Gun Review: Smith & Wesson Governor

Some people think of shotguns as “magic brooms.” You aim it in the general direction of a bad guy and “sweep” your house clear of two-legged varmints. Without getting too technical about it, no. At bad breath distances, generally speaking, a shotgun ejects a softball-sized lead spread. While it’s easier to hit a target that’s three to five yards away with a softball than a marble, you can miss. Especially if you’re in life-threatening danger. And your target is moving around, quickly, trying to kill you. Still, why not a handheld shotgun? Why not the Smith & Wesson Governor?

On an instinctive level, the Governor makes perfect sense. Like the Taurus Judge that inspired it, the Governor is a fearsome-looking beast. Sure, the jumbo proportions are a bit whacked out; the Governor’s stainless steel cylinder (2.5″) is almost as long as the barrel (2.75″). But it adds to the Governor’s appeal. To paraphrase Crocodile Dundee, “That’s not a revolver, THIS is a revolver.”

Style-wise, Smith & Wesson adhered to Henry Ford’s dictum: you can have the Governor in any color as long as it’s black. Right answer; a stainless steel Governor would look more like a kitchen appliance than a firearm. The handgun’s stainless steel barrel sleeve is a well-judged (so to speak) crowning touch—in a knowing, evil kinda way. Darth Vader, your revolver is ready.

Only not yet. Smith & Wesson has been working flat-out to meet demand for its core products. The Governor has been stuck in primary season for quite some time. But now that it’s out, the .410 shotshell shooter has all the virtues you would—or should—expect from a Smith & Wesson revolver. Our test and evaluation Governor was built like a proverbial brick you-know-what-house; pistol-whipping someone with the Governor would be the human equivalent of seal clubbing.

As the rabbi points out above, the Governor parades down quality street. The cylinder slots into the heat-treated scandium alloy frame like a Tower of Power horn line into a Little Feat song. The Governor’s trigger pull—more accessible than the rival Judge—is pure disco-era fun: Bang Bang Maxwell’s Silver Hammer. Unlike its less expensive Taurian counterpart, the $679 (msrp) Smith & Wesson Governor gives you the sense that the revolver will be in power for generations to come.

Hefty price, hefty piece: 30 ounces. That’s roughly three ounces less gravity suck than the all-steel Taurus Judge 3″, or some 10 ounces less than a snub-nosed Smith & Wesson 686. All of these XXL revolvers are only marginally more carry-friendly than a cranky pit bull. So let’s call the Governor a light heavyweight whose solidity (and rubber grips) offers maximum handgun firepower with minimal recoil. Actually, make that “minimized.”

Light the fuse on some .410 shotshell (2.5″ only) and you’ll discover recoil stout enough to give a pint of Guinness a run for its money. Although the big Smith’s trigger is brand faithful—crisp and clean with no stacking or sticking—a Governor in double-action shotshell mode is no one’s first choice for double taps (a.k.a., closely paired groupings). But then you don’t need them, do you? Or do you?

In general, the more lead you put into a bad guy, the sooner you put it there, the more likely it is that he’ll stop threatening your life. If you can hit the bad guy with the bits and pieces hiding inside one of the Governor’s self-defense shotshells at three to five yards, one shot [per attacker] ought to do it. If you need another go, the Governor gives you five more.

A professional shooter slow-firing Winchester Super X 000 Buck single action at a stationary target reveals that the Governor is still a useful firearm seven yards out. After that, not so much. For an adrenal amateur trying to shoot an honest-to-God bad guy with a shotshell-equipped Governor double action, say, at night, well, it’s strictly hit or miss. My money’s on miss.

Smith & Wesson have done everything in their power to make the Governor as accurate as possible, including a genuinely useful snout-mounted Tritium Night Sight. But shotshell ammo is shotshell ammo. It’ll blow lots of holes in people close by. The farther out you go, the more of an “issue” accuracy and penetration become. As you might expect from non-bullet-shaped, non-spinning objects flying out of a short-barreled handgun.

Past a certain point, a shotshell revolver becomes a case of lose lose. Lose. Ah, but there’s a twist (so to speak). Load-up the Governor with six .45 COLT or .45ACP cartridges (with moon clips) and it’s just as accurate as any of S&Ws Venti-sized revolvers. Shooting a Governor loaded with .45 COLTs, our man Wayne could put holes in the center of a target up to ten yards away all day long. So could you. [Click here for all our test fire vids on TTAG’s guntruth YouTube channel.]

But then, why would you buy a Governor to shoot .45s? If you’re looking for a large caliber self-defense handgun, a ballistic Swiss Army knife isn’t your best bet. Go bespoke. Or why not trade down in gun size and caliber and buy a [still-lethal] wheel gun that’s cheaper to run and likes to get out of the house from time to time? Lest we forget, lots of semi-automatic pistols hold ten or more .45s in a relatively tidy package and there’s no ten-pound trigger pull to throw off your aim.

Handguns are blessed with small size, light weight, your choice of caliber/recoil strengths, short and long-range accuracy, and plenty o’ penetration. Shotguns provide aiming ease, enormous firepower, shoulder-managed recoil and more and larger projectiles. Splitting the difference between a handgun and a shotgun with a Smith & Wesson Governor doesn’t make much sense. You get a little bit of this, a little bit of that. But not all of either.

What you do get: a large, well-made, multi-caliber revolver. I’m sure there are a few situations where only a Smith & Wesson Governor will do. Snakes on a plain? Otherwise, the Governor appeals to two types of buyers: homeowners who don’t know any better and enthusiasts who couldn’t care less. This being America, consumers are free to buy the wrong gun for their needs. As for gun nuts looking for something a little nutty, your watermelons await. Over to you Roy . . .


Caliber: .410 2 1/2″, .45 ACP, .45 Colt
Capacity: 6 Rounds
Action: Single/Double Action
Barrel Length: 2.75″ / 6.985 cm
Front Sight: Tritium Night Sight (Dovetailed)
Rear Sight: Fixed
Grip: Synthetic
Weight: 29.6 oz. / 839.145 g
Overall Length: 8.5″ / 21.59 cm
Height: 5.5″ / 13.97 cm
Width: 1.75″ / 4.445 cm
Frame Material: Scandium Alloy
Cylinder: Stainless PVD
Finish: Matte Black

RATINGS (Out of five stars)

Style  * * * *
The Governor’s like a nightclub bouncer with an over-sized neck: a bit goofy-looking but intimidating nonetheless.

Ergonomics (carry) * * *
Surprisingly light for a huge revolver, but it is a huge revolver.

Ergonomics (firing)  * * * *
If you’re shooting shotshell, the recoil is noticeably manageable. Or manageably noticeable. If you’re shooting .45s, the Governor’s as mild as a Montecristo.

Reliability  * * * * *
Our only problem: the Governor didn’t want to surrender the spent husks from Dupo 7’s crazy ass self-defense shells. At all. Otherwise, it fired perfectly.

Customize This  * *
You can buy it with a built-in laser sight. And . . . that’s it.

Kinda like the world’s most fire-retardant paper hat.

[Targets courtesy Birchwood Casey. Click here to see their full range of targets.]