This week, I got my hands on the M&P Bodyguard in 38 Special from our friends over at Smith and Wesson. What is the big deal, you may ask, with a .38 Special J Frame that was actually released six years ago? Well, there have been a couple of updates, but the biggest deal is what we found to feed it.
- Type: Double-Action Only Revolver
- Chambering: .38 Special +P
- Barrel: 1.9 in.
- OA Length: 6.6 in.
- Weight: 14.4 oz.
- Frame: Polymer/Aluminum
- Grips: Synthetic
- Sights: Front Black Ramp/ Rear Integral
- Finish: Matte Black
- Capacity: 5 rds.
- MSRP: $539
- Manufacturer: Smith & Wesson
In case you aren’t familiar with the Bodyguard, let’s give the pistol a quick run-down first. It is a double-action only (DAO), five-shot J frame, which Smith and Wesson has built since the machining tools came over on the Ark. This particular model has a polymer lower frame that is mated to an aluminum upper frame, both for weight savings and to reduce costs. The cylinder is stainless steel with a PVD coating for durability and corrosion resistance. The grip is a polymer and on the smaller side of most pocket pistols that I have shot. The sights are a fixed blade front with a U shaped notch cut through the top of the frame for a rear. The BodyGuard comes out of the box with a Crimson Trace Defender laser sight built into the right side of the gun. Instead of a cylinder release on the right side of the pistol like pretty much every other revolver ever, the M&P features a polymer ambidextrous release on the top of the frame. One other quirk you might notice if you shoot a lot of Smith and Wesson revolvers, the cylinder rotates clockwise, backward from any other S&W.
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So, what does all this add up to? Smith and Wesson has created an extremely inexpensive firearm, a J Frame within the reach of everyone. Yes, it has a lot of polymer pieces.It’s not going to win any beauty contests, and it’s probably not the gun you are going to show off on Instagram to the envy of all your followers. But it does what it’s supposed to do. It goes bang every time. It is double action only, so there is no hammer to snag on your clothes. It has a second strike capability if the primer fails to ignite, at least once you cycle the cylinder back around. It has everything you need in a carry gun, and nothing you don’t.
The trigger is long and heavy, but that is the price of carrying any DAO revolver. The trigger is surprisingly smooth for the price point, but then it does say S&W on the side. The Crimson Trace laser sight takes a little practice to employ from the draw, the activation button is on top of the laser module. As a right hander, this means your thumb needs to hit the button to turn the laser on before you finish gripping the gun.
I could wax eloquent about the fit and finish, maybe the history of this as an ankle gun, but it would be a waste of all our time. The J frame was never intended to take the place of a duty pistol. It’s built to always work, and win fights from contact range to across the room at best. In testing, I didn’t run a plate rack for time, or shoot any 25-meter groups. I might be able to make it do those things well, but it would be a party trick. I shot this wheelgun quite a bit, and therefore I feel it is worthy of the highest praise I have. It runs and runs well.
So if not a lot is new about the J frame revolver, what is? The answer to that is what we feed it. I have long been a fan of the Federal HST round for my own carry guns. They expand consistently, penetrate deep, and cycle flawlessly in my auto guns. Federal has just released a new 38 Special +P round specifically built for micro guns. These bullets look a little weird, but in practice, they do work. The bullet is actually seated inside the case, which is odd, to say the least. Federal did this, combined with a new powder, to eliminate air volume inside the case, which should lead to more consistent burn and therefore velocity. How, exactly, did they get away with this? Don’t forget, the 38 Special was introduced by S&W in 1898. That is not a typo, the cartridge is almost 120 years old. Obviously, a lot has changed with gun powder in that time, which allows Federal to get the same velocity with much less powder volume in the case. Federal doesn’t say as much, but I also wonder if the bullet being pressed that deep into the case doesn’t give more burn time, with the empty part of the chamber acting as a barrel extension once the round is fired.
For testing, I really wanted to see if the new HST will expand at 2-inch barrel velocity. In the science lab, I mixed up a batch of quasi-ballistics gel out of cornstarch. This was cheap to make, though it is heavy on the labor part. I recommend finding someone young and strong for the latter mixing part of this, it starts to feel like taffy when it is close to done. This was my first rodeo with the cornstarch gel, so I only made an 8 inch block. For penetration testing, I put 30 inches of water behind it. In the live fire, the HST easily penetrated my ballistic block, and I was able to capture both rounds near the 20 inch mark in the water. Both expanded beautifully, and the bonding process Federal uses worked. One round had sheared of one copper petal, otherwise both were fully intact. One had expanded to .62 inches, the other to .58. From a short barrel wheel gun, I am absolutely impressed. Federal has defiantly delivered with this new round.
All in all, this is a pretty good carry option. You could do a lot worse for a street price of $500. Smith and Wesson quality with HST expansion is hard to beat for an everyday carry option.
For more information about the S&W Bodyguard M&P 38, click here.
For more information about Federal HST, click here.
For more information about Crimson Trace, click here.
To purchase a S&W Bodyguard M&P 38, click here.