GUN REVIEW: Sig P226 SAO
A single action-only pistol from Sig Sauer for cocked and locked carry.
By Scott Smith
Sig Sauer has been manufacturing firearms going all the way back to 1853 when it was awarded a contract for 30,000 muskets for the Swiss Federal Ministry of Defense. Sauer & Sohn developed their first pistol, the P220, in 1970. In 1975 it became the basis for the Swiss Industrial Group’s handgun line. Sig has been importing the P220 and P230 to the U.S. market since 1985. In 1990 U.S. operations were set up in Exeter, N.H. and manufacturing for the U.S. market was underway. The company has gone through a few name and location changes and is known today as Sig Sauer Inc. in Exeter, N.H. Sig has become one of the leading firearms manufacturers in the world.
Names and locations are not all Sig has changed; their firearms have evolved to meet the U.S. market. The first Sig pistols for the U.S. market were sold as the Browning BDA-45. These were P220s chambered in .45 ACP with European magazine releases (heel of the mag well). These pistols earned a following, but the magazine release was not what Americans were used to. Relocating the magazine release to just behind the trigger Americanized the P220 with a traditional push button. This change would prove to be one of the moves to thrust Sig Sauer into the U.S. firearms market’s popularity.
Today Sig pistols are carried by local, state, federal and military units around the country and across the globe. Thanks to the American market’s guidance, Sig builds rifles and handguns to meet the needs of the competition shooter, the law enforcement and military professional, as well as the casual shooter. One of the latest of these pistols is the P226 Single Action Only (SAO).
The Sig P226 SAO is virtually identical to its older sibling, the P226. The obvious difference is the frame-mounted ambidextrous safety, which replaces the frame-mounted decocking lever. Also, the slide lock is slightly extended for ease of operation. The other visible feature is the “elite” frame’s beavertail grip tang that helps control recoil. During initial handling and dry firing of the SAO, I found it had a short and crisp trigger similar to the Browning Hi-Power. The SAO’s trigger broke right around 4.5 pounds.
Sig built other single action-only “P” style pistols as well. The X5 series of pistols have been built mainly for the competition market. Part of the X5 family is the X5 Tactical, which was designed for law enforcement applications and has been purchased by several tactical teams around the world. Sig wanted to build a handgun that would bridge special applications/competition and the duty market. Built on the proven P226 frame, the pistol uses the same magazines as the P226, will fit standard 226 holsters, and for duty applications is equipped with a Picatinny rail machined into the frame. While built for the personal protection and duty market with its fine trigger, it works well in IDPA and USPSA competition as well.
Other noticeable items on the P226 SAO are the front cocking serrations (to make press checking your pistol easier and safer) and atop the slide are Siglite night sights. These sights are boxy, bright and accurate.
When folks think of a single action pistol, they are sometimes concerned about how safe it is to unload. The Sig SAO is unlike a 1911 style pistol in that the slide will still move with the manual thumb safety applied. While the pistol will not fire, you can safely operate the slide to clear the chamber or check to see if there is a round in the chamber. This greatly reduces the chance of a negligent discharge during loading and unloading.
To further enhance the pistol’s safety, the P226 SAO utilizes a firing pin safety, common in many other modern service firearms. Over the years, I have never had a pistol with a firing pin safety fire without depressing the trigger. These safeties prevent firing if the pistol is dropped and, in my opinion, are a must for duty weapons.
Some folks frown upon the use of single action firearms for duty saying they are unsafe. This group seems to be the polymer pistol mafia. These striker-fired pistols are, for all intents and purposes, single action-type pistols; but without an external hammer. A pre-cocked striker is OK to some, but a cocked and locked pistol with a manual thumb safety is not. It’s difficult to understand this thinking.
When it comes to duty, the single action pistol is far easier to use than a traditional double action. There is no transition from double to single action, which means you have a consistent trigger pull shot to shot. This makes training easier and improves accuracy. This is why the 1911 and Hi Power have been the choice of special operations teams worldwide.
For duty use, one of the best features of the P226 SAO is it fits in standard P226 holsters. This may not sound like a big deal, but if you have to equip your new pistol with carry, duty and competition gear, it gets expensive. I tested the fit of the “elite” frame with holsters for traditional Sig Sauer 226 models from Blade-Tech, BLACKHAWK!, Comp-Tac, Kramer, Safariland and Rusty Sherrick. They all fit and functioned perfectly.
Once I determined that my support gear for the P226 SAO was ready, it was off to the range to see how well the pistol functioned and if it lived up to the accuracy for which Sigs are known. I gathered mixed reloads and factory ammunition from Black Hills, Federal, Freedom Munition, Hornady and HPR. This mix included training/competition and duty/carry ammunition with bullet weights from 115 grains to 147 grains in full-metal jacket and various hollow points.
My initial concern with the pistol was the reliability. I loaded the magazines with various reloads and let several magazines go down range. The pistol never missed a beat; firing lead, frangible, full-metal jacket and hollow points. What was more impressive was a mixed magazine of 15 rounds, fired supported off a post, turned in a 5-inch group at 25 yards. This most likely does not sound impressive until you consider it was 15 rounds of mixed pedigree, which made me wonder just how well this pistol would shoot.
To find out how accurate the P226 SAO was, I benched it and shot deliberate sighted rounds using each brand and load of ammunition. Factory loads used for accuracy testing were Atlanta Arms and Ammo’s 115gr JHP, Black Hills’ 124 gr. JHPs, Freedom Munitions 115 gr. FMJ-blaster ammo, Hornady’s 135 gr. FlexiLok and 115gr HAP Match, and HPR’s 124 gr JHP. The pistol consistently fired sub 3-inch five-shot groups at 20 yards; results are in the accompanying chart. The Atlanta Arms and HAP loads produced the tightest group of the day; 2 ¼ inches. For a 53-year-old with bi-focal prescription glasses, I thank the 226 SAO for making me look like I can shoot.
This was not the 226 SAO’s only trip to the range, as it was destined to be used for IDPA, USPSA, training, and general plinking as well as for CCW applications. Try as I might, I could not get the pistol to malfunction even with the nastiest steel cased ammunition I had laying around in my storage area. Sig truly builds pistols that live up to their catchphrase, “to hell and back reliability.”
When I finished ringing out the 226, it needed cleaning. Ease of take-down is another strong point of any Sig pistol. First ensure the magazine is out, rack the slide, and ensure the chamber is clear, then lock it to the rear. At this point, rotate the takedown lever and the slide assembly is easily removed forward off the frame. Lift out the recoil spring surrounding the guide rod, then the barrel. Now you can clean and lubricate the 226 with your favorite products. Reverse the operations to reassemble.
While I had the single action 226 apart, I noted that the only difference from the traditional 226 is the SAO’s trigger action. I removed the slide from my well-worn standard DA 226 and placed it on the single action frame and the slide from the single action on the DA 226. Both pistols still functioned perfectly. While Sig may not recommend this, it is possible and Sig’s machining and fitting of their pistols is dead-on.
With the test and evaluation P226 SAO destined to be a multi-role pistol and since I no longer actively work as a uniformed officer/Deputy, I made a few modifications to make the pistol fit my needs. While the Siglite sights are great, I have found the fiber-optic front sights and a “U” notch rear work well for my aging eyes. I installed a Warren Tactical rear and a Hi-Viz red fiber optic front. Hi-Viz’s overmolded fiber optic sights have proven themselves to be virtually indestructible. For this reason, I chose it over other fiber optic sights.
For personal protection applications, a BLACKHAWK! Zyphos light and a Lasermax Guide rod laser were installed. The Zyphos requires using a BLACKHAWK! SERPA level-two retention holster. For daily duty, a level three holster with a locking hood is also available.
The Zyphos mounts to the rail with a locking lever. This lever adapts to a wide range of rails; not all light rails are truly MIL-STD-1913 Picatinny spec, so this light works like a champ. The Zyphos is activated with a toggle; which also controls the output from momentary on, constant on, or strobe. I like the toggle because it does not require any pads or for me to change my shooting grip to operate the light. This light has an output of 180 lumens for approximately 90 minutes and it adds only about two and a half ounces to a pistol. The MSRP of the Zyphos is $199.99, but it can often be found for less online.
My Sig P226 traditional DA and the new SAO ride in a SERPA Concealment L2 holster ($49.99), both with and without the Zyphos light. I like the Serpa’s trigger-guard locking bar and finger release. According to Internet lore, there have been loads of negligent discharges from this holster. But, I have carried 1911s, Glocks, H&Ks, M&Ps, and Sigs in Serpa holsters since their introduction. It has been my duty holster, my CCW holster, and my competition holster. Another reason I chose the SERPA is the U.S. Army Special Forces Command picked the SERPA as its duty holster; so if it meets the demands of these troops, BLACKHAWK! must be doing something right. No matter what holster you choose, dry-fire practice will help you learn your gear.
With a quality light attached and fiber optic sights, I also wanted a fast aiming system if the pistol was required for use in close quarters. For this, I installed a Lasermax. This system replaces the factory guide rod and the takedown lever. The Lasermax takedown lever activates the laser with a side-to-either-side push with the center position, keeping the laser off. This system does not affect the size of the grip and there are no adjustments to make and the laser gives point of aim/point of impact accuracy out to 20 yards.
I have been fortunate enough to run Lasermax in several handguns and they work as advertised. Currently one resides in my favorite P229 SCT and has had several thousand rounds fired with the laser installed. The laser is accurate and functions flawlessly. What I like about this laser is the light blinks so your eye picks up the movement/twinkle of the light quickly. This is important with red lasers in brighter light when they are less visible. The Lasermax’s retail price will set you back $399, but if you look around, you will find them for less.
To make the pistol fit better and to give a more secure purchase in any condition, I replaced the factory grips with Hogue’s G10 G-Mascus. These grips are a high-pressure thermoset plastic laminate consisting of multiple layers of woven fiberglass mesh cloth impregnated with an epoxy resin binder. They are nearly indestructible. To give the pistol character, a green chain link finish was chosen. These grips have large checkered sections, which give superior grip with gloves on or in the wettest conditions. They are not cheap at an MSRP of $119.95, but they’re worth every penny.
While some agencies may not approve all of these modifications, some will. None of the extras affect the operation or factory safeties, which I do not advocate for duty weapons because of possible litigation. Better sights and fit of the pistol to the operator will aid in increasing your performance.
It may seem like the P226 SAO is rather pricey with an MSRP of $1,218, but this is not a polymer frame pistol, but rather a precision shooting tool. Without any modifications, the Sig Sauer P226 SAO is a practically perfect pistol with its single-action trigger and high-capacity magazine. If your agency authorizes a single-action pistol, this one should be at the top of the short list. The P226 SAO is accurate, reliable, and will perform well in whatever conditions you encounter on duty. PM
Scott Smith is a USAF Security Policeman and IDPA/USPSA competitor. He can he reached at email@example.com.
- Author’s dressed-up P226 SAO with the factory ammunition used for testing.
- Holsters are not a problem for the 226 SAO, shown in a Safariland ALS, with holsters from BLACKHAWK!, Blade Tech, Kramer Leather.
- Author putting the 226 through its paces.
- Sig Sauer P226 SAO with BLACKHAWK! Zyphos light, fiber optic front and custom rear u-notch rear sights, Lasermax guide rod laser, and Hogue grips.