Range Report: Taurus Judge

By Bob Campbell published on in Firearms, Range Reports

Handguns are reactive instruments. They are carried on the person to answer a threat. They may be kept at home ready to address a threat in the home. If we have warning, then we are most often better advised to deploy a rifle or shotgun.

Taurus Judge revolver left profile with cylinder open

The Judge is an interesting handgun.

The handgun then is the weapon of opportunity. While handguns are not the most powerful firearms, they are the ones we are most likely to have on hand when a firearm is needed to save our life. I have spent several months evaluating the Taurus Judge and have formed a favorable opinion of the revolver for specialized use.

The Judge is a five-shot revolver that chambers both the .410 bore shotgun shell or a .45 Colt cartridge. This means real versatility. By the same token, the design limits the accuracy and range of the revolver. As a pure, short-range home defender, the Taurus Judge has merit.

There is a considerable argument that getting on target fast and getting a hit—any hit—very fast is critical. This is true. I have taught that it is better to slow down and get a center hit than a fast miss. This doesn’t mean a fast hit isn’t possible; it simply demands practice.

recovered slug and ball from the Hornady .410 loading.

This is a recovered slug and ball from the Hornady .410 loading.

The Judge addresses this need by offering a shot payload. The .410 bore isn’t a powerhouse, but with the right load—and that is the key—it offers a viable defense option. Surprisingly, my evaluation indicates the Taurus Judge may be viable for protection against predators at close range as well. My test piece is perhaps the most common Judge, a steel frame revolver with a 3.0-inch barrel.

The revolver is light enough, handles better than its ungainly appearance suggests, and offers good hit probability for those that practice. Fit, finish and smoothness of action are good. The revolver features a red fiber optic front sight. This sight offers a good aiming point and aids in rapid target acquisition.

A short barrel handgun with a smooth bore firing a shotgun shell is illegal, the .410 and the .45 Colt are close enough that Taurus was able to design and manufacture a revolver chambered for both the .410 shotgun shell and .45 Colt cartridge. There is rifling but it is fairly shallow.

imapct pattern from a Taurus Judge

This is a pattern from the Federal buckshot load at about 15 feet.

Like all double action revolvers, the Judge is simple to operate. Open the cylinder, load the chambers, and press the trigger to fire. No slide to rack, and no safety to operate. The concept is to allow the shooter to get a fast hit with a load of shot. While each individual buckshot pellet doesn’t carry much energy the effect of the loads hitting instantly with several projectiles offers excellent wound potential.

Load Selection

You may have seen ill-conceived videos and hype in which the Taurus Judge is fired at a target and the target is peppered with hits. Birdshot is a tiny shot grade intended to humanely kill a bird with a few hits. It is by no means useful for personal defense. Like firing a full-size shotgun, birdshot is fine for practice but not personal defense. A charge of birdshot from 7- to 9 shot carries hundreds of small pellets that form a pattern.

At the typical personal defense range, this pattern runs 18 to 32 inches. This is 7 yards, past that birdshot is useless. Worse, the small shot penetrates only a few inches. A felon wearing a heavy winter jacket may not be hurt at all. At about 15 feet, the Federal 4 buckshot load, carrying #3 buckshot, holds a cohesive pattern of less than three inches. This is a preferred load for those using the .410 load for personal defense.

Shot pattern from 10 yards in to the target

As range progress misses are inevitable.

The Federal load is advertised at about 750 fps but actually clocked over 800 fps in the Judge. The total payload is 292 grains. Winchester offers a PDX load with a total payload of over 300 grains, with three flat disks and a load of BB Shot. With this load, the pattern is often quite large (as much as 16 inches at 15 feet) with the disks striking the center of the target.

The Hornady .410 defense load features a .41 caliber slug followed by two round balls. The slug generally tracks straight with the point of aim with the balls radiating around the center. It is essential you pattern the shot on a paper target to determine how the shot spreads at 5 to 10 yards.

In my opinion, 7 yards is the outside range for these loads, although the Hornady slug with its FTX design might be useful a bit beyond. The bottom line, buckshot and specialty loads are useful for home defense and for short-range defense against predators. Penetration tests in water jugs and wet newsprint indicate these loads will produce a serious wound.

Hornady Triple Defense ammunition box

The Hornady Triple Defense load offers good wound potential.

According to A Prepper’s Guide To Shotguns, birdshot may penetrate a six-inch gallon jug and some shot will make it to the second jug, but very few. Federal’s 2 ½-inch shell with 4 OOO balls penetrates over 24 inches, which might correlate to 18 inches in gelatin. That is excellent.

The Winchester PDX load exhibits a much larger pattern. However, the three disks in the PDX offer a 3 x 4 pattern at 15 feet. The much larger pattern is made up of 12 BBs. The Hornady FTX slug penetrates 15 inches from this revolver, with the two round balls making a total 3 to 5 inch group at 15 feet.

These heavy loads should produce devastating results at 15 feet to perhaps 21 feet, the magic 7 yard average range. In truth across a room or bedroom is more likely. The Judge must be aimed, but the pattern has spread enough to aid in hitting at 10 to 15 feet. This handgun isn’t useful past 21 feet with shot loads.

Federal .410 buckshot ammunition box

Federal’s buckshot load is a simple and effective solution to .410 buckshot.

Another option is to load the Judge with .45 Colt ammunition. In order to meet Federal law pertaining to handguns and shotshells the Judge is a .45 Colt revolver with the option of firing .410 shells. The barrel is rifled. The long jump of the .45 Colt bullet from the chamber to the barrel throat would seem to limit both velocity and accuracy. In some cases this is true. However, my most recent testing indicates that this loss isn’t always what we think it may be.

The Judge is plenty strong for the heaviest loads, including hard cast SWC bullet handloads. It depends on how much recoil tolerance you have. A good choice for personal defense is the Hornady Critical Defense. This 185-grain bullet has a good reputation for expansion and penetration. Velocity is 891 fps form the three-inch barrel Taurus Judge. Recoil is modest. This load strikes to the point of aim. At 15 yards, five shots fired from a solid benchrest firing position yielded a 3-inch group. This is plenty accurate for personal defense.

Another choice worth considering is the Winchester PDX 225-grain JHP. This load offers a heavy hitter at 780 fps. This bullet weight offers plenty of momentum. The .45 Colt is among a very few handguns that performs well without bullet expansion. This was proven in the Old West and in many engagements since.

A solid choice is the Winchester 255-grain lead bullet. This bullet exits at 770 fps from the Judge. (And 778 fps from a 4 ¾-inch revolver on hand for comparison.) Penetration is about 18 inches, ideal for personal defense, yet recoil is mild. This is also a relatively accurate load with a 3-inch, 15-yard group. If the Judge owner anticipates a long shot, the .45 Colt offers proven wound potential without high recoil.

The Judge is a specialized handgun. It isn’t a go-anywhere do-anything handgun by any means. But what it does, it does well. It is worth your time to explore the Judge.

Do you have a Judge? Which ammunition has given you the best results? Do you use the Judge for home defense or vehicle defense? Share your answers in the comment section.

SLRule

Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooter’s Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.

View all articles by Bob Campbell

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Comments (21)

  • Lonnie Woolever

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    I have had the TI judge when they first came out. It is very light weight. I have shot Winchester PDX load with the disk BB load and had about the same results as was tested by other people. I carry it when I am out on my two acres. I live in the desert never know when a rattlesnake pops out of a hole or is sunning it’s self
    Mohave greens don’t warn and are aggressive. Use #6 bird shot seems to do the job.

    Reply

  • James Richardson

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    I am a retired Correction Officer and have the Judge SSR. I knew that as I got older my aim is going to get “off”, and a shotgun handgun sounded perfect. No it doesn’t shoot straight past 20 feet, or even 15 sometimes depending what you put in it. But It also won’t go through the wall of your house and kill a neighbor. I think that in a home defense weapon, this is a major plus. It is highly maneuverable, and concealable, compared to any nail biter shotgun of any caliber. My load preference will offend those who want one kill quick shots. I want to be able to face a real Judge and Jury and tell them I gave the guy a chance to stop. My loads are
    1). Rubber buckshot: 4 pellets say ” I got a gun, get out, I don’t want to
    kill you, yet”
    2). 00 Buckshot: If he’s still coming now your’e getting 3 solid hits,
    7 projectiles in 2 shots.
    3).PDX1: My favorite. 3 discs, a shit load of tiny pellets.
    My center of mass point and shoot gun is hitting
    this guy everywhere. 3 shots so far and 10+
    projectiles.
    4) Basic 410 slug: It’ll take down deer at a distance and transfer a lot
    of energy fast. 4 shots 11+ projectiles with almost
    no chance of the projectiles leaving my Home.
    5).45 LC hollow point: Last bullet. last chance. last resort. As long as
    I’m hitting center of mass he better be wearing
    armor.

    Five shots, 12+ projectiles from less then lethal to end game. My intent is not to kill but to stop. That looks and sounds good legally.. And in case of panicky spaz fire ( a lot of noise, lights and hits), I’m not tearing up my house too much and not endangering my neighbors

    Reply

  • R. Martin

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    Does the 3″ chamber make a big difference for home defence? Using 3″ 410 shells

    Reply

  • Scott

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    I’ve owned a stainless tracker with a 2 1/2″ cylinder and 4″ barrel for many years. Most of the 45 Colt shoot pretty good except for cowboy loads past 10 yards. They drop a foot or more at 20yds. Even shot some 265gr CorBon +p, which is the absolute limit I’m willing to go with it. Had the best luck with homemade .410 shells. By homemade I mean taking apart other shells and putting different shot in it. I usually start with a 3″ shell and cut a 1/4 inch off. My cylinder is actually close to 2 7/8″. I usually cut the wad to allow the most shot possible. Best results have been a mix of #4 buck and BB with one 000 buck and slug out of the Critical Defense on the top. They mostly stay together around 5yds, but the BB and #4 buck scatter pretty good at 10yds. I’ve since got a 6 1/2″ Raging Judge Magnum but I haven’t play around with it much, other than the 454 rounds. I think the cylinder in it might be 3 1/4″ long if not 3 1/2. The scary thing is I slid a 454 Casull into my old tracker just to see if it would. I can see the little ridge in the cylinder that was supposed to stop it, but maybe its shot out. I’ve put more rounds through my Judge than any other gun I own. A friend gave me several thousand rounds of 45 Colt. No telling how many .410 rounds I’ve used. Figure once the rifling is gone, the shot shells will patern better and thats all I’ll shoot out of it. Hope they eventually make a 460 S&W version.

    Reply

  • Charles Turner

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    I have a Judge, first hand gun i ever owned.it is loaded with 2 -410 defense loads and 3- 45 defense loads. I keep it for home defense. I carry a Tarus 9mm
    The Judge, to me is a fun gun to practice with. I don’t figure to use it at a distance of more than 12-15 feet for defense, and pray i never have to. My wife is more accurate with it than i am, but too heavy for her to carry.

    Reply

  • Chad

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    I carried a Judge on a ranch in Texas for rattlesnakes and hogs. #7 or 8 shot would take care of a rattler, and a 410 slug would at least stop a hog charge. I did have success dropping a couple hogs with Hornady’s 225 grain FTX round, not an instant drop, but less than a 20 foot run.

    Reply

  • David T Babolcsay

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    I want to buy one the ten year anniversary where can I buy one?

    Reply

    • Dave Dolbee

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      If you are looking for something used, check Auction Armory or Gun Broker.

      Reply

  • David

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    I have the Judge. I bought it for my wife to open carry on our dairy goat farm. Also it is used for home defense of our residence. My wife loves it. She uses federal 0000 buck . It patterns well enough at 10ft where she feels confident against coyotes and 2 legged predators alike .Not having to be spot on in an emergency is key while working outdoors. We also carry in-house the Judge with Federal personal defence loads. Disks and ball ammo.
    Thanks for in affirming article . We are big supporters of the judge in our situation.

    Reply

  • OldGringo

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    Actually, the Federal load is Triple ought 000B or .36 caliber. https://www.federalpremium.com/products/shotshell/premium-personal-defense/personal-defense-410-handgun/pd412jge-000 . The #3 buck is only .25 caliber. The 4 pellets weigh about 73 grain each. I do not have the Judge but the SW Governor which has the shorter 2.5 inch barrel. My experience is different than the authors. I do my defense shooting a 50 feet. My Governor will put every one of the Federal 000 Buck loads into a 12 inch target at 50 feet and the grouping/pattern is uniform. Better than most people report. That is 4, 70 grain .36 cal bullets at about 750 fps. In terms of actual power, that is more like 4 32 acp rounds, just bigger in diameter. I agree, the birdshot loads are really only good for 25-30 feet, although I carry the #4 shot in mine, which is hard to find by the way, since my gun only takes the 2.5 inch rounds. The Governor actually also take 45 acp, so my backup rounds are a couple of 6 shot moon clips loaded with 45 cp plus p. While a pretty big gun, it is fine for hiking carry under a vest. It is also ideal for carry in a truck or RV, just in the console. My daily carry is a Glock 43 or J frame 38, but I feel this gun is far superior, at least to 50 feet and a hit first shot is more likely. I carry the 45 Colt Hornady Flex tip, 225 grain bullet for my last three rounds, and like it. I can hit an 18 inch gong 100% at 25 yards and that is about all the accuracy I need. It only gets about 750 fps with the 225 grain bullets, but that is still near the same as my Officer’s Model 1911, with it’s short barrel. So, I do not feel handicapped with it at all. Thinking back I had one federal law enforcement job where we were issued J frame 38s, think about that, only about 225 foot pounds of energy, far less than this. And until 1994 New York City police only carried 38 special handguns, only then going to 9mm. Just saying, this is not a gun for bear country, but just fine for 90% of my travels. Not trashing the judge, I just prefer the SW for the extra round in the cylinder and the ability to shoot cheaper 45 acp in it. And yes, I have safe full of 9mms, 40s, 45s, and 44 mags that might be better, but this one works, Also, I have tried several of the other rounds the author mentioned, just do not have my notes handy, none of them worked nearly as good as the federal load. There is some extensive research on the Smith and Wesson Forum on the short 410 loads. And for what it is worth, this is the most fun plinking gun you can buy, IMHO.

    Reply

  • David

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    I have owned a Judge since not long after they came out. I have the sst model, 6-1/2″ bbl, chambered for 2-1/2″ 410 shells. I have put several different 45 Colt loads thru the gun, including Cowboy loads and hot loads. Best in my gun so far has been 225 gr HP’s that come in the PDX Defender combo. I carry the gun when hunting…loaded with either 2 410 # 2 or #4 shot and 3 45 colt, or 2 PDX shells and 3 45 Colt. I’m not the best or most practiced shooter but can keep 5 rounds of the 225 gr 45 Colt inside a pie plate at 25 yds. Very rarely have I put 2 or 3 really close together with those fixed sights but I feel that’s more a function of my lack of control than the guns capability.

    Reply

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