Multi-caliber revolvers capable of firing .410 shotshells are not a new idea, but in recent years the concept has picked up real momentum in the shooting community. In the early ‘90s, MIL, Inc. released the Thunder 5 revolver, but it wasn’t that successful. Fast forward to the year 2007. Taurus rescues the idea of a .410-capable revolver from total shooting obscurity with the release of the Judge. Taurus transformed the clunky, oversized and generally unattractive concept of a .410 revolver into a trimmed-down and familiar format that has been a hot-ticket item ever since. It's become clear that this kind of handgun is not just a fad, so Smith & Wesson has used its considerable revolver-building experience to enter the .410 handgun market with the release of the Governor.
At first glance, with its matte-black finish, scandium frame and stainless-steel cylinder, the Governor appears to be the latest addition to Smith & Wesson's Night Guard series. However, there are a few notable differences. The most obvious is the Z frame and extended cylinder to facilitate the use of 2 1/2-inch .410 shotshells. The Governor has a no-snag fixed rear-notch sight and a more traditional dovetailed Tritium front night sight instead of an XS sight system. The grip options are different as well. The Governor arrives with either Hogue's synthetic rubber bantam grip or a bantam Crimson Trace Lasergrip.
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
.410 Birdshot Loads
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.
Birdshot offers a first-shot option for home defense that reduces the chances for over penetration of thin walls or of the assailant. As with other shotshell-loaded guns, the first round of birdshot can be followed by a second round of something more potent. However, birdshot is handicapped by that exceptionally limited 10-foot effective pattern range. And even within that range, it’s possible for the light shot pellets to be defeated by heavy clothing or a drug-induced resistance to pain. Even though a spot-on head shot will put 50 percent of the shot pellets on target, the other 50 percent of the pellet payload will travel past the target to do unintended damage to people and objects close by. It's important to carefully consider the circumstances in which you will be carrying birdshot before loading up with this round.
.410 Buckshot Loads
.410 Specialty Loads