I like action. Who doesn’t?
Single action. Traditional double action. Double action only. Striker-fired action. I like ‘em all. But I especially like single action handguns. Having only one thing to do, release the hammer, single actions tend to be easier to shoot accurately. Repeatable accuracy leads to confidence, and confidence is something I want in spades if I’m carrying a gun for protection.
With that goal in mind – a carry gun that inspires confidence – I checked out the new Sig Sauer Elite SAO. Unlike most traditional Sig Sauer pistols, this one is a single action – kind of like a 1911.
Its got an ambidextrous safety lever. You carry it cocked and locked. In fact, outside of cosmetic differences, one of the few observable things different from a 1911 is that the Sig has a hinged trigger while the 1911’s trigger moves straight back like a sliding door.
OK, so that’s some gross over-simplification. The Sig P226 Elite SAO has classic Sig internals – not the hinged recoil action and barrel bushing we’re accustomed to seeing in a 1911. Yet it offers the benefits of a constant, light trigger to aid in accurate shooting. Unlike the 1911, it offers a double stack magazine so you get 15 rounds of ammo, plus an extra in the chamber. Oh yeah, and it’s chambered in 9mm, not .45 ACP.
I keep mentioning 1911’s as a comparison, but if you want to get more specific, you can think of the Sig P226 Elite SAO as a combat version of the P226 X-5 Competition. While the X-5 Competition models are built as elite pistols for professional competitors, they’re not necessarily suited for defensive or combat use. You’ll find allen screws all over the place on a competition X-5 model as the design allows specific adjustment to nearly every aspect of the gun’s operation. Trigger weight, trigger travel, trigger over travel, trigger shape, magazine well style, compensators, flux capacitors and so on. You can also find similarity with the P226 X-5 Tactical model, but the Elite SAO has a 4.4 inch barrel instead of 5 inches. Corresponding overall length dimensions are shorter and weight of the Elite SAO is about one ounce less.
What the P226 Elite SAO does have in common with the X-5 models are a single action design and a specially contoured grip. Like the new Sig one-piece E2 grips, the contour on the Elite SAO is more rounded and offers a shorter trigger reach to better fit a variety of hands. Unlike the E2 models, the grips are two-piece on the Elite SAO. Want to talk your favorite custom stock maker into fitting some cocobolo’s to your Elite SAO? Go for it!
Rather than blathering on about what the Sig P226 Elite SAO is like and unlike, let’s get to the details.
Just the specs
|Overall Length||8.2 in|
|Overall Height||5.5 in|
|Overall Width||1.7 in|
|Barrel Length||4.4 in|
|Sight Radius||6.3 in|
|Weight w/Magazine||34.4 oz|
|Magazine Capacity||15 Rounds|
|Trigger Pull SAO||5.0 lbs|
You’ll get this pistol in a hard plastic, foam-lined hard plastic case that has two holes for padlocks, so the case is legal for TSA transportation of your pistol if you add your own locks. In addition to the two magazines, Sig includes a cable gun lock so you can safely store your pistol when not in use. A comprehensive P226 family owners manual rounds out the package.
The Sig P226 Elite SAO is an all metal (except the grip panels) gun. The fridge magnet test told me the frame is, in fact, aluminum alloy, not steel. The slide is stainless steel with a black hard-coat anodized (Nitron) finish. You’ll find that the magazines are all steel as well, except for the follower, which appears to be made of some sort of polymer. One thing I like about steel magazines like these is that you can count on them to drop free of their own accord when you punch the magazine release button. They’re just not as susceptible to bulging like plastic magazines. The magazines have witness holes at the 5, 10 and 15 capacity marks so you can clearly see approximate remaining round count. The 15 round indicator hole tells you when you’re done filling the magazine.
The P226 Elite SAO comes standard with SigLite Night Sights. All three dots, two in the rear sight and one in the front, are fitted with tritium inserts for constant visibility in dark conditions. One other thing you’ll notice about the rear sight – it’s got a vertical front edge so you can rack the slide using it as a catch on a belt, boot or another hard surface.
As the name implies, the trigger is a single action design. Like other Sig models, it’s hinged and offers a wide and well-rounded face. Unlike those of unnamed polymer guns, this trigger is smooth and comfortable on the finger. For a few shots, that doesn’t matter a whole lot. When shooting lots of rounds in a match or extended practice session, you’ll be thankful for the well polished trigger face. The inside of the trigger guard is also smooth so the knuckle side of your trigger finger won’t get torn up during recoil.
Using some mad rough estimation skills, I figure there is over ¼ inch of take up before you feel significant trigger pressure. It breaks clean within about another 1/16th inch of pull. Using a simple trigger scale, I repeatedly measured trigger break force at just about 5 pounds. The Sig brochure also indicates a 5 pound pull, so this was right on target.
The P226 Elite SAO has ambidextrous safety levers of equal size, so there’s no predisposition to right or left-handed shooting as far as safety activation is concerned. Engagement of the safety lever blocks the trigger but does not lock the hammer or slide. This means that you can perform administrative functions like loading, unloading, racking the slide to show clear and more while the safety is engaged. This is a great feature and came in really handy during the recent Crimson Trace Midnight 3 Gun competition. “Load and make ready” and “unload and show clear” commands from the range safety officers were all performed with the safety on. You can even do a chamber check to verify presence of a cartridge while the safety is engaged. This is a really nice feature.
A couple of holster options for the Sig P226 Elite SAO
Outside of range testing and lots of plinking, the first thing I did with this pistol was outfit it for the Crimson Trace Midnight 3 Gun Invitational. I figured it would be a great way to give the gun a decent workout to see how it runs. As standard Lasergrips won’t fit due to the safety levers, I elected to install a Crimson Trace Rail Master Pro on the Picatinny rail. The Rail Master Pro offers 100 lumen light and a laser in an integrated unit. Unlike other traditional weapon lights, the Rail Master Pro is more rectangular in shape to fit the light and laser in a compact package, so I knew finding a suitable holster was going to be a challenge.
Consulting with the folks at Galco, we figured that the Galco Halo model should work, even though it’s technically cut for a tubular weapon light. The holster secures the gun with a molded fit to the slide and trigger area, but offers a generous space under the rail section of the holster for lights. Sure enough, the holster worked fine with the Rail Master Pro. I did have to do a little extra break in by covering the (unloaded!) P226 and Rail Master Pro with Ziploc bags and working the leather from the inside. Once that was done, I was good to go. A side tip here – if you have a sticky holster, get a bottle of Draw-Ez Holster Lubricant. It won’t slime up your nice holster but will instantly cure a sticky draw motion.
While I was at it, I tried two other lights that I had handy to see how the Halo worked with the P226 Elite SAO. The standard Crimson Trace Rail Master light is smaller and more rounded than the Pro model and worked like a champ. So did a Streamlight TLR-1 that I had sitting around. While the Halo has a retention strap, it’s really not needed as the fit is solid. So if you’re looking for an outside the waistband holster for the Sig P226 Elite SAO that accommodates a rail mounted light or laser, check out the Galco Halo.
For daily carry, I prefer an inside the waistband holster, so I ordered a Galco V-Hawk IWB holster. Yeah, I know, those of you who are holster encyclopedias know that Galco doesn’t make a V-Hawk for the Sig P226. You’re right. However, for a nominal fee, Galco will make you a custom holster for your specific gun, within reason. So give them a call before throwing in the towel on a hard-to-find combination of holster and gun.
The V-Hawk is a great option for the Sig P226 Elite SAO. As a metal full-sized gun, loaded with 15+1 rounds of 9mm, it’s got some weight, just over 2 ½ pounds loaded according to my quasi-accurate scale. As a result, you need a solid holster to support it properly. The Galco V-Hawk is a steer hide IWB holster with a reinforced top for easy re-holstering. The standard configuration uses leather snap loops to attach to your belt, but it ships with clips that convert the holster into a tuckable model. Like most Galco leather holsters, it’s made tight so you’ll want to break it in using the Ziploc method mentioned above.
Shooting the Sig Sauer P226 Elite SAO
The short story is that this is an exceptionally easy gun to shoot accurately. Its weight and rounded grip profile, combined with the relatively tame 9mm, make it a pleasure to shoot. If you made me decide on the spot, I would say it’s the softest shooting 9mm pistol I’ve shot. While comfort is nice, that really matters for more important things like getting back on target quickly after breaking a shot. Shooting the recent Crimson Trace Midnight 3 Gun Competition with this pistol was a great validation of its ability to absorb recoil and get off quick, but accurate shots. I didn’t beat 3 Gun Jedi Daniel Horner from the Army Marksmanship Unit, but it wasn’t the pistol’s fault.
Prior to the match, I ran a variety of 9mm ammo, both practice and premium defensive, through the gun to check velocity performance and it’s ease of shooting accurately. For function testing, I shot at least a dozen types of 9mm ranging from inexpensive practice ammo to high-end premium self-defense ammunition. I used steel cased, brass cased, light bullet, heavy bullet, lead, hollow point, flat point, round nose – you name it. When the Sig P226 ate all that without a hiccup, I dumped a pile of each ammo type on the shooting bench, mixed up the cartridges, and started loading mixed magazines. For example, a Hornady Critical Duty 135 grain cartridge might be followed by a Tula 115 grain steel case practice round, and so on. No matter, I’m still waiting on my first malfunction with this gun.
As a range visit isn’t much of a workout for gun function, I also took it to the Crimson Trace Midnight 3 Gun Invitational competition. Located many miles from nowhere in the high desert outside Bend, Oregon, this gun got filthy. Dust coats everything, and dropping mags into the dry dirt immediately coats the insides with grit. I performed no cleaning or maintenance through the week and the gun ran just fine, although loading magazines made a sound reminiscent of finger nailed scraping a chalkboard from all the grit.
During the match, I used American Eagle 9mm 147 grain flat point (AE9FP) ammunition. I chose this variety as the heavier bullet, moving at 900+ feet per second, should offer more controllable recoil and allow for quicker target transitions. I chronographed this load from the Sig before the match and it averaged 951 feet per second. Perfect for my needs. This ammo was great for competition. Reliable, low blast and manageable recoil. Check it out.
For the “ease of shooting accurately” portion of my testing, I didn’t use a Ransom Rest, so I’m making no claims about the gun’s mechanical ability. Rather, I wanted to see how it performed for the shooter.
I shot it from a Caldwell Pistolero rest. This is a plastic device that supports frame and the base of the magazine well. While light, you can put boxes of ammo or a bag of lead on it and you have a portable, but stable shooting platform.
I used a little trick to help remove error from exact sight alignment. I printed up some 4.67 inch square, solid black targets. As the front sight of the Sig P226 Elite SAO is .14 inches wide, it appears to be, you guessed it, 4.67 inches wide at a distance of 25 yards. Superimpose the squares represented by the front sight and the target, and you’ve got a perfect sight picture. I wanted to be precise as possible, so I used an EyePal Peep Sighting System that focuses your vision through a small hole, thereby sharpening near (front sight) and far (downrange targets) objects. The combination of custom targets and an aperture peep sight aid made a pretty good solution for shooting accurate groups.
Here are the velocity and 25 yard accuracy results:
|Ammunition||Velocity (fps)||Group (5 shots, 25 yards)|
|American Eagle 147 grain FMJ flat point||951||2.27″|
|Buffalo Bore 95 grain Barnes TAC-XP||1,457||1.46″|
|Federal 115 grain FMJ||1,182||2.08″|
|Freedom Munitions 115 grain RN remanufactured||1,183||3.11″|
|Hornady Critical Defense 115 grain FTX||1,112||2.17″|
|Hornady Critical Duty 135 grain Flexlock||1,132||0.97″|
|Remington Ultimate Defense Compact Handgun||1,144||1.99″|
|Remington UMC 115 grain FMJ||1,167||3.20″|
|Speer Gold Dot 124 grain||1,139||1.81″|
|Speer Gold Dot 124 grain +P||1,223||1.71″|
|TulAmmo 115 grain FMJ||1,162||3.26″|
|Winchester Supreme Elite PDX1 124 grain +P||1,238||2.68″|
|Winchester Target 115 grain FMJ||1,209||3.53″|
|Handload 125 grain Lead RN (3.4 gr Unique, 1.115 OAL)||964||2.67″|
As you can see, this gun will shoot, and I’m sure results would have been even better using a mechanical rest.
One thing I noticed is that average velocities of many 9mm loads from the Sig P226 Elite SAO were noticeably higher than those same loads fired from other pistols with similar barrel length. Why? Got me, I have a question in to the Sig engineering team to see if they know why. I wasn’t able to slug the barrels to check for interior diameter differences. If I find and explanation, I’ll update the article.
The P226 Elite SAO is an exceptionally comfortable gun to shoot. The weight of the all metal gun, combined with relatively soft shooting 9mm, certainly helps. What really makes the difference is the grip design. The rounded profile allows more of the grip surface to engage with your shooting hand, thereby increasing your ability to control the gun and absorb recoil. If you want to shoot a lot, this is one to check out. It’s a proven combat gun (see Mk25 military cousins) yet it’s also well suited for home defense, competition and just plain plinking. It’s a keeper.
Suggested Retail for the Sig Sauer P226 Elite SAO is $1,243.00. As a reference, the retail price of the standard P226 model is $1,108.00 including the SigLite night sights option.