Friday, February 06, 2009

SIG-Hammerli Trailside/X-esse

I’ve had one of these for years and when I first bought it, never thought it would become a safe queen.

Sometime around 1999, SIG (which had just purchased Hammerli) wanted to roll out a 22 plinker that had Hammerli’s name attached. Guess they thought they’d get some marketing mileage out of this one. And as a 22, it was a success. SIG brought the allure of an ultra-expensive target pistol, which was actually affordable into the psyche of many small bore shooters. And quite a few bought them—including me.

Introduced to the US market at the price point of $350 to $600, and depending upon which one of five different configurations, SIG provided us Plinker through Competition models.

For the most part the SIG/Hammerli Trailside and X-esse were roughly based on the design of their old 208. Now don’t get me wrong it’s not a 208, just a thinly veiled attempt at artistic plagiarism. Not unlike the 208, the Trailside had a unitized barrel and body thereby saving a pile on machining and fitting time. Even though they looked alike, shot a lot alike, the parts count said it all: 42 for the Trailside and 135 for the 208. Kind of explains the $1400 price spread. The Trailside was designated for North America and the X-esse was for Europe and everywhere else.

Many a 41 owner would pick up a Trailside, look at its plastic trigger and compared their highly polished blued barrels, then wondered what all the fuss was about. Only to find themselves being waxed on the line by what they thought was an inferior product.

Pictured, my tricked-out Trailside

Faithful high-end Hammerli owners thought the Trailside was a cheap abomination that should have been aborted long before it left its Swiss homeland. But sell they did and a small cottage industry popped up around it. The gun began to compete with the Buckmark, Ruger MK II and the Smith & Wesson M41. From a standpoint of accuracy and shoot ability the Trailside won hands down. Although, not in the finish department.

Jack Weigand was one of the first to recognize a basic design flaw and provided a solution. The Trailside has grooves cut into the top of the barrel to accept standard 22 rings (a bone thrown to US bullseye shooters). Unfortunately when you attempted to field-strip it, the scope had to be removed, only later to be reinstalled and re-zeroed. So Jack invented a no-drill scope mount that easily slipped into the under lug weight groove. Zero is almost always reestablished and allows cleaning to be a snap.

After some complaints with the single stage trigger, Larry Carter started to offer upgraded triggers, then trigger jobs…and finally his Signature Series. Larry would “hand select” Trailsides then weave his magic; install an upgraded trigger, a Weigand mount and a set of Rink anatomical grips to the tune of about $800. At the time not a bad deal. How do I know? I wound up doing the exact same things to my Trailside Competition just before the Signature guns were available and it cost me a few hundred dollars more.

The Trailside had duality: ugly duckling or wonder gun status. In 2005 Jim Henderson shot 897-60x at Camp Perry during the 22 phase with a Trailside—and then all of a sudden—a lot of people started to take notice of this little gun. Jim had a lot going for him as one of the premier conventional pistol shooters in the nation; clearly the Trailside didn’t hold him back.

If you are considering a used Trailside or a new X-esse, be aware of a few things. Trailsides have been known to have a substandard hardness with their slide relative to the slide stop. Those stops are extremely hard and if not adequately lubricated on the bottom of the slide, it’ll wear into an excessive groove making the stop non-functional. This is one of the few pistols where I wouldn’t release the slide by disengaging the stop; slightly pull back the slide then let it fly home.

There have never been any known problems with magazines, except for misuse. Back in the day, there used to be several notations on various internet boards about the Trailside being a jam-o-matic. Even though the mags are of polymer construction, they last forever. Unfortunately a lot of first time owners would try to SLAM the mags up into the gun, being under the impression that it would promote reliable feeding. Oh boy did they get that one wrong! The Trailside’s ejector prominently hangs over the mag well, and anyone slamming the mag in would partially dislocate the first round (and at times subsequent ones as well), popping the bullet’s nose up where it would eventually slam into the barrel’s breach. Please don’t ask me how I know. Simply go easy and it’ll cycle indefinitely.

A few Trailsides were known to double or even triple after extended use. Even though the gun is rated for high velocity ammo, please don’t feed it a steady diet of that stuff. Guns that were known to have eaten ten or more thousand rounds were thought their barrels had become peened by slide hammering. Just SV please.

New in the box and slightly used Trailsides are readily available at most auction sites. And even thought the Trailside is no longer in production, its clone the X-esse is (still being produced by Hammerli under Walther ownership) and it’s being imported right now. Even today, as an alternative entry bullseye gun there doesn’t appear to be too many in its peer group. It clearly stands by itself.


woodee said...

Thanks for this useful commentary. I have just purchased a xesse second hand. After shooting with a club-owned pistol for quite a while it will be a pleasure to have something of my own that is reliable.

Anonymous said...

Will the Trailside grips fit my Hammerli 208s Pistol?

Tony said...

"Will the grips on a Trailside fit a 208?" No.

Best go to Rink (Larry's Guns) and buy something that'll fit.

Anonymous said...

Are the old Trailside magazines compatible whith the Xesse Mags?

Tony said...

I've been told they are.

Anonymous said...

The oldest Trailsides used a magazine which had a notch cut at a slightly different location on the side of the mag, compared to the cut location on newer magazines. My old Trailside Standard was bought second hand with only one mag, and that mag would not 'catch' when I tried to use it in my newer Trailside Competition. So in my experience of two Trailsides, the oldest magazines might not 'catch' in a newer Trailside, thus not in a newer Xesse. I no longer have that old Trailside Standard, but I believe if the magazine notch aligns, then any Trailside mag will fit any Exesse.