Almost 15 years after its release, the Taurus Judge continues to be a divisive revolver, with most people loving or hating it.
Taurus markets the Judge as a defensive firearm for both carry and home protection and claims that the name comes from the number of judges who carry it for personal protection. That’s a neat story and all, but there’s a lot of contention about the Judge’s suitability for either home or personal defense.
Today, we’re going to look at why that contention exists and consider whether or not the criticisms are fair. We’ll start by going over some basics on the Taurus Judge, then dive into our discussion of whether or not it’s good for carry and home defense, and if not, discuss what else (if anything) the Judge is good for.
Size, Fit, & Feel
When you actually handle a Judge, or even just see it in a picture with other objects to give you some scale, one of the first things you’ll notice is that it’s big. Like almost comically large.
The Judge comes in 3” and 6.5” barrel options, with the 3” being the more popular. Both are 5.1” tall and 1.5” wide, shorter barrel version has an overall length of 9.5” and the longer has a 12.5” overall length. The 3” barrel version weighs a hefty 29 ounces, while the 6.5” barrel version weighs a whopping 32 ounces.
Overall, the ergonomics feel pretty typical for a revolver.
The grips are a little all the small end, which is weird because the trigger reach is on the long end, so I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be designed for large or small hands.
On the other hand, it has a nicely textured hammer and cylinder release, both of which are easy to reach and manipulate. The trigger is a little heavy and not very smooth in double-action mode, but it’s okay in single-action.
When it was first released, the Judge got a lot of attention for its novelty factor: it’s capable of shooting both .45 Colt and .410 bore shotshells. That’s still part of the reason it gets so much attention to this day.
There’s not much else to be said about the ammo without getting into info that better fits in our next section other than that the Judge has a 5 round capacity, so let’s leave it at that.
Accuracy & Recoil
One of the Judge’s main features is the rifled barrel.
Shotguns are typically smooth bore for a wider, more even shot distribution pattern, while handguns and (obviously) rifles tend to have rifling in the barrels so that bullets spin, causing them to be more stable and therefore accurate after they exit the barrel.
With the Judge, Taurus tried to compromise those two barrel styles with shallower rifling than you’d normally find on a handgun or rifle. And you know what they say about a good compromise? No one leaves the table happy. This shallow rifling means that bullets aren’t as stable, but the shot doesn’t disperse as widely as it would when fired out of a shotgun barrel.
Basically, it shoots shotgun rounds better than a more typical rifled barrel would, but worse than a shotgun barrel would. Likewise, it shoots bullets better than a smoothbore barrel would, but not as well as a more deeply rifled barrel.
That leads to poor accuracy immediately out of the barrel that quickly gets worse with range.
(Since we’re mentioning the rifling, now seems like the time to make an important side note: According to the NFA’s definition, shotguns don’t have rifled barrels, so the Judge’s rifling prevents it from being classified as a short-barrel shotgun under federal law.
However, California’s broader definition of the term means that it is a short-barrel shotgun under state law, so the Judge isn’t legal in California. But I’m not a lawyer and I’m definitely not your lawyer, so it’s always worth checking to make sure there are no legal issues before buying a gun like this.)
Shotshells do give a good spread, though, but tend to spread off-center. A review from Gunbacker speculates that this is because of the rifled barrel and I’m inclined to agree.
The 6.5” barrel will give you better accuracy than the 3”, but it still won’t do great. The fiber optic front sight doesn’t help your aim too much, but no sight can salvage a fundamentally inaccurate firearm design anyway.
The Taurus Judge has enough recoil to be fun to shoot for those used to revolvers, but it’s also enough to present problems for revolver newbies. The rubber grips help make the recoil more manageable.
So What’s It Good For?
That last section was less than flattering for the Judge, so I’m going to start this section by talking about what the Judge is not good for, then finish on a high note.
So what isn’t the Taurus Judge good for?
Carry and home defense.
I know, I know. Yikes, right?
There are a few problems with the Judge for defensive purposes.
For one, — and this is a problem with revolvers in general, not just the Judge — it has a limited shot capacity, so you don’t get a lot of repeated shots. That’s a problem on its own, but coupled with the Judge’s inaccuracy, it’s even more of an issue.
If you’re going to be right on top of your attacker, it’s less of an issue, but I want to be able to keep a comfortable amount of space between me and anyone who’s trying to hurt me.
Using shot gives you some more wiggle room for accuracy, but it also increases risk of hitting a bystander. Shot also has low penetration (as do slugs, and without the expansion of bullets), so it’s not a great defensive option either. Definitely better self-defense revolvers out there, though we’d recommend going with a pistol for their lower profile and higher round capacity.
And to top all of that off, the Judge’s hefty size and weight make it a poor choice for everyday carry. It’s large enough that even open carry would be impractical, let alone trying to conceal it.
About the only defensive purpose, I’d recommend the Judge for is as a car gun since carjackings pretty much necessitate that the person threatening you be pretty much on top of you.
Since we’ve already established that the Judge isn’t good with precision or distance, it goes without saying that the Judge isn’t a great option for precision target shooting either.
But I did say we’d end on a high note, so what is the Taurus Judge good for?
Having a good time.
This revolver is just damn fun to shoot and sometimes that’s enough. Not every gun needs to be practical. The Judge is a solid choice for taking to the range for some casual target shooting, but I think it really shines with clay shooting.
And the Judge retails for around $450, so it’s not wildly costly for a fun gun either, especially if you can find one secondhand.
By the Numbers
The only real reliability issue with this gun is that the spent .410 shells don’t always slide right out of the cylinder. Since I’m considering the Judge a fun gun, I’m not going to hold that against it too much, but for defensive purposes, I’d take off a lot more than half a point for slowing reloads.
The shot spread is about all that saves the Judge’s accuracy score. By now I’ve ragged on it so much that it feels kind of mean to repeat it here.
The ergonomics are pretty good for the most part, but the small grip compared to the long trigger reach feels, for lack of a better term, kind of wonky. I want to say it sort of feels like it was designed for Gnarl from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to shoot, but maybe one of my editors has a reference that’s more current than 2002?
The Judge looks badass at first glance, and both of the available finishes, matte stainless steel and matte black oxide, look pretty sharp. I think the proportions are a little weird with the 3” barrel, but I can see how some people could find it charming.
Unfortunately, “The Judge” is engraved onto the right side of the barrel in a font that would look more appropriate in a kindergarten classroom in 1993. It kind of ruins the effect. The factory grips don’t do much to help. They’re high quality but are also, at least in my opinion, somewhat hideous.
Revolvers in general don’t leave a lot of room for upgrades and customization, so I didn’t want to judge the Judge (haha) too harshly here. That said, after 15 years on the market, I’d expect to see more customization out there than a few companies making a handful of grips.
Bang for the Buck: 7/10
In the most literal sense, the Judge gives you a whole lot of bang for your buck. (Get it? Because of the recoil? Well I enjoyed the pun anyway.) Seriously though, for a fun gun, the price isn’t too bad, especially with the novelty of being able to shoot both .45 colt and .410 shells. That’s a lot of opportunities for fun. Points off, obviously, for the fact that fun is about all it’s good for.
Overall Rating: 6/10
I struggled with assigning an overall rating for the Judge. A high one feels like it overstates the Judge’s quality for what Taurus markets it for, defense, but a low one feels like it undersells the Judge’s potential for a good time at the range. So here we are, right in the middle.
I started out this review by saying that the Taurus Judge is divisive, but I don’t think it has to be. Few guns are well suited for all purposes and the Judge isn’t an exception to that. The problem that the Judge faces is that Taurus markets it for a use that it’s not great for, defense.
Then less honest or less informed salespeople pitch the Taurus for defensive purposes, telling potential buyers things that aren’t strictly true, like that the gun’s size will intimidate attackers or shot has more stopping power than a bullet or your ability to aim accurately becomes irrelevant with shot.
For customers who aren’t as knowledgeable, those falsehoods sound appealing, and for customers that are in the know, they’re just frustrating.
But if the Judge was sold as a firearm that’s just plain fun to shoot, without any of the false claims about its defensive utility, I think a lot of the resistance to the Judge.
And that’s my bottom line: shooting the Taurus Judge is a blast. If you’re looking for a gun that will give you hours and hours of entertainment at the range, the Judge is a great bet and at a pretty damn approachable price. But if you’re looking for a gun for self-defense, you’re better off looking elsewhere.
Have you shot the Taurus Judge before? What did you think? Do you agree with my impressions? Let us know in the comments. Check out the Best Beginner Revolvers, too!