Why You Shouldn’t Use .410 Shotshells for Defense

The Taurus Judge is not the first .410 caliber revolving shotgun-handgun hybrid, but it has been by far the most successful pistol of its kind. Despite being a heavy, bulky weapon that holds a mere 5 rounds, the Judge can be found in most well-stocked gun stores, and its suitability for personal protection has become a hotly debated topic on internet forums.

The signature capability of the .410 revolving handgun is its ability to use shot-filled shells, in marketing speak these guns are “pistols that fire shotgun rounds”. However, these sorts of bylines, while technically accurate, don’t accurately reflect the actual capabilities of the Judge or similar models of revolving handgun. I plan to cover handgun terminal effectiveness in a later post, but to start, a brief primer on both handgun and shotgun terminal effectiveness. Note that the following is highly generalized, there are exceptions, but I’m ignoring them for now.

Handguns fire single projectiles which may tumble or deform on impact. They cause damage through the direct crushing of tissue from the projectile itself. The shape and design of the projectile is as important, if not more important, than its caliber. A wadcutter .38 projectile, for example, with its flat, cylindrical shape, may cut tissue more cleanly and do more damage than a round-nosed FMJ .45 ACP projectile, despite being smaller caliber. The ultimate expression of this factor is modern JHP ammunition, which starts as a projectile shaped well for feeding in modern automatic handguns, but then expands to provide a flat, wide surface for the maximum tissue crushing effect.

Shotguns, on the other hand, shoot either a collection of round metallic projectiles, or a single short cylindrical slug. The slugs we’ll set aside for now, as they work similarly to very large pistol projectiles. Shot, the common term for a collection of round projectiles fired from a shotgun, is packed into a shotshell atop a wad. Larger shotshells like 12 gauge can shoot larger payloads of shot than smaller shotshells, like the .410 bore. This payload can vary from the same number of much larger projectiles, or many, many more projectiles of the same size. For defensive purposes, fewer projectiles of as large a size as is feasible is preferred versus a greater number of smaller projectiles, due to the need for adequate sectional density to penetrate a target.

This brings us to sectional density. Commonly abbreviated “SD”, this is an extremely important factor to understand when discussing small arms projectiles, and it is essentially the measure of the mass of the projectile per square inch of frontal area. In small arms, it is calculated by a shortcut of weight of the projectile in pounds (grains divided by 7,000), divided by the diameter of the projectile in inches squared. So, doing a little math, we can calculate the SDs of some common projectiles, including a 9x19mm JHP before and after expansion, a 00 buck projectile, and the #4 birdshot projectile loaded in Federal’s 2.5″ .410 “Personal Defense” shotshell:

115 gr 9mm projectile (unexpanded): 115 gr / (0.355 in)^2 / 7000 gr/lb = 0.130 lb/in^2

115 gr 9mm projectile (expanded to 0.60″): 115 gr / (0.600 in)^2) / 7000 gr/lb = 0.046 lb/in^2

And we can get some relevant figures from Wikipedia’s handy lead shot data chart:

00 buckshot projectile: 53.8 gr / (0.330 in)^2 / 7000 gr/lb = 0.071 lb/in^2

#4 birdshot projectile: 3.3 gr / (0.130 in)^2 / 7000 gr/lb = 0.028 lb/in^2

Sectional density is one indicator of potential penetrative ability for a projectile (the other component is velocity – for most pistol projectiles the velocities are not different enough for it to be a major factor, but it still should be noted). We can see that the pistol caliber undergoes a change during expansion from about an 0.13 to 0.05 SD, while round 00 buckshot has about a 0.07 SD. In stark contrast, the #4 birdshot doesn’t even manage to reach 0.03. A round designed for personal defense must have enough velocity and sectional density (and tough enough construction) to penetrate deep enough into the body to create a fatal wound. A surface wound may be extremely painful to an individual, but that is often not enough of a deterrent to prevent a continued assault. The extremely light #4 birdshot projectile of the Federal .410 load does not have sufficient sectional density to penetrate deeply and reach the vital organs of a target, even with a completely flat shot against the torso without any barriers or angling.

Now, it is true that a mass of projectiles hitting a target all at once, as with a traditional shotgun, often can manage to penetrate more deeply than the sectional density and velocity of each pellet suggests, however by Federal law the Taurus Judge must have a rifled barrel or be declared an Any Other Weapon (AOW). This rifling imparts a spin to the shot column that separates the projectiles in flight via centrifugal force, preventing them from hitting the target as a concentrated mass, further exacerbating the already mediocre penetrative properties. To illustrate the differences between a true shotgun and a Taurus Judge “handgun firing shotgun rounds”, I have embedded two videos from the excellent channel Brassfetcher, showing gel tests of both the Judge’s Federal #4 birdshot load and a proper 12 gauge 00 buckshot load:

The differences are dramatic, with the buckshot penetrating about 16″ of gelatin. In contrast, the .410 #4 birdshot load penetrates only 4″ of gelatin without a heavy clothing layer. With the layer, it penetrates just 3.6″, scarcely enough to penetrate skin, and likely not enough to penetrate body fat on many humans. For further comparison, I have embedded another Brassfetcher video of a 115gr Magtech Gold JHP round impacting gel:

The projectile penetrated just shy of the end of the 10″ block, still well over twice as deep as the #4 shot, and expanded significantly (although no measurement is given).

There are loads designed to improve the Judge’s effectiveness beyond what the light birdshot loads are capable of. Federal also offers a four-ball 000 buck load which should have substantially better effectiveness which I would guess approximates, very roughly, four light .32 ACP FMJ training loads in terminal effect; not a comforting idea, but the load is probably actually lethal as opposed to the substantially sublethal birdshot option. Winchester has taken the concept a step further, offering its Supreme Elite PDX1 “hockey puck” or “pumpkin ball” load, which is three 68 grain 0.330″ caliber discs backed by twelve 8.5 grain 0.170″ cal BB pellets. The pellets, although somewhat bigger and heavier than #4 shot, probably aren’t contributing much to the lethality of that load, leaving it in the hands of the UFO-shaped discs – a dubious recipe for stopping power.

All of this is to say that the load the Judge was designed for – birdshot – doesn’t perform well enough to be acceptable as a self-defense round, and the other options – optimistically – only bring the Judge’s lethality in line with FMJ-firing semiautomatic handguns.

There are better choices for personal defense.

Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He is also the author of the original web serial Heartblood, which is being updated and edited regularly. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


  • Ramsey

    In snake country, I would take a Judge and birdshot over the best wonder 9 on the planet. Not all defensive shooting is against long pig.

    Even still, there are a hell of a lot of graves filled because of round balls out of muskets, fmj, 32 acp, 22 lr, and all of the other rounds “you shouldn’t use” for self defense. A 410 might not be my first choice, but it is going to bring a world of hurt in a hurry.

    • Major Tom

      In bear country I’d take any wonder 9 over a .410 with bird shot. Bird shot’s just gonna piss off an ornery bear.

      • Anonymoose

        9mm is only going to piss off a bear, too. Might as well carry the Judge there too, but with hot .45 Long Colts.

        • Ramsey

          Agreed. A hot 45 LC with some heavy hard cast lead will punch through a lot more meat. Might be a good choice in moose country, too 🙂

        • Major Tom

          Even if I use that allegedly armor-piercing 7N21 for the MP-443? I know against black and brown bear in the Colorado Rockies it’s preferred you use rifle or full bore shotgun (buckshot) ammo for them but 9mm ain’t pointless against em.

          Difficult yes which is why if you gotta have an anti-bear pistol it prefers harder hitting stuff like .44 Mag.

          • Anonymoose

            Have fun blowing up your gun after firing a single super-light projectile.

        • kbroughton77

          Hot loads and the Judge have always concerned me. I may be worrying about nothing, But the cylinder walls are paper thin compared to alot of 45 LCs

          • Anonymoose

            That’s why you get the Raging Judge .454. It has the same lockup as a Raging Bull, so it will be fine.

          • gunsandrockets

            In addition, I just stumbled over reports that accuracy of normal .45 Colt ammunition is crappy from a Judge because of the extraordinary jump the bullet must make before reaching the cylinder gap, and the wide chambers for fitting 3″ .410 shells.

    • Bill

      The issue remains that the rifling will cause the shot to “spin out” resulting in a donut shaped pattern. Try patterning it and see if there aren’t snake-sized gaps between pellets, and there is not guarantee that one or two pellets of birdshot are going to stop an angry, thick-bodied snake like a Timber Rattler or Water Moccasin.

      I also wonder how many times guns are carried in snake country and actually used, or needed to be used. I’m pro-snake because I’m anti-vermin.

      • nova3930

        At any distance you’d want to kill a snake, the pattern is acceptable. I’ve patterned the one I keep on the mower for rats and snakes. I’m anti vermin too but I’m much more anti “my two year old just got bitten by a copperhead” something that can easily happen even if I’m standing close by.

        The thing also has the advantage of 410 being cheaper and more readily available than any of the various pistol shotshells out there…

      • Jwedel1231

        People don’t target shoot at snakes. The shot spread b/c of the rifling shouldn’t have much effect at snake ranges.

        • iksnilol

          If you can get so close to it without being attacked maybe you shouldn’t be getting up close to it and shooting it?

          • ostiariusalpha

            Nah, you definitely don’t want them nesting and breeding under your house. I’ve lost a dog to rattlers that encroached on my property.

          • BrandonAKsALot

            I imagine it’s the opposite in Guatemala. They probably keep snakes to keep the wild dogs away.

          • Steve Truffer

            Welcome to America. Snakes are sneaky bastards and you tend not to notice them until they’re within literal spitting distance.

          • TJbrena

            In Arizona, the dangerous snakes tend to politely announce their presence to nearby humans, or make themselves plainly visible near your driveway or in your locker at high school (outdoors of course), where they’ve presumably been chillin’ all summer. At least, that’s my experience.

            Typically it ends with said snake getting its head lopped off with a shovel and the body continuing to slither while the head snaps impotently.

          • Steve Truffer

            Here on the east cost They like to make their presence known by making a ruckus about 3 feet away, under forest debris or in knee-high grass.

        • Bill

          They’d better if they want to hit it. Then again, my gut tells me that the majority of snakes that get shot didn’t need to be. The number of non-venomous, beneficial snakes are far higher than those of venomous snakes, and they all tend to avoid humans. And again, the poisonous snakes in the U.S. tend to be thick, muscular reptiles, the coral snake being an exception, that probably need something more than a sprinkling of number 9 or 13 shot to stop them if they really want a piece of you.

          None of this applies in Australia, where apparently even the platypuses are poisonous and everything wants to kill you.

          I’ve run across more poisonous snakes kept as exotic pets while serving search warrants than I have in the woods or desert. I also have a personal rule that states that I will not put a hand anywhere that I haven’t visually inspected, which applies to so many aspects of life.

  • somethingclever

    You’re point about #4 is well made. However, if I had the choice between one 9mm at 17″ penetration or four 32 acp at 17″ penetration in a single shot, I’d pick the later.

    • Food for thought: One 9mm JHP expanding to 0.54″ in diameter has the same frontal area (roughly) as four 0.35″ 000 buckshot pellets combined, and a much more effective profile for crushing tissue and causing bleeding than four roundballs.

      And many modern 9mm JHPs expand to over 0.6″ to even 0.7″ in diameter…

      • gunsandrockets

        Buckshot tends to flatten on impact.

        • Against water jugs and 2x4s, yes, but it doesn’t seem to do so conistently in gelatin.

          • gunsandrockets


          • Link to what?

          • gunsandrockets

            “Against water jugs and 2x4s, yes, but it doesn’t seem to do so conistently in gelatin.”

            Please present any link showing buckshot pellets do not tend to flatten in ballistic gelatin.

          • They don’t consistently do so, I said. And that’s my opinion based on my aggregated research on the subject, so there’s no one link that I got that idea from. Here are some that illustrate what I am talking about:


            ^Note that some pellets don’t flatten, and some do, which is typical of a shot like that. Rarely do pellets flatten out a lot.


            ^Again, a mix of flattened and non-flattened pellets, but nothing flattening to a very large degree.

          • It is more likely that they are flattening from set-back within the bore than they are from striking the gel. In ShootingtheBull’s video for the 3″ shells, the recovered #4 Buck appears to be scarred from the plastic buffer material.

          • georgesteele

            Brobee223 shows the aftermath of tests in gel shot from 5, 20, and 40 yards. At the end, he shows what is clearly within-barrel damage and minimal within-gel damage.

      • junyo

        Which is really a ‘bigger hole” vs “more holes”, 9mm vs .45, kinda argument. Lethality numbers that I’ve seen seem to suggest that “more holes” wins, a lot of the time.

      • somethingclever

        Great point, but your numbers rely upon consistent and immediate expansion.

        • Right, but modern JHPs don’t have a big problem with that.

          • somethingclever

            The alternative doesn’t rely upon that variable (consistent, immediate expansion) and you would need to be clear about what you mean by “big problem”. There’s ample evidence that modern JHPs can and do fail. Thanks for taking the time to interact with me, though.

          • You’re very welcome.

            Modern JHPs can and do fail, but they do so much less often than previous generations to the point where you really can count on them performing. Likewise, a slow-moving buckshot pellet also can fail to penetrate or otherwise be deflected. I personally don’t think trading 15 or 17 rounds of modern expanding JHP ammunition for 20 pellets of 000 buck makes a whole lot of sense, but clearly some people disagree with me.

          • somethingclever

            You did write a barn-burner. If memory serves, though, you have a knack for that.

      • zxcvzxcv

        First of all, 4 .35″ 000 buck pellets have a combined frontal area comparable to that of a .7″ expanded bullet, your claim of it being comparable to a .54″ expanded bullet is leaving more than one whole 000 buck pellet out of the equation. Second of all, having the damage spread out across about 2.25″ at 7 yards (from the Shooting the Bull video) drastically increases the chance of hitting something that will stop the fight even quicker, such as the spine. Also, a 12 gauge 9 pellet 00 buckshot has a combined frontal area comparable to a 1″ expanded bullet, but I don’t think anyone would accept a single projectile that expands to 1″ over 9 separate wound tracts over a larger area.

        • zx, you’re right, I gooned up the math somewhere. Here’s what it should look like (I used 0.34 for the diameter of a 000 pellet originally, so I’m using that here, too. They’re nominally supposed to be 0.36, but I’ve seen various diameters and weights in practice):

          0.34 in / 2 = 0.17

          (0.17 in)^2 = 0.0289 in^2

          Pi * 0.0289 in^2 = 0.091 in^2

          0.091 in^2 * 4 = 0.363 in^2

          0.363 in^2 / Pi = 0.116 in^2

          Sqrt(0.116 in^2) = 0.34 in

          0.34 in * 2 = 0.68″

          Having multiple projectiles does increase your chance of hitting something vital, sure, but that’s not worth giving up penetration. The penetration of a single 000 buck pellet probably won’t be that great; the sectional density and velocity from the Judge (only about 800-850 ft/s) are both pretty poor. I’ve seen some tests that showed them having adequate penetration, and some not. I’ve never seen an FBI-spec gel test of the stuff.

          • zxcvzxcv

            >The penetration of a single 000 buck pellet probably won’t be that great

            The Shoot the Bull video shows them penetrating over 18″, how much penetration do you need?

          • No, it shows 3″ .410 shells from a Raging Judge, which have much higher muzzle velocity.

  • tts

    Isn’t the purpose of the buckshot more meant to provide a cone of fire for your 1st shot so that you get something into the target, which might cause an attacker to stop or flinch and miss you, rather than missing altogether?

    Yes its ideal if you can hit them and take them down on the first shot but an actual attack in real life is likely to be a surprise and many people’s aim isn’t that good when drawing their weapon in a hurry while stressed.

    I don’t own a Judge nor do I think they’re a good carry piece (too large and heavy) but they always seemed a interesting option as a home defense weapon. Its easier to lock one in a drawer by a nightstand due to the size vs. a common 18″ non-SBS shotgun. And being a pistol its easier to carry and aim one with a single hand when opening doors, holding a flashlight, or whatever.

  • gunsandrockets

    You’ve just proven that birdshot from a 2.5″ barreled revolver is inadequate for defense against humans. And exactly who believed otherwise?

    I’m seeing an awful amount of labor expended to prove the obvious.

    And did Federal even market that .410 birdshot load for defense against humans? Or is it intended as a snake load?

    I don’t know about Judge ballistics, but from my own casual research it seems BB shot is quite lethal to a range exceeding 5 yards, #4 buckshot to a range exceeding 20 yards, 00 buckshot to a range exceeding 50 yards, and 000 buckshot to a range exceeding 100 yards, regardless of the gauge of the shotgun.

    • M.M.D.C.

      I have talked to people who think birdshot from a revolver is lethal.

    • TVOrZ6dw

      My question exactly- Who thinks birdshot is a good defensive round? I’m much more interested in how these new ‘Personal Defense’ .410 rounds work for home defense use.

      • gunsandrockets

        I forget who makes it (S&B?) but it is a .410 duplex load of two 000 buckshot pellets and 9(?) BB shot. Very interesting potential.

      • gunsandrockets

        I am very appreciative of some of the ballistics testing some people are putting up on youtube

      • Kelly Jackson

        Large chunks of the internet

      • Nils

        Does anybody want to be on the receiving end?

    • Paul White

      I’ve seen people loudly proclaim it as an ideal weapon for car/home defense at the LGS.

      • BillC

        I have a former co-worker who has loads and loads of great pistols and rifles, but he proudly proclaims his Taurus Judge, with at least the PDX rounds, is his primary and go-to home-defense gun. I’ve pointed out all the data on why that is a $h!t idea. He said he was aware of all that, but he trusts that it’s awesome choice regardless, because it’s a shotgun-revolver-pistol, so it simply must be awesome and therefore the best and only choice. yes, he is serious.

    • 6.5x55Swedish

      It doesn’t really matter if it was intended for humans or not, people buy if for defence against humans.

    • junyo

      Yeah, I kept looking for video of one of the 410 buck or slug loads, to no avail. I mean, if that’s the comparison, I’m pretty sure that birdshot out of a full on shotgun sucks for HD, so that’s not the Judge’s fault.

      *I do not own, nor do I have plans to own a Taurus Judge.

      • raz-0

        They are on youtube, just search 4.10 ballisitc gel.

        It seems they are about as good as a few hits with a fmj +P 38 special.

        • junyo

          Yeah, I meant in the article.

    • Here you go, here’s some gel tests of Winchester’s PDX1, note the poor penetration (4-8″): https://web.archive.org/web/20160121111850/http://www.410handguns.com/410_gel_results.html

      There are also results for the 000 buck loads, however those are from longer shotgun barrels. I would guess the PDX1 is more reflective of how 000 buck would perform from a Judge than the much higher velocity results for a full-size shotgun.

      • gunsandrockets

        Interesting link, valuable information. But pardon my confusion.

        Was this intended to answer my question about buckshot flattening in ballistic gelatin?

        In addition, all the tests from the link are from 3 inch barreled revolvers, none from shotguns.

        The Super-X buckshot seemed to suffer excessive setback under recoil which hurt pellet penetration. But the Federal 000 buckshot had an average pellet penetration of 10.6 inches. Even the Federal #4 buckshot had an average pellet penetration of 7.1 inches.

        • Yep, my bad and I corrected it. I’m on the PC now, but have been doing this on my phone mostly today since I’ve been out and about. I saw the muzzle velocities and made an ass-out-of-me-umption that they were fired from a longer barreled shotgun. Nope, they were from a 3″ Judge.

  • George

    I have a Taurus Judge with the rail underneath for home defense. I have a Streamlight on the rail, with the idea being that one hand has light and gun, while other is calling police or manipulating doorknobs, etc…. First three shots are PDX rounds and last two are .45 Colt.

    One of my concerns is over penetration in my modern house. I want to limit collateral threat to family members in other rooms, either from over penetration or from misses. It’s not perfect, but my belief is that a bad guy is not going to wait and see whether the bullets penetrated his lungs or vital organs – they are going to flee as soon a gun is presented or worst case when they start taking hits.

    It’s by no means a carry gun but it fits my purposes well.

    • Joe

      Can you post a picture of your setup? I’m trying to visualize how one could shoot,and manipulate the light one handed while conversing with the 911 dispatcher. There are some great projectile options available for those concerned about over penetration, a valid concern no doubt, however your better off with a dominant 2 handed grip on your weapon, and the judicious application of marksmanship. In my experience a Judge/Governor will produce a HUGE spread of PDX-1 self defence loads at ranges beyond 5 yards.
      Check out Surefire, or Streamlight’s offerings for grip switches that allow you to activate the light with the middle finger on your shooting grip.

    • BrandonAKsALot

      It’s kind of amazing the rail is still on. They tend to fall off considering one tiny screw holds the plastic rail in place.

  • Dave

    .410 buckshot, like the Remington load pictured out of an, *ahem* actual shotgun? 18-20-in. barrel, not a revolver…

  • Ranger Rick

    Nathaniel, would not actual ballistic tests into gelatin media for each of the rounds of ammunition available for the Judge been more effective in proving your point? A picture would be worth a thousand words in this case. BTW thanks for the formula for sectional density.

    • Discussing the PDX1 and 000 Buck loads would really take another article – the important takeaway for those who didn’t already know was that birdshot is NOT an effective self-defense round.

      • Bill

        There are plenty of times when birdshot doesn’t even stop birds.

    • somethingclever

      Shootingthebull410 has videos available about several loads including 000 Buck. I’d recommend watching them.

  • TimOrNick

    Since this article is decidedly directed at the Judge and home defense, many people may actually own a Circuit Judge. This model (as your ALL aware of) has a barrel that is not 3″ giving a notably higher muzzle velocity. Loading this model with the PDX1 is a lightweight, controllable option that addresses concerns of over penetration, where is it inadequate when defending in a 1->10m range?

  • James R.

    Tell ’em, Nathaniel. Great article. You probably would not be shocked at how many people I run into that think the Judge is the ultimate bedside handgun.

    • I’ve worked behind the counter myself, so you can se sure I would not, hahah. Thanks, James.

      • JumpIf NotZero

        Cheap people like cheap guns. No surprise this article has 40 comments of mostly on the potential advantages of a .410 round (heh).

        I’m not really “surprised” at the contempt for the readers seen here, but this is a a condition you have the ability to fix…. imo.

  • 6.5x55Swedish

    The fact that this even needs to have an article is just so dumb. All you need is a bit of logic and a basic understanding of physics to understand that a .410 out of a 2,5″ barrel will not be as good as a 12 guage shotgun out of a 16″ barrel or a 9×19 out of a normal gundgun… But I guess people are just that stupid. Hopefully some dumbass reads this and realize thier error.

    • Paul White

      excellent username. and you’d hope but I’ve seen people at local stores extoll the judge.

      Hell, even buckshot out of a 410 with a 2.5″ barrel isn’t impressive.

  • Bub

    Good read, looking forward to more articles in this series.

    The Judge sold on good marketing and folklore that all you have to do is point a shotgun and you can hit everything in the general area. For those who think the Judge is the ultimate self defense weapon it should come with a warning “some aiming required for best results”.

  • gunsandrockets

    .410 revolver buckshot test

    • ozzallos .

      Thank you for the stab at relevancy.

      I’m looking at this article and seeing six types of 410 rounds, yet only one of them- probably the least effective -is used as evidence toward ‘why you shouldn’t use 410 shotshells for self defense’.

      Once again, TFB proves it needs much tighter controls on who gets to post what in order not to embarrass itself.

      • Jwedel1231

        Agreed. This is basically a “birdshot sucks for defense” article, but shooting it out of a Judge, and making the leap that “Judges always suck for defense”. Intellectually dishonest, if you ask me.

        • Where did I say “Judges always suck for defense”?

          • BillC

            It’s easily inferred, whether it is intentional or not. Also your Title is why ALL .410’s suck, even though you end the article with why .410 birdshot sucks…. out of a Judge, while showing a picture of a slew of various .410 shells at the beginning, with the majority of them geared for… the Judge. I wonder how anybody could get the idea that Judges always suck for defense. Haha. Nothing if not consistent /sarc/.

          • So, I never said it, but I’m intellectually dishonest anyway?

          • BillC

            Nope, I never said you were dishonest. I dont think you are. That was the previous brohanski. I just tried to map out where the masses might infer about Judges suck via the inconsistency of the 1)Title 2)Picture 3)Main, closing statement.

          • Here are the elements you’re criticizing:

            Title: “Why You Shouldn’t Use .410 Shotshells for Defense”

            Image: A variety of .410 shotshells

            Closing statement: “There are better choices for personal defense.”

            How does all that boil down to “.410s/Judges suck”? If you came into the article, after having read the title, with a vein throbbing in your neck because just, oh man, how COULD he possibly say anything negative about the Judge!? then maybe, but those three things even taken together don’t say or even imply that the .410 sucks. They say that you shouldn’t use it for defense, and that there are much better choices.

          • kzrkp

            Title: “Why You Shouldn’t Use .410 Shotshells for Defense”

            Article contents: all the worst cherry-picked .410 handgun shotshells that nobody should use for defense

            next week, you shouldn’t load your 1911 with rat shot to defend yourself

          • gunsandrockets

            I get the impression your intention was to disprove the concept that a .410 handgun has defensive utility. I would say the result is at best half-baked.

          • I can’t really say anything to your impressions, man. Even in retrospect, I felt I was very clear. the wounding properties of the best .410 000 buck ammunition resemble a handful of shots from a small-caliber FMJ-firing handgun (a la a .32 ACP).

            If I went back, and could identify a flaw with my writing that would give an impression I didn’t want, or make a statement I didn’t intend, that would be one thing, but re-reading the article I still think it’s very clear what I said. “.410 birdshot is bad, .410 “pumpkin balls” make me skeptical, and .410 000 buck is adequate I guess but not winning any awards.”

            Simple as that, and I don’t see how I muddied the waters there.

          • gunsandrockets

            “why you shouldn’t use .410 shotshells for defense”

            And I’d say the video of the 3″ Federal five pellet 000 was pretty impressive. Despite significant deformation exhibited by the recovered pellets, those projectiles were zapping up to 16 inches in penetration.

            Equating those pellets to FMJ .32 ACP is not credible.

          • Joe

            A handful? Did you watch the video? The 000 for one shot destroys the gel…six obliterates it.

            I guess it depends on your qualification of a handful (trump size hands or shaq hands).

            The fact that your article focuses on birdshot instead of a more relevant load (i.e. 000) hurts your credibility. It’s like saying 9mm isn’t a good self defense load while only talking about FMJ 9mm’s and ignoring all else.

          • Shane

            Readers infer. Writers imply. If something is easily inferred then that’s on the reader for making an assumption.

      • “Six types of .410 rounds”? Where? I mention three, two at the end where I talk about manufacturers’ efforts to make ammunition that’s not so abysmally terrible as birdshot.

        Do you mean the title image? Sorry if that misled you, I guess, but that’s just an image showing some of the payloads for .410 shotshells. It’s not directly related to the content of the article.

        • ozzallos .

          O hay. As mentioned in the comment, I’m “looking” at a picture “showing” six types of 410 shot, then reading a headline on ”

          Why You Shouldn’t Use .410 Shotshells for Defense” while the story features the least effective 410 payload possible as evidence to the title.

          No. This article is a composition train wreck.

          • How about you take a moment to actually read my “content train wreck”, hm? If you had, instead of getting hung up on the title image, you’d have found I said this:

            “There are loads designed to improve the Judge’s effectiveness beyond what the light birdshot loads are capable of. Federal also offers a four-ball 000 buck load which should have substantially better effectiveness which I would guess approximates, very roughly, four light .32 ACP FMJ training loads in terminal effect; not a comforting idea, but the load is probably actually lethal as opposed to the substantially sublethal birdshot option. Winchester has taken the concept a step further, offering its Supreme Elite PDX1 “hockey puck” or “pumpkin ball” load, which is three 68 grain 0.330″ caliber discs backed by twelve 8.5 grain 0.170″ cal BB pellets. The pellets, although somewhat bigger and heavier than #4 shot, probably aren’t contributing much to the lethality of that load, leaving it in the hands of the UFO-shaped discs – a dubious recipe for stopping power.

            So, how does the PDX1 perform in gel? Well, here’s an example: https://web.archive.org/web/20160121111850/http://www.410handguns.com/410_gel_results.html

            4-8″ of penetration? “Dubious”, indeed.

          • BillC

            Agreed, this article is a content train wreck. Guess I got what I paid for.

  • gunsandrockets

    Now this is a .410 revolver load.

    • JumpIf NotZero

      Just curious… Do you have the names of any reputable instructors across the country that have ever recommended a .410 revolver for defense?

      • gunsandrockets

        What makes you think I favor a .410 revolver for self-defense?

      • junyo

        I mean clearly the fact that anyone wants to even discuss data and tests on these obviously unsuited for anything jokes of a gun, as opposed to bowing to the wisdom of their betters, just proves they’re too poor to understand the question.

        Just cutting to the chase.

        • Jwedel1231

          “wisdom fo their betters”??? “too poor to understand the question”??? You sound just as bad as the worst anti gunners.

          • gunsandrockets

            I got the sarcasm. You missed it.

          • Jwedel1231

            I do too, now that it’s been pointed out, and feel like an idiot.

            My bad.

          • gunsandrockets

            Sarcasm is always a dangerous play on the innertubes.

  • Bill

    An interesting test would be to compare the .410 loads against the encapsulated birdshot loads that have been available for handguns forever.

    Prior to the Judge, if anyone had claimed that any .410 was a viable defensive load they would have been immediately drug-tested. While I sure wouldn’t want to get hit with a .410 slug at close range, choosing it or a shot load over .45 Colt is bizarre.

  • zxcvzxcv

    Can we get an article about how 9mm and .45 ACP shouldn’t be used for self defense next that bases its claim around only testing snakeshot instead of actual self defense loads? All this article proves is that birdshot is for birds and not larger animals, which has been obvious for decades.

    • So why do you think someone should use .410 for self-defense, versus modern handgun ammunition?

      • gunsandrockets

        The Hornady triple defense .410 load looks very appealing. Firing a pattern of controlled dispersion projectiles certainly would assist hitting the vital anatomy of a threat in a self-defense scenario.

        In addition, I’ve always been dubious of the machine-gun theory of self-defense using a high capacity 9mm handgun. Sure, riddling a torso with 15 rounds of 9mm JHP is very deadly, but such tactics might look awfully suspicious to the legal authorities in the aftermath. Only cops normally get away with that kind of shooting.

        • And using “super-deadly shotgun rounds that not even cops use” doesn’t look suspicious?

          • gunsandrockets

            No more suspicious than any other .410 round from a handgun.

            An aggressive prosecutor can probably spin the circumstances of any shooting into something suspicious. But I think two shots from a large caliber handgun are harder to spin into something nefarious than 15 shots from a 9mm handgun.

          • georgesteele

            If you have to expend 15 rounds within the assailant to stop him, you need a better handgun or more practice hitting something other than his shoes and earlobes. The 15 rounds are because even cops only hit what they shoot at 1 out of 3 times in CQB, and they are trained for gunfighting (vs. tin cans and paper). You want to get a couple on target, and there may be multiple targets.

  • oldman

    Funny they compare 410 bird shot to 12ga buck shot wonder if they thought to compare 410 buck shot to 410 bird shot.

    • georgesteele

      All their comparison proved was that while a duck egg will squash a robin’s egg, an ostrich egg will do them both in. Is it a surprise that a 12 gauge is more powerful and effective as a defensive weapon than a .410?

      • oldman

        I know that but I also know people that cannot handle a 12 gauge.

        • georgesteele

          Absolutely. So it makes no sense to compare it with a .410 for effectiveness. Imagine wanting to shoot a 12 gauge out of a revolver? Not pleasant in a light shotgun, so REALLY unpleasant in a 2 pound revolver.

          • oldman

            A gun you gan use well is more effective then one that scares you to shoot. I am over 6′ tall and over 250# a magnum 12 gauge is not an issue for me. A lady friend of mine stands 5’2″ and kitted out for arctic exploration weights 102# a 12 gauge is more then she can handle. She has no issue with a 410. Her carry guns are a Seacamp .32 or a High Standard .22 break top.

          • georgesteele

            Absolutely right. A .22 LR well-placed is better than a .50 BMG that misses. First comes control.

  • mosinman

    the Judge could use modern .45 colt defensive ammo too so not all is lost

  • smartacus

    Why doesn’t Taurus come out with a 36 Gauge / 500 Magnum Supreme Court Judge already?

  • smartacus

    Why doesn’t Taurus shorten the Public Defender Polymer into a 45Colt-only revo?

  • valorius

    I most certainly would not want to get hit by the 000 buck .410 rounds designed for the judge.

  • The Wound Channel

    Bird shot is for birds.

  • Sianmink

    Where the Judge and its ilk excel, IMHO, is ranch and wilderness use, especially in snake country. If you must use one for self-defense, load it up with .45 Colt from Buffalo Bore or some of the Winchester PDX.

  • Eric S

    Ctrl + F ‘Flechette’ not found. I am disappoint.

  • Many, many moons ago, I wrote up the potential for using pellets larger than 000 Buck in the .410 shotshell. At the time, I was thinking along the lines of Ballistic Products’ “0000 Buck” (a 0.380″ pellet) and cast round balls in the 0.395″-0.410″ range. In the years that followed, I see that a couple of companies have independently run with the idea. For instance, Nobel Sport Italia offers .410 shells with multiple 0.400″ balls: three pellets in 2.5″ hulls and four pellets in 3″ hulls.

    At the time, I was inspired by the Saiga-410K-01 and the prototype Franchi bullpup .410.

    • gunsandrockets

      Funny you should mention this. For some months now I’ve been contemplating the potential of a .410 shotgun firing 000 buckshot. A sort of poor mans Project Salvo.

    • Yes, it follows that if you want to improve the performance of .410 against people, you basically should make it as close to a traditional handgun round as possible. 😉

  • TheSmellofNapalm

    .300 BLK SBR for HD, period.

  • TheSmellofNapalm

    .300 BLK SBR for HD, period.

  • Don Ward

    .410 bore shotguns are for small game such as squirrels and doves. If you are using it as a self defense round you are doing it wrong.

    End stop.

    There is no debate on this.

    For you idjits using it as a “man-stopper” in handguns like The Judge, you would be better off using the .45 Colt (Long Colt) as your self defense cartridge.

    End stop.

    There is no debate on this either.

    • gunsandrockets

      A .410 shotgun launches buckshot pellets at the same velocity as a 12 gauge shotgun.

      End stop.

      There is no debate on this.

      The only difference between the shotguns is the quantity of pellets. A .410 2.5″ shell carrying four 000 buckshot pellets, while a 2.75″ 12 gauge carries eight 000 buckshot pellets.

      End stop.

      There is no debate on this either.

      • Don Ward

        Yes. But you realize that .410 =/= 12 gauge, right?



        And as I said, if you are looking for a self defense round, you are better off by far using a .45 Colt round versus a .410 slug/buckshot/birdshot combo out of your Judge.

        In fact, you are better off not buying a Judge period and just getting a proper K-frame or N-frame revolver chambered in .357, .41 or .44 Magnum or 45 Colt and just buying a couple boxes of specialty pelleted ammo for the odd times when you’re out hiking and are worried about snakes.

        • gunsandrockets

          Of course a 12 gauge is bigger. Which is why the most common defense loads for 12 gauge shotguns are low recoil 2-3/4″ loads of nine 00 buckshot pellets, a loading which only uses about 75% of the full capacity of a 2-3/4″ shotshell.

          Funny how that works.

          • Vizzini

            I’m still not sure what argument you’re trying to make here. The argument that “9 54 gr. 00 buck pellets out of a smoothbore 18″ barrel may be superior to one 250 gr. .45 Colt JHP” is a far different argument than “3 to 5 54 gr. 00 buck pellets out of a 3″ rifled barrel may be superior to one 250-grain .45 Colt JHP.” The main difference being that the latter argument is simply false.

          • gunsandrockets

            So now we are shifting to discussion as to the best load for a Judge revolver? Okay. I can roll with that.

            Are you aware that reported accuracy of a normal .45 Colt bullet from a Judge is crappy because of the jump the bullet has to make before reaching the cylinder gap? I wouldn’t choose a 250 grain JHP for a Judge.

          • Vizzini

            Yeah, I own a Circuit Judge, and the accuracy is crappy relatively compared to a bolt or lever gun, but it’s still good enough for deer or hogs at 50 yards (though I wouldn’t trust it a lot past that). The judge is not a target pistol, but you’re going to be able to put a .45 Colt round in a pie plate with a 3″ judge up to 15-20 yards or so, easy. At that range the 00 buck has spun out well beyond a pie plate and you’re going to be crossing your fingers that one of your 3-4 54 gr. round musket balls with a bullet weight less than a typical .32 ACP (70 gr.), manages to hit the target somewhere.

            If you wouldn’t choose a 250 gr. JHP for a judge, you’re really not being sensible.

            If the .45 Colt out of a Judge is too inaccurate to trust, then that’s simply yet another argument that virtually any handgun on the market in a decent self-defense caliber will serve you better than a Judge (or Governor). If you want a .45 revolver, any other .45 revolver is better.

      • So, then, are you a fan of frangible bullets, as well? Those would give you similar, if not better, terminal effect, with the same limitations in penetration, and you could carry far, far more of them in a reliable standard automatic pistol not made by Taurus.

        • gunsandrockets

          I’m not a fan of the Taurus Judge. Nor do I think frangible handgun bullets penetrate as deeply as buckshot pellets.

    • georgesteele

      Debate: resolved that since many people use .32 ACP and .380 ACP handguns as defensive weapons, owing to concealability, weight, recoil, and size, that a larger caliber weapon firing a heavier projectile mass at higher velocity, is less effective. Choose pro or con and defend your position.

  • Here’s what I wrote:

    “The penetration of a single 000 buck pellet probably won’t be that great; the sectional density and velocity from the Judge (only about 800-850 ft/s) are both pretty poor. I’ve seen some tests that showed them having adequate penetration, and some not.

    And I gotta say, the cleargel results in that video really aren’t encouraging. Penetration is good (although that’s cleargel, not ballistics gel), but tissue disruption is not great.

    • zxcvzxcv

      >but tissue disruption is not great

      What more do you want? It causes about half the damage of a normal 12 gauge 2 3/4″ 00 buckshot shell from a full size shotgun. If you’re talking about cracks that appear in ballistics gel, those simply don’t exist when shooting actual muscle. If you want evidence of this look at Fackler’s tests of 5.45x39mm. There’s a picture of a lung that the bullet went through at full tumble and they measured the size of the hole and it’s almost exactly the size of the bullet (their measurements don’t go to the same precision that one would measure the dimensions a bullet at), only when they line up a shot to the liver is there considerable damage left by the temporary cavity.

      • >What more do you want?

        A Glock 17 firing 9mm JHPs that expand to three-quarters of an inch would be nice.

  • cs

    I can’t find it but i have seen some impressive testing with 410 slugs. Also leiheigh makes some nice Judge/ Smith and Wesson Governor ammo.
    Do check it out.

  • Vizzini

    .45 Colt JHP defensive rounds are so far superior to 000 buck out of a 3″ rifled barrel, I can’t understand why it’s even a debate.

  • Matt

    The Taurus Judge has straight rifling. It does not impart a spin on the projectile(s).

  • demophilus

    A few years ago I shot a .410 Mossberg 500 Cruiser (18.5″ barrel) at a range day. After getting the hang of it, I could pretty much powder a clay bird out to 20 yards or so. It got me wondering what a .410 shot column could do with 000 (or 00, #1, #4, BB loads, etc.) at, say, 7-10 yards.

    Point is, the title of this piece is off the mark. Some shotshells prolly work fine, even out of a Judge or a Governor. But they prolly work better out of a shotty, OK?

  • cwp

    With all due respect to Nathaniel’s research, I don’t think “is the .410 a good choice for self-defense” is really the most interesting question here. I’m more interested in:

    1) Given that .410 is not ideal, what is the optimal defensive load in the event that we’re forced into using it anyway? (The article does take an oblique stab at this, and 000 buck certainly seems like a reasonable answer … as it often is to questions about defensive shotgun loads.)

    2) Assuming we’re using that optimal load, what defensive firearms should we then prefer the .410-loaded Judge (and its ilk) to? Given the comparison to light .32 ACP loads, are we better off with a Judge if the alternative is a Kel-Tec P-32 or a Beretta Tomcat?

    3) Taking into account the size, weight, price, recoil, and general complexity of the Judge, what are the most effective comparable alternatives that could be recommended to someone considering a Judge?

    • This is a really good comment. Everyone should upvote it.

      • Vizzini

        Considering that the Judge is a 29 oz. 7.5-inch long 5-round behemoth of a revolver that retails for about $480, the answer is “almost anything at all.”

        Glock 43: 18 oz. 9mm 6+1, 6.5 in. $460
        Glock 26: 22 oz. 9mm 10+1, 6.5 in. $490
        Ruger LCR .357, 17 oz., 5 rds. 6.5 in. $523
        Used 3″ .357 Magnum S&W or Ruger.
        Ruger SR45, 30 oz. .45 ACP 10+1, 8 in. $440

        Just. Pick. Anything.

    • georgesteele

      I’m not sure that the .410 is “ideal”, but we would consider, for example, a .45 ACP as a competent defensive weapon, and it fires a 230 grain projectile at 8-900 f/s; an 11/16 oz charge of shot from a .410 is 300 grains fired at somewhat higher velocity, from a heavier and less-recoiling gun, with the versatility of slugs, BB, birdshot, buck, or centerfire pistol. I’m not sure how that is malignable as a defensive weapon. I’m not a Judge booster, but I’m just trying to figure out an objective answer here.

  • gunsandrockets

    Wow. I would never expected that much penetration from super expanding bullets.

  • The Taurus Judge and S&W Governor can trace their origins back to the mid-1960s. Gunsmith George Freed sacrificed a pair of Colt M1917 revolvers in order to graft the frames and cylinders together to allow for the use of .410 shotshells. He even patented the conversion. You’ll note that the rifled choke barrel likely started life as a .357 Magnum or .38 Special New Service.


  • zippiest

    Call me old fashioned, but I wouldn’t want to get shot with a .410…

    • Vizzini

      That is definitely an old fashioned argument. I wouldn’t want to get shot with a .22 CB. That doesn’t make it a good choice for self-defense.

  • tazman66gt

    Well, by the amount of comments your clickbait certainly worked.

  • Tassiebush

    It’s an interesting topic. Multiple projectiles with shallower penetration may well have an edge in finding blood vessels and to a lesser extent nerves (important ones like in the spine not so much) but probably the most important thing for stopping an attacker reliably would be the ability to punch through and break bone and disrupt movement. Waiting for someone to stop due to blood loss isn’t a great plan

  • Brian M

    You could’ve just shown the gel tests and backed it up with recommended defensive loads, but this post went more into detail.

  • Andrew Foss

    Want to make it at least passable as a self defense weapon? Load it with its maximally powerful pistol round (.454 Casull, I believe)

  • The average homeowner, having been convinced by the demonstration, will soon regret firing a 3″ magnum 12 gauge in the confines of their home.

  • Lonnie

    I got bored reading this. .410 bird shot is as lethal as any other ammo, if the target is close enough. In a home invasion, the target ain’t gonna be standing at the 100 yard target line! Break into my home and let me shoot you in the face with a Judge firing .410 bird shot, from 9 feet!

  • Thos Fowler

    I have to disagree with the author. There is somewhere, a calculation of the impact multiplied by each shot in the group…and, No. 4 buck is a killer…even on deer. I believe that his mind is made up, and very much in favor of the 9 mil. I do not have a judge, but I sure would hate to be hit with one, whatever the load was.

    And by the by…won’t it also allow a .45 L.Colt cartridge?? Hello…

  • Sam Walker

    Would like to see apples to apples. Got a video showing .410 birdshot and buckshot from a shotgun compared to bo0th from the Judge? I’d expect the 12 gauge to penetrate deeper regardless of what it’s shot from, especially since you compared birdshot to buckshot in the larger gauge. So the comparison is flawed and reeks of an opinionated agenda rather than factual proof.

  • georgesteele

    I don’t agree, however, that the only measure of “effectiveness” is “lethality.” I have often wondered why no one seems to question the merit of the FBI test when evaluating in-home defensive loads. I think it grossly overstates the value of penetration.

    The objective, in the case of a close quarters assailant, is incapacitation – which can be accomplished by means other than killing the person. In fact, you could make the case that killing (lethality) is the OPPOSITE of what you want – unless you like picking up bars of soap in the shower for Bubba.

    Very often, the muzzle blast is enough to unnerve an attacker. Very often, being hit by a .22 will scare the bejeezus out of an attacker and make him turn tail. And very often, it is pain that incapacitates, rather than internal organ destruction. A 4″ diameter wound area in a person’s stomach – which is very sensitive to pain – has an immediate “stop and reconsider your profession” effect; the assailant is not calculating penetration depth, sectional density, or anything else other than how to get the hell out of this situation NOW.

    The birdshot, even, has gone through 4 layers of denim and is now 3 1/2 inches into someone’s abdomen over an area of a 4 or 5 inch diameter circle. That hurts, big time, and the second shot is coming. You aren’t shooting at 25 yards through a car door – the gun is in your kitchen, and so are you. Firing at the head is likewise gonna spin the guy, even if it’s only flesh wounds that do not penetrate the skull – assuming he’s not blind after the first shot. Psychology is a major component of incapacitation.

    Furthermore, the instantaneous energy transfer when a load of birdshot transfers all its kinetic energy in a 3 1/2″ penetration path, compared to doing the same over 16 to 18 inches, happens in 1/5th the time; that means the instantaneous hydrostatic shock peak is higher for a given impact velocity. And that shock is delivered over a 13 times larger total surface area of 1 1/4 square inches (11/16 oz*140 pellets/oz.)=96*(.13/2)^2*pi – MUCH higher than the .1 square inch (.355/2)^2*pi cross-sectional area of a 9mm, for example.

    I just don’t think the question is that one-dimensional. And you can always intersperse .45 Colt and buckshot to provide more contingency characteristics. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t use a Judge, but rather a .40 S&W 4006 – but I think the analysis needs to take more into account than gelatin block penetration when you talk incapacitation, rather than lethality.

    • Cmex

      There’s a problem with your theory, and it’s that if you HAVE to stop someone if they’re ornery, impaired, insane, or whatever, inflicting the maximum damage deep in the body is the best way to do that. Even if someone is convince by PCP they’re strong enough to hurl elephants, physically incapacitating them by blood loss and body damage will make them stop anyway.

      • georgesteele

        There’s a certain amount of truth to that – when you are confronted by someone using PCP. The overwhelming majority of the time, however, you will be dealing with a common criminal, who will most likely respond as I have suggested. There really isn’t any handgun – .454 Casull included – that can be reliably depended upon to stop such a person in his tracks. That’s the work of a 12 gauge.

        The problem is that losing blood takes time, and handguns don’t damage a body – short of a CNS hit – enough to stop a person in his tracks. Most conflicts happen at close quarters – especially since you must first become aware of the attacker, assess the situation while the attacker approaches, decide that deadly force is required, draw and prepare to fire, announce a warning, and then shoot if necessary. During that time, your assailant is getting closer and closer, so if he’s on PCP and heading towards you, you’re gonna need a bigger gun . . .

        A handgun is a weapon you use to defend yourself while getting to your shotgun. For the majority of people other than the insanely possessed, pain will do the trick nicely, allowing you to get away. I would caution you against concluding that killing someone is the ideal way to stop a conflict – as you would find out when arrested and facing a murder rap. DAs can be bastards – especially when they are gun control freaks. You are better off in court testifying that the ammunition you chose was intentionally designed to incapacitate long enough for you to get away than having the DA tell the jury you chose “killer ammo.”