Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Monday Gunday: A Tale of Two Pistols

(It's Monday, right?  Yesterday felt like Sunday. It was a three-day weekend, after all. Close enough for government purposes and all of that.)

So last week, on the Tuesday before the election, I was finally able to get my mom out to the shooting range.  We brought the PMR-30 (this is the last post on this pistol, I promise,) as well as her S&W Bodyguard in .380.
I'm actually going to talk about the Bodyguard first, even though we shot it second.  Mom decided to get this pistol sometime in the summer because, frankly, she's had her heart set on an automatic from the moment we went pistol shopping. Even though she got the Ruger LCR,  it wasn't specifically what she wanted, and mama wants what she wants, so a few months later when she saw the Bodyguard 380 in the store she decided to get it.

I've said this before, but it bears repeating: If you're going to buy a pistol, test fire it first.  Mom didn't do that. Instead, she just fiddled with the demonstration model a bit.

I feel it is important to point out at this time that the Bodyguard is double-action only (meaning that it has no hammer which can be cocked with your thumb). For this reason, it  has a long and heavy trigger pull. It's probably longer and heavier than is mechanically necessary -- I imagine S&W made it "worse" for the sake of safety i.e. they fully expected some folks to literally drop a loaded gun into their pockets without putting it in a holster first. With a long and heavy pull, it becomes difficult (though not impossible) to accidentally shoot yourself while you're un-pocketing the pistol.

Having said this, it should come as no surprise to anyone that, when it came time to shoot it, mom was unable to pull the trigger. Just completely unable. We're talking trigger constipation here: lots of straining and squeezing and grunts of effort, but nothing budging.

Did I mention that mom has been carrying this as her self-defense pistol? Lesson #2 (pun not intended): If you're going to carry it for self-defense, make sure you shoot it before you start carrying it.

I was able to pull the trigger, however. Recoil was... well, recoil was categorically NOT "brisk but manageable". Recoil was more like "Getting hit repeatedly in the webbing between thumb and forefinger by a police baton with only slightly less force needed to create a bruise."

In other words, GODDAMN THAT HURTS.

Before you ask: No, I don't know the grain weight of what I shot. The bullets are back in mom's room and she's taking a nap right now. They're whatever standard grain that round nose FMJ .380 cartridges have. Doesn't matter, because FUCKING OUCH.

No, seriously. I have shot larger bullets (150gr) out of .38 revolvers that hurt less than this little .380 did, and that's with a semi-auto action to absorb some of the recoil. I after the first magazine I had to put on a driving glove just so I could have some padding between the pistol and my poor hand.

In short, I would not recommend the S&W Bodyguard 380 as a self-defense pistol for little old ladies. I wouldn't recommend it for young ladies either, unless they have extraordinarily tough hands.

That said, I did pretty okay with it at seven yards:

That's about 24 rounds, or 6 magazines' worth. Yes, I know I am all over the damn place. Part of that is due to OMG TRIGGERPULL. The other part of it -- and yes, I realize this sounds like I am making excuses for bad technique -- is that it honestly seemed like the sights did not line up with the Point of Impact. I mean, when I have the pistol straight out in front of me and bullets are hitting several inches to the right of my point of aim, something just feels off, you know?  I will admit that I probably don't have the best technique, but the dang gun just felt wonky.

Now let's compare that with the PMR-30.  As I've said before, mom has arthritis in her hands -- one reason she couldn't pull the trigger on the Bodyguard -- but when she picked up the PMR, she had zero difficulty shooting it.

No trouble. At all. And she shot the entire 30-round magazine, which is unusual because normally she needs to take a break in order to let her hands rest and regain their strength.

Again:  She shot the entire magazine without trouble, without flinching, and with no mechanical difficulties other than forgetting to disengage the thumb safety.

This is how she did, using 40gr CCI Maxi-Mag at 7 yards:

I'd like to point out once again that the keyholing problem seems to have disappeared. I am going to attribute that to "breaking in" the barrel.

Her thoughts:

  • The trigger is very easy and comfortable to use. 
  • Lack of recoil means she doesn't dread pulling the trigger (this means she doesn't flinch when shooting, and therefore her aim is better).
  • She likes how light it is. 
  • She likes the bright fiber-optic sights, although there was some problem with the rear orange sights fading into the orange of the high-visibility target.
  • She likes that is looks more like a "proper" gun, and is therefore "more intimidating". 
  • She likes the "nearly bottomless" magazine. 
  • She LOVES that it's ambidextrous. 

To put it another way:  After we got home, mom took the Bodyguard out of her bag and replaced it with the PMR. Then she handed me her credit card and said "Buy it from Kel-Tec."  So I did.

I honestly can't think of any praise higher than "This is the gun I would give my mother to use for self-defense."

About the worst thing I can think to say about the PMR-30 is that it's a pain to disassemble for cleaning.

Disclaimer: Kel-Tec sent me the PMR-30 to test and evaluate for 90 days. When we chose to buy it, we were able to do so at a reduced rate. Kel-Tec did not pay me to write these reviews, nor did they give me anything in return for them. 


  1. "the Bodyguard is dual-action only"

    That's "double-action only."

    Have you checked out the M&P Shield? I don't know whether or not it beats you up, but I'm sure that the trigger isn't so brutal.

    I'm not a big fan of little guns, but I could see myself getting an LCR. It's kind of fun to shoot in a "this is a real challenge to hit anything" kind of way. To overuse a phrase, it's "combat accurate" with me driving it. I figure that if I tighten up on the trigger operating nut I could probably be pretty good with it. But then I have reasonably strong fingers.

  2. Yipes!  I'm guessing your mom bought it at a place that has their guns set up in such a way that you can't try the trigger (a trigger lock, zip tie through the slide, etc).  I hate those set ups.  I've not purchased guns because I couldn't try the trigger before, and I don't have the issues your mom has.

    Your experience is far from isolated in regards to the recoil of the tiny .380/9mm hand guns.  I've shot a couple different kinds, and none of them are what I would call pleasant.  Even my Bersa Thunder 380, which is one of the biggest .380's out there, has been known to sting the webbing of your hand if you don't have a good grip on it.

    Oh... I'm still waiting to hear if you like that PMR-30 or not. :p

  3. I love your reviews. Very informative.

  4. Well spotted, and thanks for the heads-up. Making corrections now. 

    Mom does like her LCR (especially with the Crimson Trace Lasergrips). She just really, really wanted a semi-auto. We've all been there, right?

  5. She tried the display gun, which I imagine had been manhandled enough that it was pretty loose. Either that or it had been lubed and tweaked and who knows what else. 

    Yeah, the PMR is all right, I guess. :P

  6. Good post young lady, I enjoyed it. The S&W BG .380, Ruger LCP and KelTec P3AT all sting a bit when fired, with the S&W having the least user friendly trigger. Galloway Precision http://gallowayprecision.com/smith-and-wesson/bodyguard-380-performance/ should have a trigger kit out pretty soon which might help.

  7. If she really wants a .380 semi auto, look at Sig or the Colt Mustang. Both are heavier and MUCH better built.  And the triggers are also much better! The Colt is cocked/locked and single action only.

  8. I think she got the Bodyguard because it has a built-in laser. 

    Dad bought a Colt Mustang recently -- not sure when it will get shot -- but I like it a lot.  Don't know if mom could work the slide, though. 

  9. Thanks for the link!  I will definitely keep my eye on that trigger kit!


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