but smooth trigger press of twelve pounds. The majority of the time the single action trigger press records a smooth four and one quarter pounds. The pistol was originally marketed in America under the Browning name as the Browning Double Action (BDA). The BDA earned an excellent reputation in short order. The first P220 was a single column magazine pistol in 9mm. It was introduced in .38 Super and .45 ACP for the American market. The military service trails in 1981 prompted the debut of the high capacity P226 in 9mm, and the compact P228 9mm came later. The P229 with a heavy slide was developed to handle the .40 S&W cartridge. By any standards the SIG P series has been a success story. My personal SIG is a P220 in .45 ACP. This pistol was once touted by authorities such as the late Tom Ferguson as the best police service pistol available. All things considered, Tom had a good argument that is difficult to assail. My experience with the pistol has been positive. The usual problems in dealing with properly mastering a double action first shot pistol present no greater hurdle that with any other double action pistol. The trigger action is smoother and more straight to the rear and controllable than most. The gently curving S grip fits most hands well and allows recoil to come straight to the rear. The frame mounted decocking lever is more ergonomic than the usual slide mounted safety/safety. Shooters of normal hand size easily actuate the Browning type magazine release. Any difficulty with the magazine release may be handled by simply turning the hand a few degrees. The factory magazine holds seven rounds of .45 ACP ammunition. Recently, the high quality custom grade Novak magazines have been made available for the SIG P220. The simplicity of the SIG P220 has great appeal to trainers. Load, decock, holster, draw, and fire. The SIG is comparatively ‘revolver simple’ in training parlance.

I have extensive experience with the type dating back to the late 1970s. The SIG P220 is the single most accurate service pistol I have ever fired. With the then new Black Hills 230 grain JHP, I have fired a singular 15/16 inch 25 yard five shot group with the pistol. This is neither the average nor what I am able to do on demand, but I have done it. The pistol will do 1.5 to 2 inches with quality service ammunition. The personal SIG P220 illustrated has fired well over 10,000 rounds but remains reliable and as accurate. The P220 is a classic handgun, a workhorse and a high quality handgun well worth your attention.


A special variant of the SIG P220 is the Equinox. This pistol features special sights, a blackout and stainless contrasting finish that is both durable and attractive, and a light rail. The ability to use a combat light is important in modern tactical doctrine. This handgun is well appointed and more expensive than the blue P220, but offers good performance. The superior sights may offer better practical accuracy. I have tested this pistol extensively using a modern service loading. For some time I have had great respect for the Hornady XTP bullet. The Extreme Terminal Performance bullet offers an excellent balance of expansion and penetration. The Hornady loading is often match grade accurate in both the 200 grain and 230 grain examples. The new Hornady Critical Duty loading is a 220 grain bullet at 1,000 fps. This load builds upon the Critical Defense design more so than the XTP and early testing is promising. An individual armed with the SIG Equinox and the new Hornady loading is arguably as well armed as you can be with a handgun. When all is said and done the SIG P220 is a respected handgun that will never win the low bid but which is appreciated by professionals.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V19N2 (March 2015)
and was posted online on January 23, 2015


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