Survival Gear Review: Smith & Wesson .380 Bodyguard Backup

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By John J. Woods •  7 min read

Frankly to me just the idea of a having a “backup gun” smells of trouble.  But then on the positive side of things a backup gun can be a comforting thing.  The concept of a backup gun of course naturally implies that you have a primus firearm at the ready, and that the secondary gun is held or readily available elsewhere to be plied into action as necessary.  I’ll let you decide where a small concealed handgun might fit into your whole scheme of prepper planning.  It could be a backup in the vehicle stowed in the console or above the sun visor for a quick reach.  It might be an ankle gun hidden for a crouch grab.  There are endless ways of securing, hiding, carrying, and deploying any sort of backup gun.

Backup Uses

I started toting a so-called “backup” handgun in my hunting pack years ago for those “just in case” moments.  That could be everything from a wounded game animal finishing brain shot to the occasional poacher or trespasser who  have a habit of sneaking up in the woods.

I have used one as a deterrent to getting the attention of individuals stepping across a property fence line or other approach onto my private posted property.  I have found a couple warning shots does wonders to helping uninvited people to move on.

Sometimes around the camp house area when somebody parks at the front gate, which we can hear outside because of the course gravel we have placed on the driveway, they can’t help their nosy selves but to walk the 100 yards into the camp area to see what is there.  If you greet them wearing a sidearm, even a small one, it has a wondrous effect on their attitude once they spot the gun.  This is when you put your hand on it like John Wayne used to do.

You can choose to be nice to them inquiring as to their passage on private lands, but keep that hand on the gun butt just for show.  Then stand there to enjoy all the excuses they can give for being somewhere they are not supposed to be.  I have also used my backup to chase off wild dogs that wonder onto the place usually to run some deer looking for a free meal.  I don’t kill stray dogs unless they are threatening.  They are just doing what they do, but in any event a few rounds sends them scurrying off the place.  The easy carry backup gun is perfect for such tasks.

Choosing a Backup Handgun

The first backup gun I started carrying afield on a regular basis was a Smith and Wesson Model 58 in .41 Magnum.  This is still one of my all-time favorite revolvers built on the hand filling “N” frame same as their #29 in .44 Magnum. The 58 has a heavy 4-inch barrel and just a sight groove cut down the top of the frame and a ramp front.  Mine has a red insert gunsmithed into the front sight.

When you touch this baby off especially in low light, you can see the flame throwing out the muzzle you could cook a hotdog with.  Its report cannot be mistaken for a tire blow out.  Once I had hunters shooting a little close to my stand across my fence, but two .41 Mag loads popped into the woods in a safe manner stopped all that nonsense. But alas, even though I carry my #58 in a Bianchi crossdraw leather holster , it is a bit heavy for an everyday tote around my Bug Out property.  Sometimes I just carry it in the No products found. across the gas tank on my Honda450ES ATV.

Also Read: The Ultimate Survival Pistol – Glock

From time to time I play with the idea of trying out other potential backup handguns both revolvers and pistols including a #29 with a stubby 3-inch barrel, a number of 9mms and 45 ACPs.  They are all good guns and each is a true attention getter out in the woods.  Still they are somewhat large and more cumbersome than I often want to carry in addition to all the other gear I might take to the field for either hunting or perimeter security observation.  I do carry them as a primary sidearm though.

Whatever you pick, try out several gun brands, models, and calibers to suit your needs.  Remember this is a gun to be used as a backup so you can go smaller, lighter and infinitely more concealable as you choose to do.  Just make sure you become fully versed in its use and practice close range shooting with it as much as you can.

Go Light

Taking some advice from my primary general practitioner I have also finally decided to “go light” on my use of sour cream, butter, and salad dressings along with 2-3 different backup guns I am working with.   He laughs at the analogy but he is a gun guy, too.

My current favored ride in the stable is the Smith & Wesson Bodyguard .380 pistol.  I know, I know, but aside from the pros, cons, and arguments of even picking a .380 ACP, I must again remind you we are discussing backup guns here.  And to be completely honest I might not have even given a .380 much of a second glance except for the new types of high potency .380 ammo emerging on the scene the past few years.   One more whack on the dead horse here, by saying a backup gun is a short range personal 1-1 affair, so for me, I am talking maximum ranges of 10-15 feet.  Not yards!

Also Read: Review of the Smith & Wesson Governor

Then just for the sake of covering the bases here, current selections of personal protection .380 loads includes Federal 90-grain Hydra-Shok, Hornady Critical Defense with 90-grain FTX bullets, or Winchester’s PDX1 Defender loads using 95-grain jacketed hollow points.   There are more of these close range self defense .380 loads coming out all the time.  Enough said on that then.

Back on subject then, the S&W Bodyguard .380 is much of everything a small, handy, concealable backup pistol was meant to be.  Weighing in at a mere 12.5 ounces, the polymer framed pistol has a 2.75 inch stainless steel barrel and a magazine capacity of 6+1.  The pistol is double action only.  The front and rear sights are drift adjustable.  A model is available with an integrated Insight Laser which I have on mine.  For low light or no light, this is a nice feature.
The Bodyguard is very ergonomic to hold onto especially with a magazine that has the extended finger tab for fatter hands like mine.  A flat magazine butt plate is included with the pistol.

The safety and take down levers melt right into the functional design of the frame and stainless steel slide.  The laser control buttons are ambidextrous.  If anything, I wish the magazine release button was bigger, but it is within proper size for a compact handgun.  Being light in weight the Bodyguard 380 is snappy upon ignition.  It is not out of bounds by any means.  A solid grip with second hand support can be learned to easily handle hot defense loads in this pistol.  Like shooting any new gun, range time is essential with this one, too.

My standard pass test is to hit a 10-inch paper plate or steel target from designated ranges.  This little diamond passes every test I throw at it.  If a danger comes within my defensive action range, the S&W Bodyguard will stand its ground.  For SHTF events, a Bug Out or In, this pistol will feel comfortable in a cargo pants pocket, or other concealment hide.  Its weight will barely be noticed.  It is the type of backup pistol that I would much rather have with me than not.

John J. Woods

John J. Woods, PhD, has been outdoor writing for over 35 years with over 3000 articles, and columns published on firearms, gun history, collecting, appraising, product reviews and hunting. Dr. Woods is currently the Vice President of Economic Development at a College in the Southern United States. Read his full interview here.