Smith and Wesson Bodyguard .38 — Not Another J Frame

Snubnose revolver with pocket knife, and speedloaders

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.

Smith and Wesson Bodyguard revolver right profile
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
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.

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
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!

Comments (17)

  1. Considering getting the 38 Bodyguard. Is it smaller than the normal J frame 442? Hard to tell with just photos & videos. Any information on the size differences would be helpful in my decision making.

  2. Over the years, I have carried several brands and types of pistols. I find the S&W bodyguard .380 one of the best teamed up with a sticky pocket holster and Hornady ammo. If I anticipate real danger, I always seem to go for my S&W revolver or shotgun. Even over my mdl 1911 Why? I don’t know?

  3. I own several J Frames and I owed one of these briefly. Out if the box, the two-piece ejector rod had a tendency to jam the cylinder, making the gun inoperable. I sent the revolver back to Smith and Wesson for repair. When it can back, it never quite felt right and I lost any remaining confidence in it. Is the only J Frame I sold away. I now carry a 442 Airweight pro series or a 640-1 pro series.

  4. Why is S&W re-inventing the wheel? A barrel liner? Why? clockwise instead of the counter-clokwise they have used for many generations. A different cylinder-release? nothing like messing-up decades of knowing exactly how to open to eject and reload. And you failed to mention what the frame was made of. I’ll keep my model 60 thank you.

  5. I carried a S&W Model 60 as my back-up/off-duty gun for more than 15 years as a member of the Metropolitan Police Department, DC. It was, and still is, a great revolver. I had an ankle holster that was so comfortable that, one time I went golfing after day work, and didn’t realize that I still had it on until I was on the 4th tee. I’m still a cop after 35 years, but now I carry a semi-auto 9mm, just to have more capacity in these violent times. BTW, the Model 60 is now in the wall safe closest to my front door for emergencies, along with two speed-loaders and two speed strips…

  6. The S&W bodyguard 38 looks like it will do the job just fine.

    I’ll keep my model 37 old model 3 inch barrel. To a gun collector/shooter
    the new bodyguard lacks pride of ownership. As a dealer for 45 years,
    I doubt if this model will have a following in a year or so. sorry. I would not show this guns to my shooting friends with any pride.

  7. I have always had an affinity for revolvers. I carried a J frame for many years and learned to handle speed loaders at an early age. That being said I now carry a full size automatic as a small revolver in my opinion requires an expert level of skill to employ in any self defense scenario.
    J frames are easy to carry. However a proper belt and holster combination can make up for most if not all issues relating to carrying a larger handgun.
    Madison Ga

  8. I’m a retired NYPD police officer and gunsmith. The main problem found with the S&W, as compared to the Colt, besides the obvious 5 shot cylinder, was the short (5/8″) ejection stroke of the front latching two piece ejection rod, causing positive ejection of the long .38Spl. cases a possible problem. This was why I carried, and advised my men to carry, the Colt Det. Spl. with the shorter Cobra grips if they had a newer pistol with the shorter grip frame. A Tyler grip insert, behind the trigger guard finished the customization.

    1. when BCI (NYSP) carried revolvers as a duty weapon, the Colt Detective special and cobra were the only authorized small frame revolver. Maybe because of the extra round The Colt felt better in the hand than the Smith J frame.
      Although The choice of the Colt over the Smith is logical, the recent adoption of the Glock in .45 Glock is not logical. The cost and limited availability of ammo hinder practicing with the new duty weapon.

  9. I have carried small frame revolvers for several decades. I first carried a Colt “Agent” with a factory hammer shroud, in an ankle holster for about 8 years. Then I carried a S&W Model 60 with a “bobbed” hammer, also in an ankle holster. In the 21st century I got the “BEST “ small frame.38 Spl I have ever carried and shot, the S&W Bodyguard 38. It carries great on your ankle or in your pocket. Its Innovative design makes it the most renowned small frame revolver ever.

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