Concealed Carry & Home Defense

Gun Test: Taurus Public Defender

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By Todd Burgreen, GUNS Magazine

The astounding popularity and success of the Taurus Judge, introduced a few years ago, has led to Taurus introducing the more compact Public Defender model. The Public Defender, with its smaller frame, compact grip, bobbed hammer and shorter 2″ barrel, is intended more for personal-defense use than the original more utilitarian Judge. Defense can be viewed in terms of 2- and 4-legged threats. Why did Taurus introduce a 5-shot, short-barreled, double-action revolver in the form of the Judge series into the market in the first place? Gun “gurus” still scoff at the concept involving the combination of .410/45 Colt chambers. I’ll admit my first impression of the Judge: “What a quaint pistol.” At best it was an oddity, with its ability of chambering both a .45 Colt pistol round and a 2-1/2″ .410 shotgun shell. I had the chance to handle a Taurus Judge a few years ago when my father purchased one. Upon evaluation, I came to the conclusion the Taurus Model 4410 Judge is a viable weapon in terms of defense, survival and just plain fun; the Public Defender is even more so.

In terms of personal defense, the Taurus’s Public Defender seems counterintuitive, especially when compared against polymer-framed, high-capacity semi-automatic pistols or tuned 1911s capable of shooting 1″ groups at 50 yards. None of these features guarantee success in a close-quarter defensive encounter. It’s mindset, awareness and making sure you have a weapon on you that will allow you to make it through a deadly force encounter. Repeated statistics show the majority of defensive shootings take place under 7′. Put another way, most gunfights take place in an area the size of a dining room rug. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the source of this great quote, but it puts everything in perspective: “Stopping power and reliability is a premium when forced to fight.” The Taurus Public Defender delivers this premium in an affordable package. The Taurus’s .410 chambering loaded with buckshot is potent at close range. The Public Defender’s revolver action eliminates any chance of a slide coming into contact with an object during a close encounter, inducing a malfunction. In further refining the Judge concept for self-defense, Taurus’ Public Defender was done right.

The Taurus Public Defender from the business end, showing both .410 buckshot
and .45 Colt in the revolver’s five chamber holes.

The Public Defender is a Taurus refinement of the earlier Judge model, reflecting
a more compact size personal. It chambers both 2-1/2″ .410 shotshells and .45 Colt
pistol rounds. The Public Defender’s elongated cylinder and small frame “ribber”
grips are well illustrated here.


Multiple Role Revolver

The Public Defender should not only be viewed through a personal-defense lens in terms of encounters with other people. The key to the entire .410/.45 Colt revolver genre is its versatility in allowing someone to successfully navigate a myriad of scenarios like hiking, camping, and survival situations. The Public Defender’s compact size allows it to be transported and thus likely more available when needed.

The primary cartridge chambering with the Defender will be the .410 shotgun. The .45 Colt is a time-proven cartridge, but there is no need to carry a revolver the size of the Defender to use the .45 Colt. Versatility doesn’t end with the dual chambering, considering the .410 offers multiple loads ranging from slugs (I would use .45 Colt if contemplating solitary projectiles), buckshot (my favorite) and numerous birdshot sizes. The Public Defender’s ability to utilize .410 shotshells such as buckshot, various pellet sizes and slugs combined with .45 Colt chambering translates into it having roles as a personal-defense weapon, trail gun and for recreation.

While the Public Defender doesn’t represent a perfect package in any one specific area, it satisfies many tasks without forcing a customer to invest in multiple platforms. You can place the Public Defender in a class all of its own. This revolver has enormous appeal to the public because of its cost effectiveness and utility. Even though experts are splitting hairs about the Taurus .410/.45 Colt revolvers, dealers are having trouble keeping them on their shelves. The example of a movie getting less-than rave reviews yet selling out the box office every night comes to mind. Consumers vote with their pocketbooks, and the Public Defender, along with other offerings in the Judge series, are flying off of dealers’ shelves.

Some time ago I carried a 2-shot .410/.45 Colt Derringer but got rid of it due limited capacity (notice I didn’t say I doubted its effectiveness). The Taurus Defender is a viable alternative for people wanting to utilize a “shotgun” pistol. The Public Defender’s fiber-optic front sight combined with fixed rear notch sight facilitates accurate shooting compared to a Derringer. The “ribber” grip, a Taurus signature feature, also aids in placing rounds on target, not to mention taming recoil. The Public Defender is a definite improvement over my Derringer experience. The Public Defender increases capacity over the Derringer (to five), but does not increase the size near as much.

The Public Defender is derived from the Taurus compact revolver frame. Do not be misled by this. The Public Defender definitely does not have a .38 snubby profile. The oversized cylinder needed to accommodate the 2-1/2″ .410 shells rules this out. However, the Public Defender is a definite refinement to the original Judge and caters more to the personal-defense role with its reduced size and bobbed hammer. The model I handled featured a matte stainless steel construction weighing in at 29 ounces empty. My suggestion for concealable carry with the Public Defender is a general type holster not molded to a specific revolver. An even better option is one of the BLACKHAWK! Serpa holsters now available.

.410 #8 shotshells exhibited relatively dense patterns (top) at 5 yards, keeping most of the shot inside a B27 silhouette target’s 7 ring. The Federal Personal Defense loads proved better in performance with 2″ spread at 3 yards and 6″ at 7 yards and not much more than this at 10 yards. (bottom)


Testing The Defender

The Public Defender’s defensive capabilities are focused on 2-legged predators. I must mention, however, the Taurus Public Defender revolver would make a handy backpack or trail weapon considering its ammunition versatility. The Defender is also a solid choice for a vehicle-based or “bug-out” bag firearm. My testing was focused on buckshot loadings from Sellier & Bellot and Federal. Black Hills Ammunition provided the .45 Colt ammo. The 000 buckshot, launching three .36-caliber balls weighing approximately 68 to 70 grains each with every trigger pull, is the optimum defensive load in my opinion. A sign of the Taurus’s popularity is the introduction by Federal of a Personal Defense 000 buckshot load featuring four pellets versus three, as found in the Sellier & Bellot buckshot load. Manufacture’s list velocity for the buckshot loads at 1,200-plus fps from full-length barrels. Obviously, velocity from the Public Defender’s 2″ barrel will be less. Still, the capability of inflicting multiple wound channels, each similar in size to a 9mm round, is comforting. Buckshot’s lethality is based on multiple wound tracks penetrating the targets torso simultaneously. Birdshot has its utility if overpenetration is a concern within a home, but a price is paid in terminal ballistic performance and effective range. Various studies indicate 000 buckshot at close range will penetrate 12″ of ballistic gelatin, which is enough to reach vital organs, where as #4 or #6 shot penetrates 6″ at best. An added caveat is these studies were conducted with long-barreled shotguns. The birdshot certainly will be painful and cause tissue damage, but will not reliably shutdown a determined adversary. The .410 birdshot would be optimum for snakes thanks to its wider spread. The Public Defender’s versatility in accepting various loads is the key to its popularity and appeal.

Next, the test continues 

I tested the Public Defender at 3, 7, and 10 yards against steel poppers, plate racks and paper targets utilizing the two buckshot loads, birdshot and .45 Colt loadings. My testing concentrated on the .410’s capabilities. I feel the .45 Colt is ancillary to the .410 chambering. The .45 Colt proved accurate against the 15-yard steel popper targets and plate rack, even with the long “jump” required for the bullet leaving the cylinder before engaging the barrel’s rifling. The .45 Colt rounds were a relief, in terms of recoil, compared to the .410 shotshells. The Black Hills’ 250-grain load reliably put down steel man targets out to 25 yards and demands respect further out, depending on shooter proficiency. This is well beyond any shotshell range. The Public Defender’s bobbed hammer allowed for modified single-action trigger pull aiding in accuracy versus a strictly double-action only. Let me explain. As the Public Defender’s trigger is pulled rearward, a noticeable “hitch” is encountered. This can serve as a cue to the user, as all travel is now taken up with the next amount of rearward travel serving to break the shot. This hitch is not obnoxious or a detriment to double-action camming; just enough for a user familiar with the Public Defender to use to their advantage for breaking a longer distance shot. Double action will more than likely be used with the .410 chamberings considering ranges likely involved in encounters involving multiple shotgun projectiles. The Black Hills’ .45 Colt’s 250-grain lead slug leaves the muzzle at approximately 700 fps and offers historically reliable terminal performance. The .45 Colt option adds great versatility to the Public Defender’s repertoire.

My prior experiences with the Public Defender’s predecessor, the Judge with .410 #8 shotshells exhibited relatively dense patterns at 5 yards, keeping most of the shot inside a B27 silhouette target’s 7 ring. The Public Defender duplicated this performance on the range. Beyond 5 yards, I would deem shotshells ineffective, in terms of use on 2- or 4-legged animals, due to dispersion of the shot. The Sellier & Bellot 000 buckshot showed 6″ dispersion at 3 yards and kept all pellets in the 7 ring of a B27 silhouette target out to 10 yards. At 15 yards, the Sellier & Bellot buckshot started showing signs of unreliability with pellets off target. The Federal Personal Defense loads proved better in performance with 2″ spread at 3 yards and 6″ at 7 yards and not much more than this at 10 yards. The Federal’s 4 pellet 000 performance in the Public Defender reinforced impressions of prior experience with its big brother Judge model. I honestly would not have believed such performance without seeing the results first hand.

The Taurus Public Defender was evaluated using plate racks, steel
popper targets and B27 silhouettes.


One Last Thing

One issue needs clarifying. The Public Defender is a pistol in terms of use and lethality, not a short-barreled shotgun. The .410 chambering is no street sweeper and aimed fire is still a must. It proved possible to miss clustered plate rack targets when shooting hastily at ranges under 7 yards. The use of .410 buckshot dictates ranges of 15 yards or less for most efficient use. However, the buckshot loading has few rivals when used within this parameter. The Public Defender offers a person a better chance of hitting a target with its firepower “cone” compared to a centerfire pistol round, especially against moving targets. The .45 Colt pistol round is a single projectile with a minimal spatial cross-section, whereas the three or four 000 buckshot pellets disperse into a 6″ pattern even at close range. The 6″ diameter pattern translates into 1 square foot of area a target can be struck. This is the advantage offered with the Public Defender and any other shotgun for that matter. The Taurus Public Defender fulfills its design intentions as a utilitarian firearm with multiple uses and wide appeal.

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