Smith and Wesson Bodyguard .38 — Not Another J Frame

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Smith and Wesson revolvers are among my favorite handguns for collecting, shooting, hunting, and for personal defense. They are able to present a confluence of 19th, 20th, and 21st century design and appearance into very desirable handguns.

The Bodyguard is also available without a laser.

Among the most efficient personal defense choices is the Smith and Wesson Bodyguard .38 Special +P. This revolver is different, and how different it is! The piece resembles my daily backup, the Smith and Wesson 442 .38, but it isn’t a 442 with a polymer frame. It is much more different than that.

The Bodyguard is a concealed-hammer double-action-only .38 Special snubnose, which is obvious. However, the Bodyguard differs from other J frames in that the cylinder rotates in a different direction—to the right. This is the same as the now defunct Colt Detective Special. Further, if you open the cylinder by pressing the lever on the top of the backstrap, you are enjoying a different manual of arms.

The lever operates in a positive manner and eliminates the chances of the Smith and Wesson cylinder latch cutting the thumb during recoil. Further, upon examining the recoil shield, I found that there is no opening for the normal rotation of the cylinder by the hand. The end of the ejector rod features a different type of ratchet lugs. These lugs mate into a rotating star in the receiver. This seems an efficient means of rotating the cylinder with every double-action trigger press. It is sealed from the elements and lint.

Federal 130-grain HST bullet

Federal’s .38 Special 130-grain HST provides excellent protection.

The grip is rather high in the hand. With a 14.5-ounce revolver firing powerful .38 Special +P loads, you want a well-designed grip. This design is as efficient in controlling recoil as any I have used. The hammer has less mass than the standard J frame hammer, which means that a lighter hammer spring may be used. The result is faster locktime.

You can really feel the difference in dry fire. The barrel is actually a barrel shroud with an internal stainless barrel. The outer barrel is an extension of the frame. The sights are standard J frame fare with a deep trough rear sight and bold front post.

The revolver is fitted with a small Crimson Trace laser. Pressing a finger pad doesn’t automatically activate this laser. Instead, the thumb reaches over to cut it on. Mine could be set for a steady beam or a pulse. With practice, it is fast to turn on as you draw. However, it is not as quick as the standard Lasergrip into action. The action is fast, very fast, and smooth in operation.

I began the evaluation with a supply of Federal Cartridge Company 148-grain target wadcutter loads. This is the classic practice and target .38 Special loading, and I have fired thousands over the years. This is an accurate load and at about 700 fps easy on the hands and wrists.

rear view of the Smith and Wesson Bodyguard relover with Crimson Trace laser installed

A bright orange tab turns on the Crimson Trace laser.

I found the Bodyguard revolver pleasant to fire with this load. I set up a man-sized target at 7 yards and quickly filled it with nicely centered holes in the X ring. The cadence of fire is to press the trigger, control the piece in recoil as the trigger resets, and then bring the pistol back on target.

I also fired a few rounds at 10 yards to evaluate the potential accuracy of the revolver. Like most J frame Smith and Wesson revolvers, the accuracy potential is there for those that practice. Making a center hit at 15 yards isn’t out of the question for those that practice. I also fired a good number of drills with the laser sight. The laser offers real speed at conversational range.

Moving up to defense loads, I fired the new Federal 130-grain HST. This cartridge features a bullet completely set into the cartridge case. This bullet expands well in media and is a credible defensive loading. I also fired my old standby, the Federal Cartridge Company .38 Special +P 129-grain Hydra-Shok. These loads offer considerably more recoil than the 148-grain wadcutter, but they also offer much better wound potential.

Smith & Wesson Bodyguard
Type: Double-action-only revolver
Caliber: .38 Special +P
Barrel Length: 1.9 inches
Capacity: Five rounds
Sights: Fixed metallic and integral laser
Safety: Hammer block
Grip: Rubber
Overall Length: 6.6 inches
Weight: 14.3 ounces

For those who practice, Federal’s .38 Special +P 129-grain Hydra-Shok is a good choice for defensive use. The Bodyguard carries light in a quality inside the waistband holster. Overall, we have a first-class revolver that offers good wound potential and protection ounce for ounce.

Have you ever carried a revolver for service or self-defense? What about speedloaders? Share your answers in the comment section.


Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooter’s Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.

View all articles by Bob Campbell

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The mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!’s blog, “The Shooter’s Log,” is to provide information-not opinions-to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

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