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40 Years With the Sig Sauer P226: Another Fan’s Thoughts

In the last few years, Sig Sauer has exploded in popularity. They’ve produced a number of rifles, optics, suppressors, and, of course, handguns like the P320 and P365. The P365 has been a best-seller since its inception, and the P320 was adopted by the United States Army. It’s been a total banger for Sig in the last few years, and a lot of that success can be traced back to a little gun introduced 40 years ago: the Sig Sauer P226. 

In January 2024, we reached the 40th anniversary milestone of the legendary P226. The history of Sig Sauer and handguns goes back to the legendary P210, but their modern era starts with the P220. The P220 introduced the modern Sig Sauer system and became the DA/SA blueprint that Sig Sauer continues to follow. The P220 was great, but the P226 introduced a double stack 9mm option that, in 1983, was as modern as it could get. 

The P226 has gone on to help shape Sig Sauer’s legacy and directly influence its success. Let’s take a moment to celebrate the Sig Sauer P226 and do a retrospective on the weapon and its success. 

The Sig Sauer P226: Breaking Down a Legend 

The Sig Sauer P226 is very much a product of the 1980s, an era defined by steel-framed pistols. Glock hadn’t necessarily taken off like the rocket ship they would become, and the metal frame was standard, but the Sig P226 pushed it to 1980s/90s limits. The gun featured a DA/SA action, another product of an earlier generation before everything had to be striker-fired. The gun lacked a manual safety but did feature a decocking lever. 

From left, a part of the progression of P226 changes over the decades. Note different grips, a switch from internal to external extractor, and the addition of accessory rails through one of the latest iterations.

The gun was produced in .40 S&W, .357 SIG, 7.65 Parabellum, and more, but it’s mostly known as a 9mm handgun. Sig Sauer originally intended to produce a 9mm pistol, and all those other calibers were produced later. The P226 utilized a double-stack magazine that held 17 rounds of 9mm. It’s one of the original Wonder Nines and established itself as one of the most legendary handguns of all time. 

The P226 would become Sig Sauer’s flagship handgun, and the pistol’s success spawned three more compact variants, including the P228, the P229, and the P224. As of the time of this writing, the P229 is the only compact variant still in production. The P229 was a more stout P228, so the design could handle .40 S&W. These more compact variants were identical in design outside of their size. 

The XM9 Trials 

Sig Sauer produced the P226 specifically for the XM9 trails. The United States military was looking to replace the M1911, a weapon that had served for more than seven decades. The XM9 trials dictated the design of the handgun, and it found itself neck and neck with the Beretta 92. At the end of the trials, the Beretta was ultimately chosen due to its lower overall price point. 

The P226 is a slight bit smaller--but the size is really about equal. The 92FS has much deeper roots.
The P226 is slightly smaller, but the size is really about equal. The 92FS has much deeper roots.

While the majority of the military would go on to adopt the Beretta M9, the Sig P226 wasn’t left in the dust. The elite Navy SEALs chose the P226 over the M9. It would become the Mk 25 and feature an ultra-strong corrosion-resistant finish. The P226 would serve for decades with the SEALs and arguably only relatively recently was replaced with the Glock series of handguns. 

The P228 would also be adopted by the United States military as the M11. The M11 was issued to Naval Aviators, Air Force pilots, and Army CID. The P229 would be adopted by the Coast Guard as well. 

A Life of Service 

The Sig Sauer P226 would go on to become one of the most famous service handguns ever. While it saw limited adoption by the US military, Police in the United States adopted the weapon en masse. This included the Secret Service, the Federal Air Marshals, NCIS, The VA Police, the Department of Homeland Security, and many more. That number multiplies when you add in the P229/P228 series. 

Obviously, some rain and snow are not going to interfere with the operation of a Sig pistol. Seen here is SEAL with a P226. Photo: American Special Ops.

The Sig Sauer P226 would see service with major police departments like the NYPD and various state police forces, including the Houston Police Department, the Orlando Police Department, and the San Francisco Police Department. 

Internationally, the weapon found its way to the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Greece, Finland, and about a dozen others I’m missing. The Sig P226 is a service pistol and is one of the most proven designs ever fielded. 

The P226: Going Hot 

If you’ve ever handled one, it’s easy to see why it’s so popular. It’s a big and heavy gun, and that is beneficial once you start dropping hammers. The P226 in 9mm has very quaint recoil, and when you amp up to high-pressure cartridges like the .40 S&W and .357 SIG, the recoil doesn’t increase dramatically. That was likely why the P226 succeeded so well in the 1990s. 

The introduction of high-pressure pistol cartridges substantially increased recoil in most handguns. However, with the heavy metal Sig P226, the high-pressure cartridges didn’t beat up the shooter. 

SIG p226navy seal
For years, the Sig P226 was the weapon of choice for the Navy SEALs. Other groups emulated their example, as is often the case. (Photo: Wikipedia)

The DA/SA design is still one of my favorites. The first double-action shot requires a very conscious trigger pull and is the reason why the gun doesn’t need a manual safety. If the hammer is down, you have to be a real idiot to fire it accidentally. To be fair, you have to be a real idiot to fire most guns accidentally. 

The single-action trigger delivers an overall excellent experience. It’s not as crisp or clean as an M1911, but it’s not far off. The lighter, shorter trigger pull makes shooting fast and straight easy. Reverting the gun from single action to double action doesn’t take much effort, and the decocker is placed perfectly for easy use. 

sig p226
Te P226 still serves to this day (Photo: Kat Stevens)

In terms of accuracy and reliability, the weapon excels. It’s well known for its capability. It runs like a clock and hits where you want it. The Sig Sauer P226 is no slacker. Even as a middle-aged gun, it keeps up with the young bucks. 

Keeping Up With the Young Guns 

Sig Sauer continues to produce the P226, even with its P320 taking over a good portion of the market. The company has wisely kept updating the firearm. The P226R models introduced a railed model for lights and other accessories. Sig Sauer also introduced RX models, which integrated optics cuts into the slide. 

While the P226 SAO Elite looks kinda like a standard P226, the action is entirely different.
While the P226 SAO Elite looks kinda like a standard P226, the action is entirely different.

Sig Sauer produces a number of P226 variants, including models that are in their Legion series. They certainly haven’t given up on the old warhorse. It will be quite a sad day when the P226 retires. It will join guns like the Winchester Model 12, the Winchester Model 70, and the Remington Rolling Block in the Hall of Fame. 

The post 40 Years With the Sig Sauer P226: Another Fan’s Thoughts appeared first on The Mag Life.

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