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Review: The Smith & Wesson Governor

Smith & Wesson's new multi-caliber revolver offers the flexibility of .410 shotshells, .45 Colt and .45 ACP.

8/5/2011

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
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.

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
Not long ago, there was only one 2 ½-inch .410 buckshot load that could be readily found at the local sporting goods store, namely, Winchester's Super X 3-Pellet 000 Buckshot. Recently, Federal Premium has joined in with its .410 Handgun 4-Pellet 000 Buckshot, and Remington has added its HD 4-Pellet 00 Buckshot load to the mix. Buckshot also spreads rapidly from short-barreled revolvers, but not as rapidly as birdshot. Test targets were pushed from the 6- and 10-foot range out to the more generally accepted self-defense distance of 7 yards. The tightest patterns, across all of the .410 handgun platforms I have tested, have been produced by the Federal Premium load. The Governor was no exception, producing consistent 4-inch groups at 7 yards.

.410 Specialty Loads
You might think birdshot and buckshot just about cover it for .410 loads, but two companies have decided to change the rules. Winchester has released a defensive round called the PDX-1. The mixed payload of this shell contains three copper plated defense discs on top—think of them as pre-flattened buckshot pellets—followed by 12 copper-plated BB-size pellets. The defense disks form a tight, hard hitting central group while the BB pellets spread out to create a wider strike area. Test targets had to be moved up close to capture the fast-spreading BB shot. At a distance of 10 feet, the Governor produced 1-inch groups with the defense discs, and 7.5-inch groups with the BB shot.

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30 Responses to Review: The Smith & Wesson Governor

Steve Chapman wrote:
February 11, 2014

Look up Lehigh defense maximum expansion 45 colt for the governor. You will not be disappointed.

big dog wrote:
December 25, 2013

Just got the judge for a Christmas present. I love the feel and handling of weapon. I have been in law enforcement for 33 years. Excellent weapon. Thank you smith and wesson

gfmucci wrote:
July 07, 2013

Mohrbutter: Bird shot in this gun or any SD gun is a red herring. Legitimate .410 SD rounds (multiple projectiles e.g. 00 buck) give the average Joe home defender a much better chance of survival than single projectile guns, given equal levels of proficiency of the operator. Gun nuts (and .410/45 bashers) tend to assume everyone is or should be as proficient as they are. Ain't gonna happen. This gun is the self defense equivalent to Hoover's "Chicken in every pot", the realized hope of survival.

DBruyn wrote:
May 29, 2013

Very happy with mine. I have come to prefer the Winchester PDX-1 for HD. Please tell HKS to develop speedloader for .410 rounds!

Nashville Police wrote:
January 27, 2013

I responded to a shooting at an apartment complex where a law abiding gun owner was walking to his car when he was approached by two males with handguns that demanded his wallet. This man threw his wallet on the ground and waited for the suspect to pick it up. When the suspect bent down to pick up his wallet he quickly pulled his governor out as he had rehearsed and fired. first shot(.45colt) hit him in the stomach causing him to bend over, second 000 buck to chest, third 45colt to his right leg breaking femor, fourth 000 buck to chest. Medical examiner thinks he died shortly after hitting the ground. Im looking to buy a Governor.

TXGW wrote:
October 31, 2012

Joe Grizz, I got a good deal on a Gov with the CT laser grips. Didn't need them but for the price why not. They work. Depending on where you sight them in at they are spot on for siluettes. Just grip it and rip it if you had to. I took them off and put a hogue rubber square buttgrip on simply becaue i like a little more meat on my grips and I've never needed a laser to fall back on but they could be handy if you were in a pinch. Not the best personal defense gun but capable in the hands of one who has seriously trained with it. No one gun is a substitute for poor weapons training.

davek42 wrote:
October 01, 2012

What a great gun,,You will not be disappionted...But it is a HD/Defenecive gun not a bullseye target gun.My gun shoots well with 410 0000 buck at 10 yards You could not survive at this range,45acp with the full moon clips reload quickly,and grouping under 5" at 25yrd, What more could you want from a HD gun.In my book the gun is an A+,With mild recoil with all loads..S&W Will always cost a little more,But you get what you pay for,If you ever had to sell a Gun S&W will alway sell,Taurus you might have to almost give it away to sell it De saints makes a nice shoulder holster and ammo pouch set up for it now. I have one and it is a nice set up.

Joe Grizz wrote:
June 11, 2012

Comments...Anyone favor the crimson trace laser sight? For the sake of my wife, can they be adjusted so we can count on it truely hitting what we point the laser to? I'm also wondering if the hand grip for the laser is less comfortable than the one I have? Lastly, I've read mixed reviews about the +P 45's bbeing able to shoot from the Gov with accuracy? Thx

govowner wrote:
June 09, 2012

Nice job grizz. The gov shoots better than my eyes will allow. Hornady lc and remington acp work best for me. I have several smiths including a 1946 mp 38. The gov is quickly becoming a fav.

Joe Grizz wrote:
June 08, 2012

Comments...An added note...Took my Gov to the range again, had more fun with focus on both 45's (acp,lc). Yes, as noted earlier, the accuracy was much better especially with the tried and proved box of ammo. The best for me was the supervel acp's and the hornardy lc's. I went out to 25 yes (75 ft) and was able to put all 6 shots in a 5' group. Both into a rectangular gelaton slab (25 lbs) and they both penetrated in 10' (the lc about 12'). The bullets looked wicked (like a thorned mushroom) and I assumed the weight retention was close to 100[%]. I guess the best was 100 rounds of acp that didn't cost what both the 410 and 45lc does. I've save some bucks already! The more I shoot it, the more accurate I am!!

govowner wrote:
June 05, 2012

To clarify, it is no surprise that accuracy drops off at 25 to 30 yards. No snubby is going to deliver at that range. 7 yards and below, this revolver delivers outstanding results. You will feel the recoil but its way better than being on the receiving end. Just tired of the hard core smither's kicking this weapon. Many of which have never shot one.

govowner wrote:
June 05, 2012

This is an awesome hd revolver. 20 ft and below, this smith produces solid results with acp or colt. The results with federal hd 000 buck are devistating. 6 shots and 24 holes! It is not my daddy's smith but I'm glad to have it in my home. Lot's of reviews out there saying that the accuracy drops at 25 to 30 yrds. It's a great range gun and an excellent hd purchase. You won't regret it.

Joe Grizz wrote:
June 04, 2012

May 2012, After purchase I shot a variety of ammo using all kinds of 3d targets (watermelon, cantelope, plastic water gallons, geletan cases and 3/4' plywood). After all I will say that it is indeed intended for short range situations. All shots further than 10 yards (30ft) were not bullseye accurate. The best groups found were using black talon 45acp, a 6 shot group og 5 '. I'm not a pro shooter but have shot firearms most of my life. The 410 pdx along with the 45lc pdx was indeed potent, even wicked when you see its devasting results (small chunks of fruit, plastic and wood were all that was left). The 4 shot loads were OK but only within an arms length, at 10 yds the buck was scattered all over a silloutte target and didn't have much penetration. The bottom line...it has relaced my 1911 next to my bed and I'm satidfied with bouth rounds of pdx ammo. The gov can be pointed and not aimed (half asleep) with powerful/devasting results. My wife has more confidence with the revolver being assured it will not jam. The night sight is a big bonus as is the 6 round cyl. My hats off to the Gov.!

Dave S. wrote:
February 24, 2012

I used the federal hangun ammo in 4 shot in my judge. had bad results, jammed the cylinder from expanded brass. now use remington with no problems.

Jack K wrote:
February 19, 2012

Im waiting for the Governor .50 BMG model.

lloyd wrote:
February 09, 2012

This gun also shoots gap and 45super .. 2.25 groups .. arnt bad .. im tird of this bird shot isnt capable for .. self defence argument .. self defence dosnt just mean agenst people .. 95 [%] of gun owners will never shoot a person .. maybe 98[%] and in the heat of the moment 75[%] that do shoot will not aim breath and will jerk the triger .. .. bravo to any one that has any gun by the bed at night .. i would choose .. a 45 load granted .. i feel .. the chance of people shooting snakes on the move is a reasonable reason for this gun a black bear .. or dog . Or hog is a self defence situation .. and being able to rotate the cylinder to select quickly the round for the situation is a great aplication for this tool the less then leathel ammo is great .. and no one can disagre 45 acp and long colt are man stopers .. every one has there preferance on whats to much or to little ..i my self .. feel under powerd with 9mm and 38.. so each there own ..

Grant wrote:
January 15, 2012

Can .45 ACP +P ammo be shot in the Govenor?

skelator357 wrote:
December 24, 2011

Loaded up with federal 4 pellet ooo buck this thing is a beast for home protection! It eliminates threats accross a large room with less concerns about going through the wall and into your loved ones!

Abo wrote:
December 14, 2011

The Federal #4 mentioned is not birdshot. It is #4 buckshot. As for the grip being too small, it can be replaced with a larger one.

Larry M wrote:
December 03, 2011

I'll stick with my Chief's Special.

nickjay wrote:
August 11, 2011

I never did get a taurus Judge, but did get the second Governor I saw. I think it a great addition! I love the speed loader ability with the moon clips. I think I can change them out faster than a clip. Maybe not, but what an awesome toy.

S. wrote:
August 07, 2011

Can I buy one in California?

Tpdd Smith wrote:
August 07, 2011

I'd love to carry one of these and get my wife one too. :) She'd like it compared to my .45 or my S&W .22 model 41. Both of those are too big to carry. :)

Jimbo wrote:
August 07, 2011

Sounds like a big improvement on the Taurus Judge-! Can't wait to get one-!!

JAY TIPTON wrote:
August 07, 2011

I like the gun but the grip is to small for my hand.I like 357mag 686 frame +p

patrick marshall wrote:
August 07, 2011

I like it, I also like their 460XVR that fires .460 S&W, .454 Casull and .45 Colt.....Why not take it one farther and add .410 to that and call it the MARSHALL after me? I'll take #1 please, it's the least S&W can do for my idea;)

TOM ROOK wrote:
August 07, 2011

I think an over-under 12 gauge pistol (double barreled) would be a GREAT idea. Two shots, low profile, devestating. should have a lONG 45 degree grip. Anyone staring into that 12 gauge maw would be inclined to behave themselves, methinks.

Roadking wrote:
August 07, 2011

Of course the republic of Kalifornia has identified these as 'illegal'. Can't wait to move

Frank Mohrbutter wrote:
August 07, 2011

As the article states bird shot only good to 6ft or so if at that distance you can't put a .38 round in your target you need more time at the range to develop your skill or practice 50 yrd dashes. I read a quote to the effect we don't rise to the occasion we fall back to our level of training. I realize motor skills wane in a fight or flight situation but spaying bird shot is not the answer and is likely to get you killed in the process. Practice,practice practice. Granted it may be a fun gun at the range but for self defense fun is the last thing on my mind. The object of self defense is to stop the threat asap. If your going to load it with colt ammo you might as well just carry a revolver chambered for the round or some other that your comfortable shooting. I see the value of this guns versatility but not as a SD gun. Just my 2 cents on a SD gun.

Snapshot wrote:
August 07, 2011

They make a special .410 round with three discs and shot. Why doesn't someone test this and/or buckshot in the Judge/Governor?