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Review: Smith & Wesson Governor

by James Tarr   |  November 4th, 2011 16
Smith & Wesson Governor

Smith & Wesson’s Governor is a multipurpose defensive handgun that handles both .410 shotshells and centerfire metallic cartridges.

The new Governor from Smith & Wesson is designed to be the ultimate multi-purpose multi-caliber defensive handgun. Smith doesn’t say that in its advertising, but looking at this new revolver I think it’s safe to say that’s what the company is thinking.

The Governor isn’t the first modern revolver chambered for the .410 shotshell, but two things make it unique. First, in addition to holding six rounds of .410 2.5-inch shotshell or .45 Colt, the cylinder is relieved to take moon clips, so the Governor can fire .45 ACPs.

.45 ACP, .45 Colt, .410 shotshell

Like other guns of its kind, the Governor fires .410 shotshells (r.) and .45 Colt (c.) rounds but adds the popular .45 ACP (l.) to the mix.

Second, to accommodate 2.5-inch shotshells, the cylinder of a revolver has to be noticeably longer than usual, and this can result in quite a front-heavy package. The Governor starts with a scandium alloy frame, which reduces the total overall weight to 29.6 ounces. While it is not small (8.5 inches overall length), it is more than light enough to be carried, with a weight closer to a Glock than a 1911. That is not bad at all for a revolver this size, and it did not seem especially front-heavy when I first picked one up.

The six-chamber cylinder is stainless steel with a black non-glare PVD coating, and the Governor is equipped with finger-groove black rubber Hogue Bantam grips. There’s also a model offered with Crimson Trace Lasergrips.

The Governor has a 2.75-inch barrel tipped with a dovetailed tritium night sight, matched up with a fixed rear sight machined out of the frame. This is an excellent setup for a defensive

Smith & Wesson Governor loaded with moon clip

The cylinder is relieved to accept .45 ACP moon clips, and nothing is faster to load and unload in a revolver than moon clips.

handgun. Some people may argue for an adjustable rear sight, so the pistol can be zeroed for the different calibers it can chamber, but I disagree.

I consider the Governor a .410 revolver that can also handle pistol calibers, not the other way around, and it is designed for close-range defensive tasks, not target shooting. There is nothing simpler or stronger than a fixed rear sight milled into the frame, and it will not catch on clothing if you elect to carry it—which is now much more of an option because of the reduced weight.

The .45 Colt  has a long, solid history and is a viable defensive caliber in its own right. The standard .45 Colt loading features a bullet weighing between 225 and 255 grains traveling between 850 and 925 fps. This is more or less equivalent to modern heavy-bullet loadings of the .45 ACP, but that is not the public perception of the cartridge. Most people aren’t aware that

Firing Smith & Wesson Governor

When firing .410 shells, recoil is brisk, but the rubber Hogue grips do a great job of making it manageable.

most ammunition manufacturers are making modern defensive ammunition for the .45 Colt; it’s not just a cowboy caliber anymore.

So why bother to chamber the Governor in a third caliber? Many people will like the convenience of owning a revolver that chambers the same ammo as their autoloader. If you own more than one handgun, chances are you own one chambered in .45 ACP.

As far as convenience goes, unloading spent cases from a revolver can’t get simpler than when you’re using full moon clips, as they fall out in one piece. Smith & Wesson smartly includes two with each Governor. Moon clips work like speedloaders, and spares don’t take up much room in a pocket. Also, while there are numerous loads available for the .45 Colt, they pale in comparison to the diverse cornucopia found for the .45 ACP. The .45 ACP is additionally available in a number of +P offerings.

In addition to the two six-round full moon clips S&W provides with each gun, you get three two-round moon clips, so you theoretically could fill your cylinder with two rounds each of .45 ACP, .45 Colt and .410.

The Governor’s sights seemed regulated for projectiles traveling around 850 fps. Anything slower than that and the rounds were hitting high, and anything faster and they were hitting low. The slow Hornady 225-grain .45 Colt Cowboy load (just over 700 fps) hit about three inches high at 25 yards, whereas their fast 185-grain Critical Defense loading in that same caliber (1,100 fps) hit six inches low.

In testing .410 loads, at five yards the Remington pellets hit the target in a six-inch group and at 10 yards were doing wild 12- to 18-inch patterns. The Remington load was hitting centered at that distance, however. The PDX1 load, while keeping tight groups (Defense Discs in sub-four-inch groups at 10 yards, with the BBs keeping a 12-inch pattern) hit a good five inches high at 10 yards. Except for a few BBs it was completely off the paper—high—at 25 yards.

If you look at the basic ballistics of the .410 versus the .45 Colt or .45 ACP, standard .410 loads have nearly the same payload/velocity as .41 Magnums. Some defensive loads (like the Winchester PDX1) created specifically for .410 revolvers have reduced velocities, but they still recoil more than .45 Colt or .45 ACPs when fired in the Governor. Firing the Governor with .410 loads feels like touching off a magnum, and I was grateful for the comfortable rubber grips. However, these are grips designed for concealment as much as comfort and do not cover the back of the frame.

At 10 yards, the maximum distance you’re likely to be engaging someone defensively inside a home, the Governor with most .410 loads was doing 12-inch groups or better. In other situations, you would really need to consider what you’re loading into the Governor. A large, crowded venue is not the ideal place to be carrying a defensive handgun loaded with a cartridge that fires ever-expanding clouds of projectiles, any one of which could kill someone.

Personally I think of the Governor as a valuable general purpose bedside table gun when loaded with shotshells. The beauty of this design allows you to load the Governor with birdshot for the field, buckshot for the bedside table, and yet load it with .45s when it comes time to head out of the house running errands. There are inherent dangers in this, so you need to be aware of just what ammunition is loaded into the revolver and where it hits with every type of ammo you might load into it.

Fast Specs

  • Type: DA/SA revolver
  • Caliber: .45 ACP/.45 Colt/.410 2.5 in.
  • Capacity: 6
  • Barrel: 2.75 in.
  • OAL/Width/Height: 8.5/1.75/6.7 in.
  • Weight: 29.6 oz.
  • Finish: matte black
  • Frame: scandium
  • Cylinder: stainless w/matte black PVD coating
  • Sights: notch rear, dovetailed tritium front
  • Trigger: 11 lb. DA, 4 lb. SA
  • Price: $679
  • Manufacturer: Smith & Wesson

 

Accuracy Results

  • Avg. with .45 ACP—3.6 in.
  • Avg. with .45 Colt—3.0 in.
  • Accuracy results are the averages of four five-shot groups at 25 yards from a sandbag rest.
  • John Yoder

    Thanks for an excellent review. Looking forward to getting my hands on one of these very soon, basically for a home defence weapon. I've noticed that many reviews of this pistol overlook what, in my opinion, is an ideal .410 load, the DDplecks Dupo Short Magnum. 410.

    • Dan

      Ask any cop,he will tell you he carries a gun to protect himself, not you. Think about it for a sec.

  • T stillson

    You won't find one in California. Cal D O J has banned them here.

  • Daniel E. Watters

    I've long wondered how they managed to keep out cartridges that are too powerful for the frame and/or cylinder: .45 Super/.450 SMC, .460 Rowland, .45 Winchester Magnum, . 454 Casull, .460 S&W Magnum, and .444 Marlin. Given the size of the .410/2.5" shotshell, I would not be surprised to learn that most of these will fit.

  • Royce D. Brown Sr.

    The Governor is a very dependable home defensive weapon to have in your home.

  • http://twitter.com/darrell_lance @darrell_lance

    i have just one complaint when useing 410 round's make sure you buy the round's for the gun, because the 410 shot gun round will swell at the firing pin causing it to jam on the 2nd or 3rd round…..

  • Les

    I just bought one and shot all three type rounds in it, I have had not problems with the recoil on any shell. For the 410 shell get the ones for a handgun in 00 buck. I like the 225 or 250 grain 45 colt bestin this handgun.

  • John Dough

    Does anybody know if you can use the (+P) 45 acp in the Governor?

  • mukwah

    …when you’re out ruuning errands????

    who packs a gun when they’re out buying milk?

    you people disgust me

    • Cynthia Traylor

      Just think if you have to call the law to save your ass, you will be dead before they get their.also I am a military veteran and a woman . I would rather have a gun than depend on someone else to defend especially some wimp .

    • chas

      Some areas in this country are not Mayberry RFD, if your even old enough to remember.

    • MrApple

      Do the criminals and thugs in your area RSVP when they want to rob/rape/assault/kill you? Or do you have ESP and the ability of future sight?

    • Greyman

      I am behind you in line and if something goes sideways you will thank God I brought my gun to get milk.

  • Greyman

    Have one love it. .45 acp +p ok. Will not accept 454 casull 460 etc…
    I load .45 colt hot for my Rugers so i will just avoid using .45 colt in this gun altogether, just safer. The governor is meant to be used at 20 feet or less and is perfect within this limitation.

    • Greyman

      Also fires .45 gap and .45 schofield.

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