The Circuit Judge arrives: and quickly renders a decision on doves.
If anyone had told me I could unpack an awkward looking, .410/.45 Colt revolving carbine, grab two boxes of 7-1/2s, head for the field and shoot a limit of 10 doves that same afternoon, I wouldn't have believed them for a moment. Yet, that's exactly the way it happened. I came away from that unique introduction to Rossi's Circuit Judge with a profound respect for this new model, and the more I wring it out, the more I admire the design and its overall concept.
The concept of a revolving cylinder rifle, carbine or shotgun is not new. In fact, it dates back to the flintlock era. By the time the percussion period rolled around, numerous makers, both here and abroad, were manufacturing a variety of revolving long guns. Probably, the best known were the Remingtons and Colts. The Circuit Judge strongly resembles a Remington, which was introduced as a percussion and later converted to cartridge.
The Circuit Judge is a 5-shooter. It functions just like a conventional double- or single-action revolver and is enhanced with the Taurus Security System, permitting the owner to lock the gun with the turn of a key. The sighting system is a bit more elaborate with both a factory installed scope ring base, as well as adjustable, 3-dot open sights.
The stocking, particularly the pistol-grip butt, is unconventional and looks like that of a T/C Contender or Encore, but overall it's comfortable and makes up in performance what it lacks in esthetics. The stretched cylinder accepts .45 Colt cartridges and 2-1/2" and 3" .410 shotshells. Its 18.5" barrel is rifled and is fitted with two essential choke tubes, which have to be changed out depending on whether you're shooting .45s or .410s.
The shotshell tube sports deep, straight rifling lands and grooves. When a shotshell is fired, the plastic wad is seized by the rifling in the barrel and rotates down the barrel in right hand or clockwise direction. The purpose of the straight-rifled tube is to stop the wad's rotation, to straighten it out and assure the shot charge is delivered straight ahead, if the tube was not there, the rotating wad and shot charge would fly off to the right and down, as many early Judge revolver owners found to their dismay.
The shotshell tube delivered great patterns on doves and on paper. The 3" loads ! was using on doves included Federal, Remington and Winchester brands stoked with 11/16 ounces of No. 7-1/2 shot. Out of the i0 doves taken that afternoon, two fell at 41 and 43 yards respectively. That's a stretch for a .410, but the Circuit Judge hammered his gavel.
The Federal shells were a tight fit in the chambers and difficult to extract. I would recommend shooting the Remington and Winchester brands. Another interesting point about the Federal is that they have a roll crimp rather than a star crimp. On patterning paper, the roll crimped Federals delivered a thinner, more open pattern than the star crimped Remington and Winchester.
The most intriguing .410 load I tested was Winchester's new personal-defense loading consisting of 3-plated, 70-grain, disk-like projectiles and 12-plated BBs. The Supreme Elite "PDXI" ammunition delivered tight patterns with the straight-rifled tube and chopped the heart out of B-27 silhouette targets at 15', 30' and 50'. The PDX1 loading really makes the .410 a reasonable and easy-to-shoot, personal-defense firearm. (See Holt's "Shotgunner" column, this issue.)
The only exception I can think of to using the straight-rifled choke tube for .410 loads would be when shooting rifled slugs. In that case, the .45 Colt tube is the one to use.
One modification I would find useful would be the addition of a secure compartment in the buttstock to store the alternative choke tube and choke-tube wrench. Otherwise, you're up a creek when in the field and you want to change from .410 to .45 Colt or vice versa and don't have those little parts jingling around in your pockets.
The company wisely supplies a game-law compliant "plug," which blocks off two chambers in the cylinder, to make the Circuit Judge a 3-shooter.
Be warned. The choke tubes are cut with a left-hand thread without any reference to that fact in the early owners' manuals whatsoever. To loosen the tubes, you must turn them clockwise with the supplied choke-tube wrench.
The .45 Colt tube is simply a full-diameter extension of the bore. It's there only to protect the choke-tube threads. I had two .45 Colt loads on hand--the Winchester 225-grain Silvertip HP and my standard handload consisting of 8 grains of Unique and a 255-grain Keith-type, cast bullet. Before firing .45 Colt ammunition, after a run of shotshells, it's essential to thoroughly clean the barrel to remove plastic-wad residue scraped off by the rifling. Shooters Choice and the nylon bore brush supplied with the Circuit Judge made quick work of the job.
At 25 yards from a rest, the Winchester Silvertip would spread out to 4" to 5", while my handload would cluster five shots nicely into 1-1/2" to 2". Other factory loads may improve groups a bit, but the old, standard 8 grains of Unique handload is hard to beat in any .45 Colt.
So what's the Circuit Judge good for? On one level, it's a great fun gun. Because it's light, safe and handy, and churns up a minimum of recoil, it would be a neat gun for family outings. On another level, it's perfectly adequate for hunting birds and small-to medium-size mammals. On another level, loaded with either .45 Colt or PDX1, it's a serious personal-defense arm and rather imposing to look at from the muzzle end.
A second model of the Circuit Judge has just been introduced. It's a .410 smoothbore only, fitted with a Briley choke tube. Frankly, I favor the versatility of the .410/.45 Colt model.
Overall, the Circuit Judge would be a useful survival tool, but my emphasis would be on the fun end of the spectrum! I'll never forget that last day of the dove season when the Circuit Judge arrived in town--never.
MAKER: TAURUS, BRAZIL
IMPORTER: BRAZTECH, INT'L
16175 N.W. 49TH AVE.
MIAMI, FL 33014
ACTION TYPE: Double-action revolver
CALIBER: .410 2-1/2" or 3" shotshell, .45 Colt
BARREL LENGTH: 18.5"
OVERALL LENGTH: 36"
AVERAGE WEIGHT: 4.45 pounds
SIGHTS: 3-dot adjustable
ACCESSORIES: Choke tubes, tube wrench, safety keys, hammer extension, bore brush