When the Taurus Judge hit the market, there was nothing like it. It was the ultimate revolver to pass judgement on any criminal. For a while, it seemed that no other manufacturer would be able to touch the Judge. That is until the introduction of the Smith & Wesson Governor. It seemed S&W was determined to build a bigger, better and nicer revolver. I had to find out which was really better, so I got my hands on both of these beasts for testing.
Comparing the Judge and the Governor is something like comparing two brands of the same type of cereal. Taurus reached the market first with its .45 Colt/.410 combination. It is a beast of a revolver with a great feel and good sights, and Taurus offers a variety of different configurations. For reference, I officially tested the “2-441031T” model.
Smith & Wesson had to play catchup and is kind of still playing catchup when it comes to available variants. Both companies offer good warranties, however, and both of these odd revolvers perform basically the same way. And, in my opinion, they make for the ultimate home-defense and trail guns. So, what makes one of them better and what makes them different?
Let’s start with the obvious. While the standard Judge is a five-shot model, the Governor holds six shots. The cylinder on the Governor is also a little larger, obviously, because it holds an extra round. The other big difference is that the Governor is also capable of firing .45 ACP rounds. While you do have to use moon clips to hold the .45 ACP ammo in place, you can mix .45 ACP, .45 Colt, and 2.5-inch .410 shotshells all in the same cylinder. S&W even includes two 6-round and three 2-round moon clips with every Governor.
Another big difference comes when you look at the sights. The Governor comes with a tritium night sight up front that works very well. I was able to acquire targets very quickly with ease in pretty much any lighting situation. On the other hand, the Judge has a fiber-optic front sight, which isn’t bad, but it doesn’t glow in the dark. Both utilize rear sight channels like many other revolvers. In the end, the sights on both revolvers worked very well. It’s really a tough call, but I give a slight edge to the Governor because the front sight glows in the dark. Again, I look at these guns as very good home defenders, and a glowing sight offers an advantage in a dark home-defense situation.
This brings us to the revolvers’ grips and ergonomics. The Judge has a very soft ribbed/rubber grip that Taurus calls “Ribber.” The soft ridges are comfortable on the hand and provide a very good grip on the firearm. However, the grips also like to collect dirt and debris, and it doesn’t provide the no-thought hand placement of its competitor. The Governor, on the other hand, provides a harder rubber grip with molded finger grooves and subtle texturing that feels perfect in my hands. This is a very nice, more traditional wheelgun grip that has a very ergonomic feel and provides me with that grab-and-shoot hand positioning I want in a fast-breaking defensive situation.
Entering The Ring
In testing, both the Judge and Governor performed flawlessly and really produced identical results downrange. I tested the Judge and Governor with a variety of .45 Colts and .410 rounds, and the recoil was very mild with the former ammo type. The .410 loads I ran produced only moderate recoil; they gave the guns a decent jolt, but it wasn’t very violent. It was also easy to load.45 Colt rounds and eject their spent cases with both guns. However, loading and ejecting .410 shells proved a bit challenging for the Governor, which preferred the smoothest shells. The Judge doesn’t seem to have as tight tolerances and thus didn’t have as many issues.
I did shoot some .45 ACP rounds through the Governor, but because I striving for an apples-to-apples comparison, I didn’t do much with them. But, it is worth noting that the Governor digested all three ammo types without any malfunctions. The moon clips are a little tough to use, but they worked well.
At the range, I didn’t expect great accuracy results because these are snub-nose revolvers. However, both the Judge and Governor exceeded my expectations. At 15 yards, I shot groups measuring about 2.5 inches wide with some Cowboy Action .45 Colt rounds. Then I switched to some full-power 230-grain .45 Colt JHPs. What a difference a load makes! The recoil as a bit heavier but still manageable. The Judge seemed to handle the added recoil a little bit better than the Governor. I think it may be due to the grip design. The Taurus’ soft grooves seemed to make the recoil a bit more manageable than the Governor’s harder rubber grip. The more powerful .45 Colt load produced much wider groups. However, I dropped a few shots at the same 15 yards anticipating that recoil. Once I figured it out, I created 3.5-inch groups with the Judge and 4-inch groups with the Governor.
I was particularly excited to turn these two beasts into mini shotguns with .410 shells. A birdshot-equipped Judge or Governor would work reasonably well for small pest control. However, the pellets are small in size and few in number, and they spread very rapidly. No, they wouldn’t reliably kill a snake at 10 yards. But this ammo makes for some very fun skeet shooting. A few of my friends joined me for just that, and it was fun and difficult. We burned through about 150 rounds and only hit five clays. Good thing birdshot .410 birdshot rounds are very inexpensive, because I plan on doing more of this skeet shooting in the near future.
Buckshot loads proved to be both effective and cost-efficient. The .36-caliber pellets in the Federal’s 000 Buckshot loads consistently hit within 4 inches of each other out of both guns. Pretty impressive considering the 2.75- and 3-inch barrels of the Governor and Judge, respectively. This is why I call these guns the ultimate home defenders. I tested the buckshot at 7 yards to achieve these impressive results. With the right ammo at relatively short range, the .410 revolver is a devastating defensive weapon.
I also tested Winchester’s PDX1 .410 ammo along with Hornady’s .410 Triple Defense rounds. Instead of traditional birdshot or buckshot, the 2.5-inch PDX1 shells contain three copper discs and 12 BBs that travel at around 750 fps. The three copper discs consistently produced fairly tight groups. Unfortunately, the 12 BBs went all over the place. One shot from 7 yards away caused massive devastation to my paper target, and I couldn’t account for 6 BBs for most of my shots.
Each Hornady .410 Triple Defense round consists of two round .35-caliber balls topped with one non-jacketed FTX slug. The .41-caliber FTX slug definitely engages the gun’s rifling and produced patterns similar to those created by the three discs in the PDX1 rounds without the hassle of the little BBs. Both rounds worked very well in the revolvers, but I would use the Hornady ammo over the Winchester in a defensive situation because the BBs are less predictable.
So, who is the victor, the Taurus Judge or the Smith & Wesson Governor? This is going to come down to brand loyalty for a lot of people. Price is another big consideration, too. The Judge I tested has an MSRP of $589, while the Governor is $869. That’s a big difference in price for two guns that perform almost identically. The Governor one-ups the Judge with one more round in the cylinder and one more choice for ammunition, though. Unfortunately, Smith & Wesson only offers one style — a simple, straightforward black model — while Taurus offers many different models, finishes and configurations.
Both the Judge and the Governor are incredible guns and, in my opinion, would make great choices for home defense. I personally like the feel of the Governor a little over the Judge, but I recommend that you take both for a test-drive when you get a chance.
- Caliber: .45 Colt/.410
- Barrel: 3 inches
- OA Length: 9.5 inches
- Weight: 29 ounces (empty)
- Grip: Ribber
- Sights: Fiber-optic front, fixed rear
- Action: DA/SA
- Finish: Black
- Capacity: 5
- MSRP: $589
Smith & Wesson Governor
- Caliber: .45 ACP/.45 Colt/.410
- Barrel: 2.75 inches
- OA Length: 8.5 inches
- Weight: 29.6 ounces (empty)
- Grip: Synthetic
- Sights: Tritium front, fixed rear
- Action: DA/SA
- Finish: Black
- Capacity: 6
- MSRP: $869
This article was originally published in Personal Defense World 2019. To order a copy, please visit outdoorgroupstore.com.