As with other revolvers in this class, the Governor has a rifled barrel and will chamber .45 Colt loads. Smith & Wesson puts a unique twist on the gun by installing a six-shot cylinder, instead of the more common five-shot configuration. And the company has added a third, more-common and less-expensive caliber option by milling the cylinder and ejector star to allow the use of .45 ACP ammunition in moon clips.
The overall appearance of the Governor may give the impression that it's too big of a gun for concealed carry. But its moderate weight of 29.6 ounces, the standard six-shot thickness of the cylinder, the 2.75-inch barrel and the K-frame sized grip places the Governor in line with other duty-size revolvers and semi-auto pistols. Essentially, barrel length was traded out for cylinder length, and the weight is kept at a reasonable level by the scandium frame. If you already carry a duty-size gun, then the Governor will not be much of a stretch.
The fit and finish of the Governor is excellent. The single-action trigger broke at a crisp 4-pounds, 8-ounces of pressure, with the smooth, clean, double-action trigger that Smith & Wesson is famous for. Despite the bulky appearance of the longer cylinder and frame, the revolver has good balance and pointability. The Hogue bantam grip is compact, but provides just enough length for a full three-finger grip. Shooting the Governor, even with .410 shotshells, is not the punishing experience that might be expected. Recoil is similar to shooting a 4- or 5-inch barrel single-action chambered for .45 Colt.
Expanded Range Testing
A multi-caliber revolver like the Governor requires some special considerations when it comes to testing it on the range, especially when one of the rounds it feeds is the 2 1/2-inch .410 shotshell. Instead of testing three loads of one caliber at 25 yards, I chose to flex the gun's broader range by testing .45 Colt, .45 ACP, birdshot, buckshot, slugs and .410 specialty rounds. This variety of projectiles requires the use of more than one size of target and the adjustment of shooting distances, since no one measuring stick would be meaningful for all of them. Before discussing the specifics of the test results, it should be noted that the Governor ran flawlessly with every variety of ammunition fired.
.410 Birdshot Loads
The idea of using birdshot for personal protection is a major contributor to the controversy surrounding .410 defensive handguns. Some folks recommend the use of fine birdshot for self-defense in tight quarters, such as elevators, ATM kiosks or when attacked by carjackers. Other shooters reject this idea because of the birdshot's low level of strike energy and penetration per pellet. Wherever you stand on the birdshot debate, this is the important point to remember: Birdshot spreads rapidly, very rapidly, from short-barreled revolvers. The Governor is no exception.
Birdshot spreads and loses energy too quickly to be measured at 25 yards. Winchester Super X .410 loads, including No. 9, No. 7 1/2, No. 6, and No. 4 birdshot, were test fired at the viper-sniping distances of 6 and 10 feet using smaller 8 1/2 x 11-inch targets. At 6 feet, the targets showed pattern retention of 85 to 96 percent over the entire sheet of paper. All four loads would devastate a snake that's about to bite. At 10 feet, the patterns spread considerably, with pattern percentages dropping to 47 to 59 percent for three loads, with the best pattern produced by the No. 6 load at 85 percent. Again, that's at a distance of 10 feet. Informal tests at 15 feet showed patterns in the 15- to 24-percent range, and 20-foot tests did not produce a reliable pattern.
As of this writing, only one birdshot shell on the market is labeled as a self-defense round: the Federal Premium .410 Handgun No. 4 Shot load. In keeping with its intended purpose, the shell was tested using a 12x18-inch silhouette target. At both 6 and 10 feet, 100 percent of the shot formed an 11- to 11 ½-inch group. But just like the sporting loads, the pattern dissipated quickly in the 15- and 20-foot range.
If birdshot is only effective at 6 or 10 feet, then what is it good for? It has a place for up-close-and-personal situations where a wide pattern is useful, shallow penetration is acceptable and a quick loss of pellet energy is desirable. Birdshot is ideal on the trail for poisonous snakes or feral dogs that suddenly get too close for comfort, but where a solid projectile might miss, ricochet or keep on trucking for a long distance past the target.