August 2011

‘Judging’ the Governor: We Pit Taurus and S&W Wheelguns

The success of Taurus’ Judge, $620 for our Ultra-Lite version, has finally spawned a copycat in the form of Smith & Wesson’s Governor, $679. What does the Prosecutor say about both?

The new Smith & Wesson Governor is a six-shot revolver with scandium-alloy frame and matte-black finish that is being made to compete against the popular Taurus Judge. Like the Judge, the Governor handles 2.5-inch, 410 shotshells plus 45 Colt cartridges. The Governor also chambers 45 ACP ammunition, which the Judge does not. We still had the Taurus on hand at our Idaho office, so we took a close look at the two of of them side by side. Here’s what we found.

S&W Governor 45 ACP, 45 LC, 410/2.5-inch, $679

The matte-black Governor is a tad shorter than the Judge. We much preferred the 5-ounce-lighter Judge for balance and for accuracy with 45 LC ammo, but the Governor’s shot patterns were half the size of those from the Judge, making the Governor superior in the shotshell realm. If that’s what you need, go with the Gov. Most of us here would stick with the Judge.

Our first and lasting im­pression of the Governor was that it was much heavier than the Taurus Ultra-Lite, and the weight distribution made the Gov feel a lot less handy, poorer balanced, than the Judge despite the Smith’s slightly shorter barrel. In fact, we first thought the S&W had a steel frame. The Smith has six chambers instead of five, and that might be significant for some folks. The bigger cylinder does make for a bulkier handgun, though.

The matte-black finish was all business. The workmanship was excellent, and the lockup, dead tight. The 2.7-inch barrel was an insert into an alloy shroud, the shroud taking the front sight and having all the cuts for the ejector, front "lock," and the contouring for looks. The hammer and trigger lacked the usual case colors of S&W handguns. The firing pin was fixed in the frame, just as with most modern Smiths. The sticky rubber grips had finger grooves that for once we liked, but we had no idea how to get the grips off the gun. Then we found the flyer in the box that told how to get these Hogue Bantam grips on and off the gun, which basically is very easy. We removed them, popped the side plate off, and found classic top-drawer workmanship inside, just like on all—generally more costly—S&W revolvers. The left side of the frame had a hole for a key lock just above the latch. The hammer was well serrated for easy one-hand cocking. The trigger was smooth faced to aid DA work. The SA trigger pull was typical Smith & Wesson, about as good as a trigger gets. It broke at 4.3 pounds. The DA pull was very heavy, on the order of 14 pounds as well as we could measure it.

The Governor had a tritium insert in its front sight. The Taurus had a red fiber-optic insert. The S&W front blade was dovetailed into the barrel shroud, which made it possible to change the impact point if needed. We didn’t find that necessary. The rear sight was a notch in the frame, a common S&W practice, that mated well with the front.

The Smith’s cylinder was locked by the classic, normal frame lock at the rear, and by a stout detent button at the front, which required a push to open. The Taurus had a similar front-latch detent. These long cylinders need something to secure the front to prevent gaping and resultant bullet shaving. The lockup of the S&W Governor was tighter than that of the Taurus. In fact, we found it was possible to rotate the Taurus’ cylinder out of its lockup on a couple of its cylinders by a stout push against the bolt. Not so with the S&W. More on that later.

S&W did a clever bit of machining on the back of the Gov’s cylinder. This consists of a recess that lets full- or one-third-moon clips rest there, far enough into the back of the cylinder so it can close. The Taurus, which has the same clearance between its cylinder and back plate, does not have that inset cut (yet), so 45 Auto cartridges cannot be used. That gives a versatility advantage to the Smith. As with any gun, if you are clever enough to have a good store of proper ammo, most will say isn’t really an issue. However, we consider it to be an advantage in that the Governor can handle 45 ACP cartridges. In fact we expect Taurus to follow suit shortly.

S&W does not want you to try to shoot 45 Auto Rim ammunition in this gun. The reason is that it would not fit. The thick rim of 45 Auto Rim cases is designed to make up for the thickness of the normal 45 ACP rim plus the moon-type clip that holds these rimless ACP cartridges in revolvers designed to shoot them. But there is not enough room between the rear of the frame and the edge of the Governor’s cylinder to permit the gun to close and function perfectly with Auto Rim cases. In case you wondered, the cylinder outlets were 0.463-inch on the S&W and 0.466-inch on the Taurus.

On the range we found the accuracy of the Governor with 45 ACP to be acceptable. With MFS 230-grain ball we got on the order of 3 inches at 15 yards, and with a target-type handload of a cast 200-grain bullet of SWC shape, we got around 3.5-inch groups. There was an occasional flyer with all the normal ammunition, which suggested the twist rate or perhaps the extensive jump was asking too much of it. With Winchester BEB 45 ACP we got 4.3-inch groups on average, but the fliers were pronounced. One group of 3.6 inches had four of the shots in 1.1 inches, and another 5-inch group had four in 2.7 inches. Accuracy with 45 LC was not as good as with the Taurus. The biggest difference was with Winchester 225-grain JHP, which averaged 3.6 out of the Gov but 1.9 out of the Judge.

Another aspect of this gun bears mention. The velocities of all the 45 ACP and 45 LC loads were much lower from the Governor than from handguns that don’t take 410. Winchester’s BEB 185-grain 45 ACP ammo, for example, averaged 590 fps from the Governor, yet this load comes out of a 1911 at over 800 fps. Also, 45 LC loads were significantly lower out of the Gov than from the Judge. Winchester 45 LC 225-grain JHP went 700 fps out of the Governor but 770 out of the Judge. Granted the shorter barrel is part of that problem, but all the ammunition was mighty slow, and sounded soft during our testing.

When it came to 410 shotshells, our first attempt with the Gov was at 3 yards, which gave a pattern with #7.5 shot that essentially fit onto a sheet of 8.5-inch x 11-inch paper. At five yards from the muzzle, the pattern with the Governor spread to about 18 inches. This was far superior to what we got with shot loads from the Judge, which would spread to about a foot at only 3 feet range. The same held true with the #4 shot. The Governor’s pattern slightly overlapped a sheet of paper with a spotty pattern fired from 9 feet, but at that same range the Judge barely struck the paper. We tested what we considered to be the best shot load, Winchester #7.5, in both guns from 15 feet on pattern paper. The pattern differences were astounding. The Smith Governor put all its shot into a 17-inch circle. The Judge put its shot into a 34-inch circle, twice the diameter. The Judge’s pattern had many holes, but the Governor’s pattern was mighty even, and quite impressive. If making good patterns is your wish, you may want to go with the Governor.

So the shotshell results very much favored the Smith & Wesson. We suspected the Governor had a slower twist rate. The twist for the Judge is given as 1:12-inch, but S&W doesn’t list it. We crudely estimated the Governor’s twist rate to be about 1 turn in 20 inches. At any rate, it was apparent the Governor’s twist rate was significantly slower than that of the Judge. The Smith’s barrel is a bit shorter, but that would not have much effect on the pattern.

With 000 buck from 20 feet, the results from both guns were spotty. One cluster would have all three within 2 inches of each other, and the next shot would have them very wide. We again concluded the maximum range for 000 buck is about 20 feet. Anything over that with either gun, and you’d be better off with either 45 LC, or 45 ACP from the Governor.

Our Team Said: The price of this S&W had been predicted to be nearly twice what it actually is. This led to speculation that S&W cut corners on the Governor. We cannot see that that is the case. The costly scandium-alloy frame is perfectly finished inside and out, and the guts of the gun look like classic S&W stuff, top-notch work throughout. For what you get we rate the gun an A-. The slow rifling twist took a toll on the accuracy of the normal ammo, but sure helped the shot patterns. If you seriously need good shot patterns, this gun gave superior results to what we got from the Judge, but it lost out in overall accuracy, and to some extent, velocity as well.

Taurus Judge Model 4510TKR-3BUL 45 LC/410 2.5-inch, $620

We tested this gun extensively in our August 2009 issue, and did a follow-up on patterning it in October 2009. At the time we gave it an A grade. However, in light of the superior patterns from the Smith Governor along with the Governor’s added flexibility in its use of 45 ACP, we had to take another hard look at what you get. The Governor is just slightly more expensive, something that has created lots of talk on the Internet.

The five-shot Judge has a glossy blued finish, "Ribber" grips that handle recoil well, reasonable sights that feature a red front insert, and an aluminum-alloy frame. There are at least a dozen versions of the Judge, so the buyer can tailor the gun extensively as to finish, weight, laser sight, and to some extent barrel length. We’ve seen 6-inch barrels on Judges, but don’t see them listed on the company website (www.taurususa.com).

We noted in our original test the use of the Judge in a courtroom would tend to spray the parties behind the target with shot from the fast-spreading pattern, and we also indicated we would personally prefer 45 LC loads over shot in such a situation. It seems that S&W has done the correct thing in controlling the shot pattern, and we could see the use of shot loads for self defense in crowded courtrooms with it. However, we have heard of many people successfully using the Judge with shotshells to control close-range varmints like snakes, and they seem to like the gun very much for that use. So the fast-spreading pattern does not seem to have been a major problem for everyone. Also, it may be argued that in a self-defense situation, the wide spread of the Judge’s 410 loads could provide some sense of added confidence to the shooter, who will know that he/she will actually hit the target, especially within, say, 10 feet. However, those who believe the Judge—or the Governor—is a pocket shotgun have simply not looked at the gun’s patterns. Remember, the Governor made patterns half the size of the Judge in our testing, yet the Governor’s patterns at 15 feet have spread to the point where not all of the shot will impact a man-size target. We suspect the Judge may become useless as a manstopper at not much beyond 10 feet.

We originally noted the Judge had good lockup. It was rock solid for all our previously tested ammo. This time around we shot it with Winchester 225-grain JHP loads, and found the gun shook out of battery with this slightly hotter ammo. This happened on three of the chambers. We found we could easily force the bolt out of battery on three chambers, so went looking for a cause. We popped the side plate off and found nothing obviously wrong, but there was some dirt that might have limited the bolt’s upward travel. We decided to fix the problem permanently, which took perhaps half an hour. We took out the bolt, and in the process noted that Taurus has simplified much of the original Smith & Wesson-designed innards and made the gun far easier to disassemble and reassemble. Kudos to Taurus. We clamped the bolt in a suitable vise and filed off perhaps ten thousandths from its top so the bolt could rise more and engage deeper into the cylinder slots. We made sure the part was totally deburred from our and the factory’s work, and reassembled the gun. That solved the problem permanently. Please don’t try this at home. Leave it to a qualified gunsmith or return the gun to Taurus if you have a similar problem and it’s still under warranty.

Our Team Said: We generally preferred the Taurus Judge over the Governor with its lighter weight, better balance, and better accuracy. But we much preferred the shot patterns from the S&W Governor. If we had serious uses for a 410-caliber handgun, we’d get the Governor. But if we wanted to shoot shotshells only occasionally and the fast spread was not a problem, and if we wanted a good "carry" gun for the 45 LC that provided superior accuracy and greater velocity than the Governor, the Judge would be our first pick.

ACCURACY AND CHRONOGRAPH DATA

S&W GOVERNOR, 45 ACP, 45 LC, 410/2.5 INCH

TAURUS JUDGE NO. 4510TKR-3BUL 3-INCH 45 LC/410-BORE

GUN TESTS REPORT CARD SUMMARY