February 07, 2011
By Walt Rauch
The diminutive new Bodyguards from S&W fill a defensive niche.
By Walt Rauch
Smith & Wesson has two new polymer pistols, the Bodyguard 38 revolver chambered for .38 Special +P and the Bodyguard 380 subcompact semiauto in .380 ACP. Their intended market is the personal defense, carry often/shoot infrequently crowd, and they feature modern construction: Zytel polymer, 416 stainless steel, 7074 aluminum and a composite (for the revolver grip).
Both guns are small--the revolver weighs 14.3 ounces, while the semiauto comes in at 11.85 ounces--with the Bodyguard 38 revolver size and shape much like that of the classic S&W revolvers that began with the five-shot .38 Special caliber, two-inch Model 36 introduced in 1950. The Bodyguard 380 semiauto follows a large historical field of such pocket pistols.
Both pistols are double action only. The revolver has its hammer completely enclosed within the frame, while the semiauto has an external hammer (but no hammer spur) that is buried in the rear of the slide and offers second-strike capability. Both have integral aiming lasers--made in the U.S. by Insight Technology--that are removable for service and cleaning.
The short version of all this is they well fulfill the reason for their existence: They are highly concealable, lightweight handguns that reliably deliver payloads of effective defensive calibers on demand, and both have more than an acceptable level of accuracy.
While at an introductory press event at Smith & Wesson, I asked company officials about the guns' endurance and was told that more 5,000 rounds had been fired in each model without failure. And subsequent testing of the .380 by the Insight folks included 90-grain +P ammo from Buffalo Bore that generates 1,200 fps at the muzzle. The gun and laser held up, but shooters sure noticed the recoil.
The .38's laser is easily activated by pushing the button atop the unit, and the cylinder is opened by pushing on the pebbled release located at the top rear of the frame.
Critics might say that S&W has done no more than follow on the success of other companies' recent small handguns. But at the press event we were told that work on these guns had begun before competing designs appeared, and the S&W offerings have features not found in other guns--such as the integral lasers. (A company rep also said S&W will consider making non-laser versions if there's demand.)
To achieve its goal of integrating pistol and laser, S&W worked closely with Insight Technology. What they came up with was an ambidextrous, push-button laser that's quite unobtrusive on the revolver and housed in the frame in the pistol. It boasts two modes of operation, constant or pulse. Push once for constant, two for pulse and three for off.
Zeroing the laser is done by turning one of two screws using the supplied Allen wrench. The laser unit can be removed with the same wrench, and the lasers on both guns use two 357/303 batteries. I recommend you read the supplied instruction book, and I would also advise removing the lasers from the guns when cleaning them because cleaning and lubricating solutions can work their way into the lasers.
As noted, the Bodyguard 38 is chambered for .38 Special +P, and while the gun does resemble the iconic S&W J-frame revolver, traditionalists may not like the 38's aesthetics. In rebuttal I offer this: There's only so much that can be done when polymer is heavily involved.
S&W designer and engineer Jim Unger--who also designed the behemoth S&W X-frame revolver--started with a clean sheet of paper, and the Bodyguard 38 shares no parts with its J-frame cousin.
|Smith & Wesson Bodyguard 38|
|Caliber:||.38 Special +P|
|Barrel Length:||1.9 in.|
|Construction:||aluminum alloy upper; steel-reinforced polymer lower; PVD-coated stainless steel cylinder|
|Sights:||serrated ramp front; milled-in square-notch rear|
The Bodyguard 38 has a two-piece frame--steel-reinforced polymer lower and aluminum alloy upper--plus a tongue-and-groove-attached trigger guard. The upper frame contains the screwed-in 1.9-inch stainless steel barrel; a pinned-in ramped, serrated stainless steel front sight and milled-in square-notch rear sight; and an extractor shroud.
Moving the extractor fully rearward to extract a case leaves only 0.19 inch of a 1.06-inch .38 Special cartridge case in the cylinder. Compare this to a J frame, in which a full half-inch of the cartridge remains in the charge hole. This improved extraction minimizes the chances of a live or fired cartridge falling back into the cylinder.
The knurled cylinder release is top rear--behind and below the rear sight. Push forward on its top or side (either one works) to release the cylinder, which turns clockwise as opposed to the now-traditional counterclockwise movement of other S&W revolvers, a change mandated by the new revolver's design.
The trigger is round and smooth faced and has a pull weight of 91/2 pounds. The laser is on the top right side of the frame, with its operating button centered on its top so it's accessible whether you're a leftie or a rightie.
By combining an aluminum alloy upper frame with a steel-reinforced polymer lower frame and a composite grip, S&W was able to keep the 38 under a pound.
The Bodyguard 38's composite grip is well-shaped and is held to the frame by a hollow crosspin. Gone now is the occasional problem of not getting a reliable grip on the gun, as was sometimes the case with the S&W J-frame and Colt revolvers. The Bodyguard's grip fills the space between the rear of the trigger guard. This, coupled with the frame coming down farther in this space, makes for a nice feel.
No disassembly of the Bodyguard 38 is realistically possible other than removing the laser for battery change or gun cleaning.
The 380 comes with two mags: one with flush base plate for better concealed carry and one with an extension that allows a better firing grip.
The Bodyguard 380 is a locked-breech polymer and stainless steel pocket pistol. The gun's metal magazine holds six rounds of .380 ACP and features a polymer follower and removable base plate.
Two base plates are supplied: one flat one for maximum concealment and the other with a curve at one end to serve as a finger rest as well as adding grip length--enough so that I can almost get a full four-finger grip on the gun, which provides better control of muzzle lift.
The Bodyguard 380's exposed spurless hammer, which cannot be cocked, lies within the rear of the 416 steel slide. The slide, 23/4-inch barrel, sights and other metal parts are treated with Melonite, providing excellent protection against the elements. The barrel hood is notched at its top rear, serving as a loaded-chamber indicator.
The hardened slide (HRC 37-45 on the Rockwell scale) has rounded corners on top. Up front, the vertical sides are stepped inward about a quarter-inch back from the muzzle in the manner found on an FN Hi Power pistol.
Five diagonal serrations at the rear of the slide provide traction for manipulating the slide. There's a large ejection port, and the long external extractor is placed at the center right rear of this opening. Thoughtfully, there's a groove at the right rear corner of the port just where empty cases hit the slide. This relief cut, often a custom feature, helps prevent malfunctions.
The front and rear sights are in dovetail cuts on the slide and are ramped and serrated on their back faces. A passive firing pin safety is present, as is a dual non-captured recoil spring mounted on a steel guide rod.
There's no way around it. Firing +P ammo in the 38 isn't much fun, but with standard loads it proved quite manageable.
The slide moves on matching grooves that are part of an inner stainless steel shell pinned into the polymer shell using two hollow crosspins. The polymer shell also houses the laser, which is beneath and part of the dust cover. Dual activation buttons are located on either side of the laser.
The trigger guard is of sufficient size to allow a lightly gloved hand to operate the trigger, which requires a long pull to fire a round. Trigger weight measured 91/2 pounds.
With the exception of the laser-activation buttons, all of the Bodyguard 380's controls are located on the left side of the gun. The disassembly crosspin, slide stop and manual safety are at the top of the frame, and the grooved and slightly rounded magazine catch is found behind the trigger guard. All controls are somewhat protected against inadvertent operation by small, molded ridges that partially encircle them.
|Smith & Wesson Bodyguard 380|
|Type:||locked-breech DAO semiauto|
|Barrel Length:||2.75 in.|
|Overall/height/Width:||5.25/3.75 (flush magazine)/0.75 in.|
|Construction:||polymer frame; matte black Melonite-finished stainless steel slide|
|Sights:||stainless steel front; drift-adjustable rear|
|Manufacturer:||Smith & Wesson, smith-wesson.com|
I can operate the manual safety from Safe to Fire while holding the pistol in a firing grip but not the reverse. I don't see the need for this safety, given the long double-action trigger pull and passive firing pin safety, but it's there if you want it.
The 380's grip has deep finger grooves on either side, and the grip's surface area--including front- and backstrap--are finely pebbled. The frontstrap has two finger grooves. The serial number, which is on the aluminum frame insert, is readable through a slot on the top right side of the grip.
By fortuitous happenstance, I've had a fair amount of trigger time with both guns, as I already had samples of both before attending the press event. I asked A.J. Stuart and Dr. Joseph Mulligan to help me with the shooting, which we did on the indoor range of the Lower Providence Rod and Gun Club in Oaks, Pennsylvania.
Bluntly put, having shot too many of these small, lightweight handguns, my limit of how many +P .38 Special rounds I can fire decreases each year, and some .380 ACP pistols are just not pleasant to shoot.
Shooting the Bodyguard 38 reconfirmed for all three of us that the felt recoil when shooting standard-velocity .38 Special in a 14.6-ounce revolver is quite tolerable, but when the switch is made to +P rounds with bullet weights over 125 grainsâ€¦not so much. However, the Bodyguard 380 allowed the three of us to shoot up 150 rounds of .380 ACP ammo easily. I did cheat, though, and wore my Uncle Mike's shooting gloves for much of the testing on both guns.
The integral laser on the 380 is activated by buttons located just in front of the trigger guard on both the left and right side of the gun.
We shot at 15 yards for accuracy and at seven yards for threat defense, sometimes using the laser and other times not. None of us experienced any malfunctions, although after firing a few full-capacity loads in either gun, its laser window became clouded due to powder gases.
In final review, if your idea of handgun ownership must include unzipping a fleece-lined leather gun case and laying the gun out on the shooting bench for all to admire, the Bodyguards are not for you. However, if your intent is defending hearth and home or for concealed-carry use, the Bodyguards will indeed live up to their name.
|Accuracy Results | S&W Bodyguards|
|Load||Bullet Weight (gr.)||Muzzle Velocity (fps)||Standard Deviation (fps)||Avg. Group (inches)|
|Bodyguard 38 .38 Special|
|Winchester +P JHP Bonded|| 130 || 755 || 7.2|| 4.00 |
|Hornady XTP JHP|| 125 || 714 || 6.5 || 3.25|
|Cor-Bon DPX || 110 || 950 || 8.0 || 3.75 |
|Federal Hydra-Shok JHP|| 110 || 812 || 5.9 || 3.50 |
|Bodyguard 380 .380 ACP|
|Federal FMJ|| 95 || 925 || 7.6 || 3.25 |
|Cor-Bon JHP|| 90 || 1,005 || 6.2 || 3.75 |
|Speer Gold Dot HP|| 90 || 927 || 5.1 || 3.50 |
|WARNING: The loads shown here are safe only in the guns for which they were developed. Neither the author nor InterMedia Outdoors, Inc. assumes any liability for accidents or injury resulting from the use or misuse of this data. Notes: Accuracy results of five-shot groups at 15 yards fromsupport. Velocities are averages of five shots measured on a Master Gamma Chrony chronograph at a distance of 10 feet. Abbreviations: FMJ, full metal jacket; JHP, jacketed hollowpoint.|