I first became aware of the .410/.45 handgun’s appeal with a Thompson/Center Contender during a high-desert quail/rabbit hunt sometime in the early 1980s. Since then, the single-shot sporting proposition of such a versatile arrangement has now expanded into the arena of self-defense revolvers. First the Taurus Judge, now the Smith & Wesson Governor—a 2¾-inch-barreled matte-black double action featuring a scandium frame and a stainless steel cylinder. It’s a pretty imposing handgun, sort of a 21st century take on the old British “Bulldog” Webleys. The unloaded weight is 29.6 ounces. There are smaller and lighter carry guns out there, but no polymer compact auto or small-frame snubbie combines the power and versatility of the Governor.
S&W has expanded the shotshell/metallic appeal of the stubby, long-cylindered template considerably. First off, the Governor handles .45 ACP with moon clips as well. Second, it’s a six-shooter, as opposed to its five-shot predecessor, with which Taurus has been so successful. Smith supplies each Governor with two full six-round moon clips along with two-round sectional clip segments that allow for a mix-and-match assortment of loads in a single cylinderful.
Unlike the Judge, however, the Governor, won’t handle three-inch .410s—2½ inch is what you’ve got, although the Governor’s more extensive .45-caliber menu makes for powerful compensation.
One caveat: If you’re going to employ .410s in the menu, stick with the Federal or Winchester loads specifically tailored for revolvers. Standard .410 buck or slug loads may be annoyingly tough to extract and could even tie up the gun, as we found when we attempted to use 2½-inch .410 Federal Power-Shok slug loads (those quarter-ounce projectiles, however, did average an impressive 1,169 fps over the chronograph). The slick-surfaced PDX1 Winchester disk/pellet hulls and Federal Premium Personal Defense No. 4s presented no problems in either cylinder rotation or extraction.
What was extremely interesting was the discovery that the almost-moribund .45 GAP—that shortened .45 ACP that premiered back in 2003—worked very well in the Governor, both at a 25-yard target and over the chronograph, where it logged significantly higher numbers than the other 185-grain .45 ACP load tested. Whether this is due to the shorter GAP case allowing for more tube to burn powder in or simply because of the powder used is an interesting question.
The Governor proved exceptionally pleasant to shoot. The double-action trigger on our test gun was a reasonably smooth, nonstacking 13 pounds. The single-action pull broke at four pounds. Recoil, even with the stouter .45 Colt and .410 loads, was quite manageable. As of now, there are two Governor variants. One—the gun we used—features semi-soft synthetic grips, while the other (more expensive) model features Crimson Trace Lasergrips, which only increases its utility as a nightstand gun.
The Winchester PDX1 disk loads patterned very well on a 12-inch Shoot-N-C bullseye target at 15 feet, which is pretty much what they were designed for. All the disks and about half the No. 4s were in the black. And the Federal Premium No. 4s put about 50 pellets in the same area.
However, as interesting as the .410 possibilities are, I think the Governor’s strongest suite is its versatility in the .45-caliber range. Hell, it handled premium defensive loads in .45 Colt, .45 ACP and .45 GAP and produced more than acceptable 25-yard results with all three. If you wanted, you could even use Black Hills’ .45 Schofield load in the gun. Obviously, at 25 yards there were point-of-impact differences with the variety of stuff we were using, but at the self-defense distances the Governor is so obviously tailored for, they’d be inconsequential—more so if you opted for a mix-and-match cylinder employing shotshells in conjunction with the .45s.
The fixed, square notch sights featuring a tritium bead on the front blade were easy to acquire and very effective, but the wide range of ammo possibilities almost made me wish for a set of low-profile adjustable sights. But that’s a pretty small quibble about this seriously versatile defensive revolver.