Survival Gear Review: Smith & Wesson .380 Bodyguard Backup

Frankly to me just the idea of a having a “backup gun” smells of trouble.  But then on the positive side of things a concealed carry pistolbackup 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 Concealed Carry Pistol Smith & Wessoncould 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.  backup pistolThis 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 saddlebacks 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 survival pistolcream, 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.

Photos By:
Dr. John J. Woods
James Milstid

Written by 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. Read more of John J.'s articles.

12 thoughts on “Survival Gear Review: Smith & Wesson .380 Bodyguard Backup”

  1. The old adage of "Bring enough gun" starts with bringing a gun. The .380 is a fine caliber, and like all other shell sizes it has it's limits. Within those limits the mouse gun can do wonders. Push the limits and it will be a roll of the dice. But with any dice to roll, you already know how the game will end.

    My hand holds a Glock better than other grip angles so the G42 is my favorite. Plus it works like every other Glock. No new levers, switches, releases or buttons to memorize. Got a pile of range time with my Ruger LCP as well and at only 9.4 ounces soaking wet, it weighs less than a pair of nice folding knives or just an ounce more than my Leatherman.

    But I'm not saying that a single stack Glock 9mm wouldn't be attractive as well.

  2. I have a NAA Guardian that I like as a pocket pistol. It is small enough that I can keep it in a front pocket and nobody will know. I used this when purchasing a car from Craigslist for my son. Certainly not made for long distance shooting. But quite adequate for up and personal use. I also like my Beretta Tomcat with laser grips. A true point and shoot gun but a bit wide for a pocket pistol/

  3. A back up gun is necessary and should be employed when possible. If I carried the S&W Bodyguard it would be because it was my only option due to either weight, size or space limitations. With out these limitations, your back up gun should be able to do as much work as possible. I would not select a small range/small caliber weapon just because I thought I would only use it in certain limited conditions. What happens when your backup becomes your primary weapon due to loss, catastrophic malfunction/jam or depletion of primary weapon ammo? As a young cop I always heard that police shootings are tipically within 7-10 yards, I learned that "typically" didn't matter when I had to shoot an armed rifleman at 30+ yards and had only a fraction of a second to observe and act (no time to get my AR-15). Point being, if you have the ability to cary a sidearm/backup gun that is capable of fighting a greater distance with larger ammo capacity, do it. If you decide to carry small, do so because it's that or nothing at all (like when your wearing board shorts, T-shirt and sandals).

  4. I carry the S&W BG as my EDC. You can pack it in a thong. I wear a tie frequently so have to choose caliber over comfort and concealability. I dig it as a BUG. Right now, I am more worried about thugs than armored resistance. .380 with 8 rounds (extention kit) is fore sure a equalizer. Easy to conceal and easy to carry extra mags.

  5. IMHO, your back-up gun should be the same caliber as your primary weapon (assuming they're both handguns) because then you only need to carry one caliber of ammo! Personally, I consider a handgun to be a back-up to a rifle or shotgun, depending on the circumstance. If concealability is a issue, my snub-nose .357 revolver will (in holster with metal clip) ride in my front pants pocket just fine; practice makes speedy draws no problem! Otherwise, the full-size revolver (with speed loaders) will be on my hip, at the ready, the weight is not a problem! Within 50 feet, hitting a man-size target is not an issue, even with my snub-nose!

  6. some of the comments about backup firearms about being what you are comfortable with, reminded me of a LEO that I knew yrs ago. The story had been going around that He had shot at and hit a rock at 400 plus yds with a .38 sp. And one night I happened to see and meet him and I ask him about the story if it were true and He said " yes, that it was true " and then gave me the back ground on it. He and some friends were hunting on the SD west river prairie when a couple local smart alecks started giving him some BS about his shooting ability. To which he answered to pick out a target and he would give it try. They picked out a target about 100 yds out, at which he said that it was too easy and said how about that rock on the side hill. ( it was later paced out at appox 400yds or 1/4 of a mile ) He said the guys with the binos saw 2 hits on the rock and 3 near misses. He was shooting a .38 subbie and he said that he had to shoot it like you would mortar. Did I believe him, yes. He also said you should be able to hit some thing when you shoot between 350 and 400 rds a time. His background was Korean war vet, ( marine corps ), reseverist and getting ready to retire as a LEO and patrol shift Lt. Did I believe him, Yes I did and wished I had known him sooner. A tall slender guy with salt and pepper hair, slow talking and a handler bar mustashe. The .38 was his backup weapon.

  7. I think it is critical to remember, that "warning shots" are never a good idea and in the vast majority of this country, illegal. That being said, a BUG(back up gun) is always a great idea to practice and to have access to. While I'm not a fan of either S&W Body guard model, having shot both, and since my hands do not "fit" the use of either, they are out for me. However, the concept in this article is solid. As others have posted, make sure it's enough gun, and having the same caliber as your primary EDC is always "logistically attractive" and smart. Today's thugs (and thuggettes) could care less what caliber you shoot them with, they do not want to get shot by any firearm, including the lowly .22LR caliber.The main thing I've learned is that one HAS to practice, practice, practice with your BUG, consistently, to be able to use it for those "bad breath" distance situations, wherein the BUG is all you've got to work with. My Murphy cousins always show up unannounced and they do NEED to be planned for. Carry a BUG, you are worth it.

  8. Looks like a pretty sweet pistol. I looked at one the other day in a local gun store. How does it shoot? Lots of recoil or manageable? Looks like a great front pocket pistol for EDC.

  9. Having a light weight small firearm is smart when concealability is an issue. I don’t go anywhere without a gun. So I have a Sig P238 .380 7+1 with two 7 rnd mags on me. The Sig shoots great I just love the gun, I can shoot it all day, not snappy at all and my wife carries the P938 9m 7+1 with two 7 rnd mags on her. The P938 is a little snappy due to the size but my wife handles it just fine. Normally I carry a Kimber 1911 ultra II .45 ACP 8+1 with two 8 rnd mags on me. But to get back to a small firearm for easy concealability I highly recommend this. I’ve been in the military for 26 year and my back up gun to my M4 is my M9 honestly I have only had to transition from my M4 to my M9 once all the other time were in training. Most scenarios don’t play out were you need to 100+ rounds so a small light weight firearm is smart. Pick something that you like, that is comfortable to shoot, otherwise you won’t want to carry it. Rule number one to a gun fight is having a gun.

  10. Critical Defense is a bad choice of ammo for the .380 pocket pistols, go with Federal P9HST1, Fiocchi, or best of all Precision One's 90 gr. HP/XTP.

  11. if your going to carry a 380 why not a 9mm ? I stick with nato or go with 22LR
    yea I got 38/357 but I am an old head before all this jazz there was plenty of everything now it is a different world

    It was not long ago that you couldn't find a 380 loaded and no brass either so why would anyone stick themselves in a corner like that ?

    It is not a bad caliber it has only one flaw in a in a world with limited resources 380 will be like chickens teeth real hard to find.

    you want wicked power get a 7.62 X 25 or a 5.7 FN are they samll NO but I would not worry about anything smaller than a bear and they are not much different in production or off the shelf stock just won't find them at wally world.

    Why do you need a backup if you get a FN 5.7 you can carry a 20 or 30 round mag with a couple of spares
    thats 60 to 90 rounds no recoil light as a feather shoots straight as a string the only thing backing up is anything in front of you.


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