A Nurse with a Gun

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Smith & Wesson Model 438

I am very happy to discover that Smith & Wesson has brought back the Bodyguard frame style in the Airweight Model 438. I had the opportunity to examine one hands on at the past gun show, Model 438 Click to enlargeand the +P rated pocket revolver seemed to be a good choice for the concealed carrier who is looking for a brand new pocket gun.

The Model 438 is the modern incarnation of my beloved Model 38. There are, of course differences that do not appeal to my old fogey sensibilities. The integrated locking mechanism is of course, one of the new features that I do not like. Beyond that, I was quick to note the MIM trigger and hammer, and the exposed nubbin of the hammer seemed to be smaller and less well finished than that of the Model 38. I also did not care for the rubber boot grip, but that is easily swapped out. If the revolver had come with the rubber grip that is on the Model 640, I would have no complaint. The matte black finish is a plus in my opinion.

It is my contention that the Smith & Wesson Bodyguard is one of the best pocket guns ever devised. As a revolver, it will not be thrown out of battery and refuse to fire when jammed into an attacker's ribs or under his chin. It is the ultimate "get the hell off me" gun.

I am fortunate to have a collection of five Bodyguards in several variations. In the Airweight variation, the J framed revolver barely weighs more than the five rounds it carries. Pictured left to right: Model 38, Model 49, Model 649, Model 49, Model 38, Click to enlargeOnce loaded, it can be stuffed into a pocket holster and carried in a front pants pocket all day and forgotten about. The hump on the back of the Bodyguard frame helps the gun stay put in the carrier's pocket.

Another often uncited advantage of the pocket revolver is that a citizen can have their strong hand on their concealed gun in a firing grip while assessing a potential threat. The gun remains concealed, and the element of surprise is maintained until de-escalation options are exhausted and the introduction of the weapon is deemed necessary.

The other benefits of a pocket revolver for a person new to firearms and concealed carry are many. A round is always chambered and ready when the gun is fully loaded. There is no safety to disengage when presenting the handgun. Pull the trigger, and it goes bang. Maintaining concealment is as simple as finding a pocket large enough to contain a holster that will obscure the shape.

It will need some dry firing to smooth out the trigger, but I am happy to see that Smith & Wesson is producing a modern version of the Model 38. I have long maintained that the S&W Model 38 is the ultimate pocket revolver. If a person wants a new Smith & Wesson, the Model 438 may well be the closet they can get. If I can find one used I might just add it to my Bodyguard collection.

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Blogger Peripatetic Engineer said...

It is truly a great carry gun. I've got the airweight and carry it almost everywhere. It's as easy to put in my pocket as my vintage .25 cal mouse gun.

6:22 AM  
Blogger Bob said...

Ever read the Travis McGee novels of the late John D. MacDonald, Xavier? The Airweight Bodyguard was McGee's firearm of choice, the one he most often grabbed when someone needed shooting. McGee used it most effectively in Darker Than Amber, which is one of the better novels in the series.

7:23 AM  
Blogger Broadsword said...

Xavier, you could post a very funny photo sometime, similar to a cartoon I once saw of a Yuppie with all new flyfishing gear, price tags still attached like Tibetan prayer flags. (I am not saying you are a Yuppie; far from it.) A photo with all your pistols attached to all your arms and legs. It would make a funny caption contest. I never miss your posts!

9:05 AM  
Blogger Crucis said...

I carry the 438's cousin the 442 in a DeSantis pocket holster. I've frequently forgotten it was in my jeans pocket until my pants goes "clunk" when getting ready for bed.

Then it goes on the nightstand along site my M19.

3:36 PM  
Blogger Jay G said...


Maybe I'm missing something obvious (and that's entirely possible, just ask my wife...), but hasn't Smith & Wesson had the 638 in its line-up for years?

3:58 PM  
Anonymous Mr.Potato said...


how does it's size compare to the Keltec PM9 or your New Agent?

4:04 PM  
Blogger Xavier said...

If you click here, you will see a KelTec P32, a Model 49 and a Colt Defender side by side. Of course, the KelTec is the thinnest, as well as the lightest fully loaded.

4:18 PM  
Anonymous Mr.Potato said...

Thanks. Looks like I'm just gonna stick it out with the New Agent. The differences are slim. I do like the keltec a little bit though but if I could find a decent revolver in that size it would peak my interest

7:50 PM  
Blogger Old NFO said...

Nice collection! I've got one, but may look around for another. Thanks for the report.

8:51 PM  
Anonymous dandechino said...

Someday I will own one of these pocket snubbies. They just strike me with that "cool" factor.

9:40 PM  
Blogger Keith Walker said...

Is there such a thing as a J frame in 9mm?

10:42 PM  
Blogger Xavier said...

Not to my knowledge, but I don't know everything. S&W did put out a K frame 9mm.

10:55 PM  
Blogger Bob said...

The Smith & Wesson 940 was made from 1991-1998, used moon clips to hold the 9mm cartridges in place.

11:15 PM  
Anonymous Alex said...


Could you perhaps share some of your thoughts regarding selecting a revolver or a pistol for someone with arthritis in their hands?

A 61 year old acquaintance of mine would like to get into concealed carry, but is concerned about the arthritis in her thumbs. She has two inherited guns at home but doesn't know how to use them. My initial thoughts went to a stainless 2" revolver with an exposed hammer so SA is an option, or one of those small Berettas with the pop-up barrel so she won't have to rack the slide. What are your thoughts?

8:38 AM  
Blogger Crucis said...

Alex, if I may throw in a few comments. I have arthritis too. It's more painful for me to cock a revolver and shoot single action.

If you or her really want a revolver, I'd go with a hammerless like the 438/638 or 442/642. There are some used ones floating around. Check AuctionArms, Gunbroker, Gunsamerica or you FLD (friendly local dealer) or pawn-shop.

Revolver triggers usually smooth out the more you shoot them. Or, as an alternative, take the revolver to a good pistolsmith and have them work/stone the trigger.

4:04 PM  
Blogger jhisaac1 said...

What is the advantage of the covered hammer over the hammerless models like the 442/642? The hammerless looks sleeker to me. (The hump over the hammer has always bugged me.) I assume you go with the covered hammer to retain the option of an SA shot. Is that the only reason? I would think that if you have time to make an aimed, SA shot with a snubby you might want to double check that you should be shooting at all.

11:57 AM  
Blogger Xavier said...

The humpback helps it stay in position in the pocket. You need less holster to keep it in place, thus, you can go with smaller pockets.

4:21 PM  
Blogger midnight rider said...

Xavier -- Though not a bodyguard here's one to salivate over.

At a gunshow yesterday stumbled across a S&W Model 36 2 inch barrel. Original box & instructions, dated 1967. NO TURN LINES. NO "stamping" around the firing pin. No holster wear. Except for dust morrior like bore. Dealer said he didn't think it was ever fired. $450 real firm.

Y'know, I actually walked away to think about it. Dumb.

It was still there an hour later. Lucky. It went home with me.

Took it to the range today. First out of the box 2 inch groups at 10 yrds freehand. I don't usually shoot that well. And I was able to hold 4 inch groups the rest of the afternoon.

I think I have a new spring summer early fall carry gun ;>) (Pennsylvania winters require a .357 or .45)

12:29 AM  
Blogger Joel Rosenberg said...

You're right about the tactical advantage of pocket carry; I've been teaching about that for some years now.

My theory is that a lot of what's talked about and done is driven by both what cops do and what the gun mags think has enough fetish value or provides enough ad revenue. A $19 holster from Bob Mika (hope you don't mind the plug; I'm just a happy customer) is very useful, but has neither.

1:10 PM  
Blogger Joel Rosenberg said...

Plus on the concealed hammer: you can go single action, if you want to; you're unlikely to be tempted to do something stupid with the hammer under most circumstances. Disadvantage: it's easy for pocket lint to get into the gun through the opening.

1:12 PM  

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