Used SIG Sauer P226 Review - Guns Don't Always Have To Be New

A used 9mm SIG Sauer P226 is a great value for a defensive handgun.

There’s an attraction, of course, to a brand new firearm. Fresh out of the box, with nary a scratch or dent, just seeing that 9mm pistol or AR-15 rifle in a pristine state is rather awe-inspiring. Heck, in some cases you may even get the spent brass form the test-firing of your pistol, kind of a ballistic birth certificate as it were. The smell of shipping grease fills the air, and you just can’t wait to get that gun to the range, after a thorough systems check, of course.

However, sometimes there’s budgetary considerations to be had. Do you spend $800 on a new firearm and have scant money left over for training and ammo? Or do you lower your expectations a little, get a less-than-desirable firearm, and hope for the best? Or, as we have been over before, go used? In the case of used, sticking to known performers is advisable - such as the 9mm SIG Sauer P226

There’s a certain appeal to used guns as well, especially if they have a story behind them such as law enforcement trade-ins and military surplus weapons. Even if somewhat impractical, I’d love to have a police trade-in GLOCK 22 with department etchings on it. But anyway - sometimes when budgets are a real consideration, it pays to go used.

Recently, for the purposes of this article, I was loaned a well-used 9mm SIG Sauer P226 semi-automatic pistol. Though this specific sample was not an LE weapon per se, the P226 line in general was, and still is a popular choice amongst government users around the world.

Brownells

History Of The SIG Sauer P226

Before we dive into the basics and usage of a used 9mm SIG Sauer P226, we should know where the platform came from.

It all started in the best decade in history, the 1980s, when the US military had the Joint Service Small Arms Program trials. The idea was to replace the venerable M1911 and other pistols, with “one pistol to rule them all”. The trials were run, and only the SIG Sauer P226 and Beretta 92F completed them to the military’s satisfaction. However, the US forces chose the Beretta offering since the overall package cost (magazines, spare parts, maintenance) was lower, even though individual P226 pistols were cheaper than the Beretta offering.

However, the pistol found a home with US special operations forces. Due to the fact that their procurement process is nominally independent of the regular military, our professional badasses selected the SIG P226 since it worked for their use, being a more robust design than the Beretta. Numerous Feds also selected the pistol for duty use, most notably the US Secret Service, who adopted the P229 variant, chambered in .357 SIG - only recently has the USSS converted to GLOCK, choosing 9mm GLOCK Gen 5 G19s with MOS (red dot sight) capability.

In addition, several state and local law enforcement agencies adopted and still use the SIG P226, including the Orlando Police Department, the Texas Rangers, and the NYPD, where a double-action only (aka a heavy trigger pull) variant is a choice for officers of that department to carry.

While not as widespread as GLOCK, the SIG Sauer P226 in various flavors was and still is a popular service weapon today, and has enjoyed brisk sales and an unabashed fan club in the citizen sector.

The Basics Of A Used 9mm SIG Sauer P226

In a very real sense, the SIG P226 is more of a platform than a mere pistol. The P226 can be chambered in .40 S&W, 9x19mm Luger, .357 SIG (of course!) and there’s a rare .22LR variant out there for restricted market sales and youth use. For the purposes of this review, I was loaned a 9mm double-action/single action variant, which is to say the first press of the trigger cocks the hammer and fires the the gun (double action), whereas subsequent presses of the trigger fire the gun (single action), since the slide action cocks the hammer.

This specific SIG P226 appears to be around 17.5 years old at this point. I’m always open to education, but the SIG Sauer serial number date coding system is a byzantine mystery. There’s an option to call SIG and ask them, but apparently they charge you for the pleasure. Being that the SIG Sauer pistol in question isn’t mine, I chose to take the hard route. I popped off the grip panels (unscrew those big honking screws on the grip) and the date code on the grip reads 10/2003. So, given that the grip panels were dated, the pistol is most likely produced around that time.

The wear on the working surfaces show the age as well, with the black finish on the barrel worn down to the shiny metal below in some spots. There’s some minor scratches and holster wear, but over the course of it’s 17+ year life, the owner of this pistol performed basic maintenance and lubrication cycles. Your firearm is a mechanical machine - take care of it, and you’ll have a quality defensive tool for life.

The slide, marked “STAINLESS” due to it’s stainless steel composition, was manufactured in Exeter, New Hampshire, when SIG Sauer in the US was known as SIGARMS, Inc. The steel frame is marked as being made in Germany, so we know for sure this was post Die Wende aka the German Unification, haha. Sidebar, if your P226 is marked as “Made In W. Germany” on the slide, you’ve got a prized relic. Cue The Scorpions, lucky you.

Worth noting are that the tritium-powered night sights are a dim memory of what they once were. If I were to keep this pistol, I’d acquire a set of Trijicon or Meprolight night sights to liven things up a bit.

Anyway - SIG Sauer P226s from the late 90s and early 2000s were often a hybrid of German and American components, as this was before SIG had really ramped up their US operations. This isn’t to say the guns were of lower quality either, the P226 from that era was solid.

Speaking of solid - the 9mm SIG Sauer P226 is a solid chunk of German/American engineering. Unloaded, it’s 34 ounces or so, which is over 2 pounds, or just about a kilo for our metric minded friends. Not sure what that is in stone.

Ergonomically, it’s great. As handed to me, the pistol fit like a glove, though since I’m used to polymer pistols such as from Heckler & Koch, Smith & Wesson, and GLOCK, the SIG Sauer P226 was heavier than what I’m used to, but not unbearably so. I could carry this daily with no discomfort. The grips were a little worn from age, but not to the point of critical.

For reference I don’t have monster hands either - but the pistol was still quite comfortable to grip. My wife, with more diminutive hands, had little trouble either. She found the weight “reassuring”. Plastic fantastic is fine, but the weight of steel has a psychological effect, I guess.

Aside from a laser-sight guide rod (the owner states - “it seemed like a good idea in 2004”) this 9mm SIG Sauer P226 is a stock pistol.

This particular P226 is from late 2003 or so and shows some signs of wear.

To The Range With The Used 9mm SIG Sauer P226

The 9mm SIG Sauer P226 has a lot of history behind it, as a popular service pistol for government users around the world, and as a go-to choice for us Second Amendment Radicals and armed citizens. Fresh out of the box, it’s a star.

But, how does a nearly 18 year old copy of one of SIG’s flagships perform out in the field?

Quite well, actually.

On a lark, my wife and I went to Henry’s Gun Range in Homestead, Florida. A bare-bones plot of land out where the buses don’t run, Henry’s is the go-to stop for the seasoned shooter who doesn’t require the bells and whistles of a indoor gun range. Bring ammo, water, sunscreen, bug spray, and a fun attitude and you’re golden. The RSO is cool as hell as long as you don’t do moronic stuff.

Anyways, for this informal test, and owing to the current situation in 2021 with regards to ammunition, we only ran about 200 rounds through it. A mix of Federal aluminum-cased 9mm, Tula steel-cased 9mm, and some funky brass-plated steel-cased 9mm from Bosnia via Maxxtech completed the scant loadout. After a quick function check that all guns should be subject to before range use, we headed south to Henry’s.

In Action

By the owner’s own admission, he hadn’t operated the SIG in over a year. Though still sporting a clean coating of lubrication and otherwise being in working order, I applied some Breakthrough Clean Battle Born to the working surfaces out of standard practical concerns.

Being that the firearm was being reviewed for this blog, I took the first “evolution”. The first magazine was loaded with the Federal aluminum-cased 9mm 115gr round. Approach the firing line, line is hot, load, make ready, and bang.

And bang some more. The SIG Sauer P226 9mm ran like a dream, eating up that cheaper ammo like no one’s business. I’m used to striker-fired pistols, so the double-action/single-action threw me off a little since it’s not my preferred operating system. The first trigger pull is roughly around 10 pounds according to the literature. The subsequent pulls are 4.5 pounds, which is lighter than a standard GLOCK, and lighter than my daily carry Heckler & Koch VP9. I will say that a lighter pull is eminently more satisfying. I may get some work done with my VP9…

Anyway, the firearm cycled beautifully. 18 years of regular use had worked out the kinks, the action felt butter-smooth with no signs of issues whatsoever. Accuracy is what one would expect out of a SIG Sauer pistol, which is to say it’s better than you. It’s no secret that I’m only “OK” with pistols (I mean, I can hit a moving target of a certain size at typical defensive distances, but don’t ask for sub-MOA precision) but I could tell the SIG is a stellar performer in the accuracy department. I made the steel ding, though.

Next magazine went to my wife. She doesn’t shoot as often as I do, but she’s a fine example of the theory that women are supposed to be more adept natural shooters than us guys. After some adjusting her grip, she was dinging the steel with no problems whatsoever. The bulk of SIG, again, proved reassuring, and soaked up the negligible recoil of the 9mm rounds effectively.

We took some more turns, and ran through the box of Federal and Tula without a hitch. Then the Maxxtech came along. Bang.

Clunk.

Clunk.

WTF?

Immediate action.

Bang.

The SIG P226 failed to fire. Immediate action (cycling out the bad round) remedied this, but the problem was still on my mind.

As a control, I shot some rounds of the Maxxtech 9mm through my VP9. After 5 rounds there was a failure. So yeah - bad ammo. Either I got a bad box of Maxxtech, or the scuttlebutt about this strange brass-plated steel cased load is true - it sucks.

As a further control, a kind range pal let me in on a few rounds of random brass-cased reloads. Zero problems there.

We finished out our session with some rifle work and called it a day.

Post-range impressions

One thing that left me impressed was the ease of use of the 9mm SIG Sauer P226. Being largely unfamiliar with SIG Sauer, and never having shot a P226 in my life, the gun just felt natural and “right” in my hands. Heavier than I’m used to, surely, but I wouldn’t pass this gun up, new or used. My wife was of a similar opinion. Though she prefers .40 S&W for reasons only known to her, she wouldn’t pass up this pistol either.

Plus, there’s some cultural and practical elements there as well. A well-built modern firearm is a durable good. With basic care and maintenance, a firearm can continue to function flawlessly for decades after it’s inception, and this specific used 9mm SIG Sauer P226 is proof of that. Well-maintained and well-used, it’s just a smooth and fun experience all around. In a hypothetical (hopefully) defensive situation, I’d have zero qualms about the reliability and performance of this firearm.

If you see a used P226 on the market that looks to be in decent shape - don’t hesitate to press the trigger and buy one - you will not regret it.

Though with cosmetic wear, this P226 functions to a superb level.

Pros And Cons Of A Used 9mm SIG Sauer P226

The TL:DR part, for the kids.

Pros

  • The 9mm SIG Sauer P226 is a service-grade pistol with a proven track record worldwide. There exists a huge universe of accessories and upgrades.

  • Easy to operate, maintain, and take down/put back together.

  • The weight is satisfying and reassuring, but not uncomfortable. Train and you’ll be fine.

  • Mostly steel construction is durable and robust.

  • Action is butter-smooth and reliable.

  • 4.5 pound pull in single-action mode is pretty nice. I like it.

Cons

  • Double-action/Single-Action trigger may not be ideal for some, tha first trigger press is a doozy. You can cock the hammer to get around that, but under duress that may not be an option. Training can remediate.

  • Night sights fade after 10 years but if you can afford the pistol, you can afford to replace the sights. So not really a “con”.

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