The Smith & Wesson Bodyguard 38 represents another example of how modern companies continue to come up with new ideas or improve old ones.

S&W’s Bodyguard 38 chambered in .38 Special +P is a short-barreled revolver, commonly referred to as a snubnose, but it is similar to the traditional J-frame S&W snubbie in appearance and little else. It’s built on a new design and not one single part is interchangeable with any other S&W J-frame part. Because it was such a departure from S&W tradition and sported an integral laser-aiming device, it generated at lot of interest when it was introduced. Another reason for the interest is the huge demand for small concealable carry guns that are so common these days for personal protection.

Gun Details

The gun’s upper frame is made from aluminum and the lower grip portion is manufactured from steel-reinforced polymer. The aluminum helps keep weight down, as does the polymer, which also tends to attenuate recoil. The grip itself, roll-pinned to the frame, is made of a semi-rigid rubber that adds to the recoil absorbing properties of the gun and provides a slip-resistant surface. While these features make the gun a bit friendlier for recoil-sensitive shooters, it still is not comfortable to shoot for long periods, especially with +P ammunition.

Another problem that S&W addressed is the short sight radius. With the laser, iron sights are less critical to accurate shooting because in many cases, they are not needed. That’s not to say they aren’t important though. Sometimes lasers cannot be seen because ambient light is too bright, and being mechanical devices, they sometimes cease to operate. When these things happen the operator must be able to use the iron sights, so lasers are useful but not a replacement for them.

There are other features of this gun that are not traditional to the S&W J-frame. For example, the stainless steel barrel is encased by a barrel shroud that is part of the aluminum frame. During the manufacturing process, the barrel is screwed into the front of the shroud and torqued into place with a special tool.

In another departure from the traditional J-frame, the release for the five-round stainless steel cylinder, finished in matte black PVD, is located at the top rear of the frame, just behind the rear sight, where it can be activated with the firing hand thumb, making it ambidextrous. Just push the release forward and swing the cylinder out to the left. Pushing the release causes a star-shaped piece, which mates with a matching recess in the rear of the cylinder, to withdraw, allowing the cylinder to swing free. This star-shaped piece turns when the trigger is pulled and rotates the cylinder, eliminating the need for a window in the recoil shield through which the hand of a traditional revolver protrudes. The bolt or cylinder stop looks like the one on a J-frame, although I’m sure the part that is hidden from view inside the frame is not the same. A close examination of the cylinder reveals that the bolt cuts are also different because the cylinder rotates clockwise—the opposite direction of other S&W revolvers.

The Bodyguard 38 has iron sights, which consist of a pinned and serrated front ramp and a notch rear that is integral to the topstrap. These sights are not adjustable, so you will have to live with the sight alignment if it is not perfect. For this reason, the owner should become familiar with where the gun shoots using the iron sights in case the point of impact is not perfectly aligned with the point of aim, as was the case with the sample gun—which printed about 2 inches to the left at 7 yards.

A common problem with snubbies is that the ejector rod is not long enough to fully extract empty cartridges from the cylinder. The Bodyguard 38’s ejector rod is about 0.38 inches longer than the rod on an S&W 340PD, so although it does not push empty brass completely clear, it pushes them far enough that with a solid rap, they drop free most of the time. Of the many rounds fired during testing, only three or four failed to completely eject. The ejector rod is fully shrouded beneath the barrel when the cylinder is closed, but it does not serve as a locking point for the cylinder like the one on a J-frame does. The only locking point is at the rear of the cylinder where it meets the rotating ratchet.

Purists will be pleased that the gun has no internal lock, something that has been common on S&W revolvers for some time now and has irritated many by its very presence. The trigger is protected by a polymer guard, and the internal hammer cannot be cocked by hand, making this a double-action-only (DAO) gun. The redesigned trigger mechanism reportedly has a much smoother trigger pull than the old standard S&W trigger, but I found the difference to be subtle.

The gun is very similar in size and appearance to a standard J-frame snubbie. Fit and finish is what one expects from S&W, although there were a couple of places where polymer parts did not align smoothly with metal parts, leaving uneven transitions. None were of any consequence though. The gun comes with two hex wrenches for the laser module, a soft carrying case with an internal holster, a cable lock and owner’s manual.

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Show Comments
  • Weebit

    What causes the celinder of a Smth & Wesson Spl +p to lock and when opened, want close?