Gun Review: S&W Bodyguard 38+P

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    Of all the gun companies that we’ve experienced through firearm history S&W has to be one of the top two Iconic companies. Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson started their company in the early 1850’s. Because of financial problems related to the failure of the fist lever action pistol design they were forced to sell the company to Oliver Winchester.

    In 1856 Smith & Wesson formed their second partnership to produce a small revolver designed to fire the Rimfire cartridge they patented in August of 1854. This revolver was the first successful fully self-contained cartridge revolver available in the world. Not only was this groundbreaking but it set the stage for the long history of pocket size revolvers and pistols.

    In my humble opinion the most successful of these designs is the S&W “J” frame series that are still popular many decades later. S&W’s newest offering in the pocket revolver line is the “Bodyguard 38 Special +P”.

    There are many shooters who believe this is just another “J” frame. This is far from the truth and be assured there is no relation to the “J” frame with the exception of the general look. Apart from that it has no interchangeable parts common to a standard “J” frame.

    I received this sample of the Bodyguard and my first observation was how little it weighed. As it turns out the little revolver only weighs a bit over fourteen ounces. Now you may ask how could a revolver of this size fire a 38+P without durability problems? The designers did a great job in creating this small revolver that will indeed handle a good deal of +P ammo with no problem.

    The “Bodyguard” has a two-piece frame, which differs from most in having dissimilar materials. The upper part of the frame is made from an aluminum alloy while the lower frame is a reinforced polymer with steel inserts in critical areas. The barrel is inserted into the barrel shroud and is made from standard barrel steel. The steel barrel probably adds more weight than any other component even though it’s only 1.9 inches in length. The cylinder release is ambidextrous having been placed on the top rear of the frame behind the rear notch sight. Pushing this rubber piece forward releases the cylinder. The cylinder itself is made from stainless steel with a PVD coating that makes the cylinder match the color of the rest of the revolver.

    A unique feature of this revolver is the Insight Technology red laser. The laser is mounted on the side, top of the right side of the frame. On top of the laser housing is a small gray button which activates the laser. The first push of the button turns the laser on. This produces a constant beam. The second push creates a flashing pulse with the third push turning the laser off. In case the laser is accidentally activated a five minute timer turns the laser off. The camera type battery has a three hour useable life.

    The above photo shows the laser as well as the two adjustments for windage and elevation using the included hex wrenches. You can also see the laser activation button.

    The picture below shows the internals and just how different it is from a “J” frame. The hammer for instance is very small as is the rest of the action. This photo also does a good job of showing where the upper and lower frame fit together. The trigger by the way is polymer!

    In order to change the laser battery the two screws holding the housing to the frame are removed allowing the user access to the battery. As a last note the hammer strut mates to the lower frame by placing the strut inside the spring in the grip.

    Model: BODYGUARD® 38
    Caliber: .38 S&W Special +P
    Capacity: 5 Rounds
    Barrel Length: 1.9″ / 4.8 cm
    Action: Double Action Only
    Front Sight: Black Ramp
    Rear Sight: Integral
    Frame Size: Small – Internal Hammer
    Grip: Synthetic
    Overall Length: 6.6″ / 16.8 cm
    Weight: 14.3 oz / 405.4 g
    Upper Frame Material: Aluminum Alloy
    Lower Frame Material: Steel-Reinforced Polymer
    Cylinder Material: Stainless Steel with PVD Coating
    Finish: Matte Black
    Purpose: Personal Protection
    Professional / Duty
    Integrated INSIGHT® laser
    Operation: Push-button, ambidextrous (pistol), top-mount (revolver)
    3 Modes: Constant-On, Pulse, Off. Plus 5 minute auto-off timer
    Battery Life: 3 hours continuous on
    User Adjustable: Windage and elevation, no disassembly required

    Range Time

    For this range session I used Remington 110 grain JHP, Hornady 125 XTP JHP and Cor-Bon 110 Grain +P JHP. As most people know these little guns are usually carried a lot and shot a little. In this case there’s a very good reason. When firing standard Remington loads the recoil wasn’t bad at all. When I moved up to the Hornady load it was not unpleasant but stout. When I used the Cor-Bon load it downright hurt. I’m not very recoil sensitive at all. However with 14 ounces of revolver and firing 110 grain Cor-Bon +P I was not having fun after twenty rounds! Even with the rubber grips after shooting all three loads for a total of forty rounds I’d broken the skin in the web of my hand. I decided it just might be a good idea to switch to my left hand for those last twenty rounds.

    I shot my groups from seven yards. The average group size was right at four inches. This may sound like a large group but for a revolver meant for protection at close range it does the job.

    Normally when doing a gun review I’ll shoot a few hundred rounds. With this revolver there is no way so sixty rounds will have to do☺ In the group above I simply brought the gun up where I was looking over the top of the revolver not using the sights. Counting the one round off to the left this is a four-inch group. If not for the flyer the group size would be closer to three inches.

    I gave the laser a try from seven yards and found I could see the dot but it wasn’t very bright. I’m sure the laser would be very helpful in a dark home but you’ll be better off staying with the iron sights during daylight.

    For those used to shooting the “J” frame you’ll need to adjust to the grip angle on the “Bodyguard”. The grip on this revolver is more upright than the model 642 for instance. This will make you shoot high unless the sights are used. I know some may say you should always use the sights. The way I was taught many years ago when using a revolver at contact range back to a few yards is to bring the gun up to the waist at contact distance and aiming over the revolver up to five yards away. When firing farther than five yards the sights are used. I’ve become so used to this instinctive method of shooting a revolver at close range I still use it with good results. If you learned a different method by all means use it!


    The S&W Bodyguard as well as the “J” frame series are great little guns for backup or on hot summer days when you don’t feel confident concealing anything larger. This revolver is so light it’s easy to carry in a front pocket holster and not even feel the weight. I’ve carried this one all day without discomfort of any kind

    Another method of carry is to use the included nylon case which has a holster pocket inside with room for extra ammunition using stripper clips.

    If a person likes the idea of having a laser to assist them in targeting this may be the revolver for you. I’ve decided to stick with the model 642 for a few reasons. The 642 only weighs 1.5 ounces more with a retail of approximately $75.00 less than the “Bodyguard”. Also, the grip angle makes the felt recoil a good deal less. When I fire +P rounds in my 642 it’s not going to break the skin on the web of my hand like this revolver did. Of course the 642 is also available with a laser but the retail is almost $600.00!

    These are extremely handy guns to have. In fact the small revolvers S&W makes are the top sellers of all the guns the company makes. As I usually advise go to a gun shop with a range that rents guns. Try a few models and see what suits you best before you spend your hard earned money.

    Phil White

    Retired police officer with 30 years of service. Firearms instructor and SRU team member. I still instruct with local agencies. My daily carry pistol is the tried and true 1911. I’m retired as associate editor since December 14th 2017. My replacement is my friend Pete M email: [email protected] you can reach Pete for product reviews etc.