Twenty-five years ago, before the shooting world seemed to go bonkers over high-capacity semi-autos, the law enforcement community and handgunners in general came to rely heavily upon the .357 Magnum as a duty sidearm and a fight-stopper, especially with the 125-grain JHP bullet.
When police agencies and the public shifted gears and began heavily leaning toward the semi-automatic pistol, some forward thinkers at Sig Sauer in New Hampshire believed it would be a good idea to develop a round that could duplicate the performance of the .357 Magnum, but make it fit in a semi-auto platform that could accommodate the 9mm-size cartridge.
ENTER THE .357 SIG
At the time, Alan Newcomb—now with RUAG/Ammo Tech in Tampa, Florida—was the marketing director at SIG, and this became his project. What ultimately came out of this research and development was a necked pistol cartridge based on the 10mm/.40-caliber cartridge case necked down to .355-caliber, the same projectile used in 9mm ammunition.
“The premise was pretty simple,” Newcomb recalled in a conversation for this article. “The (challenge) was to make something fit in a standard SIG pistol and we wanted (comparative) velocity and 500 foot-pounds of energy.”
The result was the .357 SIG, a sizzling semi-auto cartridge that pushes a 125-grain JHP bullet out of the muzzle at velocities approaching 1,400 fps. Because of the necked case design, the .357 SIG cartridge is extremely reliable in terms of feeding into the chamber.
Where the standard bullet weight in 9mm service rounds at the time was either 115-grain or 124-grain, adding a grain to the bullet eventually used in the .357 SIG was a fairly simple task, so now the bullet weights in the magnum and the auto pistol round are identical, with virtually identical velocities.
The next chore, Newcomb recalled, was “getting the right powder” for the cartridge. Once the developers at Federal Cartridge settled on the best propellant, the round was born. One error that many people make is believing that this cartridge uses a necked-down .40 S&W. That’s not so because the .357 SIG case is slightly longer than the .40-caliber case.
SELECTING A COMPANION GUN
Now, what handgun would be best suited to get the most out of this round while serving the purposes of law enforcement and armed citizens? Enter the double-action-only Sig Sauer P250, a pistol I had the pleasure to test three years ago in 9mm after having joined other Gun World writers at the Sig Sauer plant for a seminar, and more recently in .357 SIG.
Late in 2009, Sig Sauer announced that a certain federal law enforcement agency was adopting the P250 in that caliber, a step that made perfect sense because of its concealability and stopping power. When Sig Sauer unveiled this gun, it was touted as “one gun with infinite possibilities.” After having put two different versions of this pistol through their paces in two different calibers, I can heartily concur with that description. The P250 is a tremendously versatile pistol. Hell, it’s a versatile shooting system!
When this review was written, several police agencies were evaluating the P250 in this chambering because it is the first truly modular pistol on which frames and slide assemblies may be interchanged. This is because the actual firing assembly is a small block of moving parts that can be inserted and removed from different-sized frames. Indeed, this pistol has 30 to 40 percent fewer moving parts than other semi-auto pistols.
THE P250’S FINER FEATURES
The synthetic frame is made from a nylon derivative and is almost weightless yet very strong. It is ergonomically shaped to accommodate the human hand comfortably.
The grip portion is about the same diameter as the grip frame of my Colt Combat Commander with its stag grips, so it felt very familiar. However, the P250 in .357 SIG takes a 13-round double-stack magazine, so the gun with a chambered cartridge is good for 14 fast shots in an emergency.
My test model had a black Nitron-finished stainless steel slide that matched perfectly with the polymer frame. The grip was roughly textured on both sides and front and rear for a solid hold with wet or sweaty palms. The size of the gun is so similar overall to the Commander that shooting it, even in double-action only, was pretty much second nature.
The slide is much thicker than the Commander’s, however, a fact that still puzzles me three years after my first encounter with this model, because it just doesn’t seem necessary with today’s modern steels. True, the .357 SIG, and even the .40 S&W cartridge produce higher pressures than the .45 ACP, but the slide still seems a might thick. Dimensionally, the P250 is 1.3 inches at the widest point.
The trigger reach is longer than I prefer, but that’s simply a matter of getting used to it, and the double-action stroke was smooth with the trigger pull at about 5.5 to 6 pounds.
As is the rage these days, the front of the frame has a molded rail for attaching accessories such as a laser or tactical light. My gun also came with SigLite tritium night sights on a three-dot pattern.
SUITABLE FOR POLICE DUTY
Police agencies are reportedly looking at the distinct advantage to the P250 because of its modular design. The gun can literally be tailored to an individual officer’s or agent’s hand size and body size, and one can even switch calibers with the proper components. Add the fact that this pistol has an ambidextrous slide release and reversible magazine release, and the P250 works as well for a southpaw as it does for a right-handed shooter. A department or agency buying this gun is essentially adopting a shooting platform.
The rear sight fits into a U-shaped recess at the back of the slide while the front sight is dovetailed and drift-adjustable for windage. My test model shot dead-on at 20 yards and out to 25, it was capable of bouncing a tin can around consistently. If someone can hit a tin can repeatedly at that distance, the same shooter ought to be able to take out a bad guy.
AT HOME ON THE RANGE
In rapid-fire drills, I was able to keep every round well in the black on a Birchwood Casey target and when I slowed down, I managed solid hits on a smaller Birchwood Casey head-size oval.
For this evaluation, I rounded up a selection of ammunition most likely to include the specific choices from which various law enforcement agencies, including that rather secretive federal agency, might select their duty loads. The lineup included Federal’s Personal Defense, Tactical and Premium ammunition, Speer Lawman and Gold Dot, all topped with 125-grain JHPs with the exception of the Lawman round, which had a TMJ bullet.
The Gold Dot and Lawman TMJ turned in identical velocities at 1,345 fps with the chronograph set three feet ahead of the muzzle. The fastest round was the Federal Premium with a top velocity of 1,365 fps and average 1,352 fps speed. Federal’s Personal Defense load clocked 1,338 fps, and the Tactical round averaged 1,286 fps. The bottom line is that anybody on the receiving end of any of these loads is going to have his whole day ruined.
Hmmmm. A handgun with remarkable versatility coupled with a cartridge that is ballistically identical to the magnum wheelgun round that proved itself without question for an earlier generation; does anybody still wonder why the P250 in .357 SIG would make a logical choice for agencies from the street to the elite?
IDEAL FOR HOME D
Next question: Would anyone turn his or her back on the same pistol and cartridge combo for personal protection?
Field stripping this pistol is textbook SIG. The rotating takedown lever on the left side of the frame turns down easily, and the slide and barrel assembly come forward off the rails. Pull the recoil spring and full-length guide rod up and out, followed by the barrel, and the pistol can be cleaned quickly. Reassembly is just as easy.
It took several months for Sig Sauer to actually supply me with a test pistol in this caliber, primarily because the plant was backed up, filling the federal order. By the time you read this, there should be better flow to the commercial market, and ammunition should be in good supply.
I think what impresses me the most about the gun/ammo combination is that with all of the energy it delivers, recoil is quite manageable and that significantly contributes to practice and steadily-improving accuracy. The more one practices, the better one’s marksmanship should become. This writer’s humble opinion is that the designers at Sig Sauer figured that out before this pistol was even on the drawing board.
There should be a variety of quality holsters available for the P250, and loading data is becoming available from various sources that will keep handloaders busy at the bench and the range.
Sig Sauer’s P250 comes from a long lineage of quality service pistols that have been eagerly adapted by private citizens. It is reliable and rugged, and the companion cartridge is a winner. In the unfortunate event someone ever gets into a gunfight, that’s exactly the kind of pistol they’ll need.
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