Double Test Drive: Taking a Lap With Two New Nines

Not long ago, an article I wrote entitled Test Drive was featured here on PDN. The idea behind it was simple: I wanted to find out if the typical short-duration experience of renting guns at the local range and putting a couple boxes of ammo through them really had any value. After all, I work and teach at Black Wing Shooting Center, a range that prides itself on its large selection of rental guns. And every gun shop or range that has even a few rentals available will cite the “try it before you buy it” angle as being a great way for a customer to make an informed buying decision.

You’ve probably noticed, however, that the professionals who review guns for our favorite magazines, websites and cable shows don’t do it this way. Their long and detailed studies can last weeks or even months, like a doomed love affair. This made me curious to know if the rest of us were getting anything useful out of our one-night stands, so to speak. As it turns out, we do learn a lot of what we need to know in a relatively short amount of time. If a shooter has a good idea about what they’re looking for, a few quick rounds at the rental counter can be the most informative part of the decision-making process. In other words, our parents were right when they told us that “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

So here we go again. I’m walking onto the range with two guns, some targets and two boxes of ammo.

SIG Sauer P938

SIG Sauer P938.

Our first pistol is the long-anticipated SIG Sauer P938. This single-action autoloader is a slight upsizing of the wildly popular model P238. For those who don’t remember, the P238 was SIG’s entry into the ballooning “pocket-sized .380″ craze. They built what was in essence a modernized and miniaturized 1911-kinda gun, that boasted actual sights and a single-action trigger. That little gun was (and is) offered in a variety of finishes and configurations, and it really seemed to hit a nerve. It rapidly became the most upscale of the micro-sized .380-caliber pistols. In fact, its popularity has actually compelled the legendary Colt company to re-introduce their own long-abandoned .380 mini-1911s to the market.

It probably didn’t take SIG Sauer long to realize that if the basic P238 platform could be engineered to handle full-power 9mm, well … hence the pistol at hand, the SIG Sauer P938.

The first thing I noticed was the gun’s slightly out-of-proportion appearance. In an attempt to keep the gun as small as possible, SIG’s engineers seem to have added bulk only where absolutely necessary. Because the 9mm Luger and the .380 ACP are the same diameter, there was no need to increase all the gun’s proportions, but just account for the 9mm’s overall greater length. The result is a grip that is weirdly larger than the rest of the gun. Of course, this is entirely logical and even desirable in a compact carry pistol. How unusual it looks to me is entirely irrelevant.

What is relevant, however, is some consideration of the whole idea behind this pistol. At the risk of opening up a completely different can of worms, I have to air my misgivings at the single-action “cocked and locked” platform as a gun for the beginner, or the casual-carry “only if I need it” non-shooter. Thumb safeties add extra demands to the training issue, and training is what is most often ignored (or at least undervalued) by the aforementioned users. Also, conventional wisdom suggests that an exposed cocked hammer (and its accompanying extended beavertail) is one of the last things you would want on a gun that has a high probability of being deployed from an enclosed space such as a pocket or purse. Although I personally believe the whole issue of a gun snagging on the draw is a bit overblown, I do know that you can’t grab loose threads or whatever with parts that aren’t there!

My personal musings notwithstanding, the SIG Sauer P938 was a competent performer on the range. Like most quality self-defense guns, it is more accurate than needed for its intended purpose. It ate my little diet of both ball and hollow-point ammunition without complaint.

SIG P938 performed well in accuracy and rapid defensive drills.

Although still a subjective opinion, I found the thumb safety to be both tiny and quite stiff in operation. I have no doubt that dedicated users of the 1911 platform will adapt successfully, but they aren’t the ones I’m worried about. Lastly, I didn’t care for the texture of the G-10 grips on the P938 rental gun. They feature a “scalloped/fishscale-cum-wood rasp” sharpness that I found a little too abrasive under recoil. Other grips are available and they’re easily swapped out.

It’s a fine gun and should be a big success for SIG Sauer. I just hope they refrain from making it too “cute,” like they did with its little .380-caliber predecessor. I strongly suspect that the gun’s visual appeal may have made it attractive to some for whom the single-action operating system is not appropriate. Any manufacturer that offers a “rainbow” finish over rosewood grips is clearly interested in making the gun as pretty as possible. Nevertheless, if you want to try out the SIG Sauer P938 for yourself, I invite you to stop by Black Wing Shooting Center and give it a shot, no pun intended.

Bersa BP9cc

Our next pistol has come along with much less fanfare but has earned my attention nevertheless: the Bersa BP9cc. Bersa is an Argentina-based manufacturer that has been quietly capturing sizable portions of the low-cost defensive pistol market since the 1960s. (Note that there is a huge difference between “low cost” or “inexpensive” and “cheap” or “crappy.”)

Bersa BP9cc.

Bersa markets a popular line of pistols that are, at their core, Walther PP/PPK clones with exterior slide lock levers and alloy frames. These guns have proven over time to be reliable defenders and are widely considered a “best buy” for the savvy if budget-constrained citizen. To their credit, I have watched over the years as Bersa has constantly improved the fit and finish of their products. Over time, they’ve made several good stabs at wider acceptance, with some serviceable offerings in 9mm, .40 S&W and .45 ACP, but nothing that ever made much of a splash. Perhaps until now, that is.

The Bersa BP9cc is a real departure for the company in that it is a striker-fired semiauto. It also has a polymer frame with a single-stack magazine. It isn’t the thinnest 9mm on the market, but it is by no means wide. It isn’t the shortest in length or height, but it is in no sense long or tall. In fact, the most straightforward description I can give of the overall feel of this gun is that of a slim single-stack Glock 19. The polymer frame is reassuringly solid, and the slide is flat, square and low to the hand. This gun is an obvious thrust into the market now dominated by the likes of the Kahr CW9, Walther PPS and Smith & Wesson M&P Shield: the not-quite-pocket-sized compact carry/service pistol … or something like that. The very same market as the SIG Sauer P938, come to think of it.

Although the Bersa’s striker-fired action is a first for the company, it is pretty familiar to us straight out of the box. In fact, it’s so much like a Glock or Kahr in external appearance that the rear slide plate covers might actually interchange (doubtful, but they do look very much alike). It’s fair to say that Bersa has not brought anything new to the party. So how did the BP9cc fare in my hands?

BP9cc proved capable of very good performance.

I’ll admit that I do a lot more shooting with Glocks and other modern striker-fired pistols than anything else these days, so maybe I was predisposed to like the Bersa. It’s accurate, comfortable and was reliable in function. The slide did fail to lock open on the last shot of the first magazine fired, but since I was the first to shoot the gun since it left the factory and, because the problem never reappeared, I ignored it. My gripes about the BP9cc are few, but one could be important.

First, the sights are rudimentary plastic hunks, complete with the now-familiar white paint dots, and looked as though they could have come off an Airsoft gun. But they worked just fine, so this is likely my rampant case of “gun snob” coming to the surface. Second, the good folks at Bersa (and others) continue to annoy me by installing an “internal locking mechanism” on their pistols, a feature that makes no sense to me whatsoever from either a gun safety or security standpoint. It makes me nervous to visualize someone sitting there, gun loaded with a round in the chamber, fiddling around trying to stick a little skeleton key into the side of the frame! Oh, it’s not loaded? Then why do you need to disable the mechanism? If the gun needs to be locked up, then lock it up in a secure container.

My last, and likely most objective, concern is the magazine release. It’s a dual-direction button (read: ambidextrous) located in the usual place. On the pistol that I tried, twice pushing the button with the thumb of the shooting hand caused it to bind, forcing me to push from the other side with my trigger finger to eject the magazine. The most likely culprit behind this is a burr on the shaft of the polymer magazine release button. Also, it only happened twice out of about ten live-ammo and dozens of empty magazine ejections. Still, it is disconcerting on a gun that may be used as a life-or-death carry piece, and I would be happy to see this particular gun as the exception rather than the rule.

Conclusions

What did I learn? Well, that both pistols are good shooters and their respective fanbases will welcome them into the market. Either would make a reasonable choice for concealed carry, although I am absolutely on the side of those who prefer the modern striker-fired gun for personal defense and would only recommend a single-action system to a trained and dedicated user. This is my opinion and I’m willing to take my lumps for it — but I do say that the SIG Sauer P938 is a well-made gun.

Winchester 124-grain 9mm NATO ball and Federal 124-grain Hydra-Shok JHP were tested in both guns.

In the end, what I have found and continue to find is that the subjective characteristics of a given pistol are what will cause most of us to give it a thumbs up or down while looking for our new/next gun. This will bear repeating because there are so many good choices available today. And that list of contenders just got longer with the addition of the SIG Sauer P938 and Bersa BP9cc.

Categories: Defensive Firearms and Handguns.

Tags: bersa, Firearms, Handguns, pistols, sig sauer, test drive, and winchester.

One Response to “Double Test Drive: Taking a Lap With Two New Nines”

  1. Joseph says:

    The comments about the Sig p938 are accurate.

    The thumb safety was stiff when I first bought it and has with use gotten a little better to the point where my finger is not hurting disengaging and engaging it.

    This is the second gun I have owned in my life, the first was a revolver. I believe if one is going to go to a 1911 or “1911 kinda” gun one has got to practice using that thumb safety and “memorizing” disengaging it at the appropriate time in the draw. Also having your thumb somewhere you can feel where you have the safety.

    I don’t have my concealed carry permit yet (hoping to get it soon) and went out on a work call at two o’clock am- being half asleep. Got suprised by a security personnel person while I was working. Not knowing it was security I drew my tactical high lumen flashlight and had my hand on my kimber pepper spray in my pocket. Moral of my story is what if it was not security personnel but somebody with a gun intending to do me harm, being half asleep, well I did get more alert after awhile, I have to rely on what I have practiced. I mean you cannot start thinking I got to turn the safety off, it has got to be memorized and done without thinking. Add to this at two am you have got to have good judgement. What if he had his gun drawn as a security personnel (he did not have a uniform).

    If I want to get another gun, going to have to get another 1911 or 1911 like handgun. I can definitely see the danger of having a non 1911 and 1911 at the same time. You have perfected your draw with a 1911 with thumb safety, it is definitely going to mess up your practice if you go to a different gun.

    I like my Sig p938, I like having a safety on the gun, that is my personnel preference. But I need to continually practice. It sounds simple to say no big deal with turning off the safety. Maybe no big deal at one o’clock in the afternoon and fully alert but at 2 am yeah you need to have memorized it and not have to think about it.

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