Monday, January 28, 2013

It's like a gun, only smaller.

I'd been carrying a J-frame as a backup gun and in the outside breast pocket of my winter coat for many years. While I liked the idea of some of the small .380 autos that hit the market, they were either such little bricks (NAA) or so much of a crapshoot in the reliability department (P3AT) that I just didn't see the need to move off my tried-and-true wheelgun.

My winter coat finally reached the point where it was time to be replaced, and though I selected the new coat specifically for having a breast pocket to fit the J-frame, in practice it turned out to be a little snug for fumble-free access.

Excuse the lousy cell phone picture. It's a placeholder 'til I can get some daylight.
This sent me looking at the inexpensive little .380s again, and I decided to give S&W's offering a try. After living with it for a few months, some thoughts:

Given that the Bodyguard is a true DAO, I see no real need to use the safety on mine. It's completely redundant. It's stiff and awkward and as useful as a kickstand on a tank; the trigger is difficult enough to pull on purpose, let alone by accident. Like the double-action-only J-frame before it, I carry the double-action-only Bodyguard in an el-cheapo Uncle Mike's pocket holster, which keeps the trigger covered and the gun oriented in the pocket.

The trigger on my Bodyguard was buck wretched out of the box, like pulling the proverbial piano across a gravel road with your index finger, but after a hundred rounds or so it smoothed out to be a usable, if still heavy, trigger*. If you can shoot a double-action trigger well, you'll be able to manage it; if, on the other hand, you're one of those people, the ones who thumb cock their double-action revolvers for every shot and refer to DA/SA autopistols as "crunchentickers", then a long, heavy trigger pull on a light, tiny pistol is going to be a recipe for yanking the sights off-target.

The laser activation buttons on the integral laser are ambidextrous, but might as well be located in Albania for all the chance you'll have of activating them in a hurry as you yank the gun out of pocket or purse. I'm assuming that Crimson Trace holds some sort of patent on a grip-activation button for lasers.

Unlike the P3AT, I can shoot the Bodyguard one-handed without it short-cycling. It has thus far been 100% reliable with FMJ, Hornady Critical Defense, and Winchester PDX1.

.380 Auto is a completely unsatisfactory round from a self-defense standpoint, but it beats a handful of nothing and it's replacing a .32 H&R Mag in my pocket, which wasn't exactly the Hammer of Thor, either.

For the niche for which I need it, to fit in the outside breast pocket of my winter coat where I can access it with the coat zipped up or while  seated in my car, it's dandy. In warmer weather it will do for a pocket-carried BUG. Unlike the J-frame, it will fit in the pocket of my mom jeans.

*I have not yet put weights on it, and I would not be surprised to find out that its actual weight is less than I would guess, but the popsicle-stick grip dimensions don't give grownup-sized hands the best leverage on the trigger.The trigger itself is reasonably wide and smooth-faced, and if you do not have Truckasaurus mitts, you might actually find it less objectionable.


Tango Juliet said...

But do you find it delivers acceptable combat accuracy?


Keads said...

Keep an eye on that laser. I'm on number three on mine.

I agree about the thumb safety. I don't bother with mine either.

Peter said...

I haven't played with the S&W .380 yet. I'd like to try it sometime.

I agree with you on the reliability issues of the Kel-Tec P3AT. Some of them seem to work fine; others have periodic hysterical fits and freeze solid. Mine's now relegated to the status of a training weapon for the Ruger LCP I bought to serve as a primary pocket BUG. If it throws a fit during training, that's an opportunity to practice tap-rack-bang drills. The LCP's proven reliable enough that I trust it for street use.

leaddog said...

Had you considered the Ruger LCP or LC9? Both have available Crimson Trace Grips. The 9 is a bit larger, but has 7+1 9mm stopping goodness. I have an LCR and really like the way the light comes on as soon as you grip it.

perlhaqr said...

I wonder how hard it'd be to retrofit a grip switch for that laser.

And while I'm not quite in "palm a basketball" territory, I do find the grip on my G20 to be just about the right size for my mitts.

Murphy's Law said...

"Walther PPK, 7.65 millimeter, with a delivery like a brick through a plate-glass window. The American CIA swear by them."
Ever since I saw James Bond get one in Dr. No, and then saw all the great shots he made with it over the years, I just had to have one. His boss may have over-estimated it's stopping power just a bit, but it's still a nice pocket pistol that's accurate, reliable and a pleasure to shoot due to decent sights and a smooth trigger.

The Raving Prophet said...

I understand CT DOES have a patent on the grip laser. The way I heard it, it was the reason S&W had to go with the cumbersome activation buttons on their Bodyguard guns. CT drove the price out of the target range and Insight couldn't infringe on the patent.

This is not confirmed and I do not have a citation, but it makes sense- there's no other reason I can think of for these laser activation buttons that can never be found Quickly and easily.

Old NFO said...

Good report, I've handled exactly ONE of them, and yes that trigger is pathetic!

BryanP said...

The laser is the thing that would keep me away. So far I manage to stick with a J frame as a pocket gun, but then I'm built rather larger than you are. I've considered an LCP, but I've been trying to reduce the # of calibers I stock.

BryanP said...

The weird activation on the laser would keep me away from the S&W, I meant to say. I use CT on my 649 and my PM9 (which sadly still isn't reliable enough to carry, but I'm working on it).

Anonymous said...

Nice real world review Tam.


Tam said...


"Had you considered the Ruger LCP or LC9? Both have available Crimson Trace Grips. The 9 is a bit larger..."

If the pocket would hold an LC9, I'd still be carrying the J-frame. ;)

Murphy's Law,

"His boss may have over-estimated it's stopping power just a bit, but it's still a nice pocket pistol that's accurate, reliable and a pleasure to shoot due to decent sights and a smooth trigger."

When I say that the trigger pull on this thing is extremely heavy, I mean "about as heavy as the DA pull on a PPK." :p

Pakkinpoppa said...

I wonder why they don't release one without the laser.
Sure, it's a neat gimmicky thing to show the folk at the "fun store"...but taking it off may drop the price point to a level I'd ponder one versus sticking with my J frames (one of which is an alloy framed 638...Bodyguard) since the laser is, well, the "on switch" is located in Albania, as you so aptly put, same with the one on their "bodyguard" with the "rotary magazine" (har!).

Enjoy. My local Meijer had hundred packs of 380 a week ago, I didn't buy because...I have two boxes and no item in that caliber. I'll see if they have anything more than dust bunnies and 17 HMR in the pistol locker next weekend I go for groceries.

Firehand said...

I've fired a LCP with a CT laser, and found two things:
One, that 'squeeze and the laser comes on' is DEFINITELY the way to go, especially on a little pistol like this.
Second, I had to change my grip. If I held it the same way I do a bigger pistol, I pull shots to the right. Badly. But if I shift the back of the grip to the left, onto the thumb pad of the palm, it puts them right on the dot.

That loong trigger-pull doesn't help, but at least it was fairly smooth.

og said...

they're making that slide and I think some other internal parts just north of Peoria. One of my customers, a BUNCH of machines. I know the guys, some of the nicest people on earth. take a lot of pride in their work.

They don't like the lasers either.

Tim D said...

Too bad you had to send back the Boberg.

Tam said...

Tim D,

"Too bad you had to send back the Boberg."

No kidding. The Boberg's just a bit too rich for my blood at this point. Want one, but can't justify the ducats.

Woodman said...

Anyone shot the LC380? My dad has a LC9 that is pretty nice.

I just took my new P11 out yesterday, and since it's the only gun in the house that was both built after 1950 and small enough to actually carry, it fits the definition of a carry gun for me, at least until I get my permit and start carrying and find out that it totally sucks. I'm going to take it out to Camp A soon and see if that assessment holds up farther than shooting at a berm in the back 4 at my mother in law's.

I don't really know much about pistols, and trying to pick through everything and find a decent one to carry and feed is hard. The P11 was the right price, a gift, and it throws a decent round. Since one of the most entertaining guns my dad owns is a 9mm carbine we have plenty of ammo right now. And ammo for a 9mm is still relatively cheap.

Boat Guy said...

First glad to hear Murphy's Law found the only PPK on the planet with a nice trigger. I KNEW there had to be one out there, just like there must be a unicorn somewhere.
I've been shooting (just enough) and carrying (much more) an LCP with the CT laser for three-four years now. Bought it without the laser, shot it a couple of times (never did see the front "sight") and decided the laser was the way to be able to really place those bitty .380 bullets where they might do some good.
I run the carry ammo through it (2 of 3 mags) thee/four-ish times a year and then refill two of the mags with mighty .380 ball and it goes back in the pocket holster. The holster just manages to cover the trigger with the laser on the gun so I'm mighty careful as it comes out of/goes into my pocket.

fast richard said...

When you say the S&W has a true double action does that mean it doesn't require the slide to cycle to reset the trigger? That is one annoying thing about my LCP. The others being the grip and the trigger.

Scott J said...

The NAA is a brick? Mine in its holster is smaller than a BlackBerry Curve. Perhaps a shade thicker but smaller in height and width.

Bubblehead Les. said...

First a Car with a Roof for Indiana Winters and now a Modern Semi-Automatic Pistol!

Where's Tam and what have you done with her?

FWIW, I got to fondle OldNFO's NEW Colt Mustang at a Christmas Party up here on the North Coast. Very Nice!

Tam said...

Scott J,

"The NAA is a brick? Mine in its holster is smaller than a BlackBerry Curve."

When I said "little brick", I was referring to weight, rather than size.

But I wasn't insulting your gun! I'm sure yours is light as a feather. ;)

Blackwing1 said...

I hadn't realized that there was enough of a difference between the new pocket .380's and Ruger's LC9 that it wouldn't fit in the same pocket. Trigger aside, I love mine for times when I don't want to haul my compact 1911A1 around.

The safety on the LC9 is very easy to take off when drawing. But I have yet to be able to engage it to turn it back on "safe" one-handed.

New Jovian Thunderbolt said...

You call that a bad picture? Your standards for photography exceed my ability and/or equipment. I take pictures like I shoot. You look at the results and go, "Well I can sorta see what he was going for. here. It works, I guess."

Scott J said...

Maybe it's a matter of perspective, Tam.

The NAA is far lighter than the SP-101. But I don't think it heavier than an Airweight J. It's real strength is being thin so there's no real bulge to hide.

I have literally forgotten I'm carrying the thing a couple of times.

Scott J said...

One thing I do hate about the Guardian though is no ejector. It relies on the next round in the magazine to do that so it frequently stovepipes the last round.

Al T. said...

I switched from the J frame to a Shield. So far, so good. Limits the pants I can wear though, no more blue jeans for me.

Bob said...

Check out this world-class snark, Tam. (sorry to jump into your comments).

Kristophr said...

Take a look here when you get ready to ditch that dangerous Uncle Mike's cheapie ...

I use one of his for my Model 38 Bodyguard SW revolver ... absolutely no complaints about it from me.

global village idiot said...

The fact that I don't like the PPK is what's kept me from getting a pocket pistol for a long time.

I'd love to find one in 9mm with the same manual-of-arms as my Hi-Power.

Tam, do you double-stage the trigger on DAO pistols? For my part I find it leads to better accuracy but it's tedious.

Oh, and Boat Guy, there are unicorns. They're just fat and grey and we call them rhinos.


Will said...

I don't have one to play with, but there looks to be at least two better ways to put a laser switch on that, and at least one more utilizing the grip area that probably won't violate CT's patent. I'd have to read that to verify.

I'm thinking they didn't put much creative effort into thinking about switches. It happens.

Tam said...

Scott J,

"The NAA is far lighter than the SP-101. But I don't think it heavier than an Airweight J."

It's actually more or less exactly the same weight as an Airweight J (the NAA is ~2 oz. heavier, but who's quibbling?)

I'm not saying that your gun sucks; I'm just saying that, given a certain garment pocket size and construction, the NAA Guardian will drag the pocket down more noticeably.

If you like your Guardian, rock on with it! They always struck me as well-made pieces.


"Tam, do you double-stage the trigger on DAO pistols? For my part I find it leads to better accuracy but it's tedious."

No. I pull it through smoothly. I was taught that "staging" is a bad habit on a DA trigger.

Kristophr said...

Tam, gvi:

Confirm on Tam's statement that staging a DA trigger is the bad.

If finger strength is an issue with a smooth DA pull ( especially with revolvers ), take some advice from Ed Mcgivern, and choke up a bit and hold the pistol grip closer to the top of the grip to give yourself more leverage on the trigger.

Scott J said...

I'm not saying that your gun sucks;

I never thought you were. I was just bemused at it being called a brick. It's the most diminutive thing in my collection. Even my Taurus PT-22 is a shade larger.

I bought it way back when the pocket .380 thing was in its infancy.

I was seeking something smaller (and flatter) than the SP-101 and at the time you had the Seecamp which had a LONG wait list and the price of unobtanium, the AMT Backup which was truly awful in fit & finish or perhaps scoring a used Colt Mustang (also pricey).

When I learned the P3AT was locked breech and had an extractor I considered it but found the quality wasn't there.

Taurus' (yeah, know you hate them) TCP is interesting since it has the same features but I've had the Guardian so long I'm sort of emotionally attached.

By the way in the ultralight .380s I've found Remington's 102gr Golden Saber more pleasant to shoot than any 95 grainer.

David said...

Well, for what it's worth, I prefer to carry my SA Lightweight Champion in .45 ACP...all the time. But I've opened up my repertoire a bit lately, giving the S&W Shield in 9mm a try (although I think I'll save it mostly for summer carry when lighter clothing is preferred).

But what I have added is the Ruger LCP, and I don't see it going away any time soon. I agree that .380 is marginal (at best), but it's better than a pointy stick...and boy, is it handy. Not a lot of fun to shoot, but its size makes it a constant companion.

My workplace is non-permissive, but if I run out to pick up something to eat, I can just pocket holster the LCP and be good to go while I run into the store. I even keep it in my pocket at home, all the time. At other times, when either the 1911 or the Shield is on my belt, the LCP goes in the weak-side pocket as a backup/NY reload. (Louis Awerbuck finally convinced me)

I load it with Double Tap ammo...not pleasant to shoot, but it runs in the LCP, and I can hit with it (at pocket gun distances). I was prepared not to like it, but it's way too convenient.

Tam said...


"Well, for what it's worth, I prefer to carry my SA Lightweight Champion in .45 ACP...all the time."

I prefer to carry my M&P9 all the time, and I do. If my pants are on, there's a full-size service auto on the belt.

It's just hard to get to in the winter when I'm wearing a zipped-up parka, and so I also carry a BUG in an outside coat pocket.

David said...

Yep. The LCP is pretty much a supplement to, not a replacement for, my larger pistols...the exception being my work situation, when getting into and out of my Shield or 1911 just to pick up the take-out isn't really practical.

Scott J said...

Sort of on topic when I first started practicing draw stroke from the from the pocket with my Guardian I managed to fling the pocket holster half way to my target 7 yards away (not sure how exactly).

I found it so amusing I was unable to finish emptying the magazine because I was overcome by laughter.

I figured it gave me a tactical advantage as my assailant would be too busy laughing at my goofiness to return fire. :)

Anonymous said...

I went back to a J-frame. 940 Centenial with extra full moon clips. I'm big enough that it doesn't print on me at all, and I have confidence in its reliability.

Will said...

Scott J:

Seems something similar happened in real life. Detective, as part of a raid, had a BG armed with shotgun pop out of a crossing hallway.(he thought everyone had been accounted for) Cop yanks his concealed gun out of his waistband, and the holster came with it. He's yelling "drop the gun" while trying to get the holster off the muzzle of his gun. BG broke up, ended up rolling on the floor laughing at the situation. Neither got shot that day.

Jac said...

I'm not sure which gives me greater pause: the fact that Tam's carrying a plastic .380 that was manufactured (not to mention conceived) in this decade, or that she took a photo of it with her telephone.

Ed said...

Tam said...
".380 Auto is a completely unsatisfactory round from a self-defense standpoint, but it beats a handful of nothing..."

That is damning the .380 Auto with faint praise. I faced a similar dilemma when I decided that a Chief's Special was too bulky and difficult to reload, and that the 9mm Luger round offered better ballistics than the .38 Special round. .380 Auto pocket pistols appeared to be a step down, especially in the reliability department. The dilemma is whether a underpowered pistol at $575 is preferable to a sufficiently powered pistol at $950, especially if the more expensive pistol is more reliable.

S&W Bodyguard
Length/Barrel Length 5.18"/2.75"
Height 3.77"
Width 0.85"
Capacity 6+1 .380 Auto
Empty Weight 12.35 oz.
Loaded Weight 15 oz.

Boberg Arms XR9-S
Length/Barrel Length 5.1"/3.35"
Height 4.2"
Width 0.95"
Capacity 7+1 9mm Luger, +P capable
Empty Weight 17.5 oz.
Loaded Weight 21 oz.

So what is in my pocket? The XR9-S.
If I really wanted concealability and was willing to sacrifice reliability and effectiveness of the ammunition, there is always the single action Beretta 950B Minx in .22 Short or .25 Auto:

Length/Barrel Length 4.5"/2.5"
Height 3.4"
Width 0.9"
Capacity 8 .22 Short, also .25 Auto available
Empty Weight 8 oz.

Love that tip up barrel for loading/unloading and for convenient cleaning.

Instead of a shortened M1911 variant, a SIG P239 in .40 S&W carried on the hip inside the waistband works well.

Tam said...


A few pointers:

1) That's $200 more than anybody around here was charging for the Bodyguard and about the same price I was quoted for a used T&E Boberg. Let's keep our apples compared to apples.

2) This Bodyguard has yet to malfunction in my hands, a claim I cannot make for the Boberg. (Although, in all fairness, the ammo that choked the Boberg was specifically contraindicated in the owner's manual.)

3) I've owned so many Beretta 950s that I'm not sure of the exact number. Four? Five? Anyway, nice guns, but thoroughly obsolescent in the day of the pocket .32/.380.

4) All this is academic as I think I clearly explained that I just don't have a grand I can justify dumping on a BUG. I'd like a Boberg. Can I have yours?

Cheesy said...

Haven't seen anything on the market for the last 20 years that would entice me to give up my good old reliable Colt Mustang. Fits in nearly every pocket and simple as joe biden.

Sport Pilot said...

Nice work Tam. Even nicer work in your selection of available defensive carry 380 fodders. I’ve carried a few S&W J frame’s over the years as well as a PPK/s a SiG 230 and the ultimate dis-wonder an H&K 4 .380. More current pocket pistols have been the KT P-32, P3AT and PF9 with mixed results. While I had very good results with the Ruger Lc9 and SR 22 they have size and caliber issues. IMHO if I’m going with an Lc9 sized pistol then I’ll go with a SR9c or like sized 9mm P for an overcoat pocket. Currently I’m carrying an LCP but am considering a SOLO as the one I’ve tried has fit well in several different pants and jacket pockets.

Chas Clifton said...

I just wrote a letter (good for five curmudgeon points) to L.L. Bean, suggesting that they move their zipper breast pocket (a/k/a Napoleon pocket) outside the main parka zipper on their Men's Warm-up Parka.

I didn't mention its utility as pistol pocket, but they probably know that.

After all, who wants to have to unzip the main zipper first to get at the pocket?

The little breast pocket on this Patagonia jacket that I wear in cool weather works perfectly, being tucked just under the storm flap.

Patagonia — concealed-carry friendly. Who knew?

Robert Langham said...

I can't understand why you aren't packing a Savage .32.

Ed said...



Keads said...

I have found the Bodyguard perfectly serviceable after playing the slot machine on Kel-Tek P3-AT's. Two of them with one sent back to the factory here. One is now relegated to classes because well, it would not fire. The second I sold.

The Bodyguard has useable iron sights and external controls I am familiar with and while I'm not really concerned with the laser functioning, I DID pay for it. I don't care about the activation buttons for the laser but for me, they are where your finger should be if not firing, along side the frame which you should be doing as you present from holster.

Put it in a pocket holster and go. It DOES beat a stiff word and rolled up newspaper. 9mm Kurz ammunition and all that.

Tam said...


Thanks for playing, then.

Tam said...

Robert Langham,

"I can't understand why you aren't packing a Savage .32."

I have two. If either of them fit in my pocket, I'd still be carrying the smith.

Keads said...

Oh, I do have a MkI, ModI of one of these. My initial review is here from 2010.

Bob said...

Didn't you used to own a Mauser HsC, Tam? How did you like it?