This versatile handgun designed for defense proves it is no gimmick.
When Taurus introduced a .45/.410 revolver, it found instant popularity and sales. The series was dubbed “the Judge” when the company discovered the .410 revolvers were popular as a defensive sidearm for judges, since a .410 shot load would have excellent short range stopping power and less chance of collateral damage to bystanders at even medium ranges.
The Judge has a solid following and remains one of the more popular handguns in the Taurus line. In my experience, there are two kinds of people, those who love the Judge and those who hate it. It seems a lot of gun writers view it with a certain level of disdain, but the Judge, especially the Public Defender version, has a lot of redeeming virtues.
Taurus Public Defender Review
In the standard all-metal configurations, the Judge is a bit heavy and bulky for daily carry, though no more than the full-sized service pistols some carry. My test gun came in at 23 ounces, so a fully loaded Defender would come in with a loaded weight a bit less than a compact double stack .40. Due to the fact it’s a revolver, it would be a bit thicker, but it would have a slightly shorter profile.
What makes the Defender attractive is the level of versatility it offers. With birdshot, it would be a spectacular snake killer and a devastating defense firearm at very short ranges. For an apartment dweller, the potential for a stray round could be disastrous and by judicial choice (no pun intended) of shot size, unwanted penetration could be negated.
Most defensive situations occur at less than 3 yards, and backup .45 Colt loads could certainly be loaded for subsequent shots. Of course, not all handguns are purchased for urban defense; many are used as protection from both two- and four-legged aggressors. In the event you need a broad-based revolver, capable of handling a lot of different situations, the Judge has real merit.
Opinion Based On Testing
All the talk over gun shop counters proves nothing except that opinions are like excuses—everybody has one. I decided to form an opinion based on actual testing, and I came away a bit surprised.
Since a Public Defender will handle everything from serious stopping .45 Colt defensive rounds to skeet loads suited for dispatching snakes, I decided to test the whole gamut. I called Winchester Ammunition and requested No. 9 shot AA skeet loads, No. 4 hunting loads, rifled slugs and the popular PDX1 .410 Defense Disc loads.
I also tested .45 Colt loads, the 750 fps 250-grain Cowboy Action load and the Super X 255 grain 860 fps load that delivers a whopping 410 ft-lbs. of energy. No one will argue that the .45 ACP isn’t a capable stopper and the Super X 255 load exceeds the energy levels of the Winchester Defender .45 ACP load at 392 ft-lbs. True, the Public Defender only has five rounds in a cylinder, but most compact .45s with similar weight and dimensions only hold six or seven.
Shooting the Public Defender is fun, provided you don’t mind recoil and muzzle blast. I actually enjoyed my morning of testing, though I admit, the Defender is a hard kicker. I began with AA skeet loads. At about 5 yards, they provide a dense enough pattern to allow only a very skinny and lucky snake to avoid destruction.
For defense, they’ll certainly deter, but even at a distance of 5 feet, they failed to penetrate ½-inch oriented strand board (OSB) as used for construction. For the apartment dweller, I’d recommend the No. 4 load.
For shooting snakes, the pattern would be pretty spotty at 5 yards, but at 5 feet, they penetrated the hard OSB and blew out sections of it. Certainly they would penetrate a rib cage and cause massive hemorrhaging, which is the only reliable stopping factor when it comes to handgun calibers.
While I didn’t build wall sections for testing, I seriously doubt the No. 4 shot load would penetrate two thicknesses of drywall gypsum. The most impressive looking effect came from the PDX1 Defender load with three-plated discs and 12-plated BB shot. The PDX1 simply beats the center out of a target. At normal defense distances of under 7 yards, it would be both painful and devastating, the discs would likely penetrate the rib cage and the BBs would pepper the attacker all over the targeted area.
I also tried shooting rifled slugs but they’re less accurate and more expensive than .45 Colt loads and therefore not recommended.
Shooting the .45 Colt loads, I was impressed by the accuracy potential of the Public Defender. To center the X in a USPSA Dirty Bird target, I needed to hold about 2 inches low at 10 yards. While the rifling of the Judge series is more shallow than normal because of the .410 chambering, accuracy was certainly acceptable. My 10-yard, five-shot groups were always ragged holes unless I called a shot out.
The real argument for the merit of the Polymer Judge is versatility. In the same cylinder, the user can carry two No. 9 shot snake loads and three hard-hitting, 250-grain .45 caliber bullets. For the backpacker, this means real utility.
The time it takes to swing out the cylinder and switch from a bear or pig stopper to a snake-dispatching load is less than two seconds. For quite some time, I carried a Charter Arms Bulldog .44 Special revolver as my daily carry gun.
I eventually began leaving it in the safe in favor of a lighter, but similarly powerful 340 S&W .357. The Bulldog is a defensive carry gun only. The Public Defender is much more versatile, and the .44 Special and .45 Colt have almost identical ballistics.
Everyone is certainly entitled to his own opinion, but as for me, I can certainly see a lot of merit to the Public Defender, and it would be my first choice as a kit gun for an extended outing in rough country.
Taurus Public Defender
Caliber: .45 Colt/.410
Capacity: 5 rounds
Barrel: 2.5 in. with shallow rifling
Sights: High-visibility front and windage adjustable rear
Frame: Steel and polymer
Length: 7.875 in.
Height: 4.6 in.
Weight: 23 oz.
This article appeared in the Spring 2015 Concealed Carry issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.