MIL Thunder Five

Best .410 Pistols: Shotgun-Revolver Goodness

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Shotguns have stopping power as their specialty. All it takes is just one shot to stop a squirrel or any larger two-legged attacker. However, the 18-inch barrel doesn’t make it an ideal gun to carry around town. Surely it does have the intimidation factor, but it falls short in the stealth department-big time, pun intended.

Long story short, shotguns had an affair with revolvers, and voila .410 pistols were born. These are handguns chambered with shotgun shells that make a good trail buddy. If you’re thinking about getting one, keep on reading. 

We’ll cover:

  • A Smith & Wesson Governor
  • The Magnum Research BFR
  • Several Taurus Judges
  • A little bonus gun

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Why Get a .410 Pistol?

We live in a time where there are few radically new inventions. But, with some mix and match, we can make something new out of a couple of old technologies.

MIL Thunder Five
MIL Thunder Five (from Reddit)

Now, shotshells in revolvers aren’t entirely new. The MIL Thunder Five started the game in 1992. You might remember it from movies like Three Kings in 1999. Though, at the time, the .410/.45 combo didn’t appear that appealing. So few wanted it that the line has long been discontinued. However, newer companies have since adopted the concept. And this time, it seems to be here to stay.

According to the NFA definition, a shotgun is a weapon designed to be fired from the shoulder, with projectiles firing through a smooth bore. A .410 pistol checks none of that, so it’s basically a handgun with rifling. It’s one of the few guns you can own without all the paperwork.

No paperwork - Best .410 Pistols
No paperwork, yes that’s you! (from Giphy.com)

Another thing that the .410 pistol brings to the table is versatility. It shoots both .45 and .410 so more fun factor for you. With an option for the latter, the gun is made more heavy-duty. And that is a plus both for usability and durability. 

Things To Consider

These hybrid pistols look very revolver(ish) but they are a log heftier. You have to be to accommodate a shotgun projectile. You are basically trading weight for power. Even with polymer versions, it’s still heavier than most handguns. So that’s something to keep in mind.

from Giphy.com
(from Giphy.com)

Recoil is to be expected from a small gun that fires a shotgun load. The shorter barrel just doesn’t allow for easier follow-up shots. It can be a good home-defense gun, but only at a short range. 

The rifling can cause inconsistent patterns which I wouldn’t want when life is at stake. Penetration is yet another forte that it doesn’t excel at, so there’s that. That’s for the .410, but I have no problem with 45 LC for the same use. 

Though I don’t swear by it in defensive use, it’s a perfect sidearm on the trail. The additional heavy-duty aspect means it’s great for small game hunting and pest control. But then again, just because a .410 pistol is not ideal for a specific use doesn’t mean it can’t dip its toe there. 

It excels at short distances, so all it takes is practice, plus a couple boxes of good loads. Hornady and Federal Premium have great options for personal defense. Using these defensive loads maximizes the .410 ability of this revolver, minimizing pellet splatter.

The Best .410 Pistols

The .410 pistols are very niche-y and we don’t have a lot of options. However, that doesn’t mean it’s a dull market at all. If anything, it just makes it even more exclusive and a definite must-have.

Smith & Wesson Governor 

The Smith & Wesson Governor is a six-round revolver that is chambered with 410 (2 1/2″), 45 LC, and 45 ACP. It comes with a couple of full and two-round moon clips to fit the rimless 45 ACP in the same cylinder.

Smith & Wesson Governor with matte silver finish
Smith & Wesson Governor with matte silver finish

The Governor runs in single/double action. This is a Z-frame pistol that weighs 30.3 ounces, with a barrel length of 2.75 inches. The overall length is 8.5 inches. It is a stainless gun with a scandium alloy frame for durability and lightness. It features a fixed rear sight with a black ramp front. Also, it is already Maryland and Massachusetts compliant. 

The textured spur hammer makes it easier to cock in single action. The grooved grip makes it easier to hold, but that depends on personal preference. One thing you need to consider is of course recoil. It’s just something we can’t ignore with the 2.75-inch barrel. 

Watch pro shooter Jerry Miculek shoot it using different ammo. We can see the pellet dispersion in slow-motion.

The S&W Governor has three versions. Aside from the stainless configuration, we can also have it in a black finish. Apart from the coating, they also have differences in weight, sights, and price. The stainless version has an MSRP of $ 845 while it becomes $ 905 for the other. The third Governor choice was equipped with built-in Crimson Trace laser grips. However, it’s no longer in production. 

With the 6-round capacity, this wheelgun holds one more round than the Taurus Judge. It doesn’t have much variation though, like barrel-length options. Still, it’s very premium looking and the wider ammo selection is a big plus. If you’re looking for versatility, then go and try the S&W Governor.

Pros
  • Fires different types of ammo
  • Six-shot capacity
  • Textured spur hammer
  • Comes with moon clips
  • Premium-looking
Cons
  • Recoil
  • Fewer model variations

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Magnum Research BFR

The Magnum Research BFR stands for “biggest finest revolver” and true enough it stands by its name. These are proudly American-made pistols that look as fine as they are rugged. The series features long and short cylinder models for different degrees of heavy-duty.

Magnum Research BFR 410 Pistols
Magnum Research BFR

Magnum Research’s .410 pistol belongs in the long category, with 7.5 and 10-inch barrel variants. It’s one of a kind, and we can expect nothing less from the same company that brought us the Desert Eagle. 

This all-stainless-steel gun operates in a single action. It’s touted as the most powerful single-action revolver ever made. It shoots 45 LC and .410 gauge and uses a transfer bar for safety. It features a 1.75-inch unfluted cylinder with a 5-round capacity.

The size distributes recoil with the big frame. And with that, it’s the ultimate revolver to have when talking about power and performance. It has greater accuracy than any other .410 pistols. The rifled barrel has a 1:20″ twist rate, with vent rib sights upfront. 

The 7.5-inch barrel version has an overall length of 15 inches, weighing 4.5 pounds. It comes with a standard rubberized grip which you can also get in a white polymer option.

Unlike most .410 pistols on this list, the Magnum Research BFR is a much tougher gun designed for hunting. It’s not easily concealable given the larger frame, but that depends on your purpose. This is obviously overbuilt by pistol standards. However, if your needs call for more than that, this .410 bore wheelgun is the one to have.

Pros
  • More accurate than other .410 pistols
  • Good recoil management
  • Tough and heavy-duty
  • Grip options
  • Made in America
Cons
  • Larger frame
  • 5-round capacity

Taurus Judge 

Okay, clearly, this isn’t a Taurus Judge-only article, if you want that read Mike’s Taurus Judge Review. However, since there isn’t much competition out there, it makes sense to discuss the series with the most options. It’s arguably the leading name when it comes to .410 revolvers, so let’s see what it has to offer.

Taurus Judge 410 Pistols

Taurus Judge comes in both 3 and 6.5-inch barrel lengths. Each size has matte stainless and black finish options. It is chambered in 45 LC and 410 shells. This is the original gun that brought in more than a dozen other models along the line. 

The 3-inch matte stainless version weighs 29 ounces and has an overall length of 9.5 inches. Like the others, it has a 5-round capacity and has an extended ejector rod. It features a fixed rear and a fiber optic front sight. This single/double action revolver has a transfer bar safety.

Specially-designed loads like Federal Premium‘s work best in minimizing the swirl. With the right ammo in, this .410 pistol spreads the pellets less because of the shallower rifling. It’s advertised for self-defense at close quarters and does a good job around 2 to 7 yards. 

See the 6.5-inch version shoot flying clays like a pro.

The grips of the Taurus Judge aren’t much of a beauty. They’re not very modern-looking but still do the job anyway. MSRP is at $615.37 for both stainless versions while the two with matte black oxide finish cost less at $563.32. The Taurus Judge is king when it comes to .410 pistol options so there’s a lot to choose from. 

It features 2.5″ and 3″ cylinder lengths, depending on the variations which we will take a look at each. All in all, the Taurus Judge has made the .410 pistol a thing since its introduction in 2006. Depending on ammo, it can make for good home defense and is a great companion in bear and snake country.

Pros
  • Versatile
  • Delivers powerful punch
  • Less dispersed pattern
  • Lots of variations to choose from
Cons
  • Generic looking grips
  • Greater recoil on shorter barrels

Taurus Judge Magnum 

Introduced in 2008, the Judge Magnum was made to accommodate bigger loads. It fires the standard .410 1 1/2″. But this time, it has a bigger chamber that accommodates bigger 3-inch shotshells. 

The four models in this line have the same 3 and 6.5-inch barrel, both in matte black and stainless. With the larger chamber, the 3-inch version becomes 37.00 ounces and the 6.5-inch is at 48.00 ounces.

Taurus Judge Public Defender

The Taurus Judge Public Defender was unveiled in January 2009. This line has stainless and polymer versions. With a barrel length of 2.5 inches, it is the more concealable line of the Taurus Judge series. 

Because it is smaller, the Public Defender is also a bit lighter than the others. The polymer-framed pistols weigh 27 ounces. Comparatively, the stainless models weigh an ounce more. This more compact version is the most concealed carry-friendly of all.

Taurus Raging Judge

And yet another one from Taurus… The Raging Judge is the ultimate buff in the series. It carries more load with a 6-round capacity. Aside from 45 LC and 410 shells, it also delivers more punch with the 454 Casull. 

The Taurus Raging Judge is easy to recognize because of its red backstrap. It helps with cushioning and brings added personality to the gun. This model comes in 3-inch and 6.5-inch versions. Even though it has the same barrel length, this one is wider and taller. 

As the biggest Taurus Judge, it weighs way more at 61 ounces for the 3-inch version. It becomes a whopping 73 inches with the bigger configuration. With an MSRP of $1,167.75, this snake charmer is the most expensive yet the toughest in the series.

How About Some Derringers?

Derringers are a different class of small guns that take 45 LC and .410 shotshells. They’re small and easily concealable. We can immediately identify them with their pepperbox design. These are quite a different kind altogether.

Bond Arms Ranger II 410 Pistols
Bond Arms Ranger II (from Gritr Sports)

Bond Arms produces derringers that deliver the same load as .410 pistols-just differently dressed. There are more than a dozen options to choose from. Some of the best ones include the Ranger II, Snake Slayer, Snake Slayer IV, and Texas Defender.

Conclusion 

As a shotgun-handgun hybrid, a 410 pistol arguably combines the best features from both. While not necessarily my go-to gun for all occasions, they are an interesting addition to any gun collection. If you want the shotgun power in a smaller frame, then go for these. The Magnum Research BFR has perfected the formula in the 45/410 combo. However, if you want more choices, the Taurus Judge has your back.

Get to know more about wheelguns in our best revolvers article. Want to know more about defensive handguns? Check out our list of the best home defense handguns in 2022.  And for more on shotguns read our guide to the 8 Best Home Defense Shotguns.

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