Light and easy to manipulate, the .410-bore shotgun was—and still is—a gun most often associated with beginning shotgunners. Sometimes a tool for advanced competitive shooters, the skinny .410 shell drops a fair amount of light game every year and powders its share of clay birds. In the scheme of things, this is where the .410 shotgun comfortably and traditionally fits.
But the traditional role of the .410 was rather abruptly reconceived several years ago when the Judge revolver appeared on the market. Developed by Taurus Int’l of Miami, Fla., and Porto Allegre, Brazil, the new gun was a close-range defensive handgun chambered for the Frontier-era .45 Colt cartridge. It has exploded in popularity because Taurus designers extended the frame and cylinder far beyond what is required for a big-bore revolver cartridge, thus creating a sound platform that will fire both.45 Colt and .410-bore ammunition. Since the barrel is rifled, the gun does not fall into the heavily restricted short-barreled shotgun classification.
There are several models of the Judge revolver in production, including stainless and blue-steel versions, and lightweights with either aluminum or polymer frames. While their appearance is decidedly unorthodox, they sell briskly and they have become deservedly popular as defensive sidearms.
A personal-defense situation typically occurs at very close range, so the need for normal handgun accuracy is moot. The advantage of a shotgun shell at close range is the dispersion of pellets over a greater portion of an attacker’s body, greater than what a single handgun projectile can offer. This tends to render a different kind of fight-stopping trauma because the kinetic energy developed by several pellets is transmitted to the target—broadly and instantaneously.
For a variety of uses that I have already mentioned, the ammunition makers have been loading .410 shells for many years. In doing so, they typically have used most of the common shot sizes, ranging from No. 9 to No. 4. In recent years they have also made a few loadings with larger pellets of buckshot. But when the Judge came along, there was a quick demand for as much payload as possible, and Federal, Remington and Winchester went to work on what could be described as “Judge loads.” That is what we are talking about here—newly developed shotshell loads for .45 Colt/.410-bore handguns.
Understand that this new .410 ammunition will work in any shotgun chambered for it—from the farmboy’s little break-open single barrel to a Model 42 Winchester—but it has been optimized for use in short-barreled revolvers. There are two distinctly different kinds of such loads, those for 2½-inch chambers and those intended for the full 3-inch-chambered guns. The former will work in the latter, but not vice versa. All of the new loads feature multiple projectiles. There is such a thing as a .410 slug, but it is a .40-cal. Foster-type with a deep hollow base, and it weighs less than 100 grains. If the shooter was looking for a single projectile, he would be far better off using the .45 Colt option, with a 250-grain lead semi-wadcutter.
However, there’s a little something extra in both. On the apparent theory that more is better, Winchester added 12 BBs under the three Discs in the 2½-inch load, and in the 3-inch version there are 16 of them. A single BB shot weighs 8.8 grains and measures 0.18 inches in diameter. That means another 106 grains of payload for the 2½-inch shell, 141 grains for the 3 inch.
The basic idea seems to be the same for all three makers. Since a shotgun shell is tubular in shape, using the interior space as efficiently as possible makes great sense. Defensive encounters are invariably at close range. I patterned the loads at 5 yards, slightly short of the FBI-researched standard distance of 7 yards. In a confrontation, the pattern spread from any of the six loads should stay on an NRA-standard Bianchi Cup target. Terminal effect would have to be pronounced, given a centered hit.
There is also the over-penetration factor to be considered; it’s a problem with much of today’s defensive guns and loads. Since this new .410 ammunition is designed to work by means of cumulative effect, there are multiple projectiles, none of which are particularly heavy. Penetration would, therefore, be limited, but the wound would be quite wide. In urban situations, this factor alone supports the .410 handgun concept.
Let’s look at the various loads in the same order I have previously described them. First up was the Federal 2½-inch load with four 000 buckshot. Five rounds onto the R2D2 target produced exactly 20 hits with 15 of those in the center 4-inch circle. The Judge I used patterns this load tightly, essentially in an 8-inch circle at 5 yards and close to the point of aim. The second load had the same velocity, but used 7/16 ounces of No. 4 shot. Here I got a completely different result. There was little centering, but rather a remarkably even dispersion of the 0.129-inch pellets over the entire 18x30-inch target. Remember that there are other uses for the Judge than personal defense. If you are going after pests, this even-patterning load may be just the ticket.