I have been exploring a packing handgun for a specific scenario. The bottom line criterion is that the pistol must be completely reliable, accurate enough for personal defense and taking accurate shots at an adversary behind cover, and powerful enough for defense against both biped and quadruped threats. Vehicle penetration is important, and so is penetration against heavy bones.
A compromise of carrying more than one type of ammunition to meet these goals is acceptable. In the not too distant past, a four-inch barrel .357 Magnum revolver would have been the ideal choice. Today, we have handguns with greater ammunition capacity and the advantage of an instant second shot. Let’s face it, when everyone else has self-loaders, we wish to be on an even playing field with the bad guys.
All handguns are a compromise, and I was looking hard at a handgun that would meet my needs. Sometimes, a jack-of-all-trades is a master of none, but I felt the piece would be a master of personal defense. At present, the Springfield XD in .357 SIG is very close to my ideal packing gun. The piece is reliable; I have proven that in months of use. It fits my hands better than most polymer pistols and offers a good number of features, including a positive grip safety that locks the action when not firmly pressed. A loaded chamber indicator and a cocked striker indicator offer both tactile and visual clues that the pistol is ready to fire. A lever in the trigger prevents dropped gun or lateral discharge. The trigger offers a clean single-action press. The XD is light enough.
The .357 SIG is a powerful number that offers real performance. I find .357 SIG recoil tolerable in a pistol the size of the XD, but this isn’t a beginner’s cartridge. I have often stated that a shooter should begin with a 9mm or .38 Special caliber handgun and then decide when they are ready to handle more power.
The .357 SIG/XD combination may be controlled by anyone of normal dexterity and strength. It simply requires a greater investment in time and effort than the 9mm. The rewards are in increased wound potential and light cover penetration. The caliber is also useful for defense against feral dogs and the big cats.
I have used the SIG Elite FMJ practice load with excellent results. When firing the pistol for extended range sessions, it is good to have on hand an affordable clean burning load with good accuracy. This has been the primary loading I have used. I find the XD .357 SIG accurate and reliable.
The SIG Elite V Crown, at over 1,350 fps, offers an excellent balance of expansion and penetration, and makes a good carry load. Recoil is greater than a 9mm handgun but reasonable for the caliber. Recoil must be discussed. You cannot quickly recover and hose the target down as you would with the 9mm. Each shot is deliberate, and you must strive for accuracy with every trigger press as if it were the only shot you are firing. That is how it should be with every handgun.
If you fire before you have brought the pistol down out of recoil your groups and marksmanship will be terrible. If you do not maintain a crush grip, the pistol will not be controllable. As I master this formidable handgun, I have tested a good number of loads. Some are hotter than others, and the hottest load isn’t always the most desirable for every scenario.
For the worst-case scenario, a few loads fit the bill. I have been able to test fire three Buffalo Bore loads with good results. The 125-grain FMJ loading breaks 1,504 fps. Yes, 1,504 fps! The chore of defense against the largest animals comes to mind. I have not tested this load in gelatin, but 9mm NATO loads will penetrate over 30 inches of gelatin. I suspect the FMJ .357 SIG will add another 6 to 10 inches. No JHP offers that type of penetration.
Penetration against light cover is superior to the 9mm or .45 ACP. Even if the FMJ bullet didn’t expand, in a worst-case scenario, if this load strikes the body’s supporting structure, it will send bone shards on a wild ride in the body. Another load uses the proven 125-grain XTP bullet. This Buffalo Bore number breaks 1,450 fps. The balance of expansion and penetration is excellent. This may be the go-anywhere do-anything load I am looking for. I have also tested the Buffalo Bore TAC load using an all copper bullet. It isn’t easy to get top velocity with the Barnes bullet, as it is long for the weight and seats more deeply in the cartridge case. This load breaks 1,350 fps. This is plenty of velocity to exhibit superior expansion. This load would be an ideal town load or urban load. Penetration is superior to any 9mm JHP load, and it would be hell on light cover, but it isn’t a bear to control as some .357 SIG loads are.
A problem surfaced along the way that isn’t the fault of the XD. The Springfield factory sights are above average, but my eyes are losing some of their acuity. After many years of use, the original tritium was fading. I decided to add a modern set of high-visibility personal defense sights.
I studied the available sights and chose the XS F8 sight. Designed for fast target acquisition in all light conditions, these sights feature a figure-eight, inline sight, with a single dot above the other. The front sight is 0.160” wide. Contrast is achieved with a front sight with a photo-luminescent orange-colored ring that surrounds a tritium dot.
The orange ring has a good portion of yellow tint for maximum visibility. Research indicates this is one of the most visible colors in low light. When you use the sights in daylight the orange ring will absorb light and present a glow of its own.
The wide rear notch has been called the Old Man’s sight. The wide notch increases the visibility of the large, bright front notch. This sight system isn’t for target shooting—it is for combat. It is fast, very fast on target no matter what the light conditions.
The front sight practically jumps into the rear notch during combat drills. The rear sight may be snagged on a belt and used to rack the slide if need be. I have tested the sights and found them good. The night time sight picture, with one dot above the other, makes for excellent accuracy. In daylight, be certain to use the dots as the aiming point. If you use the iron sight outline, in a conventional sight picture, you will find the groups are low.
With these modifications, and loaded with modern ammunition, the XD .357 SIG is a formidable combination. I think as a go-anywhere do-anything handgun, I have found a piece that suits my needs well. I carry it in a Galco Stow and Go holster.