January 03, 2011
Smith & Wesson's new Bodyguard line generated an incredible amount of buzz at the 2010 SHOT Show. The compact pistol and revolver (see the sidebar on page ??) drew lots of praise from dealers and consumers alike for their unique combination of innovative features, compact size, and reasonable retail prices.
I spent a lot of time in the S&W booth checking out the new guns and discussing their finer points with S&W V.P. Tom Kelly. I came away from our talks with a strong hankering to try the new .380 pocket rocket, and I ordered one. Evidently, so did everyone else because it took a few months longer than I anticipated for it to arrive. When it did, it was in the suitcase of Kelly, who brought the gun down to the ranch so he could go over its finer points in person.
S&W's new Bodyguard 380 takes pocket-pistol performance to a new level virtue of its shooter-friendly ergonomics, very usable sights, and integrated laser that resides within the frame just below the barrel. The laser is activated by the gray button located in front of the trigger guard.
It was late by the time Kelly arrived at the ranch, so we spent a few hours discussing the Bodyguard around the campfire. I was pleased to learn that S&W's engineers put a lot of thought into the new line. According to Kelly, S&W didn't just shrink an existing design so the firm could grab a piece of the red-hot .380 ACP pocket-pistol market. Instead, the design team worked for a long time to, in Kelly's words, "design a concealable carry gun with the function of a full-sized pistol for the concealed-carry market."
Kelly went on to say that ergonomics were the main focus when the guys at S&W set out to design the new Bodyguard because good ergonomics are essential in subcompact designs, which are, by their very nature, difficult to shoot. The designers felt they could get a leg up on the competition and give consumers a product they would actually enjoy shooting if the gun was made to fit the hand better and had controls shooters could manipulate naturally. That's no easy task when concealability and light weight are key requirements.
|Manufacturer:||Smith & Wesson, www.swith-wesson.com|
|Magazine Capacity:||6 rounds|
|Overall Length:||5.25 in.|
|Weight, empty:||11.25 oz.|
|Grips:||Integral polymer frame|
|Finish:||Matte black Melonite|
|Sights:||Fixed front, drift-adjustable rear, integrated Insight laser|
|Trigger:||8 lbs., 7 oz. pull; DAO|
The last design requirement--an integral laser--was the feature that earned the new Bodyguards the most attention at the SHOT Show. Lasers are all the rage these days because of their usefulness in low light, where most defensive encounters occur. They also make it easier to shoot a pistol, especially a small one, accurately. However, good lasers aren't cheap, and the majority of pocket-pistol lasers add significantly to the bulk of the handgun. The guys at S&W thought an integral laser was important, but they wanted to keep the gun affordable, so they worked with the folks at Insight Technology to bring consumers an affordable, laser-equipped, concealed-carry package.
I was pleased to see S&W use the classic Bodyguard name on the new high-tech guns. According to Kelly, the name choice was an easy one. He said, "We chose the Bodyguard name because it really captures the intended purpose of this product. Though we have used the name on several guns over the years, we felt it embodies the intended purpose of this arm, and the new Bodyguard line embodies the heritage of the name while incorporating modern technology and innovative design."
Note the no-snag DAO hammer, the particularly usable drift-adjustable rear sight, and the low-profile nature of the safety and slide catch lever on the side of the Bodyguard 380's polymer frame.
The Pistol Top To Bottom
The Bodyguard .380 is an attractive little number that is, indeed, pocket-sized. It is a double-action-only semiauto with repeat-strike capability. Thou
gh I can't recall the last time I had a recalcitrant primer with modern factory ammunition, it can happen, and a quick second squeeze of the trigger is a whole lot faster than the old tap-rack-bang routine.
The Bodyguard's frame is a trim, polymer piece with a finger groove and grip-enhancing stippling molded in. The six-round magazine fits flush with the backstrap but has an extended finger rest on the front with matching stippling.
The Bodyguard 380's frame-mounted controls include a polymer magazine release in the conventional location and a trim, 1911-style thumb safety, a slide release, and an external takedown lever. All the controls are striated, minimal in size, and strictly right-handed, with the exception of ambidextrous laser controls on the dustcover.
The laser's controls consist of a pair of small, gray buttons on the dustcover just ahead of and above the trigger guard. The buttons are designed to be activated with the trigger finger or the thumb of the support hand. Support-hand-thumb operation is ideal, but we're all different, and the option is there for those with bigger hands who prefer to use their trigger finger to activate the laser.
The laser itself is an integral unit housed in the dustcover. The beam projects from the front of the frame, directly underneath the barrel. One touch of the activation button activates a constant beam, a second push changes the beam to strobe, and a third deactivates the unit. A windage adjustment is recessed into the right side of the frame, and the elevation adjustment is underneath the laser. It runs on two Energizer 357 batteries and has a run time of 3 hours in the constant-on mode. The unit powers down automatically after 5 minutes to preserve battery life and guard against battery drain from inadvertent activation.
|S&W BODYGUARD 380 ACCURACY|
|Factory Load||Velocity (fps)||10-yard Accuracy (inches)|
|Federal 90-gr. Hydra-Shok|| 894 || 1.76 |
|Hornady 90-gr. FTX|| 787 || 2.10 |
|Federal American Eagle 95-gr. FMJ|| 862 || 2.42 |
|Winchester 95-gr. PDX1|| 872 || 1.34 ||NOTES: Accuracy is the average of five, five-shot groups fired from a sandbag benchrest. Velocity is the average of 25 rounds measured 10 feet from the gun's muzzle.|
The little .380's trigger is a polymer piece, but all the internals are steel. My test gun's DAO trigger pull broke at a smooth, even 8 pounds, 7 ounces. The trigger's internal parts are all contained within a steel sub-assembly that is held into the frame with pins. The slide rails are integral parts of that subassembly.
The Bodyguard 380's slide is machined from a solid block of stainless steel, and it is black-Melonite-coated. The combination of stainless steel and Melonite makes for a nonreflective, almost-corrosion-proof pistol that is ideally suited for deep concealment.
The slide houses a robust external extractor and a stubby, 2.75-inch, stainless-steel barrel finished in the same black Melonite as the slide. The barrel hood has a cutout that serves as a loaded-chamber indicator. Real, useable sights are dovetailed neatly into the top of the slide. The sights have no inserts, but they give an excellent sight picture in daylight. In low light, most shooters would opt for the laser, but I would like to see some sort of tritium treatment on the front sight just in case.
The overall quality of my sample pistol was superb, and the trigger pull was excellent. Eight pounds, 7 ounces may sound heavy, but it seems light as a feather when the trigger pull is as smooth as this pistol's is. Eight pounds is also close to the minimum pull weight I am comfortable having on an unholstered pocket pistol. Lighter pulls may be nice, but they can compromise the safety of your most treasured jewels if the gun gets hung up on something in your pocket.
The author fired this fine 1.02-inch group offhand from 7 yards. He credits the Bodyguard 380's fine sights and trigger for its impressive accuracy.
A .380 You Can Bank On
The test gun's controls operated smoothly and positively, and the sight picture was about the best I've ever seen on a pocket pistol. The 11.25-ounce pistol was easy to conceal and felt perfect in my hand. In terms of features and ergonomics, it appeared that S&W easily met its design criteria, but I was anxious to shoot the gun to see how much those great ergonomics impacted the little pistol's shootability.
Since we were at the ranch and I had some willing test subjects, my preliminary testing consisted of some informal target shooting and rapid-fire work. I enlisted Kelly and two friends--James Jeffrey and police firearms instructor Lance Bertolino--to assist me.
We started with some slow-fire work from the 7-yard line to get a feel for the Bodyguard 380's double-action trigger. Kelly and I are the most experienced revolver shooters, so we took to it like ducks to water. WHY? IT'S A SEMIAUTO PISTOL. WE NEED AN EXPLANATION HERE. Bertolino got a feel for it pretty quickly, but it took Jeffrey a few magazines to get comfortable with the DAO trigger pull. The little pocket rocket fed, fired, and ejected perfectly and hit right on at 7 yards.
After we all felt comfortable with the trigger, we settled in for some offhand accuracy work and rapid-fire drills. The center of the target got chewed into one gaping, fist-sized hole. The empty brass piled up and the gun chugged along flawlessly, but I wanted to stretch out that stubby barrel a bit before we ran out of ammo. I wasn't worried about shooting tiny groups at long range, but I loaded a few mags with Winchester's 95-grain PDX1 and began testing its range on cantaloupe-sized dirt clods. Hits out to 35 yards were almost automatic, and 50 yards was very doable thanks to the Bodyguard 380's sights. I went seven for 12 at 50 yards, but those five misses weren't off by much. That's bad for a stubby pocket pistol.
A few days later I went to the range for a more serious accuracy evaluation. Given the gun's size, I did my shooting for accuracy over a sandbag rest at 10 yards. I am sure I could have gotten good results at 15 yards, but that is not a very realistic distance for such a compact pocket pistol.
I used loads from American Eagle, Federal, Hornady, and Winchester. All shot very well, but Winchester's 95-grain PDX1 load was the accuracy champ with a 1.34-inch average for five, five-shot groups. As impressive as the gun was, I was more impressed with the ammunition--none of the loads were too far off their claimed velocity despite the short tube. With tiny cartridges, every bit of velocity counts, so it was nice to see those peppy velocity readings.
With so many new .380 ACP offerings hitting the market over the last few years, it's getting pretty tough to get too excited about yet another one. But its combination of safety, excellent ergonomics, high-tech features, and moderate price (MSRP: $575) set the new Bodyguard .380 apart from its competitors. It's a full-featured pocket pistol with the reliability and the accuracy you can trust your life to.