Taurus made the shotgun pistol famous in 2006 when it introduced the Judge, a revolver chambered in .45 Long Colt and .410-bore. The .410 handgun enjoyed a brief surge in popularity and other gun manufactures quickly followed suit, introducing their own “hand cannons.” But the platform wasn’t a new concept. Pistols were designed with shotgun barrels long before Taurus debuted the Judge. Guns such as the Civil War-era Lemat, Ithaca’s Auto & Burglar, and the Leinad Cobray Derringer are just a few of the many wheelguns and break-actions that were designed to fire shotshells (the Lemat used a .63-caliber grapeshot, not a conventional shotshell from a lower barrel).
When the Judge was released, it was billed as a personal defense firearm. And .410 handguns could be useful in some self-defense situations (carrying in a car for example). But, they are typically not small-framed guns—the Judge is nearly 10 inches long—so that makes them more cumbersome to conceal carry than a sub-compact semi-auto pistol. Also, .410 buckshot loads don’t always pattern well at longer distances from a pistol with a rifled barrel.
A revolver that shoots .410 shotshells can be an effective home-defense tool, and there are shotshells that have been specifically designed for this purpose, like Hornady’s Critical Defense and Winchester’s PDX1 Defender. But there are certainly better platforms; for instance, a tactical 20- or -12-gauge pump, like a Remington 870 or Mossberg 500. And there are a myriad of semi-auto pistols that make more sense—and are far more effective—than a .410 revolver.
In reality, the best purpose these revolvers serve is for quickly dispatching pests. Have a rattler on the front porch? Grab the .410 pistol loaded with bird shot. Same goes for the raccoons in your trash can, or packs of squirrels nibbling away at the Adirondack chairs you spent the last three winters making (of course, always make sure to follow local ordinances and game laws when taking out backyard pests).
Also, .410 pistols are just plain fun to shoot. I’ve tried to crack clay targets with one and spent afternoons shooting old Pabst cans off sawhorses with another. Plus, most of them are relatively affordable, which makes them an ideal garden gun or just a fun firearm to shoot while the months between hunting seasons tick by. And though .410 pistols aren’t as popular as they were a decade ago, there are still some innovative firearms being made, particularly if you like the flexibility of shooting multiple calibers from the action of a single gun.
Taurus currently offers 14 different Judge models. The standard Judge is available in matte black or stainless steel with a 3- or 6½-inch barrel and capable of shooting .45 Colt or .410-bore loads. There is also a Magnum Judge that has the same exterior finish and barrel lengths, but with a slightly different rubber pistol grip than the standard variant. However, both models are capable of shooting five 3-inch .410 loads. The guns weigh between 29 and 32 ounces and can function as a double- or single-action revolver. There is also the Judge Public Defender that sports a shorter 2- or 2½-inch barrel. The Raging Judge 513 is chambered in .45 Colt and .410 but is also capable of firing .454 Casull. Interestingly, Taurus debuted a 28-gauge prototype of the Judge in 2011, but the revolver never went into production because it could not meet the legal 18-inch barrel requirement for a shotgun and the bore diameter was greater than .50 inches, too large for a handgun in the U.S. The Judge comes with a bonus safety feature: A security key that allows you to disable the pistol so that it cannot fire.
Smith & Wesson Governor
Smith & Wesson Governor
A few years after Taurus launched the Judge, Smith & Wesson debuted the Governor, which is a more compact revolver (8½ inches with a 2¾-inch barrel) that can shoot .410, .45 ACP, or .45 Colt. The biggest difference is the Governor can only shoot 2½-inch .410 loads as opposed to the 3-inch capability of the Judge. But the Governor has a six-round magazine, so you get one more .410 shell than with the Taurus. There are two Governor models distinguished by their exterior finish. One is an all-stainless-steel variant, and the second has a stainless PVD application to the cylinder and the frame is made of scandium alloy, which includes a mixture of aluminum in the metal. Both guns weigh just under 30 ounces, have fixed rear sights, and a dove-tailed front sight.
Thompson/Center G2 Contender
The G2 Contender platform is extremely versatile because it allows you to shoot multiple calibers—one of those being a .410—from the same gun simply by swapping barrels. You can shoot a total of 11 different rimfire and centerfire loads with the G2 Contender pistol (there is a rifle as well), from .17 HMR up to .45/70. The barrels are fairly simple to interchange as well, just remove the fore-end and tap out the hinge pin. To operate the G2, you simply break it open like an over/under or side-by-side by pulling on the trigger guard spur (located at the bottom of the trigger guard), insert the load, close the action, cock the hammer, and pull the trigger. The barrels are drilled and tapped for an optic, and you can also affix a bipod to the fore-end for more stability and better accuracy.
Magnum Research Big Frame Revolver
The Magnum Research BFR sports a rare steel bead at the end of your choice of 7½- or 10-inch barrel options. The bead is unobtrusive for any shooter so that you shoot the BFR more like a shotgun than a pistol as most smoothbore enthusiasts don’t aim at a moving target with the front sight, but rather find the leading edge and pull the trigger. A single-action five-shot wheelgun, the BFR is chambered for .410/.45 Colt and is also available in 13 centerfire options. It’s a long, heavy revolver that measures 17½ inches and weighs over 5 pounds, which will help soak up recoil. The BFR shoots 3-inch .410 shotshells and is the only pistol of the bunch that has a screw-in choke system (a modified choke and wrench ships with the gun). All the centerfire BFRs are drilled and tapped for an optic, but the .410/.45 Colt is not.
Bond Arms Snake Slayer
The Snake Slayer is the only gun on this list small enough to conceal-carry, and with offerings in .357 Magnum/.38 Special, and .45 ACP, that makes it a real possibility. Of course, the double-barrel pistol is available in .410/.45 Colt, and like the G2 Contender, quick barrel swaps will allow you to shoot a variety of calibers (.22 LR and .22 WMR included) from it. The barrels, which are just 3½ inches long, are held in place by a screw, and all you need is an Allen wrench to remove it and make the switch. A fixed blade front and rear sight will help with quick target acquisition, plus this gun only weighs 1 pound, 6 ounces, so it will easily fit in a pant pocket.