.410 Revolvers: Are They Really Good For Nothin’?

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The .410 revolver sold extremely well upon their introduction, but do these weapons serve a purpose?

 

The Judge, the Governor and the Public Defender. No, this is not the beginning of a bad “walked into a bar” joke, these are the names of the three most common revolvers chambered for .410 bore shotgun shells.

The novelty of a true shotgun revolver gave new meaning to the term “hand cannon” in many people’s eyes, but others were quick to dismiss the concept as useless. On one hand, five rounds of buckshot as fast as you can pull the trigger seems pretty intimidating, but others will point out that even the best .410 loads are rarely used to take game larger than turkeys. So, who’s right? Does the .410 revolver have a place in the gun world? Or was the concept merely a well-marketed gimmick that became more popular than it should have?

taurus-judge
A .410 Taurus Judge.

.410 Revolvers’ Intended Purpose

As evidenced both by the marketing surrounding .410 revolvers as well as the rhetoric of their advocates, these guns were bought and sold with self-defense in mind. Advertised as a versatile, compact yet devastating weapon, the .410 revolver quickly gained a following of dedicated carriers. The concept was popular enough to spur the creation of defensive .410 loads, purpose-built for use in handguns. The Taurus Judge was not actually the first .410 revolver, but it was the first widely popular model that drove companies like Smith & Wesson to iterate the concept.

Judge ad
An ad for the Taurus Judge .410 revolver advocating its use for self-defense. Photo:Taurus USA on Twitter.

Both Taurus and S&W were quite clear in their marketing that the .410 revolver concept was useful as a self-defense weapon, both for the home and concealed carry. Their advertisements highlighted the fact that the revolvers were versatile due to their ability to chamber .45 Long Colt as well as various .410 shotshells. Despite being large-framed with big cylinders and short barrels, .410 revolvers were also touted as easy to carry. While they’re certainly more compact than any other weapon chambered for .410 besides some derringers, compared to modern CCW options they’re absolute bricks. While some people can and do effectively conceal even larger handguns, for the average individual they’re simply too big for this purpose. Compromises to concealability and comfort could be more understandable if .410 revolvers had other merits that compensated for their bulk, but when it comes to defensive uses they do not.

410 revolver handgun hero
A Taurus Judge .410 revolver versus a Springfield Hellcat in size. Photo: HandgunHero.

In a previous post on using .410 shotguns for home defense, we looked at how even the best defensive loads yielded subpar results when compared to larger shotgun gauges. While they do have some advantages that people seek such as lower recoil, the consensus is that barring a few niche circumstances that there is almost always a superior choice for defending one’s home. When looking for defense outside of the home with .410, the result is largely the same.

.410 birdshot lacks the power to even be considered valid for self-defense, and while .410 buckshot can certainly prove lethal it lacks the spread to gain the hit probability advantage of larger-bore shotguns. .410 slugs are simply less effective than .45 LC as well. The result of all this is that even if you are carrying a .410 revolver for defense, their ability to chamber .45 LC will always make that caliber the best choice in weapons of this type. Considering that there are much better defensive handgun rounds than that it raises the question as to why anyone would ever choose to carry one.

When it comes down to it, for personal defense against other humans there is always a better choice than a .410 revolver. Something worth considering, however, is that there are other threats besides humans.

The .410 Revolver Niche

Despite thinking that these guns became popular mostly due to misleading marketing, I don’t believe that they are entirely useless. I maintain that when it comes to choosing a weapon for defending against other humans, either inside or out of the home, the .410 revolver is a suboptimal option regardless of the ammunition loaded.

Depending on where in the country you live, however, humans may not be at the top of your threat list. Many rural Americans live in places infested with dangerous species of snakes, and carrying to defend against them may even take priority over other, less common dangers. For individuals that this applies to, a go-to option for many years was the Snake Charmer. Advertised as cheap utility shotguns, Snake Charmers were single-shot break-actions chambered for .410 bore, and many people found them useful for taking care of varmints and pests on their property. With an overall length of nearly 30-inches, however, they were not the most portable guns out there. Couple that with their one-shot capacity and the need to cock the hammer before firing, an unseen snake may bite you before you can bite it.

Snake Charmer
A .410 Snake Charmer.

For those who frequently patrol snake country, I can see the advantage of having a .410 revolver on their hip. With the first chamber loaded with birdshot, one of these could dispatch a snake very fast. Without the need to conceal it, revolvers like the Judge become far more packable. They can be comfortably open carried for quick access and are definitely more compact than a Snake Charmer. The versatility claim still has merit here too, as it still gives one the freedom to load or at least carry a wider variety of ammunition.

The .410 revolver concept gets a lot of flak, and in my opinion for good reason. These guns were sold as defensive tools for use against human threats, and while they can be as lethal as any other firearm, it doesn’t change the fact that there are both better ammo types and guns for that purpose. If you own one of these things for the novelty of having a handheld shotgun, there’s nothing wrong with that as they can be very fun to shoot. If, however, you use a .410 revolver for CCW or home defense, it’s probably time to consider getting something else. But, if the number one threat to your safety has cold blood and fangs, there’s nothing wrong with giving it a taste of justice.


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16 COMMENTS

  1. I think in an apartment or populated urban settings it is a good safe choice. Considering most encounters be less than 6′, stopping most threats.

  2. Bullets that miss their target (the threat) might be able to pass through walls into another room in the same home, or into neighbor’s home or apartment which can have potentially horrifying consequences. A question to ask is what cartridge is safest for self-defense use in apartments or homes that are in close proximity to neighbors?

  3. I think it is a great gun for protection and snake control. Although I don’t own one because I am retired and it’s just not in the Budget at this time. I would love one.

  4. To pick a nit, there is no Long Colt as there is no Short Colt from which to differentiate. It’s just .45 Colt.

    That being said, yes, there are much better choices for defensive platforms.

    A recent student had bought a Mossberg .410 pump and she asked for help in learning how to use it as a supplement to her .380 Glock. The .380 was a handful for her. She did OK with the pump, but I can’t see her handling a 20 gauge. A gun is generally better than no gun.

  5. The .410/.45 sounds fine except for the .45 lc. S&W added the >45 ACP and that – IMO is a good idea. I don’t have any guns in .45 LC but several that can use the .45 ACP. So, if I am motivated to buy one then I would buy the S&W.

  6. Despite the pros and cons of any gun, the buyer will have his preference. And while they may not include what he or she gets for some people it comes down to I can afford this so it is what I get. Of course I have my rathers also suffice to say I like a 20 gage with 00 buck shat it stops a white tail dead in its tracks. So there you have it my two cents worth, of course the government has probably devalued it to less than a cent

  7. I would think that a .410 round, especially to the chops but also the torso, would put a real crimp in your day. The best thing is try not to get shot with anything.

  8. One point that no one has mentioned so far, is that in my opinion, the revolver is easier for a new shooter or gun owner to learn and operate then a semi-auto. So if someone is only going to shoot the gun at the range once a year, if that, they are probably better off with a revolver. No need to learn (and remember) decocking levers or safeties or malfunction drills. And no magazines to lose or misplace.
    That being said, a Public Defender would not be my choice for concealed carry: too heavy and bulky for me.
    For me, the 3″ barrel standard Judge shines as an outdoorsman’s sidearm. You’ve got options for snake protection, close in small game, or protection against bears.

  9. I have shot so many snakes, mostly Copperheads, that I have lost count. I even shot a Copperhead in my garage. I like #9 birdshot for snakes and when I shot that Copperhead in my garage, it just scratched the floor a little. Federal PD Handgun .410 #000 buckshot is great, my 4″ barreled, 2.5″ cylinder, Judge will put all the pellets inside the 8 ring on a B-25 at 25 years all day long. I would feel comfortable taking a deer at that range with it. Standard .45LC has been taking out bad guys for well over 100 years now and accuracy is very good at 25 yards, really, that is further than you ever want to make a shot with a pistol. The Judge type pistols are IMO the best trail gun ever made. You can rustle up dinner with one in no time and with the right ammo, you can handle any snake from no legs to two legs without any issues. I haven’t tried a hog yet, but I got to believe the Federal PD Handgun Buck Shot or a .45LC would work well on one.

  10. another op-ed article with no ballistics to back it up. .410 even in #4 is very lethal. There was a spree shooter a few years back that used a single shot .410 with illegally chopped down barrel and stock. He left a trail of deaths. I wonder why he choose that caliber over 12 gauge?

    • It sounds like you’re implying that this person chose to use a .410 because it was somehow more effective than 12-gauge. Do you really believe that? Doesn’t it seem more likely that he used a .410 simply because that’s what he had access to? Do Chinese mass-stabbing incidents also make knives better for self-defense than guns? If you read the article you would understand that my argument is not that .410 can’t be lethal, it’s that in 2021 there are always better options for defense against humans.

  11. While my personal carry is a Kel-Tec PMR I also have a .410 derringer. I think the author is not fully evaluating these weapons without a pre-conceived bias. First I think he is assuming that persons are using larger sized ammo, either slugs or 00 buckshot. I have instructed and used the .410 for patterning purposes. While my derringer is not the best for defense it is very applicable for close range self defense. Using 6, 7.5,8, or 9 shot and making the target an upper body shot. There are plenty of pellets that will render the attacker harmless. I know for a fact that these weapons do well out to about 15 yards. With a shotgun they are effect to 20 yards maximum. But the target there is a squirrel size target.

  12. Given today’s available selection, your assessment is correct. Ten or twelve years ago, concealable hand guns with the versatility were not so readily available (unless you bought something from Kel-tec or a couple others). The defensive load I use in mine, has 3 .35 caliber slugs, and while not as hard hitting as even a 38 Special, I still would not want to be on the receiving end ( 22 shorts either at short range). By the end of break-in day at the range, at 7 yards and 5 rounds, all the holes except one were in the ‘black’, and there were 15 of them.

  13. I camp and fish in an area inhabited by rattle snakes and sometimes ill tempered black bears. So .410/45 Colt Revolvers are a comfortable choice for security. They can even help collect small game at close range.

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