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Reviews : Arsenal

Smith & Wesson Bodyguard 380 Pistol

With an integral laser sight and lightweight construction, this pocket pistol is a solid backup or undercover gun.

September 16, 2010  |  by Paul Scarlata - Also by this author

To my way of thinking, the advantages of the laser are threefold: First, it permits very fast target acquisition; second, you can "aim" the pistol from awkward positions such as shooting from waist level, from around cover, or if your shooting arm has been partially incapacitated; lastly, in some situations "painting" an attacker with the laser may dissuade them from continuing their antisocial activities.

The Bodyguard 380's slide is machined from solid stainless steel and has a Melonite finish that protects it from wear and environmental extremes. Sharp slide serrations make it easy to retract the slide even with wet hands or when wearing gloves. Lastly, a set of rugged steel sights are dovetailed into the slide and can be adjusted for windage.

While in the past most .380 pistols were blowback designs, the Bodyguard 380 uses a variation of the Browning locking system in which the hood of barrel chamber moves up into, and bears against, the front edge of the ejection port. As the pistol is fired, the slide unit moves to the rear, whereupon an angled ramp on the bottom of the barrel cams it down out of the ejection port, allowing the slide to continue to the rear, thereby extracting and ejecting the spent cartridge case. The recoil spring, located under the barrel, then pulls the slide forward, picking the next round out of the magazine and chambering it. As the slide goes into battery, the barrel hood moves up into the ejection port again, locking the two units together.

In keeping with its intended role as a close range, defensive handgun, the Bodyguard 380 uses a DAO trigger. This not only simplifies the operating drill and provides additional safety but allows the same, consistent trigger pull for each shot. All three are features that I believe are highly desirable in any defensive handgun. And because the pistol is hammer fired, it is not necessary to retract the slide to reset the striker in case of a failure to just pull the trigger again.

The six-round magazine has a finger rest base plate (a flat base plate is included), which allows a two-finger grip on the little pistol. This improves handling and recoil control to a marked degree. The magazine release is located in the "proper" position (You know what I mean. I really dislike those heel-mounted magazine releases.) and the magazines fell free of the pistol when it was depressed.

The Bodyguard also differs from many of its peers in that it features manual safety, slide stop, and takedown levers, providing additional safety and allowing simpler disassembly for cleaning.

Bench Testing

S&W provided me with a Bodyguard 380 to evaluate. My first impressions were positive. Fit and finish were all first rate, it fit my hand well, the sights were easy to see, and the trigger had a consistent and fairly light stroke.

While it is hardly germane for a pistol of this class, accuracy testing was conducted by firing the pistol from an MTM Predator rest at a measured 15 yards with three different brands of .380 ammunition. The best group was 2.5 inches with Cor-Bon 70-grain Pow'R Ball. That's not exactly tack driving but it's solid performance for a pocket pistol.

After the accuracy test, I ran the Bodyguard 380 through a series of offhand drills on a target placed out at a practical five yards, firing the pistol with both supported and unsupported (one-handed) grips. I also took the opportunity to fire it from waist level using only the InSight laser for guidance.

Despite its attenuated grip and short sight radius I was able to place all but two rounds inside the targets' X and 9 rings. To my way of thinking that's about as good a performance as one could expect from a pistol of this class.

While I must admit to not being a big fan of the cartridge it fires, I found the S&W Bodyguard 380 a very likeable handgun. It was light, flat, easy to shoot, suitably accurate, and completely reliable with the 200-plus rounds I ran through it that afternoon. My only complaint was that the manual safety was rather difficult to manipulate but, when you consider the pistol has a DAO trigger, I don't really consider this a problem.

If you're in the market for a small, reliable pistol that fires a relatively effective cartridge for use as an off duty, backup, or deep cover gun, the Bodyguard 380 deserves serious consideration. 

Paul Scarlata has served as an auxiliary police officer and is a frequent contributor to POLICE.

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