Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Guns: Building A Better Mousegun - S&W Bodyguard 380 review


Polymer-framed .380s have proven to be extremely popular in the CCW community. For roughly the same size and weight as the vest pocket .22s and .25s of yesteryear, today's gun-toters can now pack 6+1 rounds of .380 ACP, a far more potent round. The Kel-Tec P3AT kicked off the idea, and the Ruger LCP popularized it...has Smith and Wesson's Bodyguard 380 perfected it?

First Impressions and Field Strip

The S&W Bodyguard 380 is a relatively new polymer-framed .380 pocket pistol. Aside from the added weight and bulk of the integral laser sight, the BG380's dimensions are very similar to its competition, and the gun fits inside even dress slack pockets without any problems. In hand, the Bodyguard feels a bit blocky, like gripping a deck of playing cards. S&W provides two floorplates for the magazine: an extended floorplate that allows you to fit a second finger onto the grip, and a flat, flush-fitting floorplate.

The Bodyguard 380's trigger, like most pistols of this type, is a long, heavy double-action pull. I had hoped that it would be better than the P3AT and LCP, but it's just as heavy, if not more so. The reset is also quite long, and has two distinct "clicks" that might throw off people used to GLOCK trigger resets. On the other hand, the trigger breaks cleanly, and the Bodyguard 380 is a true double-action design with "second-strike" capability (for those who are about to give me a tap-rack-ready lecture, let me just say that it's natural for a revolver shooter to remedy a fail-to-fire by pulling the trigger).

Looking down the slide, we see the first big selling point for the Smith .380. Unlike the diminutive "sights" that Kel-Tec, Ruger, and Taurus have gone with on their polymer-frame .380s (mostly to reduce cost, I suspect), the Bodyguard features front and rear dovetailed steel sights. The sights are actually pretty good, and great for a pistol of this size; the only comparable iron sights are those found on the Kahr and SIG .380s, which retail for considerably more. Since the sights are dovetailed in, they are drift adjustable, and can be replaced with aftermarket night sights as they come on the market. Here's a sight picture:

Field-stripping and disassembly is straightforward; the takedown lever and slide stop on the side of the gun make the task even easier than it is on a P3AT or LCP. One small tip for reassembly: make sure the barrel is forward when you try to put it back together. The easiest way to accomplish this is by simply pointing the muzzle down when you rack the slide back to the locked position.

Overall, the Bodyguard 380 is well-built and finished nicely, especially compared to its competition. This is not a cheap, chintzy .380. The slide, barrel, and sights are all stainless steel with Smith and Wesson's black Melonite finish. After over 400 rounds, the gun looks and feels brand new. It's obvious that this little .380 can take a heckuva lot of shooting before wearing out.

Ergonomics: Switches and slide locks and safeties, oh my!

If you're one of those shooters who hates extraneous controls on a gun, the S&W Bodyguard 380 might irk you. On the left side of the pistol, there's a veritable forest of levers and buttons - the laser switch, the takedown lever, the slide release, the safety, and the magazine release. The pistol compresses all these controls into a very tight space, and it'll take a little training before you can distinguish between them without fumbling around.

On the plus side, all of the controls are flat and low-profile, a must for a pocket gun. Though I think both the slide release and the manual safety are completely unnecessary in this type of firearm, they are well-designed and click on and off positively. The magazine release extends out just enough to be easily accessed, and the frame around it is nicely contoured and scalloped. Finally, in the later models (more on this below), the frame has a circular ring around the laser button to help protect it.

The Care and Feeding of Your LSW-000-A1 Insight Integrated Laser

I've posted about lasers before, and I've softened my stance somewhat. Lasers can be useful when shooting from awkward positions (shooting from retention, for instance). Additionally, they provide a good dry-fire tool for beginners, since they betray any muzzle wobble or flinching during the trigger pull.

The laser is activated by two buttons, one on each side of the frame. It can be hard to activate out of the box if the buttons are stiff; before you return the gun, take out the laser unit and roll the laser buttons around in your finger. It helped my laser activation tremendously.

A lot of people prefer the Crimson Trace Lasergrips that turn on automatically when you grip the gun. I don't, because that trains you to expect the laser to be on when you shoot. On this type of pocket .380, it also means that the laser will be active when you draw the gun whether you want it to be or not (the laser gives off a visible red light that can reveal your position, and you can't use your trigger finger to block the laser like you can with, say, a 1911 CrimsonTrace grip set). The Insight unit can be totally ignored in favor of the good iron sights, or activated if you need it.

The laser takes two 357 batteries, available from most supermarkets and pharmacies. S&W supplies a small adjustment wrench inside the box (I had trouble finding it; it was in the same bag as the cable lock that comes with the gun). Using that same wrench, you can pop out the unit from the frame.

The Insight laser's red dot is fairly visible in low-light (about 20-25 yards effective range), and hard to see in daylight (maybe 7 yards). One of the newer green lasers would be more visible all around, but would also drain more battery power and likely cost more.

In terms of accuracy, I've found that the laser doesn't come back to zero after replacing the batteries - you'll need to recalibrate it every time you do a battery swap. Thankfully, the laser holds its zero during firing fairly well (though not perfectly...it can wander after a few hundred rounds). I did not note any dimming or other recoil-related problems after several hundred rounds of .380 through the gun.

Range Report: Futuristic feel, old-school snap

I had hoped that the additional weight near the muzzle from the laser would help mitigate recoil, but ultimately, any advantage the Bodyguard 380 had in that department over the P3AT and LCP wasn't noticeable. There was slightly less muzzle flip, but .380 is still quite snappy out of the gun.

Rounds were generally on target, using a variety of 90ish grain factory FMJ loads (mostly Sellier and Bellot, but also Winchester White Box, Remington, and Federal American Eagle). The Bodyguard 380's heavy triger prevented me from getting the best practical accuracy - groups at 7 yards were about 1-1/2" and groups at 10 yards opened up to 2". Even considering this is a .380 with a small barrel, the accuracy was decent, but nothing to write home about:

Reliability was generally good, with no failures to eject or extract. There were occasional instances of premature lockback (slide lock engaging when magazine still had rounds left). I suspected I was hitting the slide stop with my fingers during the gun's violent recoil cycle, a problem exacerbated by the compactness of the Bodyguard. I confirmed this hypothesis by changing to my left hand and shooting one-handed, which eliminated the malfunction. This is a training issue, not necessarily a design flaw. As you might expect, you're going to have to practice regularly with the Bodyguard, or any small .380, before you can safely carry it.


Let's be honest: S&W bungled the introduction of the Bodyguard 380. Though it sold well in the mid part of 2010, it was still overpriced at $500 when its biggest competition was hovering at or under the $300 mark. Add to that the teething problems that happen to all new designs (early Bodyguard 380s had takedown levers that backed out and triggers that wouldn't reset), and you have the makings of a disaster.

To its credit, S&W ironed out the kinks (the newer Bodyguards, with EAE and EAF serial numbers, are basically bug-free, and S&W will replace an older model frame and pay the shipping both ways). S&W also decided to be aggressive in its pricing: at its current street price of at or under $400, the Bodyguard is extremely competitive with the Kel-Tec P3AT, the Ruger LCP, and the Taurus TCP. For around a C-note over what you'd pay for those guns, you get substantially better fit and finish, real sights (which by themselves are worth the money IMHO), a fully-functional slide lock, and an integrated laser unit.

The gun loses some points for a heavy trigger, and you're going to have to learn how to grip and fire the Bodyguard so as not to activate the slide stop. Considering the level of overall quality Smith and Wesson is bringing to the table, however, these faults are excuseable. Anyone shopping for a pocket .380 should take a long, hard look at the S&W Bodyguard 380 - Smith and Wesson has thrown down the gauntlet, and it has a frickin' laser beam on it.


At 8:32 AM, Blogger James R. Rummel said...

Good post, and a very helpful review!

At 1:46 PM, Blogger Mulliga said...

An addendum to the review - my integral laser shorted out, apparently because the laser compartment isn't sealed against fluids (some Breakfree CLP found its way in there and messed up the laser circuitboard).

I'm getting a new unit for free as I type this, but it's still a pretty major design flaw in my book. Not enough to make me trash the gun (since I didn't plan on using the laser for defense anyway), but S&W and Insight better fix the issue fast.

At 12:36 PM, Blogger Music said...

Mulliga, how did you go about having the laser repaired/replaced? Did you have to submit the entire gun to S&W? My laser seems to have failed yesterday after about 50 rounds, and I am VERY concerned. This was the VERY first time I shot this firearm.

At 1:56 PM, Blogger Mulliga said...

I actually had my local gun shop send it back to them (it was a Davidson's Gallery of Guns purchase, so covered under their lifetime warranty). I got a brand new Bodyguard back, and everything was copacetic. Sounds like my problem is different than yours, though - for mine, recoil didn't seem to have any effect on the laser whatsoever.

I'd call S&W or Insight and see what they want you to do. I recall there's something in the manual about where and whom to contact, too.

At 7:17 AM, Blogger BG380 guy said...

Hi guys, sounds like it is about a year since you guys posted about these BG380’s. I bought two from Academy in December 2011, one for me and one for my wife. I took down and cleaned both pistols before going to the range. Hers is just fine, but right out of the box my gun had the laser screw sticking up a little and the allen hole in the screw was stripped, totally stripped. I checked both guns and hers was just fine, but I was able to get my screw threaded in the little brass looking hole under the laser and with bending that little allen wrench I was able to get a little bite on the screw to go down and tighten a little. It’s not tight like hers, but I hate to send the gun in for a little screw when it hasn’t even been fired. I looked on the net to see if people were having problems like this and they were, all over. I think I’ll call S&W and see if they will just send me a screw. I don’t know how the warranty works, I hope it works on something like this. Should I go ahead and shoot it or should I wait months by sending it in? What a mess. You would think this day and time they could see a simple screw sticking up out of place on inspection? O-well, have a nice day!

At 5:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


How can you tell if the screw is sticking up? I just ordered mine and I would like to be able to check at the shop before I take possession. Thanks in advance.

At 10:18 AM, Blogger Mulliga said...

Hmm - the screw BG380 is talking about is recessed in a little area in the front of the frame (right underneath where the recoil spring is when the gun's fully assembled). No part of the screw should be sticking up beyond the level of the frame, and the screwhead itself should be fairly flush with the little plate thing that's there. Not sure if that helps.

At 12:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just a quick note addressing the problem one user had after about 50 rounds with a malfunctioning laser sight. I had an issue too, it seemed like my laser was dim, to the point I thought it was malfunctioning. I noticed laser that laser window below the barrel had been fouled. Wiped it off and was back at again. I know your post was old, but thought this might help others.

At 6:10 AM, Anonymous Rhoden said...

Excellent information. I too have difficulty with heavy trigger. Any suggestions as to replacing the trigger or improving the pull weight.

At 5:13 PM, Blogger Mulliga said...

No idea. I betcha the S&W forums would have an answer, though.

At 4:30 PM, Blogger Jim H said...

I would like to convert my red laser to a green laser in my bodyguard 380. Can it be done. Mine is integrated in body.

At 4:13 PM, Blogger Mulliga said...

Jim, Crimson Trace doesn't seem to sell replacement green laser units for the Bodyguard on their website. Absent some DIY electrical hacking into the unit itself, I don't think it's possible. It honestly might be easier to just sell off your current Bodyguard in favor of an M&P model, and then add the CT green laserguard unit to that.


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