Rossi Circuit Judge 45Colt/.410 carbine

What price versatility?

Rossi Circuit Judge holds five of either .3 inch .410 shotshells or .45 Colt cartridges.

Rossi Circuit Judge holds five of either .3 inch .410 shotshells or .45 Colt cartridges.

Taurus’s Circuit Judge has been hailed by some as the ideal all-around shotgun and carbine. It is light, has a simple manual of arms — the same as most double action revolvers — and can fire either solid ball or shot. It’s been marketed both for small game hunting and for personal defense. Attracted by the versatility, I got one and tested it with a variety of ammunition.

This carbine comes with an 18.5″ rifled barrel: it is primarily a pistol caliber carbine and only secondarily a shotgun. If you want to fire shot, the thread protector on the front of the muzzle should be removed and replaced with “de-spinning” choke which has coarse threads in reverse of the regular rifling. That mostly reverses the spin of the shot charge that would otherwise produce a donut-shaped pellet pattern. The transition is a bit abrupt but it appears to work reasonably well — provided the shot is in a cup wad as is the case with most modern shotshells. Firing .45 Colt cartridges with that choke in place is counterindicated by the instruction manual, so mixing shotshells and pistol ammunition in the same cylinder is not practical.

Circuit Judge is often recommended to female shooters.

Circuit Judge is often recommended to female shooters, mainly for the low recoil and simple manual of arms.

Circuit Judge loads and extracts like any double action revolver. It has a smooth double action trigger and crisp single action pull. With two-handed support, accurate shooting with double action is actually practical. The balance is excellent for a rifle — it’s designed more for a steady hold than for swinging with aerial action. Very low recoil allows safe firing from relatively precarious perches, such as horseback (as long as the horse is trained to ignore gunfire noise). The sheet metal shields on both sides of the forcing cone work perfectly to keep the cylinder gap flash from affecting the shooter’s hands. Blued finish resisted the high humidity of Tennessee and Alabama summer weather.

The gun comes supplied with an excellent adjustable fiber optic notch and post sights, and also a Picatinny rail. I removed the rail from my gun because the open sights worked better for my purposes than a red dot or a scope. The fit and finish of the metal and wood on it are very good. It’s a very pleasant-handling firearm and much fun to shoot. It also proved somewhat frustrating to test as the results were not as expected.

Light, handy and versatile. What's not to like? A couple of things.

Light, handy and versatile. What’s not to like? A couple of things.

Live fire testing was done in the following order:

Rio .410 #6 birdshot would not fit the chambers at all. Changing brands to Federal #8, I got the gun to load. It shot as well as any moderately choked .410 once the proper choke was installed to take out the spin. Patterns stayed dense enough for small game out to about ten yards. Steel-cased Barnaul brand birdshot loaded fine but extracted only with some difficulty.

.410 “000″ buck by S&B loaded correctly but required a mallet for extracting the empties. Extraction difficulties were encountered with several .410 loads, and it’s not very surprising; a conventional shotgun removes empties one at a time using a large forend or full energy of a bolt carrier, while Circuit Judge has to get five at once with nothing more than a revolver-sized ejector rod. The five pellets were not buffered and deformed against each other on firing, so the “group” was more like a ragged diagonal line. The pellets were actually closer to .32 00 buck and so rattled down the much wider bore. My expectation of a good medium range load was not realized, with seven yards being the furthest range at which all five pellets would would still strike a B27 silhouette.

114 grain Brenneke slug retained good accuracy to about 25 yards. It would still strike a B27 reliably out to 35 yards, which is the furthest distance recommended by manufacturer. Considering that the bore is sized for safe use of .451″ to .453″ revolver bullets, any accuracy with .41 caliber slugs comes as a pleasant surprise. It’s possible that the attached base expanded under pressure to seal the bore, but I did not observe rifling marks on the recovered base wads. Not surprisingly, regular rifled slugs lacking the stabilizing base wads shot rather less accurately. By comparison, Brenneke slugs fired from a smoothbore .410 Saiga shotgun produced a tight 3 inch group at 50 yards. At very short ranges where accuracy doesn’t matter, Brennekes are still preferable for heavier projectile weight and more sturdy construction.

.45 Colt lead round nose loads clocked out at about 950fps. I had high-performance JHP ammunition but it was marked +P and not recommended for use in the Circuit Judge. To my disappointment, it shot no tighter than a 3 inch spread at 25 yards. At almost exactly half of the initial velocity of the slug, it required more care with the sight picture at extended ranges. A silhouette target could, in theory, be hit out to 75 yards but I didn’t have a chance to verify that. At ranges much past 50 yards, the quick and convenient open sights become harder to align precisely which, in combination with fairly open groups, made hits uncertain. The lack of accuracy almost certainly stems from the very long freebore: the bullet has to jump about 1.5 inch gap before it engages the forcing cone and then the rifling. Overall, this is probably the best defensive load against human or animal foes.

Unlike a revolver handgun, the revolving long gun is a little harder to unload: the long, skinny .410 case just has too much friction. The original pistol version got around this problem to some extent by using shorter 2.5″ shotshells. Loading presents more of a challenge as well: .410 shells aren’t chamfered much and have to be lined up with the chambers quite closely. The weight of the long cylinder and the ammunition within result in a fairly heavy trigger pull, although it is commendably smooth.

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The verdict

Circuit Judge is fun to use and adequate for hunting small game or defense, but more specialized designs perform better at each task. Rossi’s own .44 Magnum revolving carbine is far more accurate (3MOA is typical) and provides more than twice the energy at the muzzle relative to .45 Colt loads that are safe for the 45/410 version. If shot loads and shotgun slugs are your choice, then any of the more conventional smoothbore firearms would be more effective, less troublesome in operation and likely less expensive as well.

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