For many years now, the primary handgun defending America’s first family has been the Sig Sauer P229, chambered for .357 Sig. It replaced a similar Sig Sauer, the P228 9mm. With access to top authorities on wound ballistics, including the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, the U.S. Secret Service had opted to load its 9mms with 115-grain jacketed hollow point bullets at +P+ pressure, for a muzzle velocity of roughly 1,300 feet per second (fps). The .357 Sig cartridge, with a 125-grain bullet loaded to the 1,350 to 1,375 fps velocity range, offered them more of a good thing.

It is my understanding that the compact P229 is the standard for the plainclothes personnel assigned to the Secret Service’s presidential detail. However, the Secret Service also has a uniformed arm. Recently, while teaching a continuing legal education course in Seattle, I found myself in the same hotel in which members of the uniformed unit were staying (President Obama was in the city campaigning). I noticed that they were carrying in their uniform holsters full-size Sig Sauer P226 pistols. The agents told me that their guns were indeed chambered for .357 Sig and loaded with the same Speer Gold Dot bonded, jacketed hollow point ammunition used by the Presidential detail.

The Sig Sauer P229 .357 Sig doesn’t just stand guard for those living under the umbrella of Secret Service protection. If you fly on commercial aircraft in the United States, it stands guard over you, too. The Federal Air Marshal Service also uses the P229 in this caliber. So happy were the air marshals with the .357 Sig that they decided recently to re-arm with new P229 .357 Sigs identical to their old ones. Like the Secret Service, they, too, had used the P228 9mm before adopting the .357 Sig P229; the marshals even use the same brand and bullet weight of .357 Sig ammunition:
the Speer Gold Dot 125-grain.

Gun Details

The Sig Sauer P229 has been with us for roughly two decades. It was announced in 1992, having been deliberately engineered by Sig Sauer as an upgraded P228/P229 platform built to withstand the much more violent recoil and slide velocity of the .40 S&W cartridge, which had been introduced two years before and was already rocketing in popularity within U.S. law enforcement circles. When the P229 was introduced, my old friend Walt Rauch wrote it up in the February 2004 issue of Combat Handguns magazine. Rauch, a highly respected firearms and tactics expert, described the P229’s construction thus: “The Sig Sauer P229 is one of the compact versions of the Sig Sauer P226 with one major change from its close relatives, the P225 and P228. The P229 slide is machined from a billet of stainless steel and then blackened to match the frame. The others use slides formed from stamped steel with a steel breechblock pinned into the frame.”

The P229 was quickly appreciated for its sturdiness and for its size: substantial enough for use in the duty holster, yet compact enough for successful plainclothes and off-duty carry. The gun was introduced at first in .40 S&W and the then-popular 9mm. San Diego police reportedly adopted the P229 in 9mm and found it to be very soft in recoil and, of course, very reliable. But the .40 S&W was where the interest was. The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, which had given its deputies a choice between the P220 .45 ACP and the P226 9mm, adopted the P229 in .40 S&W and found it to be an effective compromise. The Vermont State Police soon swapped its similar-sized P228 9mms for a new standard issue, the P229 in .40 S&W.

Cartridge Details

Sig Sauer executives had picked up a consistent buzz from certain law enforcement agencies who were adopting his company’s autopistols to replace their old .357 Mag revolvers: They loved their new guns, but missed the decisive stopping power of the 125-grain .357 rounds they had carried in their six-shooters. In response, the company got together with ammunition maker Federal, and in 1994 the .357 Sig debuted. .357 Sig ammunition is now produced by all the major makers in the U.S. as well as by most of the smaller “boutique” ammunition manufacturers.

The goal of the cartridge was to duplicate the ballistics of the 125-grain .357 Mag load, which ran in the velocity range of 1,300 to 1,450 fps, depending on the particular lot of ammunition and whether the service revolver was a detective’s snub-nose or a uniformed officer’s 4-inch barrel gun. At a nominal velocity of 1,350 fps in most iterations, the bottlenecked .357 Sig, with an overall length and base diameter comparable to those of a .40 S&W, achieved the stated ballistic goal. This writer has seen some Remington and Speer .357 Sig ammunition chronograph at 1,430 fps out of 4.5-inch pistol barrels.

The first major police department to adopt the .357 Sig was the Delaware State Police, who did so reportedly because they were dissatisfied with the terminal effects of the 147-grain 9mm subsonic ammunition used in their previous service pistols. The DSP has carried the P229 .357 ever since. Several of their counterpart agencies followed, and today the .357 Sig is very popular among state police departments. More of them issue the .357 Sig pistols than they do for any other brand, but the state troopers of New Mexico and North Carolina carry S&W Military & Police pistols in that caliber, and the Tennessee Highway Patrol is the one state organ-ization which issues it in the Glock 31.

In 1990, the Virginia State Police switched from the .38 Special revolver to a 10mm pistol similar to the FBI’s Model 1076, albeit with a slightly longer barrel, the S&W Model 1026, In 1993, they reportedly switched to the Sig Sauer P228 9mm, utilizing another FBI-recommended load, the 147-grain sub-sonic. Dissatisfied with the 9mm’s “stopping power,” the VSP replaced their P228s with P229s chambered for .357 Sig.

Trigger Actions

The VSP’s original P229s were conventional traditional double-action in design. That is, only the first shot would be fired double-action, and the design would cock itself to single-action for every subsequent shot fired until either the gun ran dry or the trooper decocked it using the handy lever on the left side of the frame behind the triggerguard. In the mid-2000s, the Virginia troopers decided to keep the P229 and the .357 Sig cartridge, but switch to the double-action-only, Keller-man (DAK) trigger system. Named after its designer, this fire control mechanism eliminates the need for a decocking lever and makes every trigger pull double-action, but in a manner smoother and lighter than was the
case with earlier models.

The .357 Sig has worked out remark-ably well. Texas and Virginia in particular have considerable experience with the Speer Gold Dot in actual gunfights, and both departments are reportedly very pleased. In one highly publicized Texas shooting, which took place not long after the state’s conversion to the .357 Sig, a rookie from the first police academy class to graduate with P226 .357s got into a gunfight alongside his field training officer, who was still carrying the older issue pistol, the Sig Sauer
P220 .45 ACP. The man shooting at them was ensconced in the cab of a massive 18-wheel tractor-trailer. The older trooper’s .45 ACP slugs apparently failed to penetrate the heavy steel of the big rig’s cab, but the younger trooper’s .357 Sig Gold Dots did, putting an end
to the shootout.

The several Virginia state troopers with whom I’ve had the opportunity to discuss the matter have to a man been very pleased with the .357’s performance. Two things kept coming up. One was that, prior to the change, pit bulls charging troopers soaked up 147-grain subsonic 9mms with equanimity before finally going down, but it takes only one or two shots of the fast 125-grain .357 Sig to stop them in their tracks. The other was that suspects hit with the .357 Sig would often collapsed instantly, even when the wound was not in a “vital area.” While that’s not something that one should count on, it is, when it does happen, evidence of impressive performance.

For the Secret Service and the Federal Air Marshal Service, the Virginia State Police and the Texas Highway Patrol, the 125-grain Speer Gold Dot has been working famously well “on the street.” It seems to be the most widely used ammunition among the law enforcement agencies who have adopted this caliber. However, other brands have also done quite well. Reports coming out of the Dallas Police Department indicate that the 125-grain Winchester Ranger-T—issued to those officers who buy the optional P226 .357 Sig rather than the department’s standard 9mm P226—has performed extremely well in actual shoot-ings. And in a recent Indiana shooting, a man trying to kill a police officer was instantly stopped by two rounds of 125- grain Remington Bonded Golden Saber .357 Sig, which pierced first a windshield and then the assailant’s body, reaching optimum depth inside the attacker’s body and expanding substantially.

The sample P229 came in a traditional double-action configuration with a short reach trigger. That and the latest Sig grips have a better trigger reach than do previous models—at least for this reviewer. Trigger pulls were tested from the center of the trigger with a Lyman digital gauge. Trigger resistance was very consistent pull-to-pull in both double-action and single-action modes.

Shooting single-action—the way in which most folks will shoot the P229
most often—ran to roughly five pounds (5.07 pounds, to be exact). Double-action pulls, which deliver what for most of us is the most important shot—the first one— averaged 11.03 pounds.

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