Monthly Archives: September 2013

How Effective is a Hit from a Raging Judge?

As a follow-up to my recent article, I decided to find out how effective a .454 Casull hit would be from a Raging Judge Magnum.  Now, I’m not advocating that you use a .454 Casull as a personal defense weapon; the sheer power of the cartridge introduces complications that may not be worth the benefit — the massive recoil would make getting a second shot off rather tricky, the overpenetration would be extreme, and if you happened to miss, the destructive power of that wild round and the liability concerns (if it misses your target, it’s still going to hit something) all lead me to think that it’s probably not the best idea to use a .454 Casull as a personal defense round.

But — it should make for some pretty spectacular footage, right?

So I took the Raging Judge to the range, loaded it up with a Speer Handgun Hunting Deep Curl .454 Casull rounds, and fired one into a block of ClearBallistics synthetic ballistic gelatin.  And the results were… noteworthy.  But before I show you what the Raging Judge .454 did to the gel block, let’s first put it into context — I’m going to show you what a full-power full-size service pistol with premium defensive ammo does.  So in the video below you’ll find two shots: first is a Glock 21 .45 ACP, firing the excellent Federal Premium HST +P hollowpoint rounds.  This is about as good as it gets for a conventional handgun, and you can see the shock of impact and the penetration and damage that a premium big-bore hollowpoint can do.  Then, it’s followed up by the Raging Judge Magnum shooting the Speer DCHP .454 Casull into another ClearBallistics gelatin block.  Enjoy.

The .45 ACP hits hard, sure, but nothing at all like the .454 Casull.  It picks up the entire 18-lb block of gel, entirely off the table, and shoves another 18-lb block clean off the screen!  It destroyed the table, and the temporary stretch cavity is so huge that it’d likely rip and shred flesh just like a high-powered rifle would.  Nor surprisingly, considering the .454 Casull round is delivering rifle-caliber energy and while the velocity isn’t quite up to high-power rifle levels, the bullet is nearly twice the weight of a standard .308 rifle’s projectile, so there’s still a tremendous amount of damage being done.

.45 ACP is one of my favorite calibers, and it’s a potent and proven manstopper, but this sure does put it in perspective!

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How Effective Is A Hit From A Judge?

As anyone who’s googled “Taurus Judge” knows, there’s been an ongoing (and frequently vitriolic) debate over how effective a Judge is, as a defensive weapon.  Most will acknowledge that the .45 Colt is an effective round, but there’s tremendous controversy over the effectiveness of buckshot from a Judge.

I attempted to address this in my video review of the Judge Public Defender Part 2: As A Shotgun, below:

However, I’m still exploring ways to quantify just how effective a hit from the handgun shotgun revolver would be.  We know that the Judge (with the proper ammo) can penetrate very deeply; in my own ballistics gelatin tests and in tests from others, we’ve seen well in excess of 16″ of penetration, even up to 20″.  But how do four .36-caliber buckshot balls compare, in terms of incapacitating effectiveness, against an expanding hollowpoint from something like a .45 ACP?  Is there even any way to compare them?

Comparing the effectiveness of different cartridges, and finding a way to quantify their relative effectiveness, has been a popular topic since at least 1904, when the Thompson-LaGarde tests were conducted to find out how many shots from various calibers it took to incapacitate a steer.  Since then we’ve seen a variety of “factors” or “formulas”, such as the TKO (“Taylor Knock Out Factor”) or the Marshall-Sanow “One Shot Stop” percentage, all attempting to classify or compare relative cartridge power, and all substantially flawed in one way or another.  The Thompson-LaGarde steer tests are in fact very valid for hunters of large animals over 1,000 pounds, but for the purpose of defending against an attacking human they’re much less relevant because they’re based on dropping massive animals.  The TKO factor is highly unscientific and was never meant to be applied to handgun rounds anyway, and the Marshall-Sanow database has been seriously discredited by several leading members of the IWBA.

So where can we turn to get an impartial, scientific, quantifiable assessment of the damaging factor and the incapacitating capability of a particular handgun round?  As in — how can we reliably speculate on how effective a bullet will be in stopping an attacker?

The FBI, the International Wound Ballistics Association, and leading trauma surgeons, combat medics, emergency-room physicians and others came together in multiple summits and determined, by consensus, that a bullet needs to be able to penetrate at least 12″, and ideally no more than 18″, in order to be able to inflict an incapacitating wound.  You can read the FBI report here.

The conclusions from the FBI report are pretty simple to grasp — a bullet needs to penetrate deep enough to hit the vital organs, and the larger the bullet, the more tissue will be damaged, so bigger = better, so long as adequate penetration is achieved first.

However, that doesn’t help us determine how to rank bullets against each other in terms of comparative effectiveness.  The FBI report gives us a metric to measure “pass/fail” of any particular bullet, but in reality that’s a pretty strict measuring stick — a bullet that penetrates 11.5″ would be classified as a “fail” even though it should seem pretty obvious that an 11.5″ penetrating bullet is by no means guaranteed to fail.  It won’t be as effective as a 14″-penetrating bullet, sure, but that doesn’t mean it would be totally ineffective either!

So how can we address the popular need of wanting to be able to determine, classify, and compare bullet effectiveness?  Duncan MacPherson, NASA rocket scientist and founding member of the International Wound Ballistics Association, publishes his attempt at a Wound Trama Incapacitation (WTI) factor in his excellent book Bullet Penetration: Modeling the Dynamics and the Incapacitation Resulting from Wound Trauma“.  Unfortunately the book is out of print, and the only way to get a copy is to scour ebay or used bookstores or buy a used copy off Amazon, but if you’re interested in the subject, it’s a fascinating examination of what really, really happens when a bullet impacts flesh.

In the last chapter of the book, MacPherson presents a mathematical model for determining the incapacitation likelihood of any particular cartridge.  Now, by “incapacitation”, he means damaging the attacker so much that the attacker is forced to stop attacking.  MacPherson approaches it from the medically-validated aspect of how much tissue is damaged, and how deeply the bullet penetrates.  He doesn’t rely on mysticism like “energy dumps” or “hydrostatic shock” or other non-quantifiable and highly disputed concepts; instead he relies on the science of wound ballistics, the examination of trauma victims, the realities of bullet hits, and the use of science to determine how much damage a particular bullet will do, and how much damage a typical human attacker could withstand before their body forces them to shut down.

Taking 300 pages of utterly brilliant mathematical modeling and physical science and boiling it all together and distilling it down to a simple number is a bold task, but once all is said and done, the conclusion reached is that a bullet that penetrates deeply enough and destroys 40 grams of tissue is a pretty good candidate for incapacitating a target.  There’s much more to it than that, of course, and if you want to truly understand it you’ll have to get the book, but the model MacPherson uses assigns different values and weighting to different penetration depths, it takes into account velocities, it assigns different factors to hollowpoints, or wadcutters, or roundnose projectiles, etc.  It’s quite detailed and excellently done, but once it’s all boiled down and accurately accounted for, the net result is: how much tissue is disrupted?  If it’s a big-enough hit, and deep enough, it stands a good chance of incapacitating the attacker.

Based on his model, I’ve calculated the mass of tissue destroyed for my favorite rounds from two Judges, the Public Defender (the smallest of Judges and the “weakest”) and the Raging Judge Magnum (the largest of Judges and the “most powerful” Judge pistol).

The two rounds I’m using are the Federal 410 Handgun 000 buckshot, and the NobelSport .40-caliber buckshot.


In the Federal .410 000 round, there are four pellets of .36″ diameter and 63.5 grains apiece in the 2.5″ shell, for a total payload of 254 grains of lead.  In the 3″ shell, there’s an additional pellet, bringing the lead payload up to almost 318 grains.

In the NobelSport cartridge, there are three pellets of .40″ diameter and 90 grains apiece in the 2.5″ shell, for a total payload of 270 grains of lead.  In the 3″ shell there’s an additional pellet, bringing the  total lead payload up to 360 grains(!)

Using the proper mathematical formula, the proper weighting for penetration, and the diameter of the bullets themselves, yields the following tissue damage results:

2.5″ Nobel:  66 grams

2.5″ Federal: 65.6 grams

3″ Nobel: 84 grams

3″ Federal: 82 grams

Each of these is well in excess of MacPherson’s desired threshold of 40 grams; the 3″ shells are actually over double the level necessary!  Now, does this mean that each shot from a Judge will result in immediate incapacitation of an attacker? Of course not, there are never any “guarantees”, but in dealing with averages, it does mean that the shots from a Judge will likely be quite effective indeed.  It should at least address the silly and baseless internet argument of “buckshot will just bounce off an attacker”.

For comparison, I ran a calculation on a .45 ACP +P round, Hornady Critical Duty 220 grain, at 951 fps, and 15″ of penetration.  According to the Schwartz Quantitative Ammunition Selection formula for calculating the mass of the permanent wound cavity, and then applying the MacPherson WTI calculations, we get 69.82 grams of tissue disrupted.  That’s right on par with the 2.5″ buckshot shells, and not quite as much as the 3″ shells.  A good round of .45 ACP has long been known as an effective manstopper; the Judge 2.5″ rounds don’t destroy any more tissue despite having multiple projectiles, but on the other hand — they have multiple projectiles, which gives them multiple wound paths, which raises the prospect of turning a near-miss into a hit on a vital structure in the attacker’s body.  The 3″ shells do provide more tissue disruption than the single .45 ACP hollowpoint, but not significantly more; their main advantage is not so much in the 19% additional tissue they disrupt, but in that they create four or five wound paths instead of one.  Again, that gives more opportunity for a near-miss to become a hit.

So how effective is a Judge in stopping an attacker? Each blast from the 2.5″ shotgun shells (presuming you’re using the right ammo!) will disrupt as much tissue as a premium .45 ACP hollowpoint, but will give you three or four separate wound tracks, thus giving you three or four chances at hitting a critical or vital structure (such as the heart, major artery, or central nervous system).  And if you’re using 3″ shells, you’ll get around 20% more tissue disruption than the 2.5″ shells, and another projectile for yet another opportunity at hitting something vital.

Judge Shotgun Effectiveness chart

While we can’t predict the actual results in any actual individual shooting scenario, we can reasonably draw a broad conclusion: would a Judge with Federal .410 Handgun 000 buckshot or NobelSport buckshot be an effective manstopper? The test results say “hell yes.”

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Why the Judge is more powerful than you think…

In my recent review of the Taurus Judge Public Defender, I demonstrated its performance relative to another popular pistol.  Now, before rehashing that, let’s just ask a simple question:

Which would you expect to be more powerful?

  • A .45 ACP pistol with a 3.3″ barrel
  • A .45 Colt pistol with a 2″ barrel

Seems like an easy question, doesn’t it? I mean, seems like a complete no-brainer: obviously, to any reasonable person, the 3.3″ barrel is going to produce higher velocities than the 2″ barrel, right?

Well, yes.

And no.  Not when the 2″ barrel is on a Judge.

And that’s where it gets fun, when theory meets testing (and testing always wins!)

Now, in reality it is a well-established axiom of ballistics that longer barrels = higher velocity, up to a point.  The longer the barrel is, the more distance the bullet will travel while still being contained in the sealed environment of the barrel, and that means the expanding gases from the burning gunpowder can push on the bullet longer, thus increasing its velocity.  This is all obvious and well-understood.  And the knock against a short barrel has always been that it’s possible for the bullet to exit the barrel before the expanding gases have fully expanded, so any further expansion they do will be out into the atmosphere and not pressing against the bullet.  Accordingly, really short barrels have usually been pretty bad at generating decent velocities.  And an inch or two can make either a significant difference, or a miniscule difference; it really depends on where the barrel length difference comes in.  The difference between a 6″ barrel and an 8″ barrel might be minor, but the difference between a 1″ barrel and a 3″ barrel will be huge!  In the longer 6″ barrel the expanding gases may have done most of their job pushing the bullet by the time that bullet exits the barrel; there may not be much more that will be gained from the 8″ barrel.  However, on a 1″ barrel, the gases very likely will have just barely have started expanding by the time the bullet pops out of that tiny barrel!  Any further expansion is just wasted.

And yet — I’ve just completed testing on the Judge Public Defender (2″ barrel) against the Springfield XDS (3.3″ barrel) and found them to deliver almost identical velocities when shooting identical-weight bullets loaded to the same ballistic performance.  How is this possible?

Barrel Lengths Are Measured Differently

The first key to understanding this mystery is to recognize that not all barrels are measured the same.  The official barrel-measuring technique for rifles, shotguns, and semi-automatic pistols is to run a dowel down the barrel until it reaches the breech face (or where the back of the loaded cartridge would be); mark the dowel at that point, and then pull it out and measure it.


Using that technique with the Springfield XDS, we find that the marked dowel matches 3.3″, exactly what it should.


But with a revolver, that’s not how a barrel is measured!  With a revolver, you only measure from the front of the revolver to the back of the barrel’s forcing cone.  You don’t include any part of the cylinder.  Measuring the Public Defender’s barrel in this way, we get exactly what we’d expect: 2″, just like the printed specifications say it should be.


And yet — when we stack the two pistols back to back, we see that they’re pretty much the same size, right?


And when we compare the ballistics, we find that they perform almost identically: Critical Defense 185 grain produces 870 feet per second from the 2″ Public Defender, and 901 feet per second from the 3.3″ XDS.  And with “hot” loads shooting 200 grains at the highest pressure and fastest speeds I could find, the 2″ Public Defender shot at 940 feet per second, and the XDS shot at 970 feet per second.  That’s a difference of about 3%, while the XDS’s barrel length is 65% longer than the Public Defender.  How is this possible?  How is the Public Defender delivering comparable performance, from a barrel that’s barely over half as long?

It’s The Cylinder, Silly!

Look at this picture of the Public Defender, and what stands out about it?

PD with laser on in smoke

That giant cylinder, right?  When you hear criticisms of the Judge, frequently the cylinder will be mentioned as a drawback because it’s what makes the gun so big.  Interestingly enough, it’s also what makes the gun so much more powerful than you would otherwise expect!

Understand that with any revolver, the fact that they measure the barrel without including the chamber means that you’ll always have more performance from a revolver than you would from a semiautomatic of the exact same barrel length (because some of the semiauto’s barrel length is occupied by the bullet.)  But in the Judge, it’s even more of a difference.  Here’s a picture that shows the Public Defender with a .45 Colt bullet overlaid.


You can see that there’s about an inch of “free bore” from the end of the bullet to the start of the forcing cone.  My actual measurement was 1 1/8″.  How does that “free bore” affect the ballistic performance? Basically it adds another inch of “barrel length.”  So, yes, in effect, any 2.5″-cylinder Judge actually has the ballistic performance of a gun with an inch longer barrel than it says it is, and any 3″-cylinder judge performs like a gun with a 1.5″ longer barrel than it’s rated as!

Verifying The Hypothesis

My hypothesis is that ballistically, the “free bore” area is basically extra unrifled barrel.  The bullet doesn’t “know” whether it’s technically in the “barrel” or not; it just knows that it’s trapped in a sealed environment and that there are gases pushing against the back of it  (and, okay, it doesn’t “know” that either, but I think you get what I’m saying).  So whether the bullet is in the rifled “barrel” part or still in the freebore of the cylinder, it’s still in a sealed environment, being pushed forward by expanding gases, rifling or not.  That additional time spent with the gases expanding results in additional velocity, exactly like a longer barrel would have.  Whether it’s labeled “barrel” or “cylinder”, the result is the same.

This idea seems reasonable, but I wanted to take it a step further and actually test a 2″-barrel .45 Colt pistol against a 2″-barrel Judge, to see if there was a real-world, measurable difference in performance.  While 2″-barrel .45 Colt pistols do exist, they’re not easy to find, and I was unable to source one; however, I was able to do the next best thing: I went to and looked up their performance results for .45 Colt rounds, and found that in the “real world weapons” section, they had indeed tested a 2″ .45 Colt (the Taurus 450 Ultralight).  Using Federal 225-grain Semi-Wadcutter Hollow Point rounds, they got an average velocity of 681 feet per second from the 2″-barrel Taurus 450.  So I went and chronographed that exact same round out of the 2″-barrel Public Defender and got … drum roll… 844 feet per second!  A huge performance increase; the velocity was almost 25% faster out of the Judge Public Defender’s 2″ barrel, than it was from the Taurus 450’s 2″ barrel.  Since the barrel length was identical (and probably was the same barrel, seeing as they’re from the same manufacturer), then what could account for the difference? Only the longer cylinder.

The net result is: for a Judge with a 2.5″ cylinder, you’re getting about an inch extra performance than you might otherwise have thought.  And for a Judge with a 3″ cylinder, you’re getting about 1.5″ extra performance. A 3″-barrel, 2.5″-cylinder Judge will perform about as well as a 4″-barrel .45 Colt revolver.  And a 3″-barrel, 3″-cylinder Magnum Judge will perform about as well as 4.5″-barrel .45 Colt revolver.

Now, what about when used as a shotgun?  Here, the additional barrel length advantage is even more significant.  Because a shotgun is typically measured back to the breech face, in order to get comparable measurements with the Judge we’d have to measure back to the breech face.



That’s almost 4 and three quarters inches; and that means that on the Judge Public Defender, it performs about comparably to a .410 shotgun with a 4.75″ barrel.  That’s still tiny, but it’s a darn sight better than a 2″ barrel!  And when you get into the longer-barreled Judges, the shotgun performance starts to get downright respectable: a 6.5″ barrel Raging Judge Magnum, with a 3″ chamber, is about effectively equivalent of a 9.5″ shotgun barrel.  That’s not huge, but it’s pretty darn substantial.

So, take heart, Judge users: the cylinder giveth (performance), and it taketh away (compactness).  But that big old cylinder isn’t “wasted space”, it’s actually working to make your pistol more powerful than you thought it was.

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