The compact snub nosed revolver market has been dominated by Smith & Wesson ever since they introduced the J-frame .38 Chiefs Special in 1950. Sure, Colt, Ruger and the others have had their snubbies, but they have come and gone while the J-frame revolvers have been in continuous production, in one form or another, for more than sixty years.
One thing that many concealed carry holders want in a gun — especially a backup or pocket pistol — is something that doesn’t catch on clothing. Smith & Wesson came up with a solution to this back in 1955 known as the Bodyguard Airweight in .38 Special. What was different, besides the alloy frame, was that this built up frame, steel barrel pistol formed a hump that covered the hammer. A shooter can still use the hammer for single action, but also has a firearm that can be drawn from concealment without worrying about catching on clothing or cocking the weapon.
In 1959 Smith & Wesson made the Bodyguard on an all steel frame that later became known as the Model 49. Fast forward a few decades to 1985 when Smith & Wesson introduced the stainless steel version of the Model 49 known as the Model 649.
Like the other J-frame .38 Specials the 649 is a five shot revolver. It sports a two inch barrel and fixed sights. The standard Model 649’s were made until 1996, when S&W debuted a version in .357 Magnum. Weighing just twenty ounces it has a slightly larger frame with options for two and one eighth inch barrels. In 1997 Smith & Wesson also introduced a .38 Special + P version that used the new frame but had a shorter 1.875 inch barrel. It was a short lived affair however and only saw production for two years, after which the .38 caliber 649 was canned altogether.
I picked up one of these seldom seen .38 Special +P Model 649’s several of years ago, identified by their designation, 649-4. I had first laid eyes on a S&W Bodyguard revolver back when I was working an overnight job and one of the nightly delivery drivers packed a Model 49. I have owned several Model 36 revolvers, a couple of Colts and I even carried a two inch barrel Model 10 for some time, but the Model 649 makes them all look like they are going in slow motion.