I’m not a gun collector or one of those shooters on the perpetual hunt for the “perfect” gun in any imaginable category. I’ve carried the same Glock 26 almost daily for more than a decade and as a result, it feels like a part of me. I also believe it’s wise—and certainly economical—to limit the number of different calibers I must stock and maintain for my firearms.
But recently, Mrs. Manor felt-quite literally–the need for a slightly smaller handgun. Like me, she has been happily carrying her Glock 26 for a very long time, but not long ago she underwent surgery for a collapsed thumb joint. The surgeon did a masterful job, not only in appearance but also in function, but over time, Mrs. Manor realized that the surgery altered her hand in such a way as to make the formerly comfortable Glock grip slightly painful for her to shoot. A once comfortable grip now protrudes in just the wrong place.
I have long been intrigued by Smith and Wesson’s contemporary pistol designs. A great many of their weapons require no modification whatever for the serious, discerning shooter and work very well right out of the box. For those of us of a certain—ahem—age, this has not always been the case. A model 59 purchased many years ago required the expensive ministrations of a gunsmith before it would work properly, for example. I have been particularly taken with the .380 ACP Bodyguard pistol, so when Mrs. Manor expressed her desire to try something new, that was the first handgun that came to mind. I know that a great many men would be amazed, even pleased, if their wives asked for a handgun. Marrying Mrs. Manor (33rd anniversary coming up before the end of the year) was surely the smartest thing I ever did. So it was off to the gun store and as I suspected, it was love at first grip.
In this first view of the Bodyguard, the left side controls are visible, and apparently, pretty busy, particularly for those used to the slick sides of Glock handguns.
The Bodyguard is a conventional double action only design. On the left side, front to back, are the gray laser activation button, the takedown lever, the slide stop, and the safety. The magazine release button is conventionally located. The right side of the weapon, as seen in this image, has no controls except a matching laser button.
Here’s a size comparison of the Bodyguard and my Glock 26, which is hardly a large handgun. The Bodyguard isn’t as small as a few of the .380 designs on the market, but it is certainly a true pocket pistol. The entire weapon is well rounded and smooth and is unlikely to hang up on a pocket or clothing. What is truly remarkable about the Bodyguard is its scant weight and very thin ¾” width (the take down lever and laser activation buttons do protrude a fraction more).
CONTROLS: Despite being quite small—all of the controls are small compared with duty-sized pistols—the safety lever is well recessed and very positive in use, making a loud “snap” when flicked on or off. In standard American style, pushing the safety upward locks the trigger and slide in place, and pushing it down makes the gun ready to fire. Manipulating the safety will require any shooter to shift their thumb backward, altering their grip on the weapon. Fortunately, in many ways, this device is superfluous, but I’ll discuss that shortly.
The slide stop lever is likewise easy to use. With an empty magazine in the gun, whether in that condition because ammunition is exhausted or otherwise, the slide stop snaps neatly and positively into place under spring tension when the slide is cycled to the rear. With the magazine well empty, it’s necessary to push up on the slide stop to lock the slide back as the slide is cycled backward. The slide stop falls easily under the shooter’s thumb, even those with small hands, without altering the shooter’s grip, and releases the slide with relatively little downward pressure.
The magazine release button is also small, but is well positioned and protrudes just enough from the frame to prevent accidental magazine dumping while allowing quick and positive activation. While many shooters will instinctively alter their grip on the weapon during magazine changes, all that is really required is bending the thumb joint upward allowing the tip of the thumb to contact the button.
The takedown lever will be nothing new to shooters used to conventional pistols with such devices. After clearing the pistol, the slide is locked open and the lever is rotated downward 90°. I’ve found that a bit of help from the plastic end of a cleaning toothbrush helps to turn the stiff lever, which once pointing downward, is easily removed from—and replaced in—the polymer frame. Disassembly and reassembly are entirely conventional for a pistol with a takedown lever and are easily accomplished without tools—with the possible exception of a toothbrush. As the weapon experiences greater use, I expect a toothbrush will eventually be unnecessary.
The ambidextrous laser activation buttons are perfectly placed. The button falls directly under Mrs. Manor’s right index finger when it is in register (out of the trigger guard, in contact with the frame and parallel to the axis of the bore), while I must bend my finger slightly upward, but neither of us need shift our grip on the weapon. The buttons require firm, but not heavy, inward pressure to activate and provide good feedback in the form of an easily felt click. It would be hard indeed to accidently activate these buttons—a good thing–but they do tend to get dirty easily.
THE TRIGGER: The safety of this weapon is essentially superfluous because of the nature of the firing mechanism. In theory it is conventional: a double action only, hammer fired pistol (I suspect it’s too small for a Glock-like striker) but there are several innovations. The hammer is not only bobbed—it has no serrations on top–but is recessed about ¼” into the slide. It is only visible when being cycled by the trigger, and then, only a portion of the top peeks out just before it falls to strike the firing pin. It cannot be cocked into single action mode even if it was possible to grip it; the mechanism won’t allow it.
Compared to Glock triggers, the pull is long and relatively heavy, yet relatively smooth and free of stacking or other impediments. Those with longer fingers will have no choice but to pull the polymer trigger between the first and second joints, but as long as a smooth, continuous pull is employed, it works well and consistently. Hesitate and all manner of odd things can occur.
On our first trip to the range, Mrs. Manor somehow managed to induce a failure to fire condition several times, which was characterized by what sounded like a weak hammer strike. On each occasion, a second pull of the trigger fired the cartridge. On her second trip to the range, she was more comfortable with the weapon, and the condition completely disappeared. In my shooting of the weapon, I have never had the same experience. I suspect she was somehow anticipating the shot and stacking the trigger mechanism in a way that allowed a light hit on the primer. The cure seems to be a confident, steady pull on the trigger, and with a double action mechanism, a second strike of a recalcitrant primer is always available.
When I say that the trigger is long and heavy, understand that I mean by the standards of contemporary weapons. Those who have been around guns a long time know what long and heavy triggers really feel like. It’s nothing like many revolvers in length or force required, but does require a real desire to pull it and concentration to make it happen. This does not contribute to target-pistol like accuracy, but is certainly a safety feature. Only people with unusually weak hands would have difficulty with this trigger.
No doubt Smith would disagree for liability reasons, but I would have no qualms carrying this pistol with the safety off. It’s virtually impossible to hit the hammer, driving the firing pin into a primer, and I can’t imagine a situation that would cause the trigger to be inadvertently pulled, particularly if the shooter does his or her part and keeps their trigger finger in register: always out of the trigger guard (particularly when holstering or drawing the weapon) until they are ready to pull the trigger. This practice, of course, applies to all firearms of any kind.
THE SIGHTS AND MAGAZINES: The “iron” sights are of the “combat” type now common on many pistols. Smooth and appropriately beveled, they will not hang up on clothing or a pocket. The rear sight is drift adjustable for windage only, and so is the front sight, though I can’t imagine why anyone would need or want to adjust it in that way. Like everything else about this pistol, the sights are small, but perfectly scaled. They do present a clear, positive sight picture, superior to the sights on many handguns in this class, some of which are little more than grooves machined into the top of the slide. However, for those whose eyesight no longer has the clarity of a 20 year old, the laser is very handy. I found Mrs. Manor’s iron sights to be on target at about 15 yards and closer.
The magazines—capacity six rounds—are also small and light, and are made of what appears to be stainless steel with a substantial solid orange polymer follower. Spring pressure is light and compared to the magazines of many semiautomatic pistols, particularly those of larger capacity, are a joy to load, and even for the smallest woman would likely not require a magazine loading tool. Five viewing holes are provided on both sides of the magazine with the accompanying numbers 1-6 neatly engraved in place. The magazines are, of course, single stack.
One of the few annoyances relating to this gun is that Smith provides only a single magazine, but spares are priced only a bit over $20 and all include finger rest and flat bases. I suspect Smith did this to keep the retail price low relative to its competitors like the Ruger LCP, but it should be remembered that the Smith comes with an integral laser. All other .380s on the market require aftermarket lasers, and there is much to be said for integrated design.
All readers should remember that it is imperative to carry at least one spare magazine with any semiautomatic pistol. The weakest link in pistol mechanisms is always the magazine. If lost or damaged, the most expensive, accurate pistol available becomes a very hard to load single shot. And with the Bodyguard, only seven rounds are available (six in the magazine and one in the chamber). A spare magazine increases that to 13 rounds.
One interesting note is that on our first visit to the range, every magazine seemed to hang up on the magazine release, requiring the button to be slightly depressed to allow smooth insertion. Looking into the magazine well I noticed that the end of the plastic lever that engages the corresponding notch in the magazine was being slightly shaved. After some 200 rounds fired during the first visit, the problem was completely gone on the second range trip and all magazines now insert smoothly. Magazines immediately and smoothly drop free of the weapon when the release button is pushed.
Many shooters will have to slightly adjust their grips to allow smooth magazine release and insertion, and to avoid pinching their hands. This is true not only of such small handguns, but many larger guns are well.
THE LASER: Manufactured by Insight, the laser unit is molded into the polymer frame of the handgun immediately forward of the trigger guard and below the barrel and mainspring guide rod. The emitter is covered by a transparent plastic window. This is a good design feature as the little pistol is covered with unburned powder after a lengthy firing session, a common “feature” of short barreled pistols. Smith recommends removing the unit entirely from the frame when cleaning, but with a little care, it’s easy to avoid getting powder solvent or oils into that part of the gun and powder does not adhere well to the polymer frame in any case.
The first push of an activation button produces a solid laser dot and the second, a pulsing dot which many find easier to see. The third push deactivates the laser. The laser is equipped with a five minute auto-off feature, and Smith says batteries will last for three hours of continuous activation. In the real world, unless one is shooting regularly or attending a long school, batteries should easily last two years, but Smith recommends changing them every year, which is a good idea. Some object to lasers, observing that batteries can fail, but if they do, one need merely revert to the iron sights, which on this weapon are arguably the best in class.
The laser is supplied with a tiny Allen wrench of the kind common with such lasers, but this one has an unusually long handle. The adjustment screws are positive and each slight turn of the wrench produces a corresponding movement of the laser on target. Sighting it in at 15 yards took relatively little time and ammunition, and in 400 rounds, the laser has not moved. Such wrenches are easily lost, so it’s always wise to take the time to make a secure storage space in your home or range box. Just a hint: Putting one in a pocket is akin to tossing it into a black hole.
The laser is a standard five milliwatts, the most powerful allowed in these devices, and is as clear and bright as any red laser I’ve seen. Green lasers are indeed more visible at greater distances, particularly in daylight, but this pistol is clearly intended to be used at 15 yards and less, and at that distance—and more–the laser is more than adequate, even in daylight. Shots at greater distances are clearly possible—and the gun is accurate enough to make them–but require substantial time and effort.
SHOOTING IMPRESSIONS: I won’t be providing minute of angle results and photographs of one-hole, three shot groups. This pistol is intended for close range shooting, which I’ll define as 15 yards and less, usually less. At those ranges, it obviously has more than adequate accuracy. Offhand with a proper Weaver grip and stance, Mrs. Manor can easily shoot consistent 3″ or smaller groups at 7 yards and closer with proper speed. The little gun does indeed fit her hand well. At that range, even a bit more, consistent head shots are easily made at speed (yes, on a stationary target).
As with any small, light gun, particularly one with a relatively long, heavy trigger pull, proper—firm—grip and stance and substantial concentration are required to produce good accuracy, but the gun is more than capable of delivering it. And being forced to concentrate on grip and trigger control is hardly a bad thing. Recoil impulse, at first, seems strong, but as one becomes familiar with the grip and trigger, it quickly becomes light and comfortable. The grip does have molded in stippling panels, but as with most polymer guns, they are of limited effectiveness. A proper and firm grip will make the difference.
With a proper grip and stance, ejection is consistently strong. With Mrs. Manor, it’s about 8′ high and about 4′ to the right. We’ve constructed a brass catcher from an aluminum fishing net frame, which has a solid cloth “net.” With the little Smith, I don’t have to chase flying brass, but merely stand in one place, allowing the spinning casings to fly into the net. At the same time, random ejection patterns can help one to observe and diagnose grip problems. Even with my changing efforts to get a grip on the gun, ejection was strong and positive and no failures to feed or eject have occurred in the first 400 rounds.
The weapon fits Mrs. Manor’s small-to medium female hands perfectly, and with the magazine finger rest in place, she can place all of her fingers on the grip. My large, male mitts (string player’s fingers—not thick, sausage-like digits), however, won’t allow my little finger purchase at all, so I must curl it under the floorplate of the magazine. I suspect most men will find themselves adapting to this method of gripping the Bodyguard as well, but the good news is that it does work without difficulty, the relative difference in male/female hand strength seeming to substitute for the lack of full hand purchase. An advantage of the flat magazine floor plate is that it does slightly reduce the size and signature of the handgun.
THE CALIBER: The .380 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) is generally considered the smallest practical self-defense caliber for semiautomatic pistols. It propels a 95-ish grain bullet at relatively slow velocities compared to the 9mm and other popular cartridges. But with all things there are tradeoffs, and with any cartridge, shot placement is of the utmost importance. I would certainly prefer to carry a rifle in .308 or a suitable submachine gun with me wherever I went, but alas, that’s not practical, and I’d rather not contemplate social conditions such that it would be commonly accepted. Faced with the reality of carrying only a .380 or nothing, the choice is obvious, and such situations exist. In those situations where only a pistol of this size is appropriate, the Bodyguard is reliable, accurate and practical.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Mrs. Manor’s Bodyguard retailed for $379.00 at Cheaper Than Dirt. I’ve seen them as much as $25.00 either side of that price, and while competitor’s guns can be had for more than $100.00 less, they do not have a built in laser sight, which can easily run more than the difference and which will not be nearly as well integrated as the Bodyguard’s.
One additional interesting feature is a small notch machined in the top of the breach block where it contacts the slide. It functions as a visual loaded chamber port and works quite well. This is a good idea as pinch checks are difficult at best because of the design and small size of the weapon.
The Bodyguard is a good choice for women, and would be appropriate for virtually anyone unless they suffered from some sort of disability that renders their hands unusually weak. Again, because of the size of the weapon, many will be tempted to cycle the slide by pinching it between the thumb and a curled first finger. The best—and proper way—to cycle a semiautomatic pistol slide (.22 Caliber Rugers being an obvious exception) is always to catch the slide between the palm and fingertips—knuckles pointing upward–with the extended left thumb pointing to the right (if right handed) and toward the shooter. This not only allows the shooter to keep a proper grip on the pistol and keep it on target, it allows them to use more of their hand and arm strength, though with the bodyguard, relatively little is necessary. Unless one has unusually large hands, that should be easily done with this weapon and there is nothing to pinch or cut the fingers, not that I’ve discovered anyway.
The Bodyguard is a reasonably priced, well designed and built little handgun with more than adequate accuracy for a handgun of this type, and in my experience, complete reliability. It comes with the obligatory, cheaply made (in China—where else?) lock (mine was pinkish), one fired casing in a paper envelope, and a neat little black, zippered cordura case with a built in holster and an elastic sheath for the spare magazine Smith does not provide. The spare, flat magazine floor plate was stored in that sleeve, and the laser adjustment wrench came in the plastic bag containing the lock, so be sure to retrieve it before throwing the lock away.
Mrs. Manor liked hers so much I bought one too. The second smartest thing I’ve ever done is learning to trust her judgment. I’ll carry it only on certain special occasions, but it will be nice to have a handgun where I might have gone without one in the past.