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Sgt. Dave reviews the SIG Sauer P226 Pellet Pistol

My interest in realistic-blowback BB replicas actually began with a search for a repeating pellet pistol.  I got it into my head that a pellet repeater would be a good choice for dealing with varmints at in-your-face range, which does happen, if rarely, out here in the country.  As I searched, I developed a set of criteria:  CO2 power (what else?), semiauto action (which made blowback operation desirable) and removable linear magazines with the pellets in a stack, like cartridges in firearms…I mean, why not?  Should be able to get lotsa pellets in a magazine the size of the ones in semiauto pistols.  Trouble is, I eventually discovered that no manufacturer wants to put pellets in a stack!  Most repeaters use small, removable rotary magazines, but that’s just disguising a revolver as a semiauto, and who wants that?  [LOTS of shooters, apparently, but I just HAD to be the exception…]  The closest I found was the legendary moving-belt magazine in the Anics SKIF 3000, and I ALMOST bought one…but then they all suddenly disappeared from the market, seemingly at once.  (The Beretta CX4 Storm replica uses a similar magazine, but it’s a carbine, and the new SIG Sauer P320 replica revives the design in improved form, but I’m getting ahead of myself.)

I came across one way of fooling myself in the form of the Beretta PX4 Storm replica, which combines realistic blowback action with a stick magazine consisting of two eight-round rotors, one at each end.  They take pellets or steel BBs, using magnets to hold the BBs in place.  After shooting eight, you can flip the magazine for a total of sixteen rounds.  A neat trick, and better than the alternatives.  A few other manufacturers, like Gamo, offer pistols with similar magazines, but when I ran across the SIG Sauer P226, I decided that was the one for me.  I never liked the looks of the PX4 anyway.

The P226 is NOT what my Sponsor dismisses as just another polymer-frame, striker-fired, double-action-only pistol, a modern fashion he dislikes.  For starters, it has a hammer.  Sure it’s double-action, but it’s single-action after the first shot, like a Beretta.  And it’s heavy!  Modern BB-shooting metal replicas tend to leave one wondering whether the real firearms they represent don’t have more heft, but no such doubts arise with this gun.  To make sure I wasn’t imagining things I weighed it, then weighed my next-heaviest BB-replica for comparison.  Because I’m unsure of the accuracy of my scale I’ll avoid citing numbers, but the P226 easily outweighed the competition by 8 ounces (240g), although with magazines loaded the BB-pistol was an ounce (20g) heavier since BB magazines are solid castings and quite massive.  (Well OK, I cited a few numbers.)  By way of explanation, the P226 really does appear to be all-metal, with the only externally-visible plastic parts being the grips and the sights.  The rifled steel barrel is threaded for a silencer.

And this is where the surprises begin.  In stark contrast with the gun, the magazines are all-plastic.  They are marked with symbols for both pellets and BBs, like the claimed capability of the Beretta PX4, though the instructions for this gun clearly state .177cal pellets only.  But the magazines have magnets to retain steel BBs, again like those for the Beretta.  This won’t be an issue I’ll be testing anytime soon, since my Sponsor has quoted a friend who says using BBs just once in this class of airgun will wipe out its accuracy.  One would think H&N Smartshot would be OK; they seem to stay in place even though the magnets don’t help, but I’m in no hurry to test them either.

Visual examination of the P226 reveals what appears to be a takedown lever and a slide release, neither of which move.  Are they stuck?  I contacted PyramidAir, and was informed that unlike realistic BB replicas, pellet airguns are Not Designed for Disassembly.  Further research into the SIG Sauer firearm revealed that the airgun slide lacks any of the notches or cutouts required for lockback or disassembly.  It also lacks an ejection port; just a shallow indentation where one should be…well, it doesn’t need one, but neither do realistic-blowback BB guns, every one of which I’ve seen has an ejection port that cycles open.  (I even have a plastic Airsoft gun with a working ejection port.)  So no further discussion of the interior mechanics of this airgun will appear in this review.

The P226 is equipped with a drop-hammer safety, which does not restrict slide movement or trigger pull, a real surprise — especially since trigger pull operates the hammer while safed, double-action style.  At least the hammer won’t cock if drawn.  If CO2 is loaded, however, no gas is expended with the safety engaged.

 

And loading CO2 is one of the slickest features of the P226.  The rear strap of the grip swings down after a release near the top is pressed, exposing the cartridge well.  Closing the grip levers the cartridge up into the piercing tube and holds it in place.  And takes A LOT of force!!  Be prepared, and DO NOT back off after you’ve started closing it, if you don’t want to waste off all your gas in a failed attempt to load it.  In fact, the lever applies so much force that the plunger gouges the rounded end of the cartridge every time.

 

 

SIG Sauer appears to have addressed the problem of the difference in trigger feel between single- and double-action with a trigger that does not change position at all when the hammer is cocked.  There’s still a difference in trigger feel, but in single-action operation you still have a trigger travel of nearly three-quarters of an inch.  At least you can feel a nice, solid stop before hammer release, less than an eighth of an inch from full-travel.  In double-action, you can clearly feel tension buildup before hammer release, so you should be able to acquire good trigger control as well as practice in double-action technique.  Either way, you’ll hear a click before hammer release (explained below), which isn’t as helpful as it sounds as it isn’t close enough to more significant events.  It’s the hammer that initiates discharge, by whacking on the gas valve.  With no CO2 loaded, I find that the P226 in double action feels like nothing so much as the cap guns I played with as a kid.

So:  Load sixteen, and insert the magazine, being careful not to get it the wrong way forward.  It won’t fit in the magazine well the wrong way, but could jam if pushed.  (I marked mine.)  Latched in place, the bottom of the magazine is recessed into the grip, so unlike firearms magazines (and realistic replicas), you can’t seat it reliably with the flat of your palm; it has to be poked in with a finger.  Then you can rack back the slide if you want; it’ll cock the hammer.

And nothing else; the rotor (cylinder?) at the top of the magazine is advanced by trigger pull; that’s the click I mentioned hearing as the next chamber snaps into place.  It really does work like a revolver cylinder.  The topmost round is in battery, and is propelled from its position in the magazine by the discharge.  You should be aware that pulling the trigger partway and changing your mind about shooting will advance the rotor (cylinder?) anyway, moving an unexpended round out of battery and causing possible issues with empty chambers before expending all your ammo.  And keep count of your shots, because the slide will not lock back, and you will not be prevented from expending all the CO2 you want “shooting blanks.”

When it’s time to reload, the magazine is not so much drop-free as pop-out.  It’s under spring tension, and would pop up like a slice of toast if you turned the P226 upside-down and pressed the magazine release.  So make sure you’re ready to catch it.  Then you can flip it over and shoot another eight.  You could even load different pellet types in each end if you had a reason.  You should be able to empty three full magazines on a CO2 cartridge, but after that you’re pressing your luck, and could face reliability issues long before the slide stops cycling.  I should mention that I was once able to empty five magazines on a warm day…but I was pressing my luck on the last eight rounds.

Accuracy is about what I’ve come to expect from “action pistols,” which is a bit of a disappointment as I’d hoped rifle-spun pellets would do better.  But I was able to shoot a slightly better group at rest from fifteen feet (my best result, unsurprisingly) than I’ve done with my BB replicas.  The three-dot sights are in the current military style, and the front sight appears to be dovetailed in and adjustable for windage — but without being able to disassemble for examination it’s impossible to determine if it really is, and being plastic, an adjustment attempt could do damage if it isn’t.

Realistic-blowback BB pistols can often disappoint in their attempt to simulate recoil by cycling their actions, but the SIG Sauer P226 has an authoritative snap.  It adds some realism to training, even if realism is lacking in other areas.  The biggest disappointment comes from SIG Sauer’s own insistence in the value of their pistol — AND longarm — replicas for firearms training.  I’ve even seen a SIG Sauer video.  I was looking for realism in field-stripping at the very least — that would sure help the training curriculum.  Still, the P226 is as much fun as any when chosen for a “combat-arms”-style course of fire.  And eight rounds between reloads is more realistic than those double-digit loads in those replica BB magazines.  My P226 leaves me undecided as to whether I’ll ever acquire a P320.  I only have two reasons to want one:  That monstrous 30-round magazine and the fact that it’s been adopted by the U.S. Armed Forces as the successor to the Beretta M9 — and I already have a Beretta, as well as an M1911.  Otherwise, it’s just another polymer-frame, striker-fired, double-action-only pistol.  Other than collection completion, I can make do with my P226 just fine.