Gun Digest

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

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?

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.

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.

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.

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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