Compact and powerful.
By Warren Wilson
I don’t like mouse guns. Experience has taught me to be wary of little guns for a lot of reasons. First, they can be finicky about ammunition. Second, their recoil is a bit harsh, resulting in groups on paper that can be a little hard on the ego. Third, they tend to be carried a lot and shot very little, as the old saying goes (which is an unacceptable practice for someone who seriously carries a firearm as a weapon rather than merely a talisman). Last and most important, mouse guns come mostly in mouse gun calibers.
It used to be almost a given that the smaller the semi-auto pistol, the less reliable it was. However, today’s gun manufacturers produce some decent little pistols for concealment that also function very well. One of the good ones is the 2.9-inch barreled P290 RS from Sig Sauer. It is incredibly easy to conceal, but still offers a decent capacity given the choice of a six- or eight-round 9mm magazine and a useable grip for full-size law officers like myself. It also works great for backup in a front pants pocket, on body armor, or carried on your ankle with the aforementioned six-round bullet box. Still, it’s big enough that a lower primate like me can manipulate its controls and shoot it somewhat effectively.
Avoiding the caliber debate, my personal preference is to carry only service calibers for defense. Even with advancements in bullet technology, I have never felt comfortable with the calibers in which most super small pistols are offered. However, the P290 is offered in 9mm, which is comforting. Mostly, I don’t like pocket pistols because I have the hands of a monkey without the inordinate strength necessary to shoot them well. Big hands and long fingers make it especially difficult to find a small handgun in an effective caliber with a decent grip.
These are some of the reasons I’m an advocate of carrying something as close to a duty-size handgun as possible during one’s off-duty pursuits. Still, there’s no denying the need for those little guns when it’s impossible to conceal a larger gun or for backup use. In fact, despite being an advocate of large gun carry, there certainly are a lot of subcompact 9mm and .40 caliber pistols in my gun safe, just no ‘starter pistols.’ By that, I don’t mean blank guns for signaling the start of a marathon, I mean the ones that are chambered in rounds that are better at starting fights than ending them.
The “RS” after the Sig’s P290 name stands for Re-Strike. The P290 has second strike capability, which goes hand-in-hand with its double-action-only trigger system. There were some sporadic complaints involving early pre-RS P290’s with light primer hits. Sig quickly addressed the issue and solved the problems in this area and there certainly weren’t any misfires with the test pistol.
The P290 RS came with one six-round magazine. The eight-round variation can be purchased for about $40.00 plus shipping. Considering these pistols are often on sale for $300–350, that’s still quite a deal. The large slide stop is especially appreciated, as at first blush it seems disproportionate to the pistol’s diminutive size. I was concerned that my thumbs would inadvertently manipulate it during live fire, causing the slide to go forward on an empty magazine or lock back prematurely, as is often happens when I fire polymer guns.
Despite the usable size of the P290’s slide stop, it is set forward enough that my opposable digit caused no drama. The frame is black polymer that helps keep the unloaded weight down to 20.5 ounces. I weighed it at 23.2 ounces loaded with seven rounds (the six-round magazine plus one in the chamber) of Federal 124-grain HST +P and 25.6 ounces with nine rounds with the eight-round magazine plus one in the chamber.
This P290 RS came with steel three-dot sights. They are actual gun sights like you would find on a full-size pistol. Siglite® night sights are an option if desired. The Sig came in black Nitron® finish, but can also be purchased in natural stainless. The polymer grips are seriously stippled. Even the polymer grip extension that comes standard with the eight-round magazine screams, “Severe Tire Damage!” I actually prefer it that way for pocket carry, but it may be a bit aggressive for some folks if carried against bare skin, but I’m not complaining. Some carry guns with smooth grips are harder to hold onto than a hand-written report on a windy day. This is one of the features that make this gun easy to shoot. For those who don’t like the stippling however, Sig offers a smooth set of grip panels as well. In this configuration, the front and back straps still allow for a secure purchase on the pistol, but the side plates don’t irritate the skin. The P290 RS has a removable plug at the bottom of the dust cover to mount an optional laser. Sig Sauer really seems to have thought of everything with this little gun.
Bang and Buck
The best feature of this pistol is its combination of compactness and power. At about 5.5 inches long by 3.9 inches tall and approximately an inch in width, this 9mm is approximate to many .380 autos on the market, but chambered in the more powerful 9mm. I carried it several times while running and in my front pocket as a backup for a few weeks. The little Sig is very well suited to both roles. Even as a large gun snob, I could see carrying the P290 RS as a primary concealed-carry pistol.
The P290 has received a little bad press for the difficult nature of its takedown procedure. Its design necessitates removing the slide stop while holding the slide fully rearward. The process has been called, “a three-handed procedure.” The P290 included a small plastic block that can be inserted into the ejection port to hold the slide back. This simple device makes removing the slide stop much easier. Then, it’s just a matter of removing the recoil spring, guide rod and barrel. Reassembly is a little more difficult, but not nearly as emotionally traumatic as I’d been led to believe. This is coming from a guy with the manual dexterity of a seal that didn’t quite make the cut at Sea World.
If you’ve ever shot a Sig P250 or a revolver, you’ll have no difficulty acclimating to the Double Action Only-type trigger of the P290. Don’t go into it expecting to break any records on split times. It’s not that kind of trigger or pistol. However, the long nine-pound pull is well suited for deep carry where a long trigger stroke is an asset. Arguably, the P290 is very much a single-stack miniaturized version of the P250 that is one of my favorite training/defensive pistols.
For a two-day range test, three of us shot 50 rounds of 124-grain +p Federal HST, 50 rounds of Remington 124-grain +P Golden Saber, 50 rounds of Winchester White Box 124-grain FMJ, and 50 rounds of PMC Bronze 124-grain FMJ. The second day we threw 50 rounds of nearly 25-year-old Corbon 115-grain +p into a mix of potluck FMJs. It may not seem fair to the ammunition or the pistol, but testing equipment of this importance shouldn’t be fair. Very few defensive guns will be pressed into service in a defensive encounter. A few, however, will be truly needed in less-than-ideal circumstances where only perfect performance is acceptable. That’s why I try to use a less-than-optimal grip during function testing of any autopistol. After about 300 rounds total, we had no stoppages, malfunctions, mishaps, or whatever the cool kids are calling jams these days. The P290 RS just worked. It should be noted that many of the FMJs we shot were PMC Bronze. I read several accounts of the pre-RS P290s having light strikes with this ammunition. As stated above, they all went bang in this Sig Sauer.
The P290 shoots relatively soft with normal practice FMJs, but becomes a bit more of an attention grabber with the Federal HST +p. I would compare the recoil impulse to a lightweight 1911 Commander size pistol in .45ACP. It’s not intolerable, but certainly noticeable compared to a full-size, polymer 9mm duty pistol. Still, none of the officers who fired it had any trouble placing several quick rounds on target after shooting a few magazines for familiarization. The Corbon, on the other hand, was quite the handful. I don’t think this quarter-century-old loading was ever intended to be fired in a 20-ounce, 2.9-inch gun. The recoil was abrupt. It may take some sort of specialist to get the smile off my face after launching 115-grain bullets at 1,240 feet per second out of a pocket pistol. It’s reminiscent of firing full-power 10mm loads out of a grownup pistol, which also makes my heart happy.
Beware the Tiny Pistol
This wee weapon was perfectly reliable and, most importantly, easier to shoot than most guns its size. This was especially true when using the extended eight-round magazine. I usually say, “Beware of small guns because of their flaws.” In the case of the P290 RS, I say, “Beware,” because it will try very hard to convince you to make it your primary concealed-carry pistol. PM
Warren Wilson is a Lieutenant with the Enid Police Department in Oklahoma. He is a former SWAT team member/leader and has been in law enforcement for 19 years.
1. The Sig P290 RS is among the smallest 9mm pistols on the market.
2. The Sig P290 RS is very much a miniaturized, single-stack version of the P250.
3. The Sig P290 RS functioned perfectly with all ammunition including Corbon, Federal and PMC brands.
4. This Sig P290 RS came with a polymer holster and an ejection-port block tool to aid in disassembly.
5. With the eight-round extended magazine, the P290 RS is a great primary off-duty gun.
6. The double action-only trigger of the P290 RS is a viable choice for defense as evidenced by this five-shot rapid-fire group at 7 yards.
7. The P290 RS is a bit more difficult to field strip than some polymer defensive pistols. Take-down is easily accomplished by use of the included and simple-to-use tool.