Gun Review: The Smith & Wesson Governor .410 Revolver

Gun Review: The Smith & Wesson Governor .410 Revolver
Workman was happy with the pattern from two rounds of No. 6. Is he grinning about this gun’s fight-stopping potential, or planning to go hunting?
The Smith & Wesson Governor debuts at SHOT Show 2011.
The Smith & Wesson Governor debuts at SHOT Show 2011.

Designed as a defensive handgun, the Smith & Wesson Governor is a handy little small game getter, too. You can load it with .410 shotshells or .45 Colt cartridges.

WE WILL BEGIN by admitting that the purist grouse and rabbit hunters are going to hate me for this, and somebody at Smith & Wesson may think I’ve lost whatever marbles I had left, but their new Governor revolver chambered for .410 shotshells and the .45 Colt cartridge may have a second life even before fulfilling its first one.

Enter the Governor, undoubtedly S&W’s answer to the incredibly popular Judge series of revolvers from Taurus. This new Smith holds six shots to the Judge’s five, it is pleasant to shoot, and when I tried it out during a writers’ shoot at the 2011 SHOT Show in Las Vegas a few months ago, I was impressed.

With a 2¾-inch barrel, fixed rear sight groove and dovetailed tritium front sight, synthetic or Crimson Trace Lasergrip and smooth double action, the Governor is one big popgun! The cylinder will handle 2½-inch .410-bore shotshells, .45 Colt and .45 ACP cartridges, the latter held in with half-moon clips. I tried this gun in both single- and double-action, and at 10 yards, managed to pattern a Birchwood Casey Shoot-N-C Bullseye target impressively.

Workman was happy with the pattern from two rounds of No. 6. Is he grinning about this gun’s fight-stopping potential, or planning to go hunting?
Workman was happy with the pattern from two rounds of No. 6. Is he grinning about this gun’s fight-stopping potential, or planning to go hunting?

Let’s be honest; this big-bore sixgun was designed for personal protection, at fairly close range when loaded with shotshells, and a little farther out when loaded with .45-caliber cartridges. Up close and personal, even if loaded with nothing more than No. 6 birdshot, you are definitely going to put the hurt on some two-legged varmint. Charge this handgun up with .45 ammunition and you have a handful of fight-stopping authority that seems to produce enough muzzle flash to charbroil a steak! At least, it sure looked like that on an indoor range. Even in the unlikely event that you should miss, the muzzle flash and blast alone is enough to scare the beejeezus out of people.

What will quickly appeal to weight-conscious handgunners is that the Governor has a rugged lightweight Scandium frame and stainless steel PVD cylinder, finished in matte black. Overall length is 8½ inches, and the gun is 5½ inches high. It weighs 29.6 ounces empty, and when you wrap your gun hand around that palm-filling grip, it feels comfortable and business-like, about the same as my N-frame Model 57 chambered in .41 Magnum when I had synthetic grips installed.

With the added ammo capacity, this is definitely not a handgun to be facing from the business end. Thanks to the development of .410 personal defense ammunition in the past 18 months, a shooter has the opportunity to mix and match loads, with alternate shotshells and .45-caliber cartridges. Recoil is impressive but manageable, and there are already holsters available for this revolver and no doubt more to come.

Most people think of personal defense against two-legged predators, but to be honest, the Governor seems a sensible choice for backpackers who might just run into something on the trail that wants to take a bite out of them. What about people who live in rural areas and want to take a walk around the neighborhood, and encounter a coyote or somebody’s abandoned feral dog? Where I live out in the Pacific Northwest, feral dogs can be a real problem, and aggressive dogs that are allowed to run loose by their idiot owners are just as dangerous under the right (or wrong) circumstances.
Honestly, if such an animal ever confronted me, I would shoot it without hesitation. For someone less skilled with a handgun, the Governor would handle that chore quite nicely.

But on the subject of hiking, the Governor can fill another role, and one for which this revolver was probably not intended. Considering the patterns I produced on the target, this is a revolver that can be used to put meat in the pot for those spending their autumns on the trail.

In my part of the country, blue grouse are a common sight along the trail, and they can be dumber than dirt. I have walked right up to fool hens as they stood on a log or stump, or in the middle of the road (I saw one last fall trying to walk up the middle of Interstate 90 on Snoqualmie Pass in fairly heavy traffic!) before they decided it was probably not healthy to be in my proximity. Often, by the time they figured that out, I was stuffing them in the pouch.

Stoke the Governor with some No. 6s and there will not be a blue grouse, snowshoe hare or cottontail rabbit that is safe during the fall hunting season.

Yeah, sluicing a grouse on the ground sounds like blasphemy to the gentleman upland hunters. Well, sorry guys, but your sensitivities take a distant second place to my need to fill my empty stomach. This is the Pacific Northwest, and we do things differently here, especially off the pavement.

At the same time, one still has a potent defensive handgun in the event a bad-tempered bear or mountain lion should decide that you’re on the menu. A couple of years back, I wrote somewhere about black bear encounters and got one of the nastiest messages from some guy who evidently did more magazine reading than backwoods hunting or hiking, claiming that I couldn’t stop a bear with a .45 Colt or one of my favorite .41 Magnum sixguns.

Allow me to politely suggest that people who have never seen black bears in the woods, but only read about it or watched it on television, ought to refrain from sending e-mails to those of us who have. I’ve known more than one fellow who killed a black bear with a .45-caliber pistol or revolver, one guy did it with a .357 Magnum and a few years ago I did a story about a guy who killed a brown bear at the mouth of the Russian River on the Kenai Peninsula with a 9mm pistol.

The Governor loaded with .410 slugs or .45 Colt cartridges levels the playing field, and it is not so heavy or cumbersome that a hiker will feel loaded down packing it for a few miles on the trail. Long story short: This Governor gets my vote!

Smith & Wesson: 800-331-0852
Birchwood Casey: 800-328-6156
Crimson Trace: 800-442-2406

This article appeared in the May 23, 2011 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine


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  1. Mr.Workman I enjoyed your evaluation of the Smith and Wesson governor.I had about the same pattern with 71/2 410. it may not kill a bear at fifty yards but it would sure make it hard to see if you were standing out side my car door or coming down the hallway of my house. However my purpose in buying the gun was to carry it in the wilderness. I was stalked by both bear and either wolf or cougar, it was in snow and hard to read. It did speed my heart rate what ever it was . My question to you is how would you load the six chambers.At present I load a 410 7 1/2 and the PDX1 one in every other chamber. I also have 45Colt 250gr.and 410 2 1/2 inch 000 buck. I figured there is a way to load for the back country and home protection. Thanks for your time and consideration. Bob

  2. Thanks for the level headed review. I laugh at people that see the name Governor and comment. What about the “Black Hawk” or some other stupid names in history. Who cares what the “marketing” people call it to compete with the Judge. The real important data is from people who have actually shot the weapon, not internet trolls. I bought the governor and even my small wife loves to shoot it. Very fun to shoot, versatile and serves a long list of roles. Also people who think a .410 shell is a pop gun need to reconsider. These PDX and 000 tungsten buckshots are nothing short of devastating to a chest sized target anywhere under 50 yards. At 25 yards these 410s tear a water filled metal bucket to shreds. The 45ACP Plus ammo in this 6 round reliable, simple, amateur friendly gun was very attractive and the Long Colt is great if I ever hike in bear country or want to kill and elephant. Glow in dark night sight is excellent, so is the grip and ergonomics. Crisp trigger and double action my wife has no trouble shooting with good accuracy. This gun far exceeds expectations at all the max distances in my home and yard. My wife can absolutely NAIL any target within 25 yards with a nice big pattern. The buckshoot opens to about fist size and penetrates much better than reviewers seem to realize on the web. I could care less about the name, this is one fantastic, very affordable, light weight but very capable belt monster. No hesitation replacing my home shotgun and my wife likes it better than anything I own. I may have to buy one with the laser grip for her. I never realized 110 pound female would take this gun away from me and reap havok on the firing range. 2-3/4″ barrel much more accurate than I expected. Even with the 410 defense shells I can hit things easy at 50 yards. VERY happy customer. Grew up with guns and hunting and I would recommend for a wide range of users.

  3. I own a Taurus Judge with a 6″ barrel, using 2-1/2 .410 #7-1/2 birdshot, at just six feet the spread is nearly 3 feet wide. I can’t believe that anyone can get such as grouping as described above at 10 yards, (30 feet), especially with a 2-3/4″ barrel. At 10 yards, any critter would be more than safe, oh maybe one pellet might hit it but kill it, no way. At 10 yards, you’re talking about a 15′-30’+ spread of birdshot.

    • The problem with your 6 inch barrel judge is that the extra barrel
      length actually makes the shotshells less accurate because the added rifling causes the shot to spread faster than even the 2 inch barrel judge. you can see testing at

      I also had a judge with a 6 inch barrel thinking that the longer barrel might make it functional turns out it makes it worse when it comes to shot shells. I traded up for a governor and shot a rabbit at 15 yards with 7 1/2 shot 1 round it died. He is very specific about rabbits and birds which have very thin skin and are easily taken with the governor at 10-15 yards that’s not overly impressive but it is enough if your only looking for a meal in a bad situation.

      In defense of.the judge I really think its meant to be very up close only by design with the shotshells. After shooting both governor has about 2x the range for shotshells 10-15 yards and the judge groups 45 LC at around 2 inches at 15-20 yards for me vs the governor at 3. Pick your poison you’ll lose accuracy in one or the other.

  4. So you need a rocket launcher to take down a Black Bear. I didn’t know that. Back in the 60’s there was a bounty on Black Bear in Maine. A friend dated a girl from northern Maine and her Dad fed his family on the money he made from the bear bounty. They didn’t have much money and he couldn’t afford much of a gun so he did all his hunting with a .38 police special he got used from somewhere. So since that just isn’t possible I guess they all starved before my friend met he.

  5. Talk about Johnny Come Lately. I understand wanting to cash in on the .410 revolver craze, but the name just smacks of blatant rip-off. I would have thought that S&W could have sold their version easily without the copycat name. Just a model number would have sufficed. I am curious why they did not make this revolver .454 capable, like the new Taurus Raging Judge. I can not see a practical use for this particular arrangement in either configuration, but it certainly would have been that much more versatile.


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