45 ACP SIG Sauer P220’s and SWC’s

The combination of the normally reliable P220 and semiwadcutter ammunition is frequently not a happy one. In my experience with them, P220’s usually feed flawlessly with about any load around from FMJ to blunt JHP’s, but it has been “hit or miss” with handloaded SWC ammunition.


The P220 on the left was purchased NIB in the early ‘90’s and was followed over a decade later with the DAO “SAS” version.  Regardless of magazine used, the earlier version will not feed SWC’s reliably if more than five are loaded in the magazine.  The later-production SAS version feeds SWC’s fine off of a full eight-round magazine, but another one bought in the same time-frame by a friend will not.

What about the “To Hell and back” reliability touted by the company?

In my opinion, the P220 design is reliable…with other than SWC bulleted ammunition and the reason is that it was never designed for it. Here is why I believe that. The 45-caliber P220 was introduced circa 1976 and at that time, JHP’s were being produced for the big-bores, but reliability was sketchy and everyone “knew” that “they all fall to hardball”… especially if your 1911-style handgun wouldn’t  feed much else.  Back then, I do not believe that SIG-Sauer intended their P220 to be used with anything but FMJ ammunition and certainly not cast SWC’s!

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SWC bullets, particularly those based on the relatively “long-nosed” Hensley & Gibbs No. 68 bullet were reliable in throated 1911-pattern pistols. I have seen unaltered earlier 1911-style pistols that fed them smoothly as well, but it was not unusual to have to have the 1911’s feed way modified for stone-cold reliability with SWC’s. The No. 68’s were popular because they seemed to feed better than other designs. If one takes the outline of this 200-gr. bullet and then overlays it to a 230-gr. FMJ, the lines will touch at the edges of the No. 68’s meplat and shoulder.  This aided reliable feeding.  These bullets were very popular with target shooters because many loads provided superior accuracy from tuned 1911’s.  Accuracy loads can be had with light to heavy loads using the same bullet.  Some proponents of the 1911 for self-defense advocated the defensive use of SWC ammunition.  I am not sure when the H&G No. 68 came along, but it was well before the P220 and to my knowledge, available only via handloading. Reliable feeding in the P220 was never an issue because the P220 didn’t exist when this SWC design was introduced!


This Caspian 1911 sports a fitted match Kart barrel and bushing and is throated for use with SWC ammunition.  It has proven extremely reliable and accurate. The 200-gr. CSWC remains popular with 1911 shooters to this day but we have to remember that when that bullet was designed, the 1911 was pretty much the only autoloader available in this caliber.

When the P220 came along, most folks shooting 1911’s were using ball.  It was just more reliable in many of these guns. Fortunately, the feeding system of the SIG-Sauer pistol readily accepted JHP ammunition that was being tweaked with each passing year to work reliably in 1911-style handguns. So while I saw more than a few P220’s that just didn’t do as well as their owners would have liked with SWC handloads, they usually redeemed themselves by merrily gobbling up almost any JHP ammunition being made.  Both of my P220’s feed Federal’s blunt 185-gr. “Classic” JHP’s and the old Speer 200-gr. JHP’s (“Flying Ashtray”) as smoothly as ball, neither of which was touted as being reliable in many 1911’s.  Other P220 owners have told me that besides the gun’s superb out-of-the-box mechanical accuracy, its reliability with JHP’s swayed many of them from the 1911 to the P220 for a “serious pistol”.

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On the left is the P220 feed way compared to that of a throated 1911-pattern pistol on the right. Note that the rise is steeper on the P220 and that the bottom of the barrel is all that is beveled compared to the 1911’s. SWC’s tend to hang on their shoulders where the top of the P220 feed ramp meets the chamber.

In my experience, the P220 displays its (usual) very fine mechanical accuracy when using cast bullets including SWC’s…but overall, lack reliability with that shape bullet.  There may very well be the exception here and there, but having seen quite a few of these during my police firearm instructor days, it is my belief that not as many will feed SWC’s as won’t.

The P220 was intended as a military/police type service pistol and with either FMJ or JHP ammunition, reliability is usually very dependable.  That it frequently balks with ammunition using a bullet shape primarily available only through handloading and originally intended for target work with the 1911 is not a strike against the gun in my opinion.

I shoot a lot of .45 ACP SWC handloads in 1911-pattern pistols.  I do not see the P220 design as flawed just because it is often not reliable with a bullet design never intended for it.


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