S&W Bodyguards: Revolver Or Semiauto for Self Defense?

In this report we look at S&Ws two so-called Bodyguards, one a revolver in 38 Special, the other a semiautomatic pistol in 380 ACP. Both were fitted with adjustable laser sights. The first thing we found was the lasers are useless outdoors in bright daylight, no matter what youve been led to believe by various TV shows. On an overcast day, the lasers on these two pistols might be of some value, but we much prefer to use iron sights when we can see em. With them, theres nothing to turn on, no buttons to push.If you like the idea of using a laser indoors at night, these setups might be okay for you. Weve said before we dont like giving our location away by the glow of a laser sight to anyone who might be in our house whos not supposed to be there. However, a good laser - and these seem to be excellent - is a reasonable aiming device in conditions when you just cant see your iron sights and dont - or cant - have tritium inserts. Both of these handguns have adjustments so you can put the laser dots right at the impact point of your chosen ammo. One push of a button turns on the laser. A second push puts the laser into a pulsing mode, and a third turns it off, same for both guns, though they have different button setups. We shot with the ammo available, which for the 38 Special was one handload with 158-grain lead SWC and some CCI Blazer 125-grain JHP. For the 380 we used brass-case CCI Blazer with 95-grain FMJ bullets. Heres what we found.

Ruger or S&W Battery Mates: Which Would You Rather?

In this test we will evaluate two 6-inch heavy-barreled revolvers and two lightweight 2-inch-barreled revolvers, each paired by manufacturers. Both the $701 Ruger GP100 revolver KGP161 and the $829 686 Smith & Wesson 164224 feature stainless-steel construction, rubber grips, single- and double-action capability and weigh about 45 ounces. Both accept six rounds of 357 Magnum and/or 38 Special ammunition. Given their adjustable rear sights and generous sight radii, these guns were suitable for target competition as well as for self defense.

The little brothers were much lighter and slim enough to fit inside a pants pocket or purse. They were the $575 Ruger LCR LCR-BGXS with Hogue boot grip, and the $509 Smith & Wesson Bodyguard 38 103038, complete with built-in laser. Both of these guns were chambered for 38 Special, but similar models capable of firing the longer-cased 357 Magnum ammunition are available. Special features that make these revolvers similar were their lightweight alloy-and-polymer construction and fully enclosed "hammerless" firing mechanism, which made them snag-free and nearly impervious to being fouled by lint or other debris.

38 Special S&W Snubnose Showdown: Whos the Top Dog?

The 38 snubnose revolver is a staple of murder mysteries, cop TV shows for many decades, and of real-life cops who need a good, light backup. Everyone over the age of, say, 40 has seen a snubby at one time or another. Todays TV cops favor all manner of automatic pistols, so the snub 38 is not often seen. But that doesnt mean its no good. The bottom line is, if all you have is a 38 Special snubnose with only five shots, you are a very long way from being unarmed. If you carry five more in a speed loader, well, what more could you want?Its clear that Smith & Wesson figures theres still a viable market for the snubnose 38, because it has come out with a new revolver called the Bodyguard 38, usurping the name of the previous Bodyguard with shrouded hammer. The new Bodyguard 38 comes with an "integral" laser sight, and the gun vies with the Centennial Airweight for looks, charm, effectiveness, concealability, and price. We acquired a new Bodyguard 38 No. 103038, $625, with an eye toward pitting it against two good wheelguns already in the S&W arsenal, a used, older Centennial Airweight (street price around $400) and a Chiefs Special Model 36 with square butt (street price about $300) that had its hammer bobbed, so it was essentially a double-action-only gun like the other two, though it was still possible to cock the hammer. All the guns were S&W five-shot 38 Specials, and all had 1.9-inch barrels. Our prime interest was to see if the newer, more expensive Bodyguard was worth the money when proven, perfectly servicable older guns are readily available at gun stores, pawn shops, and gun shows.The snubby has a lot of advantages and not many disadvantages. The snub 38 is not a target revolver, so dont expect it to make small groups for you, despite the fact that some have been fitted with adjustable sights. In this test, we looked at these guns as self-defense choices, and nothing else. We noted its not particularly easy to conceal a snub 38. In fact, many 45 autos are slimmer, thus more easily hidden. But you can simply put the 38 revolver into your pocket, no holster, and no one will know what that odd bulge really is. The absence of a hammer on this trio of test guns makes them easy to get out of the pocket, too.We tested the trio with four types of ammunition, and tried several more types of loads, which are unreported. Our official test loads were Winchester 130-grain flat-nose FMJ, PMCs 132-grain round-nose FMJ, and Blazer 125-grain +P JHP. We were unable to obtain any heavy-bullet factory loads, so we used a handload featuring a 158-grain cast SWC. Heres what we found.

Three Stainless Snubbies: Wed Pass On Charters Undercover

Despite many competing autoloading pistols, the five-shot snubnose revolver still has lots of fans. In fact, some of those fans are among our test crew. Once limited to .38 Special, the snubby may now be found chambered in .357 Magnum. A small 2-inch revolver has a lot going for it in self-defense situations. Its irregular shape is often easier to conceal than the relentless slab of an autoloader. There are no magazines to fall out. As Elmer Keith put it, if you have any part of a revolver, you have it all. They are generally reliable for five shots, and can be recharged quickly with a speed loader. Despite what you see in the movies, most gunfights are over with the firing of only a shot or two. Though snubbies had pretty bad sights in the past, recent ones have excellent sights. The guns can be extremely accurate, though you may have to work to prove it. Of course a revolver will handle any level of ammunition, from primer-propelled wax bullets to the hottest loads. And there are no failures to feed. Not ever.

Many snubbies are made with hidden hammers, and we've looked at some of those over the past months, but it's been awhile since we looked at the old standby with its protruding, easily cocked hammer. These may not work all that well out of the pocket, but work fine from a holster. With fixed sights and a short sight radius, these are not among the best plinkers, but well suited for self defense. The three test guns we acquired were the Ruger SP101 ($530), the Charter Arms Undercover ($325), and the S&W Model 60 ($623). All three are stainless-steel five-shooters with fixed sights.

The Smith and the Ruger handle .357 Magnum ammo. For this test we chose the Charter Undercover, which is .38 Special only. Charter makes a .357 version called the Mag Pug, which is similar to the Smith and Ruger, but is much heavier than the Undercover and has a ported barrel which we didn't care for. So we gave the lighter Undercover a chance, with an eye toward easier carry. Because of the limitation of the Charter to .38 Special, we did most of our testing with .38 Special ammo, but did try some .357 loads in the other two. That doesn't mean we stuck with light loads. Far from it. Our most interesting test ammo was the heavy-bullet Buffalo Bore load designed to be similar to the old FBI round with lead bullet, but this time featuring a soft, Elmer-Keith-type, 158-grain cast hollowpoint lead SWC with a gas check to prevent leading. (See sidebar.) These loads are put together with flash-free powder, and gave little visible blast at night from these snubby revolvers. We also tested with Black Hills cowboy-level cast-bullet loads, with Winchester's Super-X 130-grain JHP, and — in the two .357s — Federal's Hi-Shok 130-grain JHP. Here's what we found.

Cowboy .38 Specials: EMF Is Our Pick, Ruger Gets A Buy Nod

Those who are most serious about Cowboy Action shooting tend to favor lighter-recoiling firearms so they can cut their times down, never mind that bigger guns like .45s tend to be more authentic, especially when stoked with black powder. Not that it takes any less skill to do well with lighter recoiling equipment, but it can give an edge, or so we've been told. This means .38 Special loads in handguns and rifles, and probably 20-gauge shotguns. How much benefit does a .38 Special offer over, say, a .45 Colt? There's a huge difference in recoil, even if the .45 shoots only light cowboy loads.

To find out more, we gathered a trio of .38 Special single-action six-shooters to see how well they'd do for us, and to find out how much we liked ‘em. All were .357 Mag-capable, and all had 4.75-inch barrels. The guns were a Ruger New Model 50th Anniversary Flat Top Blackhawk ($583), a Taurus Gaucho M38SA ($499), and from EMF Co., a resurrection of the old Great Western revolvers, the Great Western II "Californian" model ($450). We tested with three main types of ammo, Black Hills Cowboy loads, Federal 110-grain JHP .357 Mag, and with a modest handload in .38 Special cases that approximated Cowboy loads. Here's what we found.

Small-Frame Stainless .38s: Ruger, S&W Go Head to Head

No losers here: Ruger's KSP-821X and Smith & Wesson's 3-inch 60-15 are classics we wouldn't hesitate to buy. But Our Pick is the 5-inch S&W 60-18, a smooth, accurate, powerful gun.

Shrouded-Hammer .38 Special +Ps from S&W and Taurus

At only $461, we would buy the Taurus 851 SSUL ahead of the more expensive Smith & Wesson 638-3, $620. Reason: The Taurus has a nifty adjustable rear sight that adds versatility.

Super-Light Wheelguns for Self Defense: Too Much Power?

The guns in this test — Smith & Wesson's .45 ACP 325PD and .357 Magnum 327, and the Taurus .41 Magnum 451 — all have problems that would make us think twice before buying them.

.38 Special-Only Wheelguns: S&W Model 10 Is Nearly A 10

As a subscriber-supported publication, it is reasonable to believe that Gun Tests readers are passionate about guns. This means they have an active interest in collecting, shooting, participation in gun sports, and of course, self-defense. While it is easy to appreciate the most expensive firearms such as the Korth revolver (July 2002), each of us know that nearly any reliable handgun can be used to stop an act of aggression. In fact several people among our staff and associates became interested in firearms not from a family member nor via the NRA, but after playing the part of the victim wherein a handgun might have changed the outcome. It is easy to be reminded of this whenever we see a movie that begins with a horrendous or unspeakable crime against a defenseless victim. For example, in Jean Claude Van Damm's The Replicant, a serial killer enters the apartment of a young mother and brutally kills her. She is aware of his approach but does nothing. We find it amusing that this representative film and so many others could be shortened to approximately three minutes if the intended victim had merely lifted an unadorned .38 Special revolver and fired. But then we would have been denied the pleasures of so many more movies by the "muscles from Brussels."

Korth Combat Revolver, $4,700: The Ultimate Conditional Buy

At Gun Tests we often speak of features and modifications that push the performance of a given design further up the pyramid. What is this pyramid and why is it so important? Atop the pyramid is where all parts combine to produce the greatest possible results. Often the ability to climb the pyramid is linked directly to money. Most guns hover about midway up the pyramid in performance, function and appearance because they are priced in terms of available markets, i.e. your pockets and mine. But what if a firearm was produced without a price point in mind? How much would such a gun (in this case a 4-inch combat revolver) cost?

Steel Snub-Nosed .38 Specials: Taurus is Good, but Smith is Better

The five-shot snubbed-nosed .38 Special revolver is a traditional backup gun, but recent trends have tended to favor aluminum and titanium featherweights instead of steel-framed models. But steel still has its appeal, and we wanted to go back to earlier wheelgun versions to see what first made them favorites of couriers, detectives, and regular joes fifty years ago.

For this comparison, we chose two standard steel guns in .38 Special, the Taurus 85, $286, and S&W's $539 small-frame 36LS LadySmith, marketed to women, as its name suggests. But we paid no attention to that market positioning, because we've handled the LadySmith and knew its handling was on par, or perhaps better, than other boot-size guns pitched to men. Our thinking: From the muzzle forward, a bad guy can't tell the difference.

Also, with recent memories of testing featherweight titanium revolvers in mind, we wondered how much porting would affect felt recoil, and toward that end we also acquired a Taurus 85 with a ported barrel, $305. By comparing Taurus's standard barrel to the ported model, we hoped to find if we were willing to spend more time practicing with it than not.

Colt DS-II Tops Other Six-Shot .38 Special Revolvers

Thirty-eight snub-nose. The phrase brings to mind old detective stories with sinister characters, clever plots and strange intrigues from the pens of Raymond Chandler, Agatha Christie and Mickey Spillane. One can't help but think of Joe Friday on Dragnet, Cannon the fat man, and a host of other characters, some fictional, some real, all of whom used a snub-nose .38 to good—or other—purpose. The .38 snubbie might be considered an icon but, romance aside, the gun type is something of an anomaly. It suggests a hide-out gun, yet they're not the easiest guns to conceal. Also, if you want to hit something, you'd think a longer barrel would be preferred. However, there's another name for them: bell...

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