September 24, 2010
I must confess i didn't get it when Taurus introduced the Judge. I thought it was awful bulky for a concealed carry piece, and I questioned the concept of shotgun shells in a defensive revolver. I could see the benefit for folks who spend a lot of time in snake country, but I didn't consider the Judge a proper concealed carry gun. Fortunately for Taurus, no one asked me, because the Judge is the best-selling gun in Taurus history.
The Judge caught on fast, and it wasn't long before I started seeing them on the belts of my rancher friends. Few are gun guys, yet almost every rancher I know bought one.
No matter where I went, Judge-toting ranchers were itching to whip out' their new toys. By the time it had been out a year, I'd probably fired a dozen of these guns. They impressed me enough that I eventually ordered the then-new UltraLite model.
My Ultralight shot nice, tight patterns with .410 buckshot and it grouped phenomenally well with .45 Colt loads. Consequently, I've shot it an awful lot and eventually came to embrace the idea of the .410-buckshot-loaded wheelgun for self defense.
Evidently, so have a lot of other folks, because the popularity of the Judge led Taurus to introduce the more concealable Public Defender last year.
The Public Defender is based on Taurus' small-frame Model 85. Though the cylinder is stretched to accommodate 21â'„2-inch .410 shells, the grip frame is the same as Taurus' popular snubby, so it's easier to conceal. Taurus' distinctive ribbed, rubber grips are standard. So is a low-profile cylinder release latch.
The hammer is an abbreviated number with just enough serrations to provide a purchase for cocking and decocking the revolver should you choose to fire it single-action.
The Public Defender's smooth, narrow trigger looks good, but its 11-pound, four-ounce double-action pull is too heavy for fast double-action work.
The single-action pull is also heavy at six pounds, seven ounces.
The Public Defender's barrel is a stubby, two-inch tube with a shrouded ejector rod. A ramped front sight with a red fiber-optic insert is dovetailed into the barrel rib. The rear sight is a fixed notch.
The Public Defender features a bobbed hammer and low-profile cylinder latch that make it a better concealed carry gun.
This sight combination works well in daylight and adequately in low-light conditions, but it is not a night sight.
The Public Defender is available in matte stainless, blue steel and blue steel with a titanium cylinder. I chose the matte stainless finish for its corrosion resistance, which is an essential concealed carry feature in the humid patch of coastal Texas I call home.
The Judge's popularity is largely due to the decisive effect of buckshot on people and the belief that the pattern thrown by the little five-shooter will make hits more likely. That popularity drove Federal to design a new shotshell specifically for the Judge (featured in last month's issue--Ed.). I did the bulk of my testing with the new 2½-inch load, which propels four pellets of 000 buck at 1,200 fps.
The Public Defender comes with a fiber-optic front sight, but the author believes a tritium model would be a good addition.
At five and seven yards, the Public Defender threw tight, fist-size patterns right on top of the front sight. I imagine four pellets striking so close together and driving helter-skelter through an attacker's chest cavity would be devastating. But that power comes at a price: Recoil and muzzle rise were considerable, though not unmanageable with a bit of practice.
At 10 yards, the patterns opened up a bit, but all the pellets were well within the chest of a B-27 silhouette. At 15 yards, the pattern opened up considerably more. But even at that range it didn't spread enough to make up for bad shot placement. Though vertical dispersion was significant, the pellets were well-centered.
Based on my experience with the Public Defender and other Judges, I would say 10 yards is about the effective range for shotshells. Still, 10 yards is a hell of a long way for a gunfight, and I would feel pretty safe with a shotshell-stuffed snubby.
Poor buckshot performance at long range and on intermediate barriers is why I carry my Judge with two shotshells and three .45 Colt defensive loads. So loaded, I can handle just about any problem on the ranch or on the street.
With that in mind, I tested two .45 loads from Hornady as well as Speer's 250-grain Gold Dot load. All three shot well, with Hornady's light-kicking 255-grain cowboy load being the most fun, and the Gold Dot load being the most accurate. All three were accurate enough for self-defense.
Overall, I was impressed with the new Public Defender. My test gun was very accurate, and the smaller grip frame makes it much more concealable. I'd like to see a night sight option and a better trigger pull, but the Public Defender is a keeper as is.
The gun's trigger pull is fairly heavy, but it's smooth enough to make accurate double-action shooting possible.