These niche .410 wheelguns have been popular for a decade, but they have plenty of haters.
A little more than 10 years ago, two gun companies made a lot of noise with a new kind of revolver. The Taurus Judge and the Smith & Wesson Governor debuted around the same time, creating waves across the self-defense market. Both guns are double-action revolvers that can fire both .45 Long Colt centerfire ammunition, as well as 2.5-inch .410 shotshells.
The Governor can also fire .45 ACP rounds with the use of a moon clip and has a six-round cylinder, whereas the Judge revolver cannot and originally came with a five-round cylinder.
Why would anyone want a gun like this? In theory, this handheld, six-shot, revolving shotgun makes sense. While the .410 has long been thought of as a small game and pest gun, self-defense .410 shells are quite formidable at in-the-room ranges for personal defense. Most would consider either gun, even their short-barreled versions, too bulky for concealed carry, so these would be mostly home-defense guns.
In a more rural setting, an easy-to-carry .410 is a good sidearm to have when traveling on foot or on horse through snake country. They also make decent pest guns, although their range is limited.
The ATF and the National Firearms Act (NFA) have specific rules about how big a shotgun has to be, and neither Judge nor the Governor meets those specifications. Yet, they do not require a tax stamp to own.
That's because of the barrels on both guns, specifically the bores. They are partially rifled, which means, by law, the guns are primarily .45 Long Colt revolvers that also happen to be able to fire .410 shotgun shells. So, while they can be purchased like a normal handgun, there is a trade-off.
When shot of any size, from the smallest birdshot to the largest buckshot, is fired down a rifled barrel, it will be swirling when it comes out of the muzzle. That means the pattern will become strung out quickly.
If your target is 5 or 6 feet away, it won't make too much of a difference, but any farther and you're really just hoping.
On the other hand, because the barrel is only partially rifled, it's not so great at being a .45 Long Colt gun either, especially the 3-inch barrel and 2.5-inch barrel versions.
Plus, recoil is a concern. Both the .410 and the .45 Long Colt are considerable cartridges in a handgun, and the shorter-barrel Judges are not very heavy. It takes some getting used to before you can fire these guns comfortably and accurately, even at effective ranges.
None of that has made the Taurus Judge any less popular. There are more than a dozen models in the Judge line currently with a variety of finishes (including stainless steel) and barrel lengths.
The Taurus Public Defender is sized more for concealed carry, while the Taurus Raging Judge is an even bigger, beefier version of the revolver with a six-round cylinder that can run the formidable .454 Casull round in addition to the ammo combo of .45 Colt and .410 shotshell.
The four Taurus Judge Magnum revolvers have 3-inch chambers to handle the larger, more popular .410 hunting and defensive loads.
For something in an even more compact package, Bond Arms makes several models of its double-barrel derringers chambered for .410 shotshells and .45 Colt ammo. However, make sure you shoot one of these small guns in large calibers. You might never want to relive the experience.
Over at Smith & Wesson, the Governor is still in the catalog, but the line was never expanded beyond the original handgun and pricing has remained pretty much the same.