In 1959, Smith & Wesson introduced the Model 49 Bodyguard. The Bodyguard featured a distinctive humpback shape that shrouded the hammer spur. The design allowed the Bodyguard to be cocked for single-action fire while still being suitable for pocket carry. To some, it was the best of both worlds.
To many, the Bodyguard was never as sexy as the Centennial or as classic as the Chief’s Special. However, it had a loyal following, especially for those who pocket carried. The Bodyguard has survived throughout the years and is currently produced in two models. The Model 638 Airweight, is chambered in .38 Special, and the Model 649 stainless steel, is chambered in .357 Magnum. Earlier this year, I reviewed the Model 638 and it was only reasonable that I follow-up with a review of the Model 649.
The Model 649
I recently requested a new production Model 649 for evaluation. While I have several older Bodyguards in my collection, this was my first opportunity to evaluate a new production Bodyguard that is chambered in .357 Magnum.
Our test pistol was a Model 649-5 that features a stainless steel frame, barrel, and cylinder. It weighs 22.2 ounces and, is considerably heftier than the 14.6 ounces of the Model 638. The overall fit and finish on our pistol were clean and void of blemishes, machine marks, or sharp edges. The actual finish is a soft polish that is both durable and attractive. The internal parts are a combination of steel and MIM parts. Like other J-frames, that are chambered in .357 Magnum, and features a 2.125” with a full underlug. This extended length allowed Smith to use a longer ejection rod on the 649 for more positive ejection of the longer magnum cases.
The front sight on the Model 649 is a ramp shape that is pinned, making replacement or upgrade relatively easy. The rear sight aperture is a shallow square notch. The double-action exceeded the 12 lb. limit on our electronic trigger pull gauge. The single-action broke cleanly at 3 lbs. 8 oz. I found the double-action to be smooth with no grit or creep. The Model 649 comes standard with a set of extended synthetic “boot” style stocks that fill the gap behind the trigger guard and cushion the backstrap. These are extremely comfortable and are efficient in absorbing recoil.
I will point out that the sights on the Bodyguard are probably the most difficult to use of any of the J-frames. The contour of the “hump” flows to the top strap with no delineation behind the rear sight. In addition, the aperture and recess tend to blend in with the frame and the exposed hammer spur. There are a few tricks to improve the sights. In the past, I have used a sharpie to blacken the rear sight recess and blade and painted the front sight yellow or orange. One upgrade that is very popular is replacing the factory sight blade with either a standard dot or a big dot from XS Sights. This does require drilling the new sight blade for the retaining pin.
The .38 Special cartridge continues to enjoy widespread popularity. This is reflected by the excellent choices in personal defense loads that are available from most major manufacturers. We hit the range with three of the most popular +P loads. Federal’s +P 130 gr. Micro HST is specifically designed for short barrel revolvers and features a uniquely designed, wadcutter like, jacketed projectile. The Micro HST averaged 834 fps and was very consistent with an extreme spread of 33 fps. I also tested Speer’s time-proven +P 135 gr. Gold Dot Short barrel load. The Speer load averaged 894 fps with an extreme spread of 23 fps. The final.38 +P load was Hornady’s +P 110 gr. Critical Defense. This load features the FTX projectile with a polymer tip that prevents the hollow point from being clogged by clothing and other barriers. The Critical Defense averaged 884 fps with an extreme spread of 23 fps.
Given that the Model 649 is chambered for .357 Magnum, I ran a few rounds of Speers 135 grain Gold Dot Magnum Short Barrel out of the little blaster. The Magnum load averaged a hot 1,104 fps with an extreme spread of 20 fps. However, this load is brutal to shoot and very hard on the pistol. Timely follow-up shots were very difficult! In my opinion, Magnum loads in any J-frame are not practical. At least for my needs, I will stick with +P .38 Special loads.
Most of my shooting was done from seven to ten yards. It is important, especially with fixed sight revolvers, to ensure that your chosen load hits to point of aim. Since the Model 649 is chambered in magnum, I was curious to see where the point of impact was with the selected .39 +P loads. At seven yards, I found that the Federal HST hit the point of aim. However, the Speer 135. Grain Gold Dot hit approximately 1” low and the 110 grain Hornady load hit approximately 2” below the point of aim. I was shooting at an indoor range and battled both lighting and the extremely small rear sight.
One of my favorite drills is a modification of Ken Hackathorn’s 10-10-10 drill. Designed for semiautos, the drill consists of 10 rounds, shot from 10 yards, in 10 seconds. I modified the drill for J-frames where I shoot 5 rounds, from 5 yards, in 5 seconds. This is repeated twice for a total of 10 rounds. All rounds are fired double action. The target used for this drill is the NRA bullseye. Scoring is done by the values on the target. I managed a score of 98 after losing two rounds to the 9 ring. I was pleased that I had four hits in the X ring. I did find that I had trouble tracking the black front sight on the black bullseye. Both runs were well under the 5 second par time.
|Federal 130 gr. HST +P||834 fps||1.75”|
|Hornady 110 gr. FTX Critical Defense +P||884 fps||2.5”|
|Speer 135 gr. Gold Dot Short Barrel||905 fps||2.25”|
|Velocity 10 ft/Accuracy 7 yards|
For several weeks, the Model 649 became part of my daily carry. I replaced the factory grips with a set of the new VZ 320 G-10 stocks that are now offered without a finger groove. The 320 is very similar to Spegel Boot Grips and fills the gap behind the trigger guard and has a slight palm swell. The 320s are ideal for pocket carry where rubber type stocks can cause issues. They also work well with either speed strips or speed loaders. In addition, the 320s are available in 10 colors.
There has never been a greater selection of holsters for the J-frame series. For IWB I tested the Philster City Special and the Galco Triton 2.0. Both holsters are made from molded Kydex and proved to be very comfortable, especially when carried in the appendix location.
For inside the waistband, I tested the Blue Force Gear ULTRAcomp and the Galco Stukon-U. The BFG is a minimalist design that is made from thin, high-performance laminate that is extremely durable. The Galco Stukon-U is made from a layered, closed-cell foam and packcloth. It provides some cushion and the exterior is tacky to retain it in the pocket.
It has been 61 years since the Bodyguard was introduced. The fact that it is still in production is a credit to a design that has proven timeless. The Model 649 has an MSRP of $735.00, and a street price that is significantly less.
Model: Model 649
Caliber: .357 Magnum
Barrel Length: 2.125”
Overall Length: 6.6″
Front Sight: Pinned Blade
Rear Sight: Fixed
Action: Single/Double Action
Weight: 22.2 oz.
Cylinder Material: Stainless Steel
Barrel Material: Stainless Steel
Frame Material: Stainless Steel
Frame Finish: Satin Stainless
Note: The historical information contained in this article came from History of Smith & Wesson by Roy Jinks and Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson by Jim Supica and Richard Nahas