Handguns > Revolver

Mix Six: The S&W Governor

Smith & Wesson calls it the “Mix-Six-Shooter” because you can mix and match loads to suit your needs.


In 160 years of revolver making, Smith & Wesson has never offered a wheelgun quite like this one. It is a revolver to be sure, but it is unusual enough to deserve special consideration. The Governor is the latest in a long line of innovative products from the world’s best-known maker of revolving handguns. A variation of the century-old N-frame revolver, it is a six-shot chambered for your choice of 21/2-ich, .410-bore shotshells and .45 Colt and .45 ACP cartridges. Intended for close-range personal defense, the Governor sports a 2 3⁄4-inch barrel, traditional double-action/single-action lockwork and a businesslike, matte-black finish. There should be no doubt that S&W developed this product in order to compete with the very popular Taurus Judge. But, by comparison, S&W offers a six-shot cylinder versus the Taurus’ five, and has a cleverly designed chamber system that allows the firing of .45 ACP cartridges with moon clips from the same cylinder. S&W does not yet offer a 3-inch, .410-bore option. The Governor is also available from the factory with Crimson Trace Lasergrips at additional cost.

S&W builds the Governor on a special version of the classic N-frame with an elongated window that measures 2.755 inches, allowing it to accept the 2.550-inch-long cylinder. A typical N-frame has a 1.875-inch-frame window. The frame is made from S&W’s proprietary scandium-aluminum alloy because conventional steel would result in a gun so heavy as to be difficult to carry. The Governor’s cylinder is made of stainless steel and is heavy; however, using titanium, which would have resulted in a lighter gun, would also have been unacceptably expensive. As delivered, the Governor is a 30-ounce revolver measuring 8½ inches in length and 5½ inches in height. With the additional weight of six cartridges and/or shells, it is not the easiest-carrying gun out there, but on the other hand there’s nothing available that will deliver the same payload in that size/weight package. An available Desantis Speed Scabbard promises to make carrying the Governor reasonably pleasant.

It’s pretty much understood that .45 Colt ammunition will fit and fire in .410 handgun chambers, and it is also accepted that a revolver can be compatible with both .45 Colt and .45 ACP cartridges provided it is a switch-cylinder affair with a dedicated cylinder for .45 ACP, which typically headspaces on the case mouth. Revolvers designed for the .45 Colt cartridge, which headspaces on the case rim, will allow .45 ACP cartridges to slip into their chambers, but they drop in so deep that their primers are well away from the firing pin’s reach.

The Governor solves that problem with a tried-and-true solution: the use of moon clips that snap into the cartridges’ extraction grooves. The famous half-moon clip, developed by Joseph H. Wesson in 1917 for speedy extraction, essentially made rimless cartridges into rimmed ones. The Governor handles .45 ACP cartridges by headspacing off its included third-moon (two-shot) or full-moon (six-shot) clips that lie in a recess in the cylinder’s face, making it usable with the entire range of .45 ACP ammunition. The moon clips also offer the benefit of rapid loading. Note that the Governor does not accept the .45 Auto Rim, as its rim is too thick.

In my book, this great ammunition versatility is a major selling point for the Governor. The old .45 Colt can be handloaded to impressive performance levels, as long as it is fired in strong, modern revolvers. Among the .45 Colt options are several heavy-bullet lead semi-wadcutters. But everything in .45 ACP also works in the gun. From light, semi-wadcutter target loads, through dozens of jacketed hollow points to plain-old full metal jackets, the .45 ACP is available in many forms. More important to the economics of practicing, .45 ACP can be had at all price points. That is not true for the .45 Colt.

The Governor will also accept and fire all 2½-inch, .410 shotgun loads including those recently developed for personal protection. Generally those shells use plastic shot cups carrying various sizes of shot or, more commonly, several 00 (0.33 inches) or 000 (0.36 inches) buckshot. There is some amount of spin imparted by the rifled barrel, but short-range use does not affect patterns. Federal Cartridge offers loads using No. 4 shot and 000 buckshot. Remington is fond of both sizes of buckshot. Winchester has gone even further with a special duplex load using BBs and beveled-edge “Defense Discs” measuring 0.25 inches by 0.400 inches in diameter. The 2½-inch version has three discs and 12 BBs. Velocities vary greatly, but all of the loads I fired through the gun turned in respectable accuracy.

There has been a fair amount of Internet buzz as to whether or not this unique revolver has a worthwhile place in the scheme of things. It’s a fair question—and one that can be answered by a quick check of the gun’s performance. First, let’s look at the possible use of the Governor as a survival and/or emergency tool. For some tasks, such as small game foraging, the Governor could serve well—although a stocked .410 shotgun with a choked, smoothbore barrel would be better. The Governor might be an even better choice if space were at a premium, as in an aircraft survival kit. If you can accept its limited range—the barrel is only 2 3/4 inches—the gun has respectable performance in forced small game hunting situations. Remember that, in addition to the special personal-defense .410 loads already mentioned, the gun will shoot all 2½-inch shells of .410 size, so there is a good range of shot sizes available.

In some locales, there is a problem with venomous and/or rabid pests. The Governor’s ability to focus power in the form of a shot column of destructive pellets would seem to qualify it for such use. In the case of larger animals, such as feral dogs or even bears, we have to consider the Governor’s .45 Colt or .45 ACP options. Not the ideal gun, but not out of the question, either.

Most handgunners who buy a Governor will likely be selecting it for personal defense against human predators. For those shooters who recall the .410 shotguns of their youth as minimalist arms not suitable for serious defensive applications, consider the following. In its latest defensive loadings, the .410 shotshell features 000 buckshot at velocities around 1,200 fps. That is the same 000 pellet as used in the best of 12-gauge loads and at roughly the same speed. The difference is the number of pellets per shell—four for the .410 and eight for the 12 gauge. Logically, you could expect about half the effect from a .410 compared to a 12. However, it is usually one or two pellets in any shotshell that do the lethal work, so it wouldn’t matter if they come from a .410 or a 12. This is not to say that a .410 buckshot round from a revolver in any way equates to a 12-gauge buckshot round, because it absolutely does not. But the .410 load is still going to inflict significant wounds.

Nobody ever seems to question the .45 Colt as an effective fighting round. After all, when the U.S. Army was designing its first cartridge handgun and the ammunition for it, that was what it chose. The Governor will fire any commercially loaded .45 Colt load, which is a popular cartridge for handloaders, but I would advise using the milder recipes intended for most double-action/single-action revolvers, not the ones developed for Rugers, Freedom Arms and the single-shots. There are a few potent loads for the old frontier-era cartridge, ones that use modern bullets such as the Speer Gold Dot, Winchester Bonded PDX1 or Hornady FTX. With any kind of load, the .45 Colt has a long and impressive record as a fight-stopper.

The last cartridge used in the Governor is the .45 ACP, one of America’s favorites. Every major ammunition maker offers a range of loads for the ACP. There are even bargain-priced imports in bigger sporting goods stores. This situation tends to make the Governor more appealing as a shooter and make it a gun with which you can afford to regularly practice. Remember that shooting the .45 ACP requires the use of the included moon clips.

S&W’s marketing department has made much of the “Mix-Six-Shooter” aspect of using the Governor, so the two-shot moon clips allow “pattern loading” the cylinder—an interesting endeavor that forces you to speculate as to what threat is likely to come first. In that case it is essential to know which way the cylinder rotates—the Governor’s rotates counter-clockwise from the shooter’s point of view—so that a particular load can be staged to move into position behind the barrel upon firing the gun.

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35 Responses to Mix Six: The S&W Governor

Don wrote:
November 20, 2014

I purchased a silver model that resides hidden in a magazine rack near my front door. It is my 'go to' gun if there is a stranger at the door or a noise on the front porch. The first four rounds are 000 buck followed by two 45 Colt loads. At these short distances I feel very well protected. I really like the reliability of a revolver and the fact that it can be used at contact distance.

Wayne wrote:
August 04, 2013

It is a great handgun

vernon wrote:
March 23, 2013

it feels so much better in my hand than the taurus. ps. it does put a hurt on a snake. thats great for us guys that cant see that well anymore.

Bob wrote:
January 03, 2013

Can a 'choke' be installed on the Governor so the .410 shot does not spread so far and wide thereby unable to break a clay pigeon at 10 feet????

Badguybuster wrote:
November 16, 2012

I handled one today and it really is fantastic in the hand. I would like to see some extensive penetration tests done in all three calibers

Pfletch83 wrote:
September 14, 2012

I have bought a smith&wesson Governor,I like it very much,not only can it handle personal defense tasks in the usual handgun calibers,it is also a good secondary for my DFG Mk-1 and DFG Mk-2 shotguns (Mossberg 500E pump actions with 18.5 inch cylinder choke barrels)the federal 2-1/2 inch '000' buck is no laughing matter from either of the shotguns or the revolver in the article. This firearm is my "Always with me gun" because it can be carried into places where I would get odd looks if I had a shotgun slung on my shoulder,it can be carried in a holster and used in tight quarters as well as be operated with one hand and provide plenty of punch to any threat that may try to harm my family or me. To all those that like to bash the .410 shotgun as well as the .410 revolver,I would advise you try both out for yourselves,you might just learn something in the process.

Michael wrote:
September 11, 2012

I bought the Governor a couple of weeks ago. I've truly enjoyed shooting the 45 ACP for fun and target practice.I got this gun to carry while in the woods, nobody seems to have mentioned that, I like having bear loads to back up bear spray and can shoot a grouse if one peeks his head up. I have already harvested one grouse with no problem and I don't want to carry an additional shotgun with my deer rifle. The Governor is light and I don't need it to be concealed. So far I love this gun!!!

Jerry wrote:
September 02, 2012

I purchase my Governor Friday the 8/31/2012, took it to the range and WOW!!!! Boys & Girls 410-000 buck, 18" x 18" paper 25 yards, Hitting the paper all day, 45 Colt 2" to 3" grouping and that with the start of cataracts. Moon clips saw a video 12 rounds in 2 seconds that impressive. But lets get serious, anybody who has gone hunting with a shotgun know one to two bb kill shot. 410-PDX1 3 Defense Discs and 12 pellets. Have you ever ran though a house with an long gun before, Yep, broke it right in half. OH Honey I'll tell the guy who trying to kill us to move before I shoot toward the China cabinet. I won that arguement. 410-000 buck 4 BB, 20 rounds $12.95 at wal-mart 1200 FPS. Tango Down!. Moon clips back up JHP.

Georgia Bob wrote:
August 06, 2012

I have owned a Govenor for some time now but am very disappointed in the .410 grouping using 4, 6, and 8 chill. At 12 feet shooting at a clay pigeon there may be one or two of the shot hit the clay but the rest strike all around out to 24 inches or so.

Quip2Kill wrote:
June 26, 2012

It seems that most of you dissing the S&W Governor because it can shoot a 2 1/2" .410 shell CANNOT read for comprehension. Just because it is "capable" of shooting a .410 shell doesn't void this guns effectiveness. For home defence, or as something to put in the hand of your wife or daughter, this revolver still fires .45 colt or ACP rounds. Of course there are more badder handguns out there...but I still "pity the fool" who ends up facing the business end of this "little friend". And FYI, the Winchester PDX1 .410 2 1/2 shell can also ruin someone's day.

Kirk Kramer wrote:
May 06, 2012

I bought a S&W Govenor because of a few reasons. #1 I like the fit & finish of a S&W #2 I have a .45ACP Auto & like having two handguns that can shoot the same ammo #3 I like the idea that I can shoot three deferent rounds threw the same gun # 4. The 000 buckshot is Good for close up and personal ! #5 The .45 long Colt is great as a back up to the other two ! NO it's not for everyone! But I like it! It's fun to shoot, it's good for a house gun, and if it ever comes down to total anarchy ! It's gonna be easyer to find one of three ammo's to shoot than just a single ammo ! Also being a six shooter it gives 20[%] more stopping power over the competitor ! And a lot lighter ! Guns are like religion, everyone likes there own !

Jackster wrote:
March 30, 2012

I tried to go buy one at a gun store in Ventura County, CA and they told me it is a felony in CA. They classify it as. Sawed off shotgun and it is illegal.

matt wrote:
March 19, 2012

i love are judge and im 11 and i shoot it pore man hoow robs our house and we have a mosberg 500 pistol grip

Frank wrote:
March 14, 2012

I own a Governor. I purchased it for the novelty factor. I enjoy shooting it at the range. It is fun to own a revolver that shoots three different calibers. It is not my first choice for a gun to carry. I carry a pistol that is lighter, smaller, and has a higher capacity. I am happy I purchased the Governor and have a good time shooting it at the range.

Charlie wrote:
March 09, 2012

This "rage" for these type handguns have done is bring back the almost extinct 2 1/2" 410 shell, and give additional incentive for the increase in price of all 410 shells to unheard of figures. They are destined to be safe queens, for sure. Get real America, and get practical.

Gary wrote:
March 03, 2012

Mr. Bule is right-on when it comes to a person's imagination being bigger than his weapon. I blame the movie and TV industry for planting these stupid ideas in people's heads. It makes no difference if Dirty Harry blows someone away with his .44 Magnum or James Bond pops someone with his mouse gun or an assassin plinks someone with a .22. The result is always the same: instant death. A gun is a gun is a gun. So our media-trained expert in terminal ballistics heads down to the gun store. "I want a small and light gun that doesn't kick." "Let me show you our line of 'False Sense of Security' handguns, they come in a nice selection of anemic calibers." Since handgun bullets kill by punching holes in live things, just like knives, arrows, swords and spears, maybe if people thought in terms of the size and depth of the hole made it would help. "Would you rather be stabbed with a 4-inch ice pick, that would probably glance off your rib, or have a piece of half-inch rebar slammed all the way through your body, smashing through every bone it hits?" "Okay, that makes sense!" Always remember Rule #1: Bigger and deeper is better! There seems to be a trend in America: what's the least powerful gun I can shoot someone with and have at least a chance of putting him down? Of course, if you have to empty your gun in him to accomplish this miracle, plan on him sending a few rounds back at you. People are forgetting that the idea is to STOP the bad guy RIGHT NOW, not score a kill in overtime. The FBI has learned this lesson. The military has learned this lesson. When will Joe SixPack catch on?

Mr. Bule wrote:
March 02, 2012

There is not practical application for this gun. A jogger is not going to carry a 2lb pistol just to pepper a stray dog with bird shot. There are plenty of autoloaders that will carry twice as many rounds and weigh half as much, not to mention thinner and easier to use. The general public hears shotgun pistol and think 12 gauge performance in a handgun. I have shot cats at 20 feet with a .410 w/ 20" barrel and #6 shot, the cats rolled but kept on running and this thing has a 2 or 3 inch barrel? Any gun is better than nothing, but this one is a safe queen.

Common Cents wrote:
March 02, 2012

A nicely made toy for the shooter who already has everything. The Judge seemed cool at first, until people started to realize how pathetic it performed for personal protection against anything buy a household pest. Perhaps against snakes and ferrel dogs such a toy might be a good option, but I can load 6 CCI shot shells in my G23 and take care of the same little critters, and still have 8 more rounds of JHP to spare. Just a gimmick, but a nicely made Gimmick that many with either too much money or too little sense will be glad to buy. Now that the Rhino is out, it seems we have depleted the Revolver idea vault. The only logical next step is a 28 gauge revolver... is that already out?

RC wrote:
March 01, 2012


robdabob wrote:
March 01, 2012

True, this gun may be more expensive than the Judge, but I guarantee that it is built ten times better. The Judge is built too crudely straight from the factory, and many of the ones that I've shot perform like a cheaply made gun. So if I would be in the market for this type of thing, I'd definitely side with S&W.

Dennis Shatto wrote:
March 01, 2012

Looks like a great handgun. wou love to have one.

Lowell wrote:
February 29, 2012

I think you guys are missing the point here. There are many applications for a gun like this that make alot of sense. Try the fisherman coming across a water mocison or alligator. How about a jogger stumbling across a wild dog or worse. If your concerned about free-bore at the ranges this gun is going to see service it just doesn't factor in. And if you ran two .410 #4 loads followed buy two .45 colt 350gr solids followed by two .45ACP 185gr jhp loads by the time you get to the end of the list something is bound to get the job done.

meatball wrote:
February 29, 2012

This gun and the judge are only toys in my book. They are a blast to shoot at the range and to show off but that's all there good for.

Bishop wrote:
February 29, 2012

Just use the .410 slug. I doubt that even in a short barrel that you'd have any trouble getting penetration. If you look at the ballistics of a regular .410 shotgun firing a slug, it is almost the same as a 30/30 at short distances. That is, if this gun can handle a slug, but I see no reason that it can't unless the manufacturer says it's not recommended.

Sasl wrote:
February 29, 2012

Taurus came up with a gun like that 2 years ago and its called 'The Judge' and is also 35[%] cheaper

Linc wrote:
February 29, 2012

Wow that's really cool. NOT.

Dan wrote:
February 29, 2012

Good for Smith and Wesson when there is compition with Ruger and Taurus it better for all gun owners,

C Bull wrote:
February 29, 2012

While this weapon is similar to the Taurus Judge there are minor to major differences. Minor - the judge will handle a 3" .410 shell. Major - S&W is hands down a better made weapon than the Venezuelan made Judge.

David wrote:
February 29, 2012

I called S&W when the Governor was first announced and they told me that the Auto Rim would work. Curious.

Hanxter wrote:
February 29, 2012

Whoops I mean OOGIE =) The wadding should make the 2 and a half inch trip down the barrel to prevent shot scoring of the bore.

February 29, 2012

so awesome to see a pistol like this one right here but i would use slug shot 410 shells not birdshot shells... love the design and concept now how much?

oogie wrote:
February 27, 2012

Firing shot through a rifled barrel and sending a .45ACP down such a long cylinder seem to be just two of my misgivings regarding this concept. It's gimmicky.

K S. Hansen wrote:
February 27, 2012

I read this article in the magazine which includes the Shooting Results boxes. Text says that the BBs of the Win. PDX1 load spread evenly in the 12" circle but the box (which, apparently has data interchanged) shows 27 of 60 flew out. Commendably, all three disks hit the 4" ring. Am I correct?

Al Sanwick wrote:
February 24, 2012

Why the love affair with the Johnny come lately ? I can do whath this wheel gun is intended to do better with my judge magnum and have been for years. If I need a 45ACP that's why they make 1911s. Funny how everyone put down the Judge but loves in now that it has S&W attached to it. Sounds like gun bigitroy to me.

Gary wrote:
February 24, 2012

Shotshell-firing handguns are certainly interesting and they have been top sellers. But let's get real here. Nobody would buy one of these to fire handgun cartridges, they are just too big and heavy; they are meant for shotshells. According to the Federal site, their 2 1/2" load of (4) 000 buckshot delivers 850 fps. The payload would total 280 grains for 450 fpe. While these "mini-shotguns" are fun for busting melons, how about meeting the requirement of 12 inches minimum penetration in ballistic gelatin for self-defense? A recent review of the Judge found the new "Personal Defense" shells, in general, lacking in penetration but once in a while a lucky pellet or two did make the minimum. Not exactly a trustworthy "stopper." If I had to defend myself with one of these, I would use #4 shot and aim for the face. And be close enough so that the pattern didn't put most of my pellets in the wall around him. Or just use my .45 auto and be done with it.