The .410-gauge shotshell was developed just after the turn of the last century. The small shotgun round evolved from a military cartridge originally developed to fire birdshot from the .45-70 Government model rifles carried by the U.S. Cavalry. Army foragers were then able to hunt birds and small game in the field without need of a shotgun. Once it became an established cartridge, the .410 found its place among small-game hunters. And since the bore diameter for a .45 cartridge (be it a .45 Colt, .45-70 or .45 ACP) and a .410 are essentially the same, combining both in one gun was the next logical step.
Testing Taurus .410s
The Taurus Judge 3-inch magnum, which can also accurately dispense hard-hitting, .45 Colt, Hornady Critical Defense 185-grain FTX cartridges, is one of the most formidable home-defense handguns currently in production. A pistol that can fire five rounds of .45 Colt or .410 buckshot and maintain a tight pattern at up to 7 yards makes one heck of a deterrent to anyone on the other end.
The advantages to a .410 shotshell pistol are twofold. First is the capability to hit your target with multiple rounds on the first shot, possibly ending the confrontation in only seconds. The other is the slightly wider margin for accuracy compared with firing a single bullet.
The Judge models offered for consideration here are the compact stainless steel Public Defender chambered for 2½-inch shotshells, the 3-inch magnum model (equipped with Crimson Trace Lasergrips) and the two-tone Polymer Public Defender chambered for 2½-inch shells. The advantages to a 2½-inch model over the magnum are the smaller overall size of the gun (the Public Defender is built on a more compact frame than the 3-inch magnum), and the lighter, more manageable recoil. Either gun has a five-round capacity. The Public Defender measure 7.5 inches long, compared to the 3-inch magnum Judge, which is 9.5 inches long. The Public Defender is 8.6 ounces lighter at 28.2 ounces, compared to the 3-inch magnum’s 36.8-ounce heft.
The newer Public Defender Polymer has an altogether different frame configuration than its predecessor’s, and every part of the gun’s exterior, except for the 2.5-inch cylinder, is unique to this model. The Polymer frame contains a steel substructure that goes all the way around, over the top of the cylinder and down the back. The recoil shield is metal, and the crane is seated into the steel subframe that projects forward, giving the Polymer its squared-off edges. When you look at the gun from the left side, you can see where the steel frame rests on top of the polymer triggerguard. The recoil shield is shrouded in polymer, and the cylinder thumb release is recessed into a polymer panel. The topstrap and barrel shroud complete the exterior.
The faux vent rib on top of the barrel shroud was done for aesthetics rather than to reduce felt recoil—always the first question when polymer is being used. Surprisingly, both the steel and Polymer models achieve the same recoil reduction through Taurus’ energy-absorbing Ribber grips and reinforced backstrap. The long 2.5-inch cylinder (the heaviest part of the gun) also helps manage recoil, especially with .45 Colt Hornady Critical Defense FTX. Recoil (muzzle rise) with Federal Premium Personal Defense 000 buckshot was no more severe than with the standard Public Defender, so there is really no tradeoff in going Polymer. The total weight savings with the polymer exterior is 4 ounces. That is enough to almost offset the added weight of five .45 Colt cartridges or .410 shotshells, bringing the loaded weight of the Polymer PD to within an ounce of an empty all-steel Public Defender. More than weight savings, the new frame configuration and triggerguard design make the gun easier to handle. A new casehardened hammer and small hammer spur make the Polymer easier to cock for a single-action shot, whereas the bobbed hammer on the steel PD is much harder to use.
At a distance of 7 yards, a Public Defender loaded with five Winchester Supreme Elite PDX1 shotshells can deliver devastating results. In a field test of this cartridge, five shells—a total of 15 Defense Disc projectiles and 60 plated BB shot—placed all projectiles within the 9- and 10-rings, center-mass of a standard Speedwell B-27 full-size silhouette target, an area you can cover with the palm of your hand. The effectiveness of the multiple hits from a single PDX1, Federal Premium or Remington 2½-inch 000 buckshot shell can be immobilizing. The cumulative effect of being hit with four 000 pellets or three projectiles at once is far more dynamic than even a double-tap from a .38 revolver. The multiple impacts, the quick second follow-up shot, are what make a double-tap effective. When you double that again, it is far more debilitating.
The results with Federal Premium 000 and Remington 2½-inch 00 buckshot, which have four rather than the usual three pellets found in most .410-gauge buckshot, were even more dramatic. These new 00 and 000 loads equate to a 25 percent increase in first-shot effectiveness, particularly when fired from the Pubic Defender’s 2-inch, rifled barrel. Shots tend to group in pairs, usually within 1 inch of each other. The greatest concentration of 000 buckshot from five consecutive rounds (20 pellets) struck within the X-ring at center-mass, with all but two of the remaining pellets striking inside the 9-ring.
Remington’s 2½-inch 00 buckshot shells pack four double-aught pellets and a heck of a kick when you pull the trigger on a handgun like the Public Defender Polymer with its scant 2-inch barrel. Unlike 000 buckshot shells, which tend to hit in pairs or within very close proximity, 00 buckshot spreads out wider, even at 21 feet. Firing five rounds in succession (a total of 20 heavy-hitting, double-aught, lead pellets), the average spread measured from 4 to 7 inches for a single shell (four pellets). Out of five rounds the coverage on a full-size Speedwell B-27 silhouette target was across the entire center-mass, with 16 of 20 total pellets striking in the 8-, 9,- 10- and X-rings. Any one of them would be disabling; most within the 9 and 10, likely fatal. The single greatest drawback to the 00 over the 000 is the wider shot spread and loss of accuracy in snub-nose revolvers like the Public Defender. Recoil with 00 buckshot is also quite substantial.
The 3-inch magnum tests were conducted using Winchester 000 buckshot. All test shots with the 3-inch rounds were fired using a two-handed hold and Weaver stance. The Taurus models have extremely heavy trigger pulls at slightly less than 12 pounds, which is an advantage in preventing an accidental discharge and in forcing your grip to tighten up (the recoil is substantial with the magnum 000 buckshot), but once you get a feel for the trigger it is more than manageable. The 3-inch magnum and Polymer Public Defender can also be fired single-action by thumb-cocking the hammer, which reduces trigger pull to only 5 pounds 2 ounces.
The Winchester 000 buckshot in the 3-inch magnum delivered an impressive and tight pattern. Five rounds fired at one-second intervals placed all of the buckshot within the 8-, 9- and 10-rings of the target with the majority concentrated in the 9-ring at the 9 and 10 o’clock positions, and a total of 10 hits at center-mass. As for accuracy, when you can place a dozen buckshot in the center of your target, you have delivered a disabling strike by any standard.
Between the 3-inch magnum and Public Defender line, we found the smaller, lighter, 2½-inch, .410-gauge revolvers to be exceptional for close-quarter defensive shooting. There is, however, yet another handgun on the market that ups the ante to a choice of not two but three different cartridge options.
Running S&W’s Governor
The relatively new S&W Governor revolver can be loaded with not only any combination of .410-gauge buckshot and .45 Colt, but also hard-hitting .45 ACP ball or JHP ammunition in full-moon (6-round) or quarter-moon (2-round) clips.
At the core of this revolver is S&W’s patented, heat-treated, scandium frame known for superior strength and reduced weight. This gun is ideally suited for both close-range defensive work and ranges of up to 25 yards. The Governor carries six rounds (one more than the Judge) in a stainless PVD-coated cylinder. On top of the Governor’s compact, shrouded, 2.75-inch, stainless steel barrel, is a front tritium night sight for enhanced accuracy in low-light conditions. A standard, fixed rear sight typical of
S&W self-defense handguns is also present.
Built on the large N-Frame platform, this is not a small gun. It is 8.5 inches long, 1.75 inches wide and 5.5 inches high, but it is comparatively light at just 29.6 ounces empty. The Governor’s durable matte black finish reduces glare and it comes fitted with over-sized, energy-absorbing, rubber grips made for S&W by Hogue.
The Governor handles about the same as other .410/.45 revolvers. What truly separates it from others is the option of firing .45 ACP rounds. Trigger pull on our test gun averaged a hefty 12.75 pounds in double-action, but was a very modest 4.56 pounds with the hammer thumb-cocked and discharged in single-action. While heavy, the trigger pull is smooth and exceedingly consistent from shot to shot, with absolutely no creep or overtravel. Overall, the action on the Governor is all you could ask from a revolver that is designed to fire three different types of ammunition.
Using .45 ACP, which proved to be the most accurate load for the Governor, the gun handles like an elongated S&W Model 325 Night Guard. Loaded with the longer-cased .45 Colt, the Governor gives up some accuracy even with the same-weight bullet. As for shooting buckshot and Winchester’s highly effective Supreme Elite PDX1, the S&W delivered devastatingly tight groupings, thus making this an ideal firearm for home protection.
Considering all the attributes of revolvers, their inherent simplicity of use combined with powerful .45-caliber defensive cartridges and 000 buckshot loads, these modern handguns may well be the best compromise ever between a pistol and a shotgun. Some will argue that a “compromise” is an agreement where neither side is completely satisfied. All things considered, I’d prefer to be on the side that has the trigger.