Review: Smith and Wesson M&P Bodyguard Crimson Trace .38 Spl Revolver

By Dave Dolbee published on in Firearms, Reviews

In January of 2017, I will be entering my 37th year as a law enforcement officer. For 90% of those 37 years, I carried a snubnose .38 Special revolver for off-duty or backup carry while on duty. For much of that time, the snubnose .38 was a Smith and Wesson 5-shot J-frame of one form or another. There are a number of reasons why this, and not a high-capacity 9mm pistol, is still my most often carried concealment handgun.

Scott Wagner with the Smith and Wesson Bodyguard with Crimson Trace laser engaged

The original Bodyguard series always had a somewhat ungainly “humpback” look to it. And while the single-action fire option was available, I never used it, and I doubt if very many folks who owned one did either.

By Scott W. Wagner

I started my career when the .38 Special revolver was found in 90% or more of American law enforcement officer’s holsters. There were 50 of us in my police academy class. Out of those 50 officers —representing law enforcement agencies across Ohio—only one carried a semi-auto. The rest of us, with one exception, carried .38 Special revolvers. The exception’s agency issued the .41 Magnum Smith and Wesson Model 58. We were all quite jealous of that.

When I hit the streets, the choice of comfortable concealment handguns were limited to mostly four or so choices—5-shot S&W Chief Specials or their variants, 6-shot snubnose Colt revolvers, 5-shot Charter Arms .38 (or .44 Special) revolvers, and the .380 Walther PPKs semi-automatic pistol. That was about it. There was no “shall issue” concealed carry permit systems in the U.S., and demand for developing more powerful concealment handguns just wasn’t there.

My first off-duty handgun was a 5-shot blued steel S&W Model 36—the original “Chiefs Special.” As its name implies, it was designed to be carried by police chiefs and administrators or detectives who didn’t need to or want to carry a full size handgun. It was, and is, a great little gun. Later, I moved up to the stainless steel S&W Model 60 snub for increased rust resistance—and because it looked cool.

Not long after that, I discovered the original S&W Bodyguard .38 Special snub, the Model 49. This all-steel variant of the J-frame theme featured a partially shrouded hammer, which had an access slot so that it could be cocked single action for longer-range single-action fire if needed. The shrouded hammer allowed one to fire right through a coat pocket in an emergency without drawing and without snagging on the pocket liner. The Model 49 I had was very sharp looking, as it was nickel-plated. Unfortunately, I traded this beauty away, but later ended up with the aluminum/stainless 638 Bodyguard, which I carried for a number of years before trading it.

Scott Wagner aiming the Crimson Trace laser on the S&W Bodyguard .38 Spl

The .38 Bodyguard really is a 21st Century .38 snubbie in terms of execution, features, and refinement. There are two features that immediately jump at you when you pick it up. The first is the integral Crimson Trace Laser mounted on the upper right side of the frame behind the recoil shield.

The original Bodyguard series always had a somewhat ungainly “humpback” look to it. And while the single-action fire option was available, I never used it, and I doubt if very many folks who owned one did either. Further, the access slot was great for trapping lint and debris. Smith and Wesson discontinued production of the original Bodyguard not long ago.

I moved to a Smith and Wesson model that offered the advantages of the original Bodyguard in terms of a concealed hammer without the humpback shape—or the ability to fire it single action—the Model 642 “Centennial.”

Although it is no longer called the “Centennial,” the stainless steel, aluminum-framed 642 and its matte-black brother, the 442, feature a totally concealed hammer and more streamlined shape. I’ve carried my CTC Lasergrip equipped 642 for nearly a decade as my primary off-duty and backup handgun, and it has served me very well in those functions due to its light weight, adequate power, all day carryability and concealability. Besides familiarity, these are the reasons why the 5-shot .38 is still my fallback concealment gun.

If you haven’t noticed, Smith and Wesson has done some structural reorganization. According to Smith and Wesson’s website, today’s new M&P brand has a wider target market than just cops and soldiers.

“From pistols designed for concealed carry to modern sporting rifles, all M&P firearms are jam packed with power, performance, and protection. Delivering superior products with versatile, easy-to-customize features, M&P adds undeniable value to every shooting experience.”

This includes the subject of this article, the new M&P .38 Special Bodyguard Crimson Trace (Crimson Trace is now another S&W brand) snubnose revolver.

Rather than name this new .38 the Centennial, S&W decided on a name which gave better focus as to its mission—a revolver that would always be with you to protect you when needed the most—they decided to resurrect the old model name of Bodyguard. And after working with this new gun for several weeks, I can report that it is more than up to the bodyguarding task.

The .38 Bodyguard really is a 21st Century .38 snubbie in terms of execution, features, and refinement. There are two features that immediately jump at you when you pick it up. The first is the integral Crimson Trace Laser mounted on the upper right side of the frame behind the recoil shield. The activation button is located at the top of the unit and can be operated by the right or left thumb of the shooting hand, or by sweeping the thumb of the supporting hand across it while in a two-hand grip. Good news for lefties, this is one of the few apparently right-handed accessories that actually works just as well, if not slightly better, for you guys. Push the constant on/off button once for a solid dot, a second time for a pulsating dot, and a third for off.

Scott Wagner standing in front of a car door with a Smith and Wesson .38 Bodyguard pistol

The front sight of the M&P Bodyguard is plain black and pinned in place on the barrel shroud so it can be changed. I would like to see an option of XS Big Dot sights being available for the Bodyguard. It would make the Bodyguard excel even further in the close range, low-light combat that this gun is designed for.

The next most noticeable feature is the repositioning of the cylinder latch release from its traditional left side of the frame to the center of the upper frame just below the rear sight channel, thus making the latch release ambidextrous. I was a little worried about getting used to the position of the release—a worry which proved unfounded. I ran the M&P Bodyguard through our department’s 50-round qualification course without a hitch during the reloading segments of the course. My police chief, a long time revolver guy like me, remarked, “It’s about time!” when he saw the new latch position.

The front sight of the M&P Bodyguard is plain black and pinned in place on the barrel shroud so it can be changed. I would like to see an option of XS Big Dot sights being available for the Bodyguard. It would make the Bodyguard excel even further in the close range, low-light combat that this gun is designed for.

The frame and trigger design of the M&P Bodyguard has been updated for the 21st Century as well. The upper frame is constructed of traditional aluminum alloy while the lower frame and one-piece grip is made of high strength polymer. The grip can’t be changed out, but there is really no need. In size, the new grips are larger than the old wood grips that used to come with J-frame guns. The new grips are comfortable and fit the hand very well. The M&P Bodyguard Crimson Trace weighs in at 14.4 ounces, the same weight as the aluminum framed 642 without a laser sight. However, it’s the new trigger that is probably the best feature.

This is the lightest and smoothest J-frame trigger I have ever run—and I’ve run a lot. At the rear underside of the trigger is a new operating rod that runs into the frame. Smith and Wesson doesn’t make a big enough deal about the great trigger pull, but it should. It is the revolver I would recommend for anyone with hand strength issues. Not only is the trigger light, it’s smooth—which improves accuracy. I had no problem shooting a 100% on our department’s course.

Are there any downsides to the new M&P Bodyguard? Yes, a small one. An increased ledge at the base of the cylinder yoke won’t allow it to holster in the Blackhawk Serpa concealment holsters. The Bodyguard did fit (with a bit of stretching of the thumb breaks) in my Gould and Goodrich B809 belt holster and B816 ankle holster. It fit perfectly in my Crossbreed Kydex Holsters.

If you are looking for a close combat revolver with updated features, the new Smith and Wesson M&P Bodyguard might just be the ticket. The price at Cheaper Than Dirt! is excellent considering the laser sights from Crimson Trace will run you around $200 or more if purchased separately.

Click Here to Start Shopping Online at Cheaper Than Dirt button

Do you carry a revolver? How about laser sights? Share your experiences with both in the comment section.

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Comments (9)

  • left coast chuck

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    My red dot sight on my old model S&W 2 inch turned me from “I’ll probably scare you quite badly” without the red dot into a “Dang, I can hit you in your pie hole with all five shots at 15 yards ” with the red dot. I was truly impressed with the difference it made. Only drawback: In strong light it’s back to the old, “I’ll scare you badly at 15 yards.”

    Reply

    • Dragonc

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      Left Coast Chuck…..What sort of red dot sight did you have on your S&W J-Frame? I somehow have difficulty visualizing a red dot on a snub revolver. Is it a true reflex red dot, or is it a laser that projects a red dot on the target? I have lasers on almost all of my pistols and revolvers and they do a great job of projecting a red or a green illuminated spot on the target…..where the strike of the bullet will be (if the laser is properly collimated to the bore). On the other hand, I have true reflex red dots on many of my larger pistols and rifles which substitute an illuminated reticle for the usual reticle pattern on the glass.

      Reply

    • left coast chuck

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      @Dragonc: I have the Laser-Lyte red dot made for both he S&W j-frame and one other snobby revolver, I believe a Taurus but don’t bet the $million on that last. It projects a red dot on the target and when it is signed-in, it is just amazing. Put it on the ten ring and if I do my part, it will punch holes all over the nine and ten ring. That’s with commercial reloads, loaded with 148 gr. hollow base wadcutters.

      It’s also great for dry-fire practice at home because you can see your trigger errors as soon as the hammer falls. Uh-oh, jerked that one.

      I had to cut away a little of the wood on the original S&W stock in order to get the unit under the right hand grip, but it was less than an 8th of an inch that I had to cut away. With the laser removed there is a gap but it doesn’t affect the function of the grip a bit to have that little bit shaved off.

      Reply

    • Dragon

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      Ahhhhh…..OK, Left Coast Chuck, I understand your message. I’m not trying to lecture here, but in technical parlance you are using a laser sight. A true red dot projects the dot on a small transparent optical screen that is mounted on the sight itself that is mounted on the firearm. Thus a true red dot does not project the laser dot on the actual target…..the dot simply becomes the reticle, sorta like an illuminated scope. As I have cast about the firearms community, I have found that the confusion between red dot sights and laser sights is fairly common……especially since they both project an illuminated dot. I’d guess that since I am an old retired teacher, I couldn’t resist the urge to conduct a brief class…..:-)

      Reply

  • Jim

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    Why the 642 ? why not the 640 / 357 mag / better choice ,still can shoot the 38 spl if you need my 642 is not that much different shooting 357 mag over the 38 spl +P ammo / with good grips they aren’t the animal the guys try to tell you

    Reply

    • Dragon

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      I agree, Jim. I have a 640 with Big Dot Express sights and a pair of Crimson Trace Lasergrips. I can choose either the laser or the metallic sights, and the grip is a good, hand filling one. AND…..Since the 640 is an all steel revolver, it really is pretty calm when shooting .357 Magnum loads.

      Reply

  • john

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    Does it have an internal (infernal) lock?

    Reply

  • Larry Mortland

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    I would like to ask if this gun has been compared to the Ruger LCRx 3″bbl as a carry piece.
    Thank you.

    Reply

  • Dragon

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    The S&W Bodyguard revolver with high mount laser is a very nicely done piece, although the laser activation button can be somewhat troublesome due to it’s small size. I purchased two of these…..one for my wife and one for me. Typically the grip of the most common models of J-frame revolvers are rather small. For my wife that’s fine, but for my own use, I installed a Hogue Monogrip made especially for this model revolver. The Hogue grip is still small enough to afford good concealment, but it is of sufficient size to fill my hand for comfortable gripping and shooting.

    Reply

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