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Personal Defense

Judging The Judge

by Dan Johnson   |  July 7th, 2007 35

Is the Taurus Judge .410 revolver a viable self-defense weapon or a useless novelty?

When I was a kid, my dad and I would sometimes rabbit hunt with an old man who used a .410 handgun to good effect on bouncing bunnies. It was a break-action single-shot modified from an old Stevens shotgun and I do not believe the man knew it was a Title II weapon and highly illegal if unregistered. We didn’t know either at the time.

I was fascinated that he could kill rabbits so handily with this contraption and perhaps he sparked a flame in me that contributed to my later fascination with handgun hunting in general. Looking back now, I realize his success with the sawed-off scattergun was likely due more to his skill as a hunter than the efficiency of his choice of arms. He had grown up country poor and knew all the tricks to bagging game. He knew how to get close and make his shots count. As evidence of his skill, on more than one occasion I saw him bag rabbits by spotting them in their bed and killing them with a rock.

Still, a smoothbore .410 handgun with proper choke would make an effective small game gun out to 25-yards or so were it not for our silly gun laws that prevent us from owning such useful firearms. As it is, we are limited to rifled barrels if we wish to shoot .410 shells in a handgun. Rifling is essential when firing single projectiles but can sure wreck a shot pattern. The rifling causes shot to scatter quickly and even patterns are tough to come by.

In spite of the inherent problems and practical limitations of these type firearms, Taurus has been selling a lot of their .410/.45 Colt handguns dubbed the Judge. The Judge was originally marketed under the less catchy title the Model 44, but according to Taurus President, Bob Morrison, a number of judges expressed interest in carrying .410 loads into the courtroom and the name was changed.

I suspect the new name also fit in with plans to market the gun. The “Judge” certainly implies the handgun is for serious social encounters and ads and marketing info tout it as such. But is a .410 handgun truly suitable for defending one’s life or is this just a glorified snake gun?

Taurus Judge TrackerI had a brief opportunity recently to pattern a shot load in a sample of the Judge. It was a stainless 6-1/2-inch model. Taurus has their act together when it comes to the finish on their stainless revolvers and though I would not say it is a pretty handgun, due to that long cylinder, the stainless Judge does look all-business and, externally at least, is nicely finished and the black rubber grips and useful fiber-optic front sight sets it off nicely.

The load was Winchester 2-1/2″ number 4’s. That was the load Taurus reps brought to a writer’s gathering to demonstrate the gun so I assume it was chosen because it patterned well and delivered the most impressive performance. I was surprised how even the patterns were and the Judge is certainly fun to shoot. Recoil is mild with both shotshells and moderate .45 Colt loads and both went where the fixed sights said they should. Taurus claims they experimented quite a bit with the rifling so it would perform well with both shot loads and .45 Colt loads and it seems they did about as well as could be expected.

Due to the rifled barrel and, of course, lack of choke, pellets scatter quickly on leaving the bore.  I would not attempt a shot on small game past 15 feet with this load and I would not wait in line for the opportunity to face off against a dangerous adversary at any range. Not that a shot to the face at five feet would not be messy, but at ten feet it gets very iffy and those number 4’s are simply not going to deliver much penetration. That is why police shotguns are loaded with buckshot.

But if you think I am giving the Judge a thumbs down as a self-defense arm hear me out. The verdict is not in yet. I think this is a uniquely useful handgun for some people and some situations. Let’s not forget it shoots .45 Colt ammo, a proven manstopper, and there are self-defense situations where penetration of walls and/or injury to innocents behind the bad guy are very real concerns. The Judge gives you options no other self-defense handgun does.

There is a huge market among city dwellers who are not firearms enthusiasts, yet who want a self-defense handgun for the apartment or to keep in the car. The Judge should fare well in this market as it is reasonably priced, simple and safe to use, and provides the quick option of shot loads or potent projectiles. A load of number 4s may not be the best manstopper available but it would make a good first round choice in tight quarters and would minimize the chances of perforating the neighbors. The remaining cylinders could be charged with .45 Colt loads in case the situation goes downhill. It is not an ideal choice but often risks have to be weighed and compromises made for the safety of all.

One other factor in the Judge’s favor when in comes to self-defense is that it’s an intimidating handgun when viewed from the business end. In the majority of self-defense situations the mere presence of a handgun is sufficient deterrence and any thug staring down that .45 bore will likely think he has run into Dirty Harry.

  • AJ

    I want a Judge but, I heard they are illegal in california and considering I cant find one in any gun store it must be true.

    • Mashahsin

      thats a shame here in wyoming I saw one at over half the tables at a gun show recently and have to agree that for self defence the only thing that would make it more intimidating would be a bayonet

      • Fivespeed302

        Mossberg 500 is far more intimidating than any pea shooter

        • James Adams

          Yea.. if you could carry around a mossberg 500 in your back pocket

  • Thomas Deal

    My buddy has a public defender which is the lighter and smaller version of the judge.I'm looking at the govenor a similar version made by smith and wesson as light as the public defender but has a six shot cylinder!

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  • Robert Fulton

    There are specific .410 personal defense loads made for the Judge which seem more effective than the #4 shot. That would also be an option.

  • James

    I carry Winchester 3" Super X 000 Buck in my SS Judge. You can also get Critical Defense rounds in 45 Long Colt, or the Winchester PDX1 410 self defense rounds.

  • Dan Elsea

    I think a new review might be in order with the new Federal 4 pellet 000 Buck 410 round, the Winchester PDX1 410 and 45 Colt rounds. There have been some changes since 2007! I just got a Judge Public Defender for the house and car. The Winchester 45 Colt PDX1 is going to leave a mark.

  • john heels

    taurus judge the most ridiculous thing ever to come out in a handgun shooting a 410 shotgun shell? shotgun shells were never meant for handguns let alone a revolver why did they make sawed off shotguns illegal? any shotgun with a barrel less than 16 inches was illegal as long as i can remember when did it become legal? i must have missed something this is why the government must make laws and limits on things now people will beg for a 20 then 12 gauge revolver untill they finally make one and someone has even made a revolver in 600 nitro dispite the law on no handgun over 50 caliber ridiculous!

    • Patrick

      This is for a more safe way to stop a home invader "controlled penetration:. Your wife could be standing behind someone being shot and not injured but the victim would be stopped. The gun is very lightweight and can also shoot a much heavier load in a 2 1/2'' shell/hollow point for pure stopping power. Too pricey,kind of a novelty yet functional. The one I checked out was over $900 and was not chrome.

    • sandy flook

      It is a rifled barrel, moron, so therefore not a smoothbore shotgun.

    • sandy flook

      John Heels is one brick shy of a load.

    • gdod25

      John this would be a good weapon to carry in your purse.

  • Tony Powell

    Really, maybe not knowing the proper fundamentals of hand held weapon's of choise to the tactical need does not figure in to your thinking. John. Yes, I am qualified to to state the following. the 22 is suppose to be a low rate plinking device. The 22 is one of if not the best of a Pilot's best friend. A sniper's, and for assians around the world. When the Judge is used a intended and and with knowage it has it place. A revolver is still the most reliable weapon on the market. We just have to know how and what it is going to be used for. JMO.


    I must say that after reading this article . That I wll definately be adding a shotgun revolver to my personal arsenol

  • Ramses

    There are some points I have not seen anyone else make. Everyone says "weakened shotgun" or "unfocused 'bullet'" instead of looking at what the 410 DOES do. First, I do not argue that a 5.56 to the face or a 12g up your pipe would end the encounter. I am looking for the least thing (size/weight) that I can agree is deadly, then applying as much of that as possible. But I don't own a selective fire or expect to anytime soon so I have to settle for single trigger-pulls.

  • Ramses

    -Our military did tests that showed the #1 buckshot is the smallest unit of Deadly. Call this force hydroshock, ft-lbs of impact, or gelatin carnage.
    -This is a gun that will fit on a hip or on the lip of a car seat.
    -A highly trained shooter shredding a gang with hi-cap mags of .45Auto is wonderful. But for the rest of us, how well can you double-tap under stress? What if one hits less-than-lethal and you have to track back?
    -With a 410 shell, I only focus on 1 shot/target at a time. It sends 4 balls of 00 buckshot flying. If I miss a little, that is still 3 balls of fury, hitting with deadly force, all at once.
    -It is worse than unloading half a revolver. It's getting hit in 3 places at once. He is not going to hurt me, or anyone, from that moment on.
    -And I have 4 more rounds still. If you still want 100rds (beta!) of protection or are Boy Scouted for mass attacks, by all means strap an AR to the back of your seat with your sniper rifle in the trunk. But when out for a walk or having Bad News surprise you at your car door, this allows the less-trained defender to only need ONE good shot against the possibly experienced attacker. One shot of 00 buckshot will end the danger.

    • Mike Taylor

      You are absolutely right! I am a retired narcotics agent with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations. I like the AR for what is…a glorified ground hog gun. For self protection, I much prefer the hand gun. I have a 40 cal Springfield and a 44 judge wheel gun. I know how to shoot and double tap is no problem. What is with all the AR talk? If someone wants an AR, no problem, it's their right but for me, I like a good "get off me gun." One shot one kill.

  • Ramses

    The site would not tell me what the limit is,so apologies for the multiples.

    I'm open to response. Why stick to my own experiences when I can build on a few 100 people's?

    I do not own a Judge. I'm worse. I am waiting for my AR-15 upper in 410 to arrive. AND it will be the dreaded polymer upper/lower build.

    • IsleBeBach

      re: It’s the website. In June 2014, I tried,tried, tried to post and it would do a little loop sign-in and erase my comments. ( I realize the above post was 2 years ago, but there still seems to be some issues here).

  • Bob

    I hear all about self defence on people. I am looking for something for snakes. I live in an area that has all kinds of poison snakes. Rattlers, copperheads, cotton mouth and even coral. This is what I am looking for protection from. How does the Judge 410 work on these?

    • ray baxter

      it will jerk it's dick string loose.

    • JoJo

      The best defense for snakes, venomous or not, is just step away from them, they are not going to attack you.

      • reenietta

        Until the next time when you accidentally step on him.

    • IsleBeBach

      I bought my Judge for rattlesnakes. Period. I have rattlesnakes. In my fairly small chain link fenced backyard.I don’t go “out yonder looking for them. I love snakes, including rattlers because I hate rats and mice. Did lots of research prior. At “Snake!” distance, it is a wonder with #9 shot. I’f like to try it out with #12 & #14 shot, but they aren’t available on the shelves here.
      Note: If you are buying for snakes, the shorter the barrel the better.It cut’s down on shot spin. I have a 3″ barrel w/ 3″ cylinder.

      I still feel silly buying a very “short range” firearm, but it definitely does what I bought it for. And tons o’ fun practicing on small snake head sized targets. Pretty much “Point and Click”.

      My wife who generally says “It’s too big, it kicks, it’s heavy, etc.” on anything larger than a .22 loves it. Too much. Way too much.

  • Frank

    Not sure what that comment means but i did see some video clips of the Judge chambered in 2-1/2" with both 4 and 6 shot and I can tell you that if you are in range to say "SNAKE!", you can most definitely keep it from coming at you. Just ordered a 6-1/2" Judge with the 2-1/2" Chamber myself for dual duty, home defense and dreaded Water Moccasins.

  • Rod

    Judge is great but I would stay away from the poly mine cracked after 150 rds

  • johnnyboy

    i bought a 3" judge–having never owned a gun about 8 months ago–based on a friends' suggestion for home defense. since then–i've taken it shooting with pdx-1 home defense shot shell disks and 45 colt ammo. i have also purchase a number of 22lr rifles/hand guns. just got my CCH this past weekend.
    At any rate–for home defense–the judge, loaded with 410 pdx-1 or #3 buckshot–along with several 45 lr is a perfect choice for home defense. why? it's dark, you can't see, you're on the phone with 911==possibly holed up in your bedroom, you're scared, half asleep, your laser light on the gun is out of batteries, your shotgun is difficult to hold while you're on the phone with 911–reporting an attempted robbery, break-in, who you are, where you are, what you're wearing and what firearm you're using. Unless you have children to protect–do you think 911 is going to say, yes sir–procede downstairs and confront your perps.

  • johnnyboy

    My point earlier is–the judge sits by my bed along with a 357. in a life/death situation–accuracy drops to like 30%–so all those great shots we made at the rifle range doesn't matter. that's where the judge shines. use good home defense ammo, warn the perps, point the gun. you don't have to worry about a laser light, where the moving target is–etc. that's why this gun makes sense. portable, powerful, loud. this is why many suggest using a 12-gage shotgun for home defense. a 410 is just as devasting in close confines and with the right load.

  • Joshua

    The Judge chambered with a Federal Premium 000 buck shot round, has a surprisingly tight pattern. I watched a video on Youtube recently of a guy shooting many different rounds through his 3" barrel Judge. Yes bird shot patterns were wide, and 00 buck shot also had a wide pattern. When he fired the 000 buck shot is had a very tight grouping. From 7-8 yards they looked liked one big hole in the target. He then shot the Winchester PDX1 self defense rounds and got the same results with the three disks. The disks had a tight pattern and the 12 BBs spread out like the bird shot he had been firing before. Both of those shotguns rounds are pretty accurate and would be great for self defense. He also shot a gong target at about 100 yards with 45 colt target loads. I my self bought some 000 buck shot for my 6 1/2" barrel judge and got the same results he did. In all, it is a great self defense gun.

  • sandy flook

    I have 2 of these in stainless and one with a tac-rail on it.

  • Laser

    If you are interested in a ammunition review of the Judge, check out Shootingthebull410 on YouTube. This guy does a fantastic job of testing different .410 loads, and testing the .45 colt.

  • IsleBeBach

    This article is now almost 7 years old, but still relevant. I own a Judge 3″barrel, 3″ cylinder. The Judge is a specialty weapon, for a special niche. Is it the perfect all situations weapon? Not by far. None are. If you want perfect self-defense, learn to shoot, shoot often, and hire 12 or so Presidential level security personnel for around the clock care and live in a bunker.

    But the Judge will give you a better chance in reality land. Will *I* carry it as my primary weapon? No. In fact, it would be my 3rd or fourth weapon packed if I managed to plan right for the situation, not including avoiding the situation altogether.

    Would I prefer to have it instead of a .22, pepper spray, or no weapon at all? Darned straight! The Judge does what it does. A very short range weapon. Which can be a good thing.

    I *can* legally carry anything I can tote. And I’m a firm believer in big, fast magnum bullets and lots of them. But there are too many legal considerations if I pop a perp, and hit 3 people behind him. I’m a lifetime ( over 40 years) shooter, with marksmanship ribbons. I’ve out-shot 3+ tour combat troops at the range And I still miss sometimes miss the 7 ring on calm, windless days, taking my shots slowly from a supported resting position. It happens.

    The Judge is fantastic at short ranges. Less than 7-15 feet is where I’ve been plinking. Are .410 shells great for anything? Not really. Okay for dove or rabbit hunting if you can shoot and not starving. But the Judge isn’t a hunting gun. It’s a Self-Defense weapon, or in my case, it is the perfect snake gun. I prefer a full-sized 12 gauge, but it’s not realistic to do yard work with a 3+ foot long gun.

    And even though I’ve only had my Judge for a week, I’ve put it through the paces.
    IMO – Personal Defense: Slugs? Don’t bother, Use .45 Colt rounds. They work, fly, group, and penetrate better. 000 buckshot and the PDX1 rounds are tolerable, especially if you want a couple for quick first shots, then the .45 Colt rounds.

    #9 shot for snakes at snake distance. At 6 or so feet it is awesome. Still trying to track down some #12 and #14, which while light, might be better.

    Do not shoot bird shot straight out at anything. Even with a thin wood backer, some of that shot WILL come right back at you. Even if you are shooting paper, there is usually a hard frame somewhere in that equation. It’s documented and personally verified. Eye and Ear Protection people!!!!

    So if you want a close-in self-defense gun, this will work. If you want to shoot 25+ yards, that’s rarely considered “Self-Defense” in court and you should get a real shotgun or rifle and a great attorney.


    Sounds like true,the 410 may not be a man stopper in 2 1/2 inch.However I have shot some self defense (disc loads) that seemed plenty powerful in the 3 inch shell. STRONGLY believe they would “end the fight right there”. Anyway who cares,shoot varmints with shotshells and don’t forget you have 255 grain Long Colts,which even if argueing about proper expansion.Still your talking about 255 grains of weight and a hole in you the size of someone’s thumb! I won’t hesitate to carry one or feel undergunned.

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