Pocket pistols, loosely defined as being less than 6 inches long, about 1 inch wide and no greater than 4.5 inches tall, are a growing segment of the concealed-carry market.
They are ideal as backup weapons and can be concealed deeply under garments or in off-body carry modes such as in purses and day planners. Though pocket pistols may have some perceived shortcomings like stopping power, their size and light weight make them comfortable to carry, which means owners will carry these firearms more often.
Though .380-caliber semi-autos have lead the recent growth of this market segment, arms-makers like Ruger and now Sig Sauer have upgraded their .380 platforms to 9mm. Sig Sauer’s P938 Nightmare was introduced early in 2012, and it’s the company’s first 9mm pocket pistol.
The P938 is only slightly larger and heavier than the popular P238 chambered in .380 ACP. However, from a user’s standpoint, the only noticeable differences between the pistols are the effectiveness and controllability of their cartridges. The 9mm cartridge is significantly more powerful and offers a greater number of available loadings than the .380 ACP, but at the cost of less control and more perceived recoil. In fact, I recently tested both the P238 and P938 to compare their ballistics: The velocity of a 95-grain .380 ACP Winchester load is measured at 832 feet per second (fps) from the P238, while the P938 shot 115-grain 9mm Winchester rounds at an average of 1,089 fps. Yes, the barrel length of the 9mm pistol is 0.3 inches longer and thus increases velocity, but that alone does not explain the 257-fps increase in velocity and the 157 foot-pounds of additional energy with the heavier 115-grain bullet.
The P938 is slightly longer (0.3 inches longer due to its barrel), weighs a bit more (about 0.9 ounces) and possesses a marginally longer grip than the P238. The P938’s slide is also somewhat wider and taller, precluding the use of holsters molded specifically for the P238. Sig Sauer does in fact sell a pocket holster for the P938 and will include a right-handed, molded, strong-side belt holster with the P938 this year.
Now, let’s examine Sig Sauer’s little pocket 9mm a bit closer and see how it performs.
The P938 is a single-action pistol that fires from a locked breech using a tilting-barrel and locking-block method similar to the one that Sig Sauer uses on its full-sized P-series and P238 pistols. Like the newer, full-sized handguns, the P938 uses a wide, externally mounted extractor. The slide is machined from 416 stainless steel bar stock, and the Nitron-coated stainless, 3-inch barrel has conventional broach-cut rifling.
The P938 has an ambidextrous thumb safety with small but functional levers and an internal firing-pin block that captures the firing pin until the trigger is depressed. The firing-pin block allows the pistol to be safely carried in a proper holster with a round in the chamber and keeps the firing pin away from the primer should the pistol be dropped muzzle-down on a hard surface. There is no magazine disconnect safety.
The P938 is operationally similar to a 1911 and the Colt Mustang; each is single action, uses a single-stack magazine and has a frame-mounted safety lever operated by the left-hand thumb. There are several noteworthy differences from the 1911, however. With the hammer down and the safety applied, the P938’s slide and hammer are locked. With the hammer cocked and the safety applied, its slide can be retracted. Takedown procedures are also different, mainly because the P938 does not have a barrel bushing, which simplifies field-stripping. Simply align the slide-stop lever with the recess in the slide, push the lever outward from the frame, and slide the barrel/slide forward off the frame. Reassembly is also easier, as the slide-stop pin goes through a cam-way slot in the barrel lug, not through a swinging link like the 1911 has.
Dimensionally, the P938 fits perfectly into the pocket-pistol envelope. It is about 1.1 inches wide measured at the slide and, at 5.9 inches long and 3.9 inches high, is small enough to fit within your hand. Sharp edges are nonexistent. Only the sights and hammer protrude slightly from the otherwise smooth profile. Despite the forged aluminum frame and stainless steel slide, this pistol weighs just over 1 pound loaded.
Carrying a compact pistol can be a tactical advantage because the user can grasp it in the pocket and withdraw from concealment only when a potential threat appears. Accessing the pistol is subtle, so its presence is undetected by a casual observer. Pocket pistols are often carried in a coat pocket without a holster, but that’s a mistake because the pistols will often turn upside down and become harder to access. But there are several pocket holsters that break up the gun’s outline through clothing. Inside the waistband (IWB) or ankle carry is also a good choice. The DeSantis Pocket-Tuk accommodates both pocket and IWB carry for the P938. It has a metal belt clip that rotates to your preferred carry angle when used as an IWB holster, but is removable for pocket carry.
Most of the P938 Nightmare’s steel parts (slide, safety, magazine release, slide stop lever and recoil-spring guide rod) are made of stainless steel, which matters in a pistol that may be carried under garments and exposed to sweat and moisture. The stainless slide has a black Nitron finish, which offers lubricity and resistance to wear, and the aircraft-grade aluminum frame is black hardcoat anodized. The P938 Nightmare comes with two-piece, G10 grips that are wafer thin and add minimal girth. Used often in knife handles, G10 grips are made by laminating layers of fiberglass with epoxy and are extremely durable, and because they are thermoset, they will not soften under heat. The texturing of G10 grips is accomplished through CNC machining (which results in a crisper surface)—not by injection molding, as is the case with most polymer and rubber grips.
Because the recoil of a 9mm pocket pistol can be significant, Sig Sauer put 24-lines-per-inch checkering on the plastic mainspring housing and on the frontstrap. The plastic trigger shoe has a grooved face. The P938’s trigger is hinged and has a total travel of about 0.12 inches. The factory specification for the let-off weight is a hefty 7.5 to 8.5 pounds, and my sample broke between 7.2 and 8 pounds with a bit of creep, per a Lyman electronic scale. Because this pistol weighs only about 1.5 pounds and has a small grip, a trigger pull of this weight and grit does test your trigger-control skills.
The P938 has an undercut triggerguard, which is a small but significant feature that enhances your grip. The P938’s ergonomics are very good: The safety and magazine release were easy to find and apply, and the pistol pointed quite well and quickly. The fixed night sights are easy to pick up and are made from steel, not plastic.
I tested the P938 Nightmare using four loads: Winchester 115-grain FMJs, Winchester Supreme 124-grain JHPs, Black Hills 115-grain JHPs and Hornady 124-grain JHPs. I used both the stock G10 grips and a more substantial wraparound Hogue rubber grip, which Sig supplies with another variant of the P938. I fired the Nightmare with both the flush-fitting, six-round magazine and the optional, extended seven-round mag.
The P938 is accurate and reliable. The best five-shot, benchrest group of 0.75 inches was with the Winchester Supreme 124-grain JHP load. I am sure that this pistol is capable of shooting four-shot cloverleaves at 7 yards—the distance at which defensive subcompacts of this type are typically used. There were no stoppages with all five loads tested.
Note that benchrest accuracy, especially for purely defensive pocket pistols, is only an indication of mechanical accuracy and ammunition consistency, not how a gun performs “when the shooting starts.” Practical accuracy is heavily influenced by three elements: gun fit, sights and trigger. Though this pistol is too small for a three-finger grip with the flush-fitting, six-round mag, using the seven-round version greatly improves handling and control and thus increases your effective engagement distance. Also, the pinky rest on the seven-round mag allows for easier thumb-cocking of the hammer for those who wish to carry the pistol with hammer down rather than cocked and locked.
The P938 Nightmare’s standard thin G10 grips offer an adequate grip, but the wraparound Hogue rubber grip, which has a pebble finish and is swelled at the base, significantly improved control and comfort. Shooting the P938 off-hand using aimed, rapid fire produced groups of 4 inches and under.
The P938 is a quality pistol with good ergonomics, accuracy and reliability. Its metal construction, single-action design and variety of models make it stand out in a market that is replete with polymer-framed, double-action pistols, many of which have a long trigger pull that can’t be readily tuned like the P938’s.
At some point this year, Sig Sauer will offer a steel-framed version, as is now offered in the P238 series. This “HD” variant of the P938 should increase the pistol’s longevity. But even the current lineup of six P938 variants offers strong contenders for anyone who desires a pocket pistol with 9mm punch. For more information, visit sigsauer.com or call 866-619-1128.