Tuesday, December 4, 2012

MArooned Product Review: Smith & Wesson Bodyguard 38

Over the summer, I picked up a Smith & Wesson Bodyguard 38 for testing and evaluation. I picked up the Bodyguard 380 last year and have really come to like the diminutive autochucker, plus I'm an unabashed revolver fan, so it seemed like a natural fit. Plus I've reviewed the Ruger LCR, the first of the polymer pocket revolvers, and Smith's answer to the LCR needed a closer look.

Off the bat I'll admit my biases. I love Smith & Wesson revolvers. I've carried a J-frame off and on for nearly 20 years now, and appreciate the wonderful simplicity of a five-shot wheelgun as a carry piece.  I've carried a near-first year model 36 (Dad's back-up gun on the State Police); a well-worn but still quite functional model 38; and, of course, the Snubbie From Hell™, the fire-breathing 12 ounce .357 Magnum that hurts the shooter almost as much as the shootee. And can hit T-bolt from across the firing line...

The Bodyguard 38 represents a subtle yet radical departure for Smith & Wesson, as well as an industry first. It's not the first nor only polymer revolver (obviously the LCR was the first, and Taurus has a number of polymer-framed revolvers out as well); however it is the first polymer wheelgun in the Smith line as well as being the only revolver with an integral laser:

There's another radical departure for Smith & Wesson in the Bodyguard 38: the cylinder release mechanism:

Rather than the tried-and-true push latch on the "left" side of the revolver, the release mechanism is on the back of the frame. S&W claims this is to make the BG38 ambidextrous, however the cylinder still swings out towards the left, making it less-than-perfect for a southpaw. It's a step in the right direction, and beats a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, but this is one of those cases where I find myself turning into the curmudgeon and saying "I liked it better the old way". Plus the plastic latch - while admittedly quite solid and unyielding after many hundreds of rounds - just doesn't feel the same as the metal push latch. Personal bias, to be sure, and it functions just as it is intended.

From a carry aspect, the Bodyguard 38 is indistinguishable from, well, just about any other J-frame out there. The integral Insight laser is left flush with the cylinder so it fits all standard J-frame holsters (this is where I would normally have a shot of the Bodyguard 38 surrounded by J-frame holsters, but, really, it's a J-frame. It fits everything made for the J-frame. I didn't see the necessity of repeating the shot). It's light (14.3 ounces unloaded, 0.7 ounces lighter than the aluminum-framed model 642, but 2.3 ounces heavier than the Snubbie from Hell™) and fits in a pocket; it'll ride on a belt all day long without causing one's pants to sag; and the hammerless design makes it simple to draw from a pocket or other unconventional holster.

I wasn't a big fan of the Insight laser on the Bodyguard 38. It was difficult to activate with my dominant hand; in fact, the positioning of the unit and activation switch made for awkward contortions to turn the laser on with one hand. Using the support hand was easier, but requires both hands working in concert, a feat easily accomplished at the range but not necessarily under real life conditions. What I did find, though, was that it worked rather well in my left hand - only a minimum of motion was required to turn on the laser when held in my left hand:

So, for a southpaw, the laser works pretty well. There's a minimum of reach and effort to turn the laser on with the left thumb, so activation is significantly easier in the left hand than in the right. It's still not as simple as the Crimson Trace Laser Sight grips, where the grip itself activates the laser so that no additional motion or movement is required, but it's a simple motion that, with practice, is simple to master and add to muscle memory.

As for shooting the Bodyguard 38, again, it's a J-frame. While there are folks that can shoot a double-action only snub-nosed revolver well, the vast majority will require a not-inconsequential amount of range time to gain proficiency. The Bodyguard 38 has a an excellent trigger in its favor, and was easier to shoot double action than a standard SA/DA exposed hammer J-frame. The laser helped as well:

That's a standard reduced silhouette target at 25 feet; the outside rounds were fired rapid-fire without the laser, the ones closest to the inside box were fired rapid-fire with the laser. It really does help get back on target, and out-of-the-box it was sighted in perfectly (Side note: Don't take it apart unless and until you really need to. Just... Don't. Trust me on this). It is more than capable of delivering center-of-mass hits even without the laser at across-the-room expanses; obviously at "bad breath" distances it's even easier.


If you're a fan of the snubnosed revolver, the Smith & Wesson Bodyguard 38 is definitely something to consider. It's lightweight, simple to clean, and can get solid hits on target in a significant caliber. There's a wide variety of holsters and gear available for the J-frame revolver, so finding the right carry package is simpler than for less-popular arms. While the laser activation may take a little contortion, there's nothing saying you have to use it - and if you want to, you can make it work. It's great for a lefty, and makes a fine back-up (or primary!) for a righty too.

Smith & Wesson Bodyguard 38: It may be partly plastic, but it's all J-frame.

That is all.


Mopar said...

Thanks for adding the Southpaw point of view. Mucho appreciated!

Jake (formerly Riposte3) said...

Dad has one of those. Honestly, I wasn't terribly impressed, and he's mentioned that he regrets the trade-in he made for it (a .357 J-frame with CT Lasergrips - he wanted the lighter carry weight). The laser activation is actually pretty clumsy - that activation button is small, and I've never felt any really positive feedback from it. It is a decent shooter, though.

It might cost a bit more, but I'd have to say you're still much better off buying a regular J-frame with CT Lasergrips.

ASM826 said...

Is that plastic going to hold up to repeated use when you figure out how to attach the bayonet?

Further testing and results may be needed.

Geodkyt said...

So, maybe the next development spiral should be a break-action auto ejector, preferrably more like the Webley design? {grin}

Reese said...

The cylinder turns backwards... ;)

Rivrdog said...

Jay, you have a very large hand, the Bodyguard seems lost in it. Since you're a Big Dog gunblogger/reviewer, why don't you ask Magnum Research to make you a BFR snubbie, in, say, .45-70?