Since the Taurus Judge revolver came on the scene in 2007, the .45/.410 five-shooter has taken the defense handgun market by storm. An indication of this revolver’s popularity is that at least three other gun makers I’m aware of are chambering revolvers in .45/.410—imitation being the sincerest form of flattery.
Supposedly, the Judge got its name because a number of Miami judges carried these into the courtroom for protection and security. One of the Judge variations, a lighter and shorter-barreled model was dubbed the “Public Defender.” Then, in 2010, the Public Defender Ultra-Lite was introduced. I’d had very little experience with the Taurus product that started the whole thing. The time had finally come.
The Public Defender is actually based on the Model 85 frame, which is the platform on which the small five-shot .38 Special Taurus “snubbies” originated. In its Public Defender guise, the cylinder window in the frame (thus the frame itself) has been expanded and elongated to accept the longer cylinder needed for the 2½-inch .410 shotshell. To aid in “concealabilty” and ease of carry, the Public Defender Ultra-Lite has an aluminum alloy frame mated with a true 2-inch barrel. This pares the weight down to just 20.7 ounces, and the overall length is 9 inches from muzzle to backstrap. It is very much akin to the British “Bulldog” revolvers of the 19th century—small and light with a big hole in the barrel.
Though it’s not what I would term a “pocket gun,” it’s definitely portable if worn on a belt or an inside-the-waistband (IWB) holster. The standard red fiber-optic front sight housing has been rounded so there are no sharp edges to snag on clothing or leather, and it has a fixed rear sight that is integral with the frame. The hammer spur has a reduced profile to aid in this effort as well, but it also has deep checkering for good thumb purchase. An inconspicuous key-activated locking device is part of the hammer, which can disable the revolver for long-term storage.
My sample gun has a stainless steel cylinder and barrel liner. The rest of the gun, including the frame and barrel shroud, is aluminum alloy. A small steel plate is also located on the inner surface of the top strap, just above the barrel-cylinder gap, to help prevent topstrap cutting by the hot gases produced by exploding cartridges. The Public Defender has a non-reflective, matte gray finish, but steel parts like the hammer, trigger, cylinder release catch, ejector rod and screws are satin-nickel-plated, which provides for an interesting color contrast. A blued model is also available. My test gun came with the standard soft rubber “Ribber” grips, so-named because of the horizontal grooves molded into the one-piece grip that help with recoil absorption and muzzle flip reduction. They also provide a firm grip that could help keep someone from pulling the gun out of your hand in the event of a tactical faux pas.
The Public Defender Ultra-Lite is a typical DA revolver; it can be “trigger-cocked” and fired or shot in the SA mode by manually cocking the hammer. The DA trigger pull is quite heavy at 13 to 14 pounds, but should improve with use. The SA pull was a fairly crisp 4 to 5 pounds. The trigger itself is a half-inch wide at its widest point and the face is smooth—just what I like in a defense-oriented revolver. Overall fit and finish was good, and this revolver was laser-etched with “Made in Brazil,” the country where Taurus originated in 1941. One of the few complaints I have is the excessive amount of laser-etching found on this revolver. The frame and barrel are liberally sprinkled with wording and logos. One side of the barrel has “The Judge” with “Taurus” on the other side. The left side of the frame has “Taurus Ultra-Lite,” while the right side has the Taurus logo and other verbiage. The piece de resistance is the upper surface of the top strap, on which is etched a huge “PUBLIC DEFENDER” just forward of the fixed rear sight.
I selected three different .45 Colt cartridges and three .410 defensive-type shells to test in the Taurus. I used the .45 Colt Cowboy cartridge from Black Hills. It features a 250-grain flat-point lead slug at a sedate velocity that is great for practice shooting or plinking. Federal produces a classic .45 Colt defense load that has their 225-grain semi-wadcutter HP bullet, which cuts a full diameter hole in the target; it is now under the Federal Champion label. Third is Winchester’s new PDX1 Personal Protection load. It has a 225-grain bonded-core JHP bullet of the same configuration as found in the Ranger LE ammunition.
Next came the .410 shells. I had two from Federal’s Premium Personal Defense line. The first has a 7/16-ounce charge of #4 copper-plated shot, which equates to about 60 pellets average. The other shell carries four copper-plated 000 buck pellets that are about .33-caliber each. Again under the PDX1 Personal Defense brand, Winchester has a .410 load that carries three copper-plated cylindrical projectiles and 12-plated BB shot all in one 2½-inch shell. All-in-all, this is quite a roundup of ammunition for a shell that was once used only in shotguns to harvest small game like rabbits or squirrels.
My first order of business was to see what kind of velocity figures I’d get from the short 2-inch barrel. Like the big-bore British “Bulldog” of long ago, I expected “big but slow,” and that’s about what it amounted to. One note of caution: Shooting shot loads out of a 2-inch barrel can be hazardous to your chronograph Sky Screens. It “uglied up” a couple of them, but they still work. Next, I put up some rather large Orange Peel bullseye targets at a distance of 15 yards to see the accuracy potential of the .45 Colt cartridges. Shooting was done from the bench using a sandbag rest and firing single-action, four 5-shot groups with each .45 Colt load. I quickly discovered that using a center-hold point of aim (POA), my shots were about 2 inches right and 1 to 2 inches high, so I adjusted my POA to about 8 o’clock in the 9-ring and got impacts in the 9 and 10 rings.
The Public Defender Ultra-Lite has a barrel with very shallow rifling so as to make for better shot patterns and also so you don’t end up with a very leaded-up bore. With this in mind, I did not expect “Camp Perry” results in the accuracy department, but I was surprised. When I did my part, the little five-shooter would put them in a group as small as 1.38 inches for 4 shots. The problem was that I had a big case of the “4+1 Syndrome.” I’d have a nice, fairly tight cluster of shots going and then let loose a flyer. Although the Ribber grips did an outstanding job of recoil absorption and muzzle flip control, the gun still kicked like the proverbial mule, and that nice “melted” cylinder release latch still lacerated my thumb until I put on a shooting glove. I’ll also point out that the red fiber-optic front sight is great for rapid sight acquisition, but not what you want for precision shooting. My best official group was 3.39 inches with the Winchester PDX1 load followed by a 3.40-inch group with the nice, mild Black Hills cowboy ammo.
The .410 shotshells have a kick too, but you get lots of lead flying downrange so you don’t have to be as particular. I did some test patterning using the Shoot-N-C B-27 target centers and tried my first shots at 15 yards. For a 2-inch barreled shotgun, that is stretching it just a bit. Out of about 60 #4 pellets in the Federal shell, I only recorded eight hits in the black. With the other Federal 000 buck load, I got three out of four at that distance. With the Winchester shell, all three cylindrical projectiles hit the target, but none of the 12 BB shot. I put up a new target and moved the stand to 7 yards—dramatic difference. At this range with the #4 pellet load, I had a close-to-centered pattern of 39 hits; with the 000 buck shell, all four pellets made a nice group in the 9-, 10- and X-rings; then the PDX1 put the three big projectiles in a triangular cluster and seven of the 12 BB shot were in the black.
A true “Belly Gun” and across-the-room type weapon, the Public Defender Ultra-Lite does not really lend itself to the typical combat course, so I decided to change my modus operandi. I loaded the cylinder with a “cocktail” of ammunition (one reason I love wheelguns) consisting of two .45 Colt loads first, then the Winchester .410 PDX1, a Federal 000 buck shell and finally the Federal #4 shotshell. Using a B-27 silhouette target and the Shoot-N-C center, I began shooting at 15 yards with the two .45 Colt rounds fired double-action and using the sights. I then advanced 5 yards (to simulate a bad guy coming at me with a knife) and fired the PDX1 shell, 5 more yards and the Federal 000 buck shell. When I was only 5 yards from the target, I fired the Federal #4 shotshell. The only problem encountered was that shotshell ejection from the inner chamber of the cylinder closest to the rubber grips was not a sure thing, but with the scenario I was using, a second cylinder full was not in the cards anyway.
The Taurus Public Defender Ultra-Lite, the holsters and ammunition all performed well during the testing and met my expectations. Its popularity suggests that this summary on the Taurus is not just my opinion. Its size and weight make it one of those “carry much, shoot little” guns that will be there when you need it instead of being so big and heavy that it’s left at home. Is it the perfect gun for close-range self-defense? You be the judge—call 305-624-1115 or visit taurususa.com.