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Tale of Two S&W Bodyguards... One Revolver, One Pistol

Written by Steve Tracy

Smith & Wesson has resurrected their Bodyguard name and appropriately applied it to their two newest compact firearms. The Bodyguard name was previously used to describe a shrouded-hammer, snub-nosed 38 Special revolver. These new American made Bodyguards are meant to compete head to head with their strongest competitors in the backup / off-duty concealed carry arena.

 

Bodyguard 380 ACP Pistol

S&W identified the features that police officers desired but were missing from the competition’s guns and then included them in their two new handguns. The first thing you notice about the Bodyguard pistol is its appearance. It’s sort of ungainly looking. While it’s certainly not sleek or handsome, the matte black handgun possesses excellent ergonomics and feels fantastic when gripped. The Bodyguard 380 is thin (with a grip width of 0.77-inch) and light (11.85 ounces unloaded) and it points naturally. 

When you grab hold of it, the pistol fills your hand as if it were a larger combat arm.  Most small caliber arms give up a proper grip in exchange for concealment, but every officer who held the new S&W said it felt better in their hands than pistols of similar size.  The finger grooves work well and your grip is secure even though your pinky finger rests under the butt of the gun.

The Bodyguard 380 stainless steel magazine holds six rounds of its namesake 380 ACP (380 Auto) ammunition. The magazine comes with two plastic base plates. One has a finger extension that worked very well with my big hands. The second is a flat version for even deeper concealment. The Bodyguard pistol will fire with its magazine removed and the slide locks back on an empty magazine. The slide lock feature is definitely an advantage over the competition because it allows the Bodyguard to function much like the full-size duty weapon on your hip. Most 380 ACP pistols do not boast the last-shot slide lock attribute.

The magazine release button on the left side of the polymer frame is located just behind the trigger, again right where we are used to it being on our duty guns. Empty magazines ejected and fell free when the slide was locked back. The lightweight polymer frame is well textured for a positive grip and the stainless steel slide is coated with S&W’s Melonite® matte black finish for corrosion resistance. The large external extractor grabs a significant portion of the 380 ACP case rim for positive extraction.

The smooth-faced, double-action-only trigger is easy to reach and operate, even for officers with large hands. Its pull is constant without staging and measured an average pull of 8.7 pounds. This is outstanding for this type of pocket gun. The repeatable trigger can be pulled again and again if needed to fire a cartridge with a hard primer or due to a misfire. 

Again, this is another feature that not all of the competition possesses. The trigger controls the concealed hammer, which in turn strikes the firing pin. Because it is fully concealed, the hammer cannot snag during a draw. As a matter of fact, the entire pistol is without any sharp edges that can hamper retrieving it from your pocket.

The slide release on the left side of the frame was simple to operate, even with big hands.  There is also a Colt Model 1911-style thumb safety located at the rear of the left side of the frame. Once again, S&W offers an attribute with this safety that is not offered on comparable 380 ACP pistols. For those who wish to use the safety, it takes a positive upward push to place it in the safe position. It’s effortless to thumb the safety downward and its positive snick will prevent the safety from unintentionally being thumbed off.

The rear slide serrations gave a solid grasp with my offhand for chambering a round. The captive dual-recoil spring system requires little strength to work the action manually.  There is a straightforward loaded chamber inspection hole at the top of the barrel’s chamber that gleams with the brass or nickel finish of a chambered round.

Field stripping the Bodyguard auto pistol is trouble-free since no tool is needed to pry the takedown pin out. Instead, the empty pistol’s slide is locked back, its magazine removed, its chamber inspected to be sure it’s empty, and then the takedown lever is swung downward, which allows it to be pulled out to the left. The slide then eases off the front of the frame and the captive recoil spring and guide lift out of the slide along with the barrel for cleaning.

 

Real Iron Sights and Laser

The Bodyguard 380 sports the welcome addition of real sights. Both the front and rear are dovetailed into the slide and have serrations to reduce glare. The steel sight system is almost as big as those on a full sized pistol. They are easy to see and therefore effortless to use. The front sight is ramped and the rear sight is a low-profile wedge style and both are designed to be snag-free. 

To further supplement the outstanding sight system, the Bodyguard 380 is factory equipped with a red Insight laser. Operation is ambidextrous by pushing gray rubberized buttons located just a trigger finger reach away on either side of the forward part of the frame. One press turns the laser on, a second press causes the projected dot to pulsate (making it easier for your eye to both see and track the dot), and a third press switches the laser off. The laser will turn off after a few minutes to conserve battery life if inadvertently left on.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to laser sight activation. With the Bodyguard, you can choose to turn the laser on and off whenever you desire. However, during a quick draw, the laser will not automatically become live and it takes extra time to switch the targeting system on. 

The other school of thought, used on Crimson Trace type add-on lasers, is where pressure on a front grip-mounted activation button causes projection of the laser automatically when gripping the pistol. A fast draw instantly turns on the laser. The disadvantage of automatic activation is that the laser usually stays on while gripping the pistol, possibly giving away its operator’s position.

The Insight laser’s watch type battery is simple to replace with a single screw inside the front of the polymer frame. Moving the laser left and right for windage and up and down for elevation is a straightforward job with the included tiny Allen wrench. I sighted the laser in for my eyes until it danced just above the gun’s front sight at 15 yards.

 

The First Shot Downrange

I cleaned and lubricated the Bodyguard 380 pistol for its first trip to the range. I loaded the magazine and fired three rounds that struck right on target. However, the trigger failed to return forward after the third shot, rendering the gun unable to fire. 

There are those who swear they will never buy a new car during its first model year. The same people refuse to purchase a first model year firearm as well. I’m not one of them, especially when it comes to major firearms manufacturers. Someone has to buy the first products and I’m happy to be first in line with long standing companies like Smith & Wesson. I know that if there is a problem, S&W will make things right with their superb warranty.

I returned home and called Smith & Wesson’s service department. While I talked on the phone with the friendly service representative, he sent me an e-mail that included a FedEx shipping label. I boxed up the gun and could choose to call FedEx to come to either my home or work to pick it up. Instead, I chose to drop the boxed gun off myself at a nearby FedEx store and S&W paid the cost.  

I sent the gun to S&W on a Wednesday and, according to the online tracking number, the factory received the pistol two days later on Friday. It was shipped back to me Tuesday and the fixed pistol was delivered to me on Thursday. That’s an eight-day turnaround, including four days shipping and a two-day weekend. That meant S&W fixed the gun with a two-business-day turnaround time. That’s outstanding customer service by Smith & Wesson, a company that has been around since 1852. They even included an extra magazine for the trouble.

My test gun was a low serial number, initial production Bodyguard. I’m sure S&W has figured out where the problem was with the trigger and its return spring. Their exceptional warranty work is the reason I would not hesitate to purchase one of their new products again. The incident also highlights why police officers need to put plenty of rounds downrange, including the ammunition they intend to carry, to make sure the gun they rely on will function when it needs to.   

 

Back to the Range

The trigger and trigger return spring were replaced at the factory so I headed back to the range. The little S&W devoured 350 rounds of ammunition without a hiccup of any kind.  Winchester FMJ ball and Silvertip, Remington FMJ ball, CorBon hollowpoint, and Hornady Critical Defense ammo ran smoothly and accurately in the Bodyguard.

The Hornady Critical Defense line of ammunition is specifically designed for short barreled pistols like this gun. Older 380 ACP cartridges were made for guns with barrels longer than 3 inches like the Colt 1908 and Walther PPK. When fired in 2 ¾-inch barrels like the Bodyguard, the older style ammo can create quite a fireball of slower, unburned powder. Critical Defense cartridges are tailored specifically to today’s modern hideout guns. Muzzle flash is greatly reduced with modern, fast-burning powders and the red polymer tipped rounds are designed to expand under any condition.

The Bodyguard 380’s delayed blowback, tilting barrel action does not cause much recoil due to the relatively low-powered 380 ACP cartridge. However, the little gun does provide a bit of a snap when fired, mostly due to its light weight, but the recoil is entirely manageable. The Bodyguard 380 was controllable and accurate with both its iron sights and its projected laser. The design of the grip tang helps spread rearward recoil push and does not allow the slide to “bite” the shooter’s hand.

 

Bodyguard 38 Special Revolver

There is still a large market for small double action revolvers. I’m surprised how many newer officers in my own department enjoy their wheel guns. While semi-automatics rule the duty holster for today’s law enforcement officers, little revolvers still have their place as backup and off-duty weapons. The classic, five shot S&W J-Frame revolver has been around since 1950 in various forms, including the shrouded hammer Bodyguard. 

Smith & Wesson has advanced revolver technology with innovative engineering achievements by means of the new gun’s materials, action and features. This is definitely not your grandfather’s snubby. 

The Bodyguard 38 combines a radical steel, reinforced-polymer lower frame with an aluminum upper frame. The upper frame is integral with a barrel sleeve covering the 1.9-inch steel barrel. The one-piece rubber grip provides plenty of hold while also cushioning recoil. The stainless steel cylinder is flat black PVD coated to match the rest of the revolver’s non-reflective surfaces. The combination of materials brings the little gun in at an unloaded weight of just 14.3 ounces compared to 15 ounces for their .38 aluminum frame and 21 ounces for their 38 Special steel frame.

The double action only trigger pull on the new Bodyguard is outstanding. It is smooth all the way through its pull without any stacking of pull weight. It’s also easy to stage, meaning the ability to pull the trigger until the cylinder locks up and then momentarily pause to align the sights before letting off the last small bit of trigger squeeze to fire the gun accurately. The trigger pull weight averaged 8.9 pounds, which is a marked improvement over the much harder triggers on the S&W J-Frame revolvers. 

S&W really got the grip size right on this gun. It’s bigger than the old J-Frame grip that I don’t think ever fit anyone properly. The rubber handle is small enough for pocket carry without fear of the grip hanging up during the draw. To my hands, this new grip feels like a J-Frame equipped with the old standby Tyler T-Grip used to fill in the area under the trigger guard. The angle and sweep of the new grip, along with the way it positions the hand, felt optimum to me and the other officers who held it.

Despite the frame and grip improvements over the decades-old previous design, this new Bodyguard fits most holsters made for the J-Frame. The overall dimensions closely replicate the size that has been a favorite all these years.

Interestingly, the cylinder turns clockwise like a Colt instead of S&W’s usual counter-clockwise rotation. The standard cylinder release latch is missing from the left side of the frame. Replacing it is a spring loaded release that pushes forward at the top of the rear of the frame, just behind the fixed rear sight’s square notch. 

The release does not require the shooter to change their grip on the gun like the side latch did. The latch’s forward movement, when pushed with the thumb, is completely natural.  A left handed officer was very happy with the way the system worked for him, even though the cylinder still opens only to the left. 

With the cylinder open, it can be noticed that there is no longer a hand at the rear breech face, but rather a simple star shaped device. Instead of a hand pushing on the rear of the cylinder’s extractor star, this five edged device engages and turns the recessed five-pointed extractor star, which then revolves the gun’s cylinder. 

The ejector rod is also longer than previous 2-inch S&W snub nosed revolvers and provides even more positive empty case ejection. The rod is protected against being bent by a shroud that is part of the barrel sleeve. 

The ramped and serrated front sight is pinned and can be replaced with an aftermarket sight of a different configuration or with a tritium night sight. This Bodyguard is also factory equipped with an Insight laser mounted on the right upper side of the frame. It shouldn’t interfere with holsters and it functions just like the semi-automatic Bodyguard version. The single gray rubber activation button is simple to reach with the shooter’s thumb and a single tap turns it on, a second tap causes the laser to flash, and a third tap turns it off.

 

Bodyguard Revolver at the Range

The combination of proper grip, smooth and light trigger, and excellent sights made the Bodyguard 38 enjoyable to shoot at the range. There is still no avoiding the laws of physics…the hot 38 Special +P cartridges provide plenty of recoil in this lightweight gun, but the new handle’s position and soft material help absorb felt recoil. Target-quality, standard-pressure, 38 Special ammo had hardly any recoil and was a breeze to shoot in this superb revolver.

The Bodyguard 38 shot to point of aim at 15 yards and a little low at 7 yards. This is to be expected for a weapon with fixed sights that sit atop the bore line. The laser was effortless to use and very natural to activate. The laser is mounted just to the right of the bore line in a perfect location. Staging the double-action trigger pull made optimal use of the laser. I could pull the trigger until the cylinder locked up and watch the laser move around on the target. Once the trigger was staged, it was simple to hold the gun steady, observe the laser lock on its target, and then squeeze off a round that would hit directly where it was aimed.

 

Two Exceptional Choices

Since the Insight laser is included with both Bodyguard handguns, their suggested retail prices ($575 for the 380 and $625 for the 38) are higher than comparable guns not factory equipped with a laser. Instead of buying a backup / off-duty gun and then saving for a few more weeks to add an aftermarket laser, you will have to outlay the cash all at one time for one of the S&W Bodyguards. 

The prices are just about equal when the competition’s gun, plus an aftermarket laser, is compared to the price of a Bodyguard. An additional advantage of the S&W is that the laser is covered by their excellent warranty. Also, as Smith & Wesson points out on their website, actual prices are set by the dealer. A major retailer recently had the 380 on sale for $449 and the 38 priced at $499. 

Whether you prefer a semi-automatic pistol or a handgun with a revolving cylinder, either one of Smith & Wesson’s new pair of Bodyguard pistols is an exceptional choice for backup / off-duty carry. Their name says exactly what these guns are made to do. They are compact handguns made for concealed portability so you can have it available all the time in order to protect yourself. These two new Bodyguards from Smith & Wesson can certainly be called upon to guard your body and others.

 

Steve Tracy is a 22-year police veteran with 20 years of experience as a firearms instructor. He is also an instructor for tactical rifles, use of force, less-than-lethal force and scenario-based training. He can be reached at steventracy@hendonpub.com.


Published in Law and Order, Jan 2013

Rating : Not Yet Rated


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