Handguns > Revolver

Smith & Wesson Bodyguard 38

Never a company to rest on its laurels, Smith & Wesson continues to refine the 174-year-old revolver design with its new Bodyguard.


Throughout its storied history Smith & Wesson has repeatedly been at the forefront of innovation.

S&W is the company that gave us—among other things—the .38 Spl., the .357 Mag. (both the revolver and the cartridge), the Combat Masterpiece, stainless steel as a gun material, Scandium as a gun material, as well as the .44, .460 and .500 Magnum revolvers. Clearly the company and its succession of leaders is of the “thrive-on-competition” ilk. A few years ago, I had the honor and pleasure of taking a plant tour of Smith & Wesson, and I came away amazed and awed at its ability to seamlessly meld 19th, 20th and 21st century technology into a remarkably efficient manufacturing process.

When it announced the new Bodyguard series of self-defense handguns—a pocket .380 semi-auto and a five-shot, .38 Spl. +P revolver—I saw the revolver and thought, So what? It’s just a repackaged Model 40 Centennial. However, Paul Pluff, of Smith & Wesson, told us at the announcement that the Bodyguard revolver may look like a traditional J-frame, but its insides are completely different. “In fact,” he said, “there isn’t a single interchangeable part between the Bodyguard and a J-Frame.”

As it normally happens, it’s a few months from the announcement until we can get a shootable sample for review. Mine arrived on a sultry, late-August afternoon as I was planting fence posts. When the small, adult-signature-required box arrived, my dirty, sweaty paws were only too happy to break off from fence building for some quality gun-fondling time.

I own a couple of J-Frames, a Model 60 and a Model 340PD, so I dragged them out for comparison. The first thing any Smith aficionado will notice is that the cylinder turns backward. By that I mean that it turns clockwise. Opening the cylinder and inspecting the recoil shield, I noticed a couple of things: There is no window where the hand would come out to rotate the cylinder, and the ratchet looks different. Instead of the normal oblong ratcheting lugs found on the ejector star, the Bodyguard 38 has something of a star-like recess that engages a male counterpart through a hole on the recoil shield. I see a couple of advantages here. With no opening in the recoil shield there is almost no probability that dirt, grit or pocket lint can get into the lockwork and muck it up. Don’t laugh. When I opened up my Model 60 there were some tiny whisps of pocket lint polluting the inner sanctum of the revolver, no doubt a result of the years that little gat has spent lounging in various pockets of my clothing. Secondly, assuming that at least part of each star is engaging the recess on the cylinder; that means there is a larger area of contact to distribute rotating force, as well as withstanding firing forces. The advantage there is durability and reliability, and considering that this revolver weighs in at a dainty 14.5 ounces and is slated for +P ammo, extra durability is a nice thing to have.

Dimensionally, there are nominal differences between the J-Frames and the Bodyguard 38, largely unnoticeable in terms of feel of the gun in the hand. The Bodyguard comes with a rubber-like grip that is almost sticky in the hand, and it helps attenuate the recoil of +P loads well.

I had to take a peek inside. Over the years I have opened up dozens of Smith & Wesson revolvers, so much so I think I could do it—and probably have—in my sleep. The Bodyguard, however, took a bit longer. Instead of three or four screws to pop the sideplate, it has five screws—three on right side, two on the left—and the polymer grip/trigger guard slides off the aluminum-alloy frame. Actually, it’s a bit retro by removing the grip from the frame a la single-action revolvers. In the interest of full disclosure, I did not tear down the Bodyguard 38 to individual parts, just enough to determine the redesign parameters. Combining modern manufacturing techniques and material platforms, it looks as if the engineers in Springfield asked the question, “Why do we still utilize heavy, expensive-to-machine-and-finish metal in a grip?” Where the strength of metal is needed—around the cylinder and to contain the lockwork—metal is employed.

With the thumb-latch mounted at the top of the frame to facilitate ambidexterity, it engages a small piece of bent sheet metal, which, in turn, retracts the male portion of the ratchet, freeing the cylinder to swing out of the frame. The hammer is about a quarter of the mass of a J-Frame hammer, and the coil mainspring is somewhat lighter as well. I am guessing that the engineers are utilizing a quicker locktime—higher hammer velocity—instead of hammer mass to reliably crack primers. The hand operates from the trigger via a connecting rod and engages the ratchet within the lockwork. It appears that the lockwork uses about half the space of a traditional J-Frame gun. Smaller parts, plus the use of composites have allowed Smith & Wesson to produce an extremely lightweight revolver for considerably less money than the expensive Scandium guns.

What at first looks like the barrel coming off the front of the frame is actually an extension of the frame. The extension is a shroud for the barrel-proper and the ejector rod. So it’s probably not a good idea to clamp what looks like the barrel in a vise and try to wind it off the frame with a piece of hardwood in the cylinder window. Remember that with the Bodyguard the only similarity to previous Smith & Wesson revolvers is the overall profile. This puppy is a whole new design.

Another cutting-edge feature on the Bodyguard series is the factory-supplied laser sighting system from Insight Technology. Before testing this gun, I had only casually played with laser sights. I am now a believer. My groups with the laser were half the size of those utilizing the integral fixed sights. Those fixed sights, by the way, need some adjustments. Either the front blade is too wide or the rear notch needs to be opened up a bit. This is a combat gun, not a target pistol, so finely tuned sights with hair-like narrow gaps are more of a liability. On my personal Smiths, I have narrowed the front sight to about .100-inch, which makes it far quicker to pick up. The laser sight, though somewhat slower to deploy than those mounted in the grip, is diminutive enough to be unobtrusive on the revolver. It can be removed for a battery change, and it can be adjusted for windage and elevation with the pair of Allen wrenches included with the gun. A caveat: Find a way to absolutely secure those wrenches. They are incredibly small and can be very easy to lose. You won’t find replacements at your local hardware store, so take pains to see that you can find them when you need them.

Shooting the pocket gun was actually more pleasant than usual, especially with the Speer 125-grain Gold Dot Hollow Points I prefer in this type of revolver. The rubber grips shielded me from the otherwise stiff bark I receive from this load in my J-Frames. I shot it across my chronograph just to verify, and it averaged 950 fps out of the 1.9-inch barrel. If memory serves me, I get some 1,075 fps from the same load out of a 4-inch barreled Model 19. Groups using the open sights at 10 yards averaged about 2 inches and printed some 3 inches above the point-of-hold, but when I used the laser and shot from belt buckle height at a specific aiming point, my groups shrank to an inch or less.

Smith & Wesson has once again provided real innovation and a better value to the self-defense market. My Model 340PD, which has a very similar profile but no laser, carries an MSRP of $1,153. The Bodyguard 38 with the laser sight is nearly half that at $625. That’s real value to the consumer. Whether as a “Get-Off-Me!” gun or a backup for another carry gun, the Bodyguard 38 gets two thumbs up from me.

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25 Responses to Smith & Wesson Bodyguard 38

mark elder wrote:
March 16, 2014


Ron wrote:
June 05, 2013

I love this Lil popper. I use Hornady 110g +p self defense ammo (red balistic tip) with great accuracy. Yes I have found most ball ammo is pretty scattered for anything over 10 yds. I'm about to start reloading some 158g cast lswc and see what happens. I don't feel any great discomfort in recoil at all, fits great in my hand, conceals extremely well. Yes, 5 rnds in a snubby is not a bank heist shoot out gun- it is however a great ohshit defend myself piece of protection. I also have a Sig .40, and a Springfield Operator .45, great heavy firepower and deterrent in open carry Louisiana- not so great for concealment. Just sayin. Best practice- try many, choose what fits you best and is comfortable, and practice constantly and consistently.

sean g wrote:
December 15, 2011

anyone know where i can find a bigger/more comfortable aftermarket grip?

andrew wrote:
November 26, 2011

STEVE The bodyguard 38 does not have the 'hillary hole' aka internal lock im just waiting for my handgun permit to come in in new jersey to get mine a friend bought 2 and asked if I would want the one since he owes me a few favors

Taylor wrote:
July 01, 2011

Scootercommuter, probably a little to late to answer your question, but if it isnt hope this helps 1.Stainless steel barrel 2.One-piece aluminum alloy upper frame 3.Ergonomic one-piece rubber grip 4.Stainless steel cylinder (PVD coated) I just purchased one a few weeks back, and it has great release. I havent had a single shell get stuck yet *knock on wood*

Lori wrote:
June 25, 2011

I just got my bodyguard revolver today. shot 45 rounds throw it loved it but notice the laser sight shout off on me a few time. has any body else have the same thing happen.

Dale wrote:
March 22, 2011

Since the cylinder revolves opposite of all other S&W revolvers and the cylinder release is also different, I would only recommend this model to those who don't use other S&W revolvers. In a stress situation your manual of arms should say the same so that it is an automatic response to the particular controls and operations of this revolver.

FLETC Firearms Instructor wrote:
March 22, 2011

For Sootercommuter when ejecting spent brass turn the revolver with the barrel facing up and strike the ejector with the palm of your shooting hand. Slap it and the brass should completely eject. This is an old "Fed" trick taught at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

Snowman741 wrote:
February 11, 2011

I have been shooting my bodyguard and noticed I was also High and Left. So dry firing it with a buddy watching we noticed that due to the heavy trigger pull when spinning the cylinder I have been unknowingly pulling the gun high and left when the trigger gets past the cylinder rotation. After knowing that I have been pretty well on target. Just need more rounds through the gun. My main problem is sight picture with out the laser. The Black on Black on such a small gun I tend to strugle with my front sight in my sight picture.

Michael Nerren wrote:
February 05, 2011

Shot the gun today for the first, and currently having the same problem, shooting high and to the left 5" just as you described. Any non-laser solutions?

Rafael wrote:
January 23, 2011

I tried a friends bodyguard today and like Rick all the ammo we tried shot high and to the left. We were very dissappointed and no matter what we did, aside from pointing low and to the right ,did anything get better. He tried my M&P9 and loved it. He is now considering trading it for a M&P9. He originally got the bodyguard for his wife, but she is recoil shy and the bodyguard has bit too much bite for her.

Tyler wrote:
January 04, 2011

Just picked one up for #389 http://www.jetguns.com/bodyguard-wlaser-black-p-1413.html

Rick wrote:
January 03, 2011

Yea, great gun. I love the laser sights they are great for indoor or lowlight situations. However, I'm having a terrible problem with the iron sights. They seem to be shooting groups high and left 5" respectively for a distance of only 10 feet. I've corrected it with the laser, but I can't always rely on the laser in the middle of daylight. Anyone know if S&W will readjust the front sight or do I need to fork out some cash to have a gunsmith do it. I'm in phoenix, AZ. If any S&W reps are out there, feel freely to speak out! Comments are appreicated. I've been using both Remington 140 grains and Winchester 138 grains. iron sights still off, same groupings.

James wrote:
December 15, 2010

I love it....Very light, easy to shoot, easy recoil and .38+P is more than enough for those are there that only believe you must carry a 44 or 45!

Steve wrote:
December 04, 2010

Why do they always show the right side of their revolvers? Oh yeah! To hide the God-forsaken "Hillary Hole" that the morons running S&W still insist on including. BOYCOTT SMITH PENDING ABOLISHMENT OF MANDATORY INTERNAL LOCKS!!!

BK# wrote:
October 19, 2010

The real problem I have with it is the laser. You have to cycle it from off to on to strob and back to off again with your thumb. I much prefer the squeeze on and instant off on release of the Crimson Trace laser on the Ruger LCR. I want that thing off when I need it off quickly. It can reveal my position. Go for instant on/instant off.

RAH wrote:
October 18, 2010

I think this would be perfect for my wife. As I prefer the GLOCK 27 for my CC. Would also be a great trunk gun.

Kevin Rasmussen wrote:
October 16, 2010

Wish it was single/double action like the original. What does this model do that the centennials(40, 442, 340, 342, and 640) don't?

scootercommuter wrote:
October 16, 2010

It would be nice to know whether the ejector system fully ejects the empty brass. The only issue with the 642 and some similar guns is that the short stroke of the ejector does not fully clear the brass from the cylinder, and the user often has to pull the empties the last 1/4 inch out by hand. Also what is the composition of the barrel and cylinder, is it stainless or what?

TJ wrote:
October 15, 2010

Good review & the pistol looks like a winner. Anybody know what the poundage is on the trigger pull?

jlp wrote:
October 15, 2010

What a piece of junk. You failed to mentioned the junk MIM cast parts Smith is using for internals and what a high failure rate they are noted for. I once had an "original high quality body guard made in the 60-s and am sorry i sold it. Now I cannot get another one and certainly would not waste my hard earned money on a "plastic and cast iron modern junk body guard".

Earl Phares wrote:
October 15, 2010

I wanted to replace my fathers Model 36 which I traded years ago, but found this one and am very happy. As a Retired Sheriff, most gun battles are within 21 feet and this works fine and handles like a dream.

Jeff Klawitter wrote:
October 15, 2010

Great review, thanks Dave.

Double Eagle wrote:
October 15, 2010

Impressive review! Benn looking for CC weapon, think I found it. Got to get to my seller and get it on order. Thanks for the review.

Paul Hirsch wrote:
October 14, 2010

Sounds interesting. As an owner of an old M38, I am looking to get it a companion -- so I can send mine back to S&W for refinishing. I like the 438 except for the locking device. Does this one have the locking device?