Smith and Wesson Bodyguard 380 title image

Smith and Wesson Bodyguard 380 Review [2021]

Small, pocketable pistols are all the rage right now. (Come to think of it, they’ve been popular ever since they were made small enough to fit in a pocket). At any rate, many manufacturers are building tiny guns that pack a punch, which can be pretty powerful behind the muzzle as well as in front of it. The .380 is gaining in popularity as well, what with advances in bullet and ballistics technology. As I noted in my recent review of the Ruger LCP .380, some .380 ammo nips at the heels of the venerable .38 Special in terms of velocity and energy. So, it is with little hesitation that many folks, myself included, will drop a small .380 (in its pocket holster) in a pants pocket when you don’t want to, or can’t, carry a larger gun. Granted, .380 ammo is not optimal in terms of concealed carry but it sure beats throwing rocks. (It was good enough to start WWI – you can read about that here). Plus, many European police departments used it as a service round for decades. The little cartridge will do its job if placed properly on the target.

The M&P Bodyguard

Smith and Wesson’s (S&W) M&P line has a long and storied history. The name came about in 1899 when S&W applied it to a .38 Special revolver they had just released. Come to think of it, the ,38 Special came out that same year as a result of the anemic .38 Long Colt’s less-than-stellar performance in the Philippines during the insurrection there. Thus, a classic was born. Anyway, the revolver was designed to be used by, all together now, military and police units. The military received many of these wheelguns, which did tend to perform better than the Long Colt round. As for the rest of the M&P story, you can read my history of the brand here

The .380 Bodyguard pistol was introduced in 2011 and looked a lot like the pistol we have here, minus some slide engraving – the “M&P” was missing. In 2014, S&W rectified that situation by formally moving the Bodyguard into the M&P family. In terms of variations within the model, you can get one with or without a thumb safety, and with or without a Crimson Trace laser. (The original Bodyguard sported a laser made by Insight).

The gun is very small – a two-finger-on-the-grip proposition for me, at least. I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck – I do know that there are more than enough two-finger-grip small pistols made today in various calibers to fill one of Elmer Keith’s ginormous hats…that’s a bunch. These guns are popular for the reasons I mentioned above – they are uber easy to carry, and they can sure pack a punch. Many folks carry a .22 semi-auto that would be about the same size as this Bodyguard. To my way of thinking, I believe I’d carry the gun that offers the most “oomph” without going overboard in the blast and recoil departments – this to make sure I can hit what I’m aiming at. But, many like the .22. Without turning this into a .22-vs-380 bout match, I’ll just leave it here – the Bodyguard carries well and would get a bad guy’s attention, for sure.

Now might be a good place to list the gun’s specifications. I got them from the S&W website, and my measurements.

Caliber:380 Auto
Capacity:6+1, 2 magazines included
Laser:Crimson Trace® Red
Safety:Thumb Safety
Length:5.3"
Front Sight:Stainless Steel Drift Adjustable
Rear Sight:Stainless Steel Drift Adjustable
Action:Double Action Only
Trigger Pull:9 pounds, 15 oz.
Grip:Synthetic
Barrel Material:Stainless Steel
Slide Material:Stainless Steel
Frame Material:Polymer
Slide Finish:Armornite®
Frame Finish:Matte Black
Barrel Length:2.75"
Weight:12.3 oz.

The Gun And Its Quirks

This little 12-ouncer kicks. There – I said it. It’s no wonder that this little guy has such attention-getting recoil – it doesn’t even weigh a pound, allows just two fingers around it and is pretty skinny in the grip. Those factors make a small gun like this hard to handle for those with small hands. I’ve owned other tiny guns and they all feel pretty similar – they kick. I keep reminding new gun buyers who seek guidance about what gun to buy to not buy something as small as this for their first gun – they’ll very possibly regret it. This gun takes someone who is devoted to practicing to be its owner. This is not one of those stuff-it-into-the-safe-and-never-take-it-out-unless-you-want-to-carry-it guns. With its strong recoil, this gun needs to be shot and handled in order to be understood. Shooters who have a few years of higher-recoiling guns under their holster belts will be able to control this gun. Am I saying that no first-time buyers should buy one? Of course not. All I mean to say is that this gun kicks, so be aware of that and shoot it a lot to familiarize yourself with it.

Another aspect of the gun that might take some getting used to is the trigger. In a world of striker-fired guns, it is refreshing to find one that is hammer-fired, and double-action-only, at that. I am old school when it comes to some things. Do I own striker guns? Of course – I’m not a Luddite – but I also don’t turn my nose up at the notion of shooting a handgun with a hammer of some sort. One of the very best triggers I’d ever felt on any gun I’d owned was that on a Turkish-made Sar K2P 9mm – that DA/SA trigger was slicker than grease on a glass door knob. I’ve not found another one like it. There are some striker guns that have really decent triggers – Walther comes to mind, to lump a bunch of pistols together in one general pile. I haven’t had the chance to examine their new PDP, but from what I read it has a wonderful trigger. 

The Bodyguard’s trigger works – the holes in the targets prive that. But, it has a couple of issues. First, it’s a very long pull. I found myself, as I was shooting the gun, pulling the trigger and wondering when the gun was going to fire. I kept pulling and pulling… the pull is very long and a bit gritty. Plus, add in the not-quite 10-pound pull weight of that trigger and you have a recipe for inaccuracy. Yup, I know – this is no target pistol. I agree. But, when you couple the heavy, very long pull with the need to keep the front sight on or in the general neighborhood of the center of the target, you sometimes don’t get the results you desire. 

I do understand why a gun that is designed to be a last-resort defense gun might have a long, heavy trigger pull – you don’t want any unintended discharges, so the trigger acts as a sort of safety. You have to want the gun to fire, on purpose, hence the need to work a bit at it in order to get that to happen. But…this gun has a manual safety that can be engaged. If a gun has a seperate safety, then the trigger should be better. That’s my opinion, of course, but I doubt if I am the only shooter who feels that way. However, if we look at the big picture, the Bodyguard ticks all the right boxes overall that point to it being a quality, reliable carry gun. I had no issues with reliability when I shot it.

Alrighty – let’s look at some photos then we’ll check a target or two.

Smith and Wesson Bodyguard 380 gun left shot

Smith and Wesson Bodyguard 380 gun right shot

Smith and Wesson Bodyguard 380 controls left side

Close-up of the controls on the left side of the frame. Takedown lever, slide release, safety.

Smith and Wesson Bodyguard 380 field stripped

Field-stripped. I didn’t cover taking the gun apart for cleaning, but the takedown lever makes it easy. The manual explains it in detail.

Smith and Wesson Bodyguard 380 frame right side

The frame. Note the long slide rail.

Smith and Wesson Bodyguard 380 rear sight

Rear sight.

Smith and Wesson Bodyguard 380 magazine safety warning

Warning – this gun has no magazine safety, a move I totally agree with.

Smith and Wesson Bodyguard 380 barrel recoil spring

Recoil spring and barrel.

Smith and Wesson Bodyguard 380 gun with magazines

Gun with two 6-round mags.

Smith and Wesson Bodyguard 380 in pistol rug

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    Shooting The Bodyguard

    The song I’m about to sing reminds me of that great Far Side cartoon where the old man’s wife is sitting next to the parrot in the cage. All we see is a series of the same, single music note coming out of the cage. Her husband tells her to “Hit the bird, Ruth – he’s stuck” like the bird was an old phonograph. The song I’ve been singing is the “Yes, We Have No Ammo” lament. (I was encouraged today, though – I went to my local Academy Sports and saw a lot of ammo that had just come in. But, I would imagine if I went back there now, most of it would be gone). 

    The Crimson Trace Laser

    Even though the gun is equipped with a Crimson Trace laser, I opted to use the iron sights as the laser was off enough that it would’ve taken more ammo than I had to sight it in. This laser worked well for its intended purpose. The shorter ranges I was shooting at allowed the bright red laser to shine through onto the target easily. I’ve had good luck with Crimson Trace lasers – I’ve got a few – and so I was used to the way it worked. If you, the manufacturer, are going to add a 3rd-party laser to your gun, you’d better make it a good one. That is not one area to skimp on. Crimson Trace must be courting deals to include their optics with guns as OEM parts these days – they also provide the red dot sight that SCCY puts on some of its guns. At any rate, the laser on the Bodyguard works well. 

    So, I shot a Fiocchi 95-grain FMJ load and my 95-grain cast bullet loads. In my previous review of the Ruger LCP, I’d noticed that my handload’s bullets had tumbled. I was interested in seeing if that would occur again with this short-barreled pistol. As we look at the target, it does indeed seem that a couple of the bullets from that handload tumbled, but three other shots didn’t. This is perplexing. I don’t have that tumbling issue when I shoot those loads out of my Taurus Spectrum .380, with its similar-length barrel. Something is curious here, as the rifling should stabilize the bullet. Anyway, we’ll move on but I’m stumped. Here is that target:

    Smith and Wesson Bodyguard 380 4 grain handload target shot

    95-grain cast bullet over 2.4 grains of Titegroup. Not terrible, except for going through the target sideways.

    Here’s another target I shot with the 95-grain Fiocchi  FMJ. Not too bad, except for the “frequent flyer”..

    Smith and Wesson Bodyguard 380 95 grain Fiocchi target shot

    I wish I had a string of targets to show you, each target shot with a different brand of ammo, but that’s not the way it is right now. Maybe in the future, but for now I’m lucky to have what ammo I do. Anyway, these targets were shot right at 10 yards. When you consider that this gun is designed to be employed at ranges ranging from “get-off-me” to around 5-6 yards, these groups aren’t terrible. I was just curious to see how it would shoot at 10 yards, hence that’s what I did. It would work for its intended up-close purpose. 

    Should you buy the Smith and Wesson Bodyguard 380?

    If you are looking for an extremely carry-friendly .380 made by a reputable company to use as a backup gun (or even primary carry gun), the Bodyguard is a viable option. Are there other .380s out there that are about the same size and weight as this one? Sure. But, this is the only one made by S&W. Add in the laser, and the gun’s usability and effectiveness increases.  

    If you do end up with one of these guns, please do yourself a favor and make sure you practice enough with it so that you are familiar with how to control it during recoil and how to  handle it in general. I don’t know how many times I’ve had to shoot down the notion, held by some brand-new gun owners, that “that gun is tiny – it shouldn’t be as hard to shoot as one of those big guns like the police carry, should it?”. The more you shoot, the more you’ll realize that, generally, it’s the other way around. But, don’t let that discourage you. Just about ANYbody can shoot just about ANY gun with practice. This gun is a bit of a handful, true, but it’s still easily controlled by the shooter who wants to master it. The rewards will be great for those who put the time in.

    Please leave us a comment below if you’ve had experience with the Bodyguard. As always, keep ‘em in the black and stay safe!

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      1. Good review Mike, a friend owns one of these, and I’ve had opportunity to shoot it. I agree with you, that heavy, long trigger pull is redundant when coupled with the manual safety, and I think S&W should readdress that. It might even smooth out that gritty feeling if they did somewhat. Yes, the recoil was unexpected, but not intolerable. It’s to be expected that polymer framed guns have a bit more recoil to them. The weight advantage has its downside.

        I carried a .380 Walther PPK/S for nearly 25 years, so I’ve a preference for DA/SA over DAO, but I never felt undergunned that whole time, after all, the .380 does have the dubious distinction of having started a war. I retired it to Range Baby status due to aging eyes, not any failure on the pistol’s part. One of the best self defense loadings IMO for .380 is the Hornady Critical Defense 95 gr. round. It did very well in Lucky Gunners Ballistic’s Tests. Speer Gold Dot also performed very well.

        All in all, I felt my friend’s choice to be a good one, at that price point, and told him so. Are there better, more expensive guns? Yes, but better is a very subjective term. For the money the little M&P .380 is dependable, relatively accurate, and with practice, the trigger is not an insurmountable hurdle to use.

        And this ammo shortage is starting to be a real pain in the butt. I’m thankful I reload, but with primers being in short supply as well, I’m hesitant to run through what I’ve stocked, since who knows when this will end.

        Thanks again Mike.

        1. Good points, Bemused. I’ve always wanted a PPK/s for no other reason than it just looks cool, plus the Bond factor. You are right about the 380 loads, and the ammo situation-it is getting old. Thanks for writing again.

      2. A relative of a former neighbor (along with several others) came over to shoot one day. When this fairly large guy, who had been shooting .45 ACP, went to shoot his S&W Bodyguard .380 ACP everyone backed up. Thought kind of odd, then I saw why: extreme muzzle blast and recoil. Had him shoot my Ruger LCP and then his S&W with the same ammo as my LCP; would you believe almost half the recoil and muzzle blast using the same ammo. The LCP also had a much better trigger (newer version without a hyphen in the serial #). All in all a fun day, about 1,300 rounds expended of all types. Maybe it is just me, but i have never been impressed with a S&W product, have shot a lot of them. Your view may vary.

        1. Just Me, interesting story. Sounds like you know about these guns from your own experience and you have it sorted out. Glad you like your LCP – they are nice to carry. Thanks for writing!

      3. Had an older Bodyguard with the Insight laser. Had troubles with its sensitivity and battery contacts. It was a daily carry.
        Wrote to S&W about my likes and concerns.
        They shipped out a brand new Crimson Trace Laser. Couldn’t say enough good about their customer service. Best in the business!

        1. Ken, you are right. They are always on top of things – I had one go back and it came home in short order, repaired. Glad you had a good experience. Thanks for writing!

      4. I had a bodyguard that wouldn’t get through a magazine without at least one jam. I was a real pos. I wouldn’t buy another one. Sold it with a disclaimer, beware the jam o magic. I admit I only tried 5 different kinds of ammo, all of which my LCP fed flawlessly.

        1. Mr Frank, too bad. This is the first time I’ve heard about a Bodyguard that wouldn’t work right. I guess all manufacturers have a few lemons. Did you replace it with another .380 or just got back to your LCP? Thanks for writing.

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