SIG Sauer's M17

'The Chosen One'

SIG Sauer M17 handgun

The new SIG SAUER M17 is only the third general-issue handgun design ever adopted by the United States military as the result of a head-to-head competition. The gun inevitably exudes a certain historical gravitas as a result.

That’s what the SIG advertisements call it these days — The Chosen One. After countless hundreds of thousands of rounds, untold man-eons of R and D, and relentless post-competition acrimony, the United States military has formally selected only the third competitive service pistol in the history of our Great Republic. The M17 represents a quantum advance in combat handgun design.

The competition called for a modular handgun system. Uncle Sam wanted a single adaptable chassis able to be mixed and matched to form a full-sized service pistol as well as a compact concealable carry gun. Where most of the other competitors just dusted off their civilian designs, SIG set out to produce a legitimately modular system.

SIG Sauer

Disassembly requires no tools and can be undertaken in moments. The safety and slide release are mirrored on opposite sides. The “frame” is just a plastic chassis, the real “gun” portion is removable.

Design Innovation

The M17 pistol began as their stock P320. What makes this gun unusual is its removable fire control assembly. This stainless steel component is the controlled bit with the serial number. Interchangeable polymer grip modules change the gun’s proportions, while slides of two different lengths make the gun longer or shorter. The M17 slide has its top deck cut for a red dot, and there are racking grooves fore and aft. The polymer grip module is lightly stippled, and the front of the dust cover is naturally railed for accessories. There are grabby dimples at the base of the grip should you ever need to help out a mag.

The magazine catch is unilateral but reversible, while the safety and slide release are replicated perfectly on both sides. The slide catch is surprisingly small, but many to most of us train to release the slide manually by snatching it backwards these days. Magazines carry either 17 or 21 rounds. A dovetailed SIGLITE front sight gleams nicely in the darkness.

Disassembly requires neither tools nor a trigger pull. Most armed professionals say the trigger pull disassembly thing is a training issue and not a big deal. However, I hang out with a lot of cops and gun nerds. I have up to five acquaintances who have had accidental discharges which would not have happened had their weapons been equipped with a manual safety or had the trigger not needed to be pulled for disassembly. Four resulted in severe injuries. Given how many exuberant young soldiers will ultimately be involved with this gun, not having to squeeze the trigger to take the gun apart could conceivably save some poor nug’s life.

The striker-fired trigger is simply divine. Of all the sundry improvements over the previous M9 this is my favorite. The break is sharp, and the reset nicely abbreviated.

SIG Sauer M17

From left to right we see the M1911A1, the SIG M17 and the Beretta M9. Two historical icons and the other sure to be one.

SIG Sauer

The slide release is surprisingly small, but most of us drop our slides with a quick snatch to the rear these days anyway.

How Did We Get Here?

John Moses Browning contrived the .45 ACP round in 1905. He birthed the subsequent M1911 pistol firing it to radically enhance the potential stopping power of the combat handgun. It had become obvious the military wheelgun’s day in the sun was fading. While scads of companies dipped their toes in the water, only Colt, Savage, and DWM of Germany really played to win.

The winning M1911 became a symbol of general American awesomeness the world over. So things continued through two World Wars, several police actions and countless hundreds of thousands of soldiers. However, by the 1970s, it was time to do it all over again.

The M1911 was showing its age. The versions I was first issued back in the day rattled when you shook them like Chuck Schumer’s braincase. As a result, in 1979 the Joint Services Small Arms Project set out with the mission to select an appropriate replacement. FN, HK, Beretta, Colt, S&W, Star and Walther came to the party. Beretta walked away with the prize.

The M9 was undeniably safer. The Beretta sported a single-action/double-action trigger as well as a bilateral slide-mounted manual safety lever. The open-slide architecture was always touted as a boon to reliability, but I never bought into this myself.

Regardless, I used an M9 operationally for eight years and cannot recall a single stoppage among the countless examples I encountered on military qualification ranges.

The 9mm chambering of the M9 was a controversial decision. Purists decried the cartridge’s power as suboptimal, but the gun did pack 15+1 onboard. I have seen quite a few folks shot with 9mm pistols. While there are indeed spunkier handgun loadings, not one of those people looked happy.

The M9’s aluminum frame cut back on the weight, and the ameliorated recoil made it easier to manage for those soldiers who weren’t serious pistoleros. The magazine catch was reversible, but I never saw anybody actually reverse it. There was a problem with slides exploding early on, but a mid-production fix made this better than it sounds.

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All three U.S. military handguns shoot plenty straight from a rest. These 10-meter groups demonstrate comparable performance among all three guns.

Design Strengths

GIs were not supposed to carry their M1911A1 pistols in Condition 1 with a round in the chamber, the hammer back, and the safety on. However, my wife’s grandfather toted one with a hot chamber from North Africa all the way up Italy in WWII. Given how tough that guy was I always suspected anyone who might have found this objectionable was likely too intimidated to say anything. Recoil was indeed noteworthy, and the 1911 was, relatively speaking, a boat anchor to tote.

The double-action/single-action trigger on the M9 made it tough to shoot to the same point of aim consistently. The sights sported a simple painted dot, while the ample grip and modest cartridge kept things pleasant. For its era the M9 was a fine handgun.

The new M17 is easier to run and safer than both of its predecessors. The smooth consistent trigger is 80 percent of that. Empty magazines just blast out of the magwell when you press the button. The grip is hands-down the best of the three. The overhung architecture of the slide keeps the CG well forward for minimal muzzle flip and quick follow up shots. All three guns shot plenty straight from a rest, but I shot faster with the M17 under all conditions tested.

SIG Sauer M17

The serialized stainless steel chassis defines the gun. This piece can be dropped into sundry supporting accessories to build totally different firearms.


GLOCK fanboys are almost as bitter about the SIG M17 as Hillary’s acolytes are over the fact Donald Trump takes his mail at the White House. However, the manual safety on the GLOCK pistol submitted for the trials was obviously an afterthought, and little about the GLOCK is actually modular. Haters are going to hate regardless. It appears they’ll have to get over it.

A new M17 costs Uncle Sam a cool $207. They will set us back substantially more. However, I suspect SIG could have just given the guns to the government and still made a profit considering how many geeks like me will simply have to have one. Our local fuzz is trading in their .40-caliber GLOCK 22’s for new SIG 9mm P320’s as I type these words. I suspect it might be happening in other places as well. An American grunt packing your particular brand of iron is the best advertising a gun company could ever contrive.

A service pistol is a big deal. A soldier’s handgun is arguably his or her most intimate tool. Equal part battle implement and talisman, the humble handgun has an impact well beyond its modest price and limited combat role.

I toted my new M17 underneath my scrubs for a couple of weeks at work. The gun is big without being bulky and runs like a scalded ape. Cool, suave, mean and sleek, the new SIG M17 has indeed earned its place in American military history.
I can’t believe I just got to write about it, too.

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