Revisiting the S&W Bodyguard .380

I recommended against this pistol for years, particularly for new shooters. A simple, $6 addition changed my mind.

S&W 380 bodyguard with grip sleeve

Most who sign up for my NRA Home Firearm Safety or NRA Basic Pistol classes are new shooters with little or no firearms experience, with an interest specifically in self protection. Given that, there is a draw towards the smallest sub compact guns as they are the easiest to conceal and carry. However that comes at a cost – specifically being difficult to shoot well with less power and harsh recoil.

For years, I’ve used the S&W Bodyguard 380 as an example – an ultra small, thin, and lightweight .380 ACP pistol. The pistol boasts solid steel sights that are very good for such a small package, 6+1 capacity, and has proven to be exceptionally reliable with all types of ammunition. In a proper pocket holster such as the DeSantis Super Fly holster (pictured), it appears as a wallet in your pocket. Compare the size to the Glock 22. While convenient to carry, I found the recoil and short sight radius made it not suitable for new shooters. In fact, every single person that was considering purchasing this pistol immediately changed their mind once they fired this 12 ounce gun. The extremely narrow and stubby grip focused all the recoil through a 2 inch tall and 2/3 inch wide backstrap into the web of your hand, causing the tiny pocket rocket to shift with each shot. And it hurt, even with the lower powered 380 acp round. I find that if the gun hurts to shoot, someone will be less prone to practice.

In my last HFS class, after showing the model Bodyguard and explaining the drawbacks to such a weapon for a novice, students were again still interested. There is just something about that tiny gun that draws in those that want the deepest concealment while not settling for a .22lr, .25 acp or .32 acp. I decided to revisit my findings, and see if there was a simple solution to the problems.

I found that Hogue offers a HandAll slip-over grip sleeve for this tiny pistol, and at six dollars for the in-stock purple version online I ordered it. As with all slip on grips, the easiest way to install the sleeve is to put it in a sealed zip close bag, and leave it in a bowl of very hot water for a few minutes to make it more pliable. Once installed I immediately noticed that it was more comfortable to hold, with the polymer swells and beavertail increasing contact with my hand over the bare grip.

At the range, the gun was a completely different animal; recoil was similar to a .22 lr, the gun stayed in the exact same position in my hand, and I was able to shoot it much more accurately. Even with cheap steel case practice ammunition, I was able to keep all 7 shots within about an inch at 20 feet. Not bad at all for such a tiny defensive pistol designed for extreme close quarters!

Of course, the grip sleeve did come at a cost; the width of the bare grip is approximately 2/3 of an inch, and the sleeve effectively doubles that to 1 1/3 inches. Granted, it is only 2 inches of height in the grip however this makes it as thick as many compact 9mm handguns and almost as thick as a small frame revolver cylinder. Additionally, the polymer isn’t exactly ‘tacky’ however with the rubber-like texture, it is not as easy to draw against fabric such as from inside a pocket holster.

I no longer recommend against the Bodyguard 380 for new shooters, provided they take steps to mitigate the drawbacks. There are other tools that are more effective in this role, however hardly any can offer such a small package while affording 7 rounds of a somewhat effective round. For those seeking an ultra-concealable defensive handgun designed to help you self-extricate from a lethal encounter, take a look at the Bodyguard .380 with a grip sleeve. Comparing to an airweight j frame revolver, it is thinner, flatter, and offers two more rounds than most options. It's easier to control and make solid hits while being about the same weight. Each has it's place, but I no longer discount the Bodyguard as inappropriate - choose which tool fits you best.

Interested in learning how to properly shoot a handgun in a unique low stress, controlled environment using simmulated ammunition? Check out our Defensive Handgun I class