The Sig Sauer P226: 40 Years Of Excellence

2024 marks the 40th year that the Sig Sauer P226 has been available to America’s armed citizens and police alike. The Sig Sauer engineers began working on it in 1980 and had it ready for the US military tests – for which it had really been designed – by 1983. After an exhaustive series of tests, Sig’s P226 tied with the Beretta 92 and the latter won the lucrative order based on a lower bid.

An Instant Classic

On the home front, the P226 was an instant hit. It was the time of the “wondernine,” the sixteen-shot double action 9mm semiautomatic service pistol.  Smith & Wesson took an early lead in the US police 9mm market with their Model 59 series due in part to its early introduction, circa 1971. The Beretta 92’s adoption by the military in the mid-80s won it many police contracts as well.  However, by the time striker-fired pistols started taking over the market, it seemed that more police 9mms were Sigs than Berettas or Smith & Wessons.

One reason for this was that those other two contenders had slide-mounted levers which served simultaneously as manual safeties and decockers and most police were teaching the old military slide-racking technique with the thumb toward the shooter. This could inadvertently put the gun on safe. That couldn’t happen with the Sig Sauer which had a decocking lever behind the trigger on the frame.

To keep up, Beretta offered the 92D and S&W, a “decocker only” option for police sales. Those levers were spring-loaded and ceased to be manual safeties. Most departments had adopted a “KISS Principle” (Keep It Simple, Stupid) in firearms training and weren’t carrying pistols with the safety on anyway.

State troopers from all over the United States as well as trend-setting county law enforcement like the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office adopted the Sigs. So did the Feds. As time went on the P226 spawned the compact P228, the similar-sized but more ruggedly built P229, and more for a total of some two dozen variations within the P226 family. FBI and DEA issued P226s and P228s and the ATF and IRS issued them over the years as well. For a long time, Secret Service and Federal Air Marshals had 9mm P228s and then .357 SIG P229s.

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


The 9mm Luger (9X19) was the initial chambering and, over the years, the most popular. It would eventually be produced in .40 Smith & Wesson and .357 SIG as well and there would eventually be an excellent Sig Sauer brand .22 Long Rifle conversion unit. For countries that forbade “military cartridges” such as the 9mm Luger for commercial sales, Sig Sauer chambered some P226s in 9X21 and .30 Luger.

Trigger Systems

The original P226 fire control mechanism, and the most popular, was “traditional double action” with a long double action trigger pull on the first shot and thereafter self-cocking to short pull single action for subsequent shots until empty or decocked.  In the transition from double-action revolvers some less-practiced shooters would forget to decock and holster a cocked pistol. The demand arose for double-action-only (DAO) or “self-decocking” models, resulting in the P226 DAO that was approved for NYPD and Chicago PD, and a standard issue for some departments such as the Ohio state troopers.

Drawbacks of the DAO System

Many found the standard DAO difficult to manage and that gave rise to Sig’s third option, the Double Action Kellerman (DAK) trigger, which was adopted by numerous agencies including the Texas Department of Law Enforcement with their .357 SIG P226s. Named after the engineer who designed it, it lightens the double action only stroke to about 6.5 pounds. If the shooter doesn’t reset the trigger all the way forward (a surprisingly common shooter mistake with long trigger pull handguns) the DAK will fire with a shorter trigger return but at the price of a heavier pull, about 8.5 pounds.

The fourth and latest option was the P226 Single Action Only (SAO) which was able to be carried cocked and locked with an ergonomic ambidextrous thumb safety engaged. Because of the short, sweet trigger pull for every shot, this is the P226 I see most often among my students these days.

SIG P226 with four magazines
Cocked and locked P226 SAO is the variation author sees most often in his classes today, shown here with several generations of 10-, 15-, and 20-round magazines.

Durability and Reliability

In early production P226s that were shot a lot with hot loads, we did encounter the occasional cracked slide rail. It speaks well of the design that it didn’t cause malfunctions; the first thing you’d notice was that your pistol had changed its point of aim/point of impact. I personally had to send two 1980s production P226s back for frame replacement, but I was shooting a heavy diet of Cor-Bon 115 grain 9mm at 1350 foot-seconds, and Federal +P+. Sig Sauer beefed up the P226 across the caliber board in the 1990s when they brought that model out in .40 S&W and .357 SIG, and those guns proved durable. San Francisco PD has issued the P226 in .40 S&W for many years and still does at this writing and they hold up just fine. Orlando, Florida PD adopted the 9mm P226 in the late ‘80s and has shot the heck out of them with hot 127-grain Winchester +P+ for most of that time with reports of good durability. OPD is only now changing to striker-fired with Sig’s P320. Navy SEALs used the 9mm P226 for decades and the guns stood up to their constant, rigorous training.

Over the decades, the most valid and irritating P226 complaint was grip screws constantly loosening and falling out. I thought Sig Sauer dealt with that effectively with their E2 grips, and I don’t see them loosening on current G10-type grips.

SIG P226 grip
E2 grip panels solved the problem of loose grip screws on P226s.

The “Southpaw Unfriendly” Fallacy

Some have said the P226 and its Sig siblings aren’t friendly to left-handers because the decocking lever and slide lock/slide release lever are on the left side of the pistol. Untrue: the lefty just needs to use the correct techniques. The southpaw’s index finger simply comes off the trigger and places its tip on the decocking lever, pointing down and pressing down, and decocking becomes effortless. Holding the pistol in the dominant left hand, place the right hand atop the slide with the thumb pointing forward and level with the ejection port. Retract the slide, and the right thumb comes perfectly to the slide lock lever to lift it upward. To release the slide from the slide lock, just do the commonly taught rearward slide tug, or as the right-hand inserts the magazine, slide the fingertips upward behind the knuckles of the firing hand and press down on the slide release lever as the right hand returns to its support firing position.

Above, trigger finger activates decock lever; below, here’s how to lock the slide open left-handed.
The P226 is in fact southpaw friendly, Ayoob maintains. Above, the trigger finger activates the decocking lever; below, here’s how to lock the slide open left-handed.

Microcosm and Macrocosm

The traditional double-action semi-auto has fallen out of favor these days because it’s a striker-fired and polymer-framed world. Sig Sauer kept up, first with their 1998 introduction of the Sig-Pro, a traditional double-action P226-ish gun with a polymer frame and value pricing. Today, more than a quarter century later, Sig’s polymer/striker P320 series is hugely popular with both American law enforcement and the law-abiding armed citizenry and of course, has been adopted by most of the US military.

Massad shooting the SIG P226
Speaking of P226 fallacies, don’t worry about the high bore axis of the Sig P226 slowing you down with exaggerated muzzle rise, at least with the 9mm. The photo here caught me in rapid fire with a P226 9mm, and you’ll notice that the muzzle is back on target for the third shot before the spent casings from the first two could get very far from the pistol.

Always a very accurate gun, particularly in 9mm and .357 SIG, the P226 and the variants it spawned are still reliable and time-proven. For an example of its shootability, look at the lead photo for this article: it’s a 60-shot demo I fired in front of a class with a TDA 9mm, scoring 499 out of 500 possible points. I, for one, will take that any day.

A Proven Gun

From the SEALs to the cops to the armed citizens, the P226 has proven itself. On a personal level, this writer became intimately familiar with the gun through Sig Armorer’s School and shooting classes as well as interviews with engineers and the CEO when writing two editions of the Gun Digest Book of Sig-Sauer, shooting matches with the P226, teaching classes with it, and using it as a uniform duty weapon, personal concealed carry sidearm, and home defense gun. The P226 is a modern classic, for good reasons.

Massad "Mas" Ayoob is a well respected and widely regarded SME in the firearm world. He has been a writer, editor, and law enforcement columnist for decades, and has published thousands of articles and dozens of books on firearms, self-defense, use of force, and related topics. Mas, a veteran police officer, was the first to earn the title of Five Gun Master in the International Defensive Pistol Association. He served nearly 20 years as chair of the Firearms Committee of the American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers and is also a longtime veteran of the Advisory Bard of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association. A court-recognized expert witness in shooting cases since 1979, Ayoob founded the Lethal Force Institute in 1981 and served as its director until 2009. He continues to instruct through Massad Ayoob Group,

Sign Up for Newsletter

Let us know what topics you would be interested:
© 2024 GunMag Warehouse. All Rights Reserved.
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap