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?
I 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.