Sunday, June 22, 2014

Guns: S&W Governor review - Judge the book by its cover


On paper, the Smith and Wesson Governor sounds like the kind of bullheaded, "F--- Everything, We're Doing Five Blades" one-upmanship you'd only find in a corporate boardroom. I can see the S&W executive meeting now: "The Taurus Judge is selling like hotcakes, so let's make one of our own, but with a six-shot cylinder, instead of five. And have it chamber .45 ACP using moonclips. And make the frame with scandium. And stick on a tritium night sight. That'll show those Brazilians!"

Yours truly was skeptical. From my comments three years ago about the Governor:
Against all odds (and common sense), the Judges continue to sell well. S&W is just following the money – can’t really blame ‘em.
The scandium frame means this sucker will be expensive, though – not sure how many people will pony up for a premium Judge. Especially since people who spend that much money on a revolver probably know better.
Well, I bought it, despite knowing better. I bought it even though the gun is an ungainly, cartoonish revolver of Samaritan-like proportions. The S&W Governor was awkwardly compelling enough for me to buy one, if only to have something to write about, and home it went.

First Impressions

A big selling point for the Governor is that it's a Smith and not a Taurus, which means that it's better built than any Judge. The ball-detent cylinder locks tight. There aren't any weird toolmarks, rattling parts, or crooked alignments. Things seem to be fitted together in a workmanlike manner.

In hand, the fat six-shot Governor is muzzle-heavy compared to the five-shot Judge, but it handles well enough. Smith is shipping the Governors with the same smoothly pebbled, non-tacky hard synthetic grips that come on most of its revolvers. If you don't like 'em, most K/L round butt grips should fit, including Crimson Trace lasergrips.

Sights and Trigger

You might need those lasergrips because the Governor has surprisingly small fixed sights, especially considering the outsized frame. Up front is a minuscule tritium bulb that's minimally visible in dim light, and in the rear is a shallow trench. I guess they thought that most people wouldn't use the sights at close range. I wish they were larger.

As for the trigger, it's very much like other modern full-size S&W revolvers, though a bit heavier overall - approximately 12-14 pounds double action and 4-5 pounds single action. The double action's pretty smooth, but nothing to write home about, and I didn't notice any weird stacking or hangups in the single action trigger.


The Governor is chambered for .45 ACP, .45 Colt, and .410 shotshells. Due to the incredibly high price of factory .45 Colt (a dollar per round, usually), the ability to shoot .45 ACP is a huge plus, and probably the single biggest advantage the gun has over a Judge. You will need a demooner tool to unload the spent cases from the moonclips, but if you're really on the cheap, you can improvise one from sprinkler parts:

Range Report

The Governor shot about as well as any sub-3" barreled .45 I've ever tried. Here are some offhand groups at 10 yards with Federal and Winchester 230 gr. ball ammo.

Recoil was quite soft with the .45s, partly because the gun is big, partly because the short barrel and elongated cylinder decrease muzzle velocity (the Governor spits out .45 ACP bullets at around 700 fps, with about 250 ft-lbs of energy). .45s are still usable for defense in the Governor (especially +Ps), but it's not the Hammer of Thor performance you might expect from such a big revolver.

The real point of the Governor is the .410 shotshell capability. When using .410 for defense, please, please, please avoid the novelty birdshot loads and stick with buckshot or slugs. Birdshot is for shooting tiny 14-ounce quail and fragile clay pigeons, not determined attackers.

If you're dead set on having some strange buck and ball load, Hornady puts out a "Triple Defense" combo of a .41 caliber slug and two .35 hardcast lead balls under their Critical Defense line. It's widely available and patterns reasonably well:

However, in my opinion, the Federal Premium 2-1/2" handgun-specific buckshot ammunition is the hands-down best choice for the Governor. Out of the S&W, each shell sends four 70-gr. .36 caliber pellets out at 800 fps - roughly equivalent to shooting four .32 ACP rounds at once. Penetration is not exceptional (you'll be lucky if they get to 12"  in gelatin), but using four separate projectiles, you're much more likely to land an incapacitating shot. Patterns are also excellent due to Federal's use of a longer than normal wad, designed to keep the shot together for as long as possible:

In contrast, here are some groups from an unoptimized Winchester Super-X 000 buck load, the kind that you might find on a Wally World store shelf. As you can see, there's a pretty stark difference in terms of effective patterning. If you use non-handgun specific .410, any shots outside of about 5 yards are going to lead to missed pellets and possible injury or death to innocent bystanders:


Is the Governor the ultimate self-defense handgun, or a useless gimmick? The truth falls somewhere in between. If you stoke the thing with leftover birdshot scrounged from a drawer, or generic Wally World 000, you're not going to be happy with the results (and I pray you never have to actually fire the thing in anger). But if you know the gun's many limitations, match it with the right ammo, and have an idea of its real world ballistics, the Governor is as durable, reliable, and even accurate as many of Smith & Wesson's other revolvers. So, in the end, I guess the Governor is what I thought it was.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Food: Rhino Doughnuts & Coffee

Rhino Doughnuts & Coffee doesn't have any locations in South Florida yet, but I'm going to give them a shout-out anyway. They gave me one of their maple bacon doughnuts for free, and it was fantastic. If they ever open, they're well worth a try.

News: Jon Meis, Certified Badass

Jon Meis, a student at Seattle Pacific University, pepper-sprayed and subdued a gunman who was pausing to reload his shotgun. Meis's decisive action saved countless lives, and for that, he gets the official Shangrila Towers Certified Badass Award™:

(In case you were wondering, it looks like Meis likes firearms and supports the RKBA. He also apparently co-founded a school Airsoft club. Probably why he was able to counter-attack when the guy was reloading his shotgun.)

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Miscellany: Forbidden Desert review

"Forbidden Desert" is designer Matt Leacock's latest and greatest cooperative board game. Much like his previous games, "Pandemic" and "Forbidden Island," it pits two to five players in a race against time - in this case, an ever-worsening sandstorm and the pitiless desert sun. You must work with your teammates to excavate an ancient flying machine to escape...before you're buried by the sands or die of thirst:

It's a great premise, and the setting informs all of the game's mechanics. The board starts off as a grid of unexplored desert tiles, with a blank space in the middle for the sandstorm. Each turn, an adventurer gets four actions, chosen among several options: move, clear sand from a tile, excavate a tile (i.e., flip over and reveal), or pick up a part of the flying machine.

At the end of the player's turn, though, it's the storm's move. The storm can dump sand on tiles (which can trap players and prevent them from exploring), or the sun can beat down, forcing each player to deplete his or her own personal water supply. Allow too much sand to pile up, or allow anyone to run out of water, and you lose.

Each adventurer has a unique special ability.  For instance, the Climber can move through sand, while the Water Carrier can spend an action to collect precious water...if you've found a well. Likewise, ancient equipment recovered in the desert can instantly blast away sand, reveal water supplies, or protect from the sun. It'll take full exploitation of your abilities, judicious use of items, and a little bit of luck to get the flying machine together and everyone aboard before they're swallowed by the sandstorm:

My friends and I really liked "Forbidden Desert." The game is easy to learn, quick to play, and yet requires a fair amount of strategy and cooperation to succeed. The randomly generated map and different adventurer roles provide a lot of replayability, and the components are all high quality. If you're in the market for a coop game that'll appeal to a fifth grader, a hardcore gamer, or your parents, you should probably check out "Forbidden Desert."

Monday, June 02, 2014

TV: Hannibal

My friends got me into NBC's "Hannibal," which was recently renewed for a third season. The series is loosely based on the Thomas Harris books, but it's set well before "Red Dragon" and "Silence of the Lambs." The two stars are Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen (who plays the eponymous serial killer), and the gorgeous dinners prepared by food stylist Janice Poon:

Mikkelsen's Hannibal feels like an artfully crafted collage of his prior roles, one part refined-but-brutal Le Chiffre, one part Danish outcast, one part supernatural menace. It's an interesting take on the character, and miles away from Anthony Hopkins's campy version. Mads-as-Lecter is a manipulative killer, with no wink to the audience to lessen his deviousness.

As for the food, it's incredible. Hannibal is a master chef in this version, and the lovingly shot meals are both delectable and symbolic (anyone up for some sacrificial lamp chops?). Check out Janice Poon's "Hannibal" blog (warning - spoilers) to see some of the beautiful culinary arrangements she's cooked up for the show.