Smith and Wesson 638 Bodyguard

Smith and Wesson 638 Bodyguard

Among the popular gun writers and trainers I have surveyed the completely enclosed hammer a.k.a. “hammerless” snub (Centennial et al) is currently more popular than either traditional hammer models or shrouded hammer (Bodyguard et al) models.  After years of working with all three typed I believe that the actual self-defense advantage goes to the shrouded hammer snub. 

Fans of the hammerless snub like to point out that a fully enclosed hammer is unlikely to snag on the draw as can happen with the exposed hammer. The also point out that unlike the bobbed hammer an enclosed hammer retains its full mass for optimum cartridge ignition. Finally they argue, by being able to grip higher on the back strap with a hammerless and thereby putting the bore axis closest in line to the shooter’s forearm the hammerless models will provide the shooter with the maximum available recoil control. All this is true. And despite it I will still default in favor of the shrouded snub.

The shrouded hammer snub can provide nearly the same bore axis and recoil advantages as a hammerless snub. Like the hammerless snub, the shrouded snub’s hammer retains its full mass for optimum cartridge ignition. And also like the hammerless the shrouded hammer snub’s concealed hammer is unlikely to snag on draw on the fashion of the exposed hammer.

The advantage the shrouded hammer snub offers over the hammerless revolver is the ability to thumb-back the barely visible hammer nub in order to mechanically check for possible malfunction producing high primers. This test is preformed by:

1 – Removing the finger from the trigger

2 – Thumb back the nub of the barely exposed hammer spur. Retract it just far enough to lower the cylinder stop. Always remember to maintain control of the nub under your thumb and keep the snub pointed in a safe direction.

3 – With the fingers of the free hand safely rotating the cylinder and confirm the absents of high primers.

Is this the only way to test for high primers? No,  there are three additional methods:

One – Applying enough pressure to the trigger to unlock the cylinder but not enough pressure to fire the weapon.  This is a very risky balancing act and in my mind a dangerously foolish method.

Two – Pre cut slip of paper of a size that can be slipped through and fill the length of the window of the snub’s frame. (Photo 1 here) Insert the slip of paper into the window of the open frame and snake one end under the cylinder. (Photo 2 here) Then close the cylinder with the slip of paper positioned so the cylinder stop can’t rise to insert into the cylinder stop. When the cylinder is closed the slip of paper will prevent the cylinder-stop from engaging the cylinder-stop notch.  The cylinder can be safely rotated now to confirm that there is little risk of the cylinder binding on a high primer.  (Photo 3 here) The down side to this system is that it requires prepared materials. Whenever the material is not readily at hand a high primer check is likely to be preformed infrequently.

Three – A shooter can always make it a habit to load the cylinder and to then manually check the primers before he closes the cylinder by running his finger over the tops of each of the primers. This is safe and convenient but by relying upon this method alone it is to my way of thinking similar to only visually but not physically checking an unloaded firearm.  Visually and physically checking a firearm is a redundant safety habit and so is physically and mechanically checking the functional reliability of your self-defense tool.

There then are a few of the reasons I prefer to carry the factory shrouded hammer Bodyguards or the after market Waller and Son shrouded Colts when the option is available. There is one additional feature I insist on the hammers on my self-defense snubs and I will be looking at that tomorrow.