Smith & Wesson’s current .38 Special Model 638 Bodyguard is the last of the original Bodyguard line, which dates back to 1955. However, when the polymer-framed M&P Bodyguard was introduced in 2014, this last-of-the-originals became simply known as the Model 638.

About the Smith & Wesson Model 638

The 638 weighs in at a mere 14.6 ounces. That’s 1/10 of an ounce more than the Model 637 Chief’s Special, due to the Model 638’s expanded upper frame. This all-silver handgun features an aluminum frame, stainless-steel barrel and five-shot cylinder. It is rated for +P ammunition. The quick-draw sights consist of a serrated ramp front sight and a traditional topstrap frame groove rear sight. I improved the visibility of the front sight with a green Birchwood Casey Touchup Pen to boost contrast. The 638 Bodyguard, unlike the M&P Bodyguard, will accept almost any aftermarket grip designed for J-Frame revolvers.

The 638’s extended backstrap and frame partially conceals a standard hammer with a shortened cocking spur. This allows for special situation single-action firing similar to that of the Chief’s Special. However, the short spur makes single-action cocking more difficult than cocking a fully exposed hammer. Firing in single-action mode reduces the trigger pull from 10 pounds in double-action mode down to 2 pounds, 10 ounces. It is recommended only for launching carefully aimed shots at greater distances rather than for close-range defensive shooting.

Smith & Wesson Model 638 Specifications

Weight: 14.6 ounces
Length: 6.31 inches
Barrel length: 1.88 inches
Width: 1.3 inches
Height: 4.3 inches
Capacity: 5

All Bodyguard models, including the M&P and all Centennials, can be safely carried in more concealed carry positions than any other handgun. They can be carried in inside-the-waistband or outside-the-waistband rigs, shoulder rigs, pocket holsters, ankle holsters, belly bands, thigh rigs, purses or nearly any other way you can think to safely carry concealed. I carried my Model 638 as a backup in a pocket holster during my time as a cop.

These handguns excel at coat pocket carry. A carrier is able to wrap the hand around it in a full shooting grip. And they are the only handguns that can shoot all five shots through a coat pocket without snagging or misfiring because of their concealed hammers. Coat or vest-pocket carry is a great defensive advantage when walking in sketchy neighborhoods.

Make Ready for Firing: Shooting the S&W 638

Generally, a small-framed gun like the 638 is not as intimidating to miscreants as a .45, for example. That’s why I always add a set of Crimson Trace Lasergrips to them as a force multiplier. The laser dot — red or green — leaves no doubt in the aggressor’s mind where the bullet you are about to fire will land. Crimson Trace sent me a set of the LG-105 compact Lasergrips to mount on the Smith & Wesson 638. The LG-105 grips are compact yet fill the user’s hand, and the grips are not prone to snagging on clothing. These defensive pistol grips also feature “instinctive momentary activation.” This means they are turned off and on by varying the pressure of the shooting hand’s middle finger.

There were no surprises from this almost 70-year-old design. I test-fired the 638 using a mix of Liberty Ammunition’s Civil Defense load, which sends its 50-grain bullet out the muzzle at 1,500 feet per second, delivering 250 foot-pounds of energy. I also used some Federal American Eagle .38 Special practice ammo. This 130-grain full metal jacket projectile has a muzzle velocity of 890 feet per second, which delivers 229 foot-pounds of energy.

The Civil Defense Ammo delivers superb performance with low recoil. Though the blast is noticeable. I highly recommend it for carry with this gun. The American Eagle rounds are good practice ammo but have a bit more blast than traditional 158-grain round nose lead .38 Special ammo. Firing two-handed at 20 feet and assisted by the red laser dot, I was able to deliver groups in the 2.5-inch range for both loads.

Should You Buy a Smith & Wesson Model 638?

I’ve been carrying the 638 with 5-Star Firearms speedloaders for a couple of months. I keep one speedloader in my right front pants pocket and two more in a pouch in the center console of my truck. The 638 and lightweight Civil Defense ammo are a delight for all-day carry. Carried in an OWB holster underneath a vest, I can deliver fast and accurate first shots, which is critical in close-up deadly force situations.

The S&W 638 “Bodyguard” has an MSRP of $539. If you are looking for the ultimate in concealed carry versatility, this is the revolver for you.


Smith & Wesson:
5 Star Firearms:
Liberty Ammunition:
Crimson Trace:
Federal Ammunition:
Birchwood Casey: