A sudden, loud "THUMP" awakens you in the middle of the night. Something was knocked over in the front room, and it hit so hard, the walls shook. You know your wife is awake because her fingernails are digging into your upper arm as she holds it in a death grip.

There is another noise, this time as if a lamp had been knocked over. Now there's no question - an intruder is in your house.

There are no kids - you and your wife are (or were) alone in the house. Someone has crossed the threshold of your sanctum, and invaded your home. They are two rooms away and not making a lot of effort to be quiet.

You roll out of the bed, motion your wife to get on the floor beside the bed and keep quiet.

Even though you never believed such a thing would actually happen, you've been prepared for years. In the bedside stand is a handgun - it's reliable and has seen a lot of practice firing over the years.

You're familiar with how it works.

Under the edge of the bed is a 12-gauge pump shotgun. It's loaded, the chamber is empty.

You have to go down a hallway, go through three doors, and cross a foyer before you get to the main room of the house. This is where the intruder is making little effort to conceal the fact he has committed that most horrific of crimes - a "hot" burglary, one where the homeowner is present.

Which gun do you choose? Why?

One of the great all-time debates has always been which is the best gun for home defense.

A lot of so-called experts expound and pontificate, frequently announcing that this or that handgun might be a good choice. But of course everyone knows the very best firearm for home self-defense is always going to be a shotgun, preferably a pump action.

Excuse me while I clear my throat, ahem, and disagree.

The closest most people will get to clearing a house suspected of harboring a criminal or hiding a burglary suspect will be watching the movies. And while Hollywood (and television) is almost always the worst place to learn tactics, I'd like to point out in at least one area, they got something right.

Think back. In what movie or television show did you ever see a cop clearing a house with a shotgun?

That's what I thought.

Me neither.

And there's a good reason for that.

Aside from the fact unless the shotgun has a barrel approaching illegality (under 18 inches) it is going to be extremely unwieldy in close quarters. Remember, you might have to enter rooms, peer around corners, and clear hallways in your attempt to repel an intruder from your home. A shotgun can be hard to maneuver in such a case. And it's a long arm, with the chance you can have it grabbed as you enter a room and end up in a fight for possession of the gun.

In addition, unless the shotgun has been specially choked to spread a shot charge wide in a short distance, the pattern dispersion in most room-sized distances is not going to be large. In fact, a standard modified choke at room distances (say 20 feet) is going to put a pattern of shot in a small area - sending the vast majority of the shot load into a spot less than 4 inches in diameter.

I'm not trying to dissuade anyone from using a shotgun if that's what they have, or a scattergun is comfortable for them. Certainly, the best gun to use is always the one you have shot enough to become familiar with and handle proficiently.

But I feel the problems of moving through the close confines of a house make a shotgun, which must go through any opening before you, the lesser choice. And if the shot pattern is going to be in the neighborhood of 6 inches or less, then I'll take the portability, ease of use and ability to better protect my weapon in the form of some sort of handgun.

I hasten to add in the scenario described previously, almost every expert will tell you to take whatever gun you have and skedaddle out the side door, calling the police as you go. If that's not an option, hide behind your bed, point whatever gun you have at the bedroom door, dial 911 and shoot anything that comes through the door without knocking first.

But for whatever reason, that may not be an option - you have to check and clear the house. So we are right back to the choice of handgun or shotgun.

Finally, there may be an answer to the perfect house gun.

Taurus Firearms has designed it in the form of their "Judge." Never was a gun more aptly named.

Chambered for .45 Colt (formerly known as .45 Long Colt, the old Colt Peacemaker round) and .410 shotshells, this astounding piece of equipment can send five shots of .45 Colt, No. 4 or 6 shot, slugs or my personal preference, 000 buckshot, whistling down range in less than two seconds.

Architect Jerry Campbell, a former concealed-permit student, called me with an invitation.

"I've got the Judge," he said. "You said you wanted to test one. Meet me at the range, and we'll shoot it."

Campbell had bought the gun for home defense after having its interesting qualities described to him. He assumed it incorporated all the best attributes of a handgun and a shotgun.

When we met at Precision Indoor Shooting Range in Baton Rouge, he had stopped by another store and loaded up on ammo for our tests. He also had just come from the eye doctor and had his eyes dilated, so he really couldn't shoot. He also couldn't read well at the time.

His ammo kit contained a brand-new box of 3-inch .410 gauge in 000 buckshot, and a 50-round box of .45 ACP. Neither of these will shoot in the Judge.

The chambers are for 2 ½-inch .410 shells. The 3-inch version sticks out past the end of the cylinder, and it cannot close.

The .45 Automatic Colt Pistol is a much shorter rimless cartridge designed to shoot in the .45 semi-automatic. While a tremendous man-stopper with numerous wars under its belt, the .45 ACP pales in comparison to the power of the .45 Colt, and it has no rim to stop it from falling completely into the chamber. So it was back to the store for the proper bullets and shells.

Once we got the ammo problems ironed out, I began to shoot and test the Taurus "Judge."

This revolver/shotgun comes in blue or stainless steel and has an elongated cylinder that accepts five rounds of ammunition. The barrel length is offered in 3 or 6 inches and has an excellent fiber-optic front sight. The grips are rubber and of a special rib design that soaks up the recoil. Campbell's eyes were pretty blurry, so he left the shooting up to me.

I could have brought the targets up to about 4 feet, and made some really impressive holes in the paper, but we didn't think that was a fair approximation.

Instead, we set the targets out at about 8 feet for the shotshell tests, and 10 feet for the buckshot and .45 Colt. We shot a test pattern of No. 4 shot at a man-sized target also at 18 feet to see what sort of dispersion we got. While I didn't photograph the pattern, it effectively covered the entire abdomen area of a man-sized silhouette target. I can't say the No. 4 shot would penetrate enough to kill at that range and dispersion, but I certainly wouldn't want to be the test case.

It covered our target well, and No. 4 shot completely penetrated a turtle's shell at 35 feet. I know because I clean the scoundrels out of my pond with that shot weight.

There is absolutely no question what I would load in this gun if I were to keep one for home defense (and my wife has expressed an interest in one now, so this may well be the case). I would load it with three shots of 000 buckshot, and two of No. 4.

Looking at the pictures tells the tale. Shooting at 8- and 10-inch-diameter Shoot 'n C targets at 10 feet, the buckshot easily placed three .36-caliber balls in a circle the size of a man's head. Tested at 6 and 8 feet, the No. 4 shot made such an evenly dispersed pattern, a shot to a home invader's head would place a pellet inside every inch of his face, blinding and incapacitating him, if not killing him instantly - the more likely possibility.

I'm told by ammo stores these guns are selling well.

In the deep South, the stated purpose of most folks is to kill snakes. I think they're missing the point: This is an excellent snake charmer of the two-legged kind.

And all your little lady really has to do with this one is point it down the hallway and pull the trigger. A miss is not likely at all.

I liked the Taurus Judge a lot, enough to add it to my own personal arsenal. I firmly believe it is the best choice of guns for home defense I have seen.

And it would make a pretty good companion in bear country too, loaded with a combination of .410 slugs and buckshot.


Gordon Hutchinson's best-selling novel, "The Quest and the Quarry", a generational tale that parallels the lives of a line of trophy bucks and the youth of a farming family that hunts them, can be ordered at thequestandthequarry.com, or by calling (800) 538-4355.

It was recently chosen as a book of the year by the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association.