The misunderstood .41 Magnum

The misunderstood .41 Magnum

This is a discussion on The misunderstood .41 Magnum within the General Firearm Discussion forums, part of the Related Topics category; I did a search of the forum and didn't really find much posted here about this truly great cartridge. So I thought I would try ...

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Thread: The misunderstood .41 Magnum

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    The misunderstood .41 Magnum

    I did a search of the forum and didn't really find much posted here about this truly great cartridge. So I thought I would try to garner up some interest and discussion about my favorite magnum handgun cartridge. If I miss something or I miss speak feel free to correct me. Some will find this old news but I hope some may learn something

    Lets start at the beginning. Around 1960 both Elmer Keith and Bill Jordan started lobbying for a cartridge more suitable than the .38 SPL for law enforcement work. What they were looking for was a modern straight walled .40" revolver cartridge that would toss a 200gr bullet along about 950fps, a modern .41 Long Colt or 38-40 if you will. Both men thought that such a cartridge would be the ideal Law Enforcement cartridge. In 1961 there already was such a cartridge being made by the Herter's company called the .401 Herter's Power Mag. The .401 Power Mag came out a full three years before the S&W .41 Magnum. It was basically a rendition of a wildcat cartridge that Gordon Boser a gunsmith from Springville NY, had been working on back in the 1930's after 2400 had hit the scene.

    Finally in 1964 S&W and Remington together brought forth the .41 Magnum. It was decided by Doug Hellstrom of S&W, that the cartridge would have a groove diameter of .410" to keep folks from trying to stuff the new cartridge into older .41 Long Colt guns. I really think the reason that S&W went with a .410" groove diameter was more of a shrewed business move than anything else. Think about it would you want a customer putting some other companies ammo like .401 Power Mag in your product? Or corner the market and ensure that there is no interchangeable ammo? That is just my take on it though. Remington brought forth two loads for the .41 Magnum. The first was intended for law enforcement work and pushed a 210gr SWC to about 1,000fps from a 4" barrel. The second was a full blown hunting load that shoved a 210gr JSP along at a stated 1500fps, this was probably taken from a 8 3/8" barrel as that was common practice at the time. This last loading put the .41 magnums performance within about 10% of the .44 magnum. S&W housed the new cartridge in a new N frame revolver called the M57. It was identical in every way to their M29 .44 magnum except of course it was chambered for the new .41 magnum cartridge. The next was the M58 M&P which is a fixed sight service revolver that was intended for law enforcement work. As such the revolvers sights were regulated for the slower 210gr SWC loading.

    A few firsts happened with the .41 magnum. First is the .41 magnum was the first true .41" caliber handgun cartridge made. The second is the .41" magnum is the first handgun cartridge made at that time that used a jacketed bullet. Up until that time all handgun cartridges were loaded with lead bullets, jacketed bullets didn't really become all the rage until the advent of the JHP sometime in the 1970's with the long gone Super Vel company. The law enforcement community got more than they bargained for with the new cartridge for a couple of reasons. The first being that Remington was a little late bringing forth the 210gr SWC loading, so most agencies procured and used the 210gr JSP hunting ammo. Many officers found that this ammunition was to much of a good thing in the M58 revolver, blast and recoil is quite considerable from a 4" barrel. The other issue many LEO didn't care for was after a full day the weight of the big revolver became quite burdensome. On the occasion that the 210gr SWC was used it was found that it leaded barrel profoundly. However in light of these issues when it was used in the line duty the .41 magnum is reported to have worked extremely well, just as Keith and Jordan said it would. Lastly this is the first time that a magnum cartridge came to be without being preceded by a special version.

    It wasn't to long before most agencies switched to the smaller lighter K frames and to the .357 magnum, by this time JHP ammunition was available and more dependable. Then Hollywood and Clint Eastwood entered the scene with the .44 magnum and as they say the rest is history. The .41 magnum pretty much slipped into obscurity save for the ardent few that kept it alive and valued it for what it is, which is an extremely well rounded and balanced cartridge. Lucky for me my late father was one of them, he was a LEO for a small upstate NY community and bought himself a S&W M58 for the princely sum of $87.00. When he purchased it I don't know, but more than likely it was sometime in the 70's. Gone are the magna stocks, he fitted the revolver with a set of pachmayr stocks and a trigger shoe. Shortly before his passing he left me his modest collection of firearms, all remain in the same condition in which I obtained them. I did get the chance to shoot the mighty .41 magnum as a young teenager, I remember gripping it so hard in anticipation of the recoil that I had the impression of the checkering of the grips on my palms. I learned two things that day, the recoil wasn't that bad but the blast and concussion was another story.

    When I took possession of my fathers' firearms I quickly went out and got some reloading supplies that I needed in order to keep some ammo on hand. I quickly learned after buying only one box of Remington 210gr JSP that reloading was the only way to afford to shoot it. Through some research, and advice from those on various Internet forums that had been loading for the .41 magnum for awhile, I loaded up some a 215gr LSWC on top of 8.0gr of Unique. I took my home brewed ammo to the range along with some of those Remington rounds. From the bench I found that that M58 was deadly accurate with the Unique loads at 25yd. In order to get the Remington ammo to hit closer to the sights I used a little bit of white paint on the front sight. Now all one needs to do is hold the bottom of the white paint flush with the rear with the full powered ammo to make accurate hits at 25yd. I don't shoot that M58 much anymore and have since decided that it will only get used with loads that duplicate the police loading, such as the 215gr LSWC and 8.0gr Unique load.

    About three years ago the .41 mag fever struck again, I purchased a Ruger BH with a 4 5/8" barrel so that I could make full use of the versatility that the .41 magnum offers. It is a nice revolver that will digest anything that I'm willing to feed it where ammo is concerned and makes a great "packing pistol". I have to admit though that the skimpy hard rubber stocks leave a lot be desired and is something that needs to be rectified. However even with this short coming the Ruger proved to be very accurate, this is a trait that is very common among .41 mag revolvers, since they have always been produced with .410" groove diameters. The .41 is a very versatile revolver cartridge, I believe it is the best well balanced magnum handgun cartridge to come along, yes even more so than the .44 magnum. It is certainly more so than the .357 Maggie in my opinion. The .357 mag is a great cartridge to be sure, however I wouldn't use it on game much larger than CXP2 class game as it is a little light in the bullet weight department. To be truly effective one must run the .357 magnum at full steam, this certainly is not the case with bigger bore cartridges or the .41 magnum.

    In factory form bullet weights from the big 3 range from 170gr to 250gr. Long gone is the 210gr LSWC police loading, cast bullets can be had in various shapes with weights that go up to 295gr. In jacketed bullets we're pretty much stuck with 170gr, 200gr, and 210gr to reload with. Once only 210gr JSP ammo is all that could be found, however things have gotten a lot better for the .41 over the years. Winchester still makes the 175gr STHP load which should be pretty good for social work as well as they're 240gr Platinum Tip Hollow Point. Remington used to make a 170gr SJHP load that had the scalloped jacket. Unfortunately it was only around for few years before being quietly shelved. Thats to bad as it was a goodie delivering close to 1400fps from a 4" tube. Now they only make the 210gr JSP on a seasonal basis which is why it is so expensive, but it will usually clock at or over the projected 1300fps from a 4" barrel. Federal has the most diverse selection going today, with the 180gr Barnes expander, 210gr JHP, 210gr Swift A Frame, and a 250gr WFN Cast Core offering. Yes ammo is not as common place as is either the .357 or the .44 but we do have more choices available today than we once did. IMHO I feel this cartridge is best served with bullets in the 250gr-255gr weight on the top end. This is where the .44 magnum fanatics will cry foul about my statement of the .41being more versatile, as it can't toss a 300gr+ bullet. To that I say " big deal so what's your point?". A .41 magnum with 9.2gr of Unique will toss a 250gr WFN out at roughly 1100fps maybe a little less. With this load it will through and through both shoulders of a 700 pound elk at 74yd and keep going. So what more is that 300gr+ .429" bullet going to do for ya' aside from subjecting you and your firearm to more abuse? The .41 magnum is a efficient cartridge to boot, for full up magnum loads it will consume on average 2gr less powder than the .44 mag. The .41 magnum is at home in any application where one would likely employ the bigger .44 magnum. If one can't accomplish a task with a properly loaded .41 magnum it is unlikely that a .44 magnum would either.

    I have kept myself on pretty level ground and have stayed away from the current hype of using overly heavy bullet weights for a given cartridge. Here is why, a 220gr -230gr Keith bullet at 1400fps will take a 1500 pound moose through the brisket at 64yd and drive deep enough to lacerate the liver and delivering a pole axing blow. I've never seen a moose up close but setting here trying to envision one that seems like it would be pretty darn close to 4 feet of penetration, more than enough for my needs.

    I've since settled on two different loads for my .41 magnum needs. The fist is my general purpose load which consists of a commercial cast 215gr (actual weight is 210gr) SWC over 8.5gr of Unique, which is no weak sister in the power department. This according to Lyman data should be pretty close to 1100fps which is good for 564 ftlbs of muzzle thump and it's highly accurate. This load should easily take care of most needs that I may encounter social or otherwise, it is also pretty easy on both the gun and shooter. The other load is a full up magnum load that uses 18.5gr of 2400 under a Montana Bullet Works 220gr Keith bullet, this is a true Keith bullet and is cast from a H&G #51 mold. It hits to the same point of impact as my general purpose load with no need to change the sights. I figure this one is close to 1300fps which would be churning up 825ftlbs of muzzle thump. I did work up to Kieth's load of 19gr 2400 with the 220 Keith bullet. Believe it or not that extra .5gr of powder made a huge difference, it hit a full 1" to 1 1/2" below the other two loads and was very obnoxious to the firer and bystanders on the range So to keep life simple I settled on the 18.5gr 2400 so as not to have to reset the sights. It isn't quite as bad as the 19.0gr load but others certainly know that something significant was just let loose. If either of those two loads don't settle the hash on what they're turned loose on I highly doubt that a .44 mag would either.

    I also have a good supply of 230gr Keith bullets that were a special run by Lynn Halstead of Dry Creek Bullet Works fame. They are beautifully cast bullets and have a generous meplat on them. I've yet to do a load work up on them, they really do look the business though. Here is pic of the bullets, L to R 220gr Montana Bullet Works Keith bullet, 230gr Dry Creek Keith bullet, and a commercial 215gr SWC.



    I have used Hornady and Sierra JHP bullets however I prefer to stick with cast bullets due to costs. So there you it have my lengthy post on the misunderstood .41 Magnum. I hope that some may learn something from this lengthy and long winded post, and about the .41 magnum in general. I also hope no one gets overly offended due to where I stand in my opinion in relation to their favorite magnum cartridge. Again anyone is more than welcome to add to or correct any discrepancies, hope everyone enjoys it.
    Last edited by 336A; January 2nd, 2013 at 01:39 AM. Reason: spelling


  2. #2
    VIP Member Array glockman10mm's Avatar
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    Great right up! The 41 mag is a favorite of mine. I used the 215 grn Keith bullet over a healthy dose with good success on the "Dark Continent".

    You also nailed a favorite load, which is 8.5 grains of Unique under the same bullet. As a matter of fact this load put down a rather good sized rogue cow several years back.

    Some have suggested, that the S&W used by Dirty Harry may have actually been an M57, and not the 29.
    Hornady is my favorite jacketed bullet, but I still havent found much you cannot do with the lswc design.

    Great job, very good info!
    Ignorance is a long way from stupid, but left unchecked, can get there real fast.

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    Member Array 336A's Avatar
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    Thanks glockman, still reading through it to fix editing problems That Unique load is good one though.

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    Had a .41 6 1/2" Blackhawk in AK and loved it. I loaded Speer 210 jacketed SWCs with Blue Dot (a no-no now for some reason) that did everything my buddy's .44 Super BH did except kick like hades. I found it very controlable. I tried pachmayr rubber grips and hated them. Tore my hand up. Went back to the OEM wood grips with no issues.

    Alas the gun was stolen, and I can't bring myself to pay what one costs these days. But I sure do miss it.
    Retired USAF E-8. Lighten up and enjoy life because:
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    Senior Member Array RKflorida's Avatar
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    The second handgun I owned was a .41 mag. Ruger Blackhawk I believe. It had oversized grips and a 6.5" barrel. It shot way more accurate than I could. I could cut skinny garden hose at 75 feet on a good day. I was young, I sold it. Of course I regret it. Beautiful holster for it too. Sigh......

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    .41 Mag.

    read your thread about the .41 and just wanted to add..........I bought a Ruger BH in .41 about 20 years ago for 220 dollars and I saw one at
    Gander Mt. just recently exactly like mine for 579 dollars. First one I have seen....new....in years. I agree they are a great round inspite of the cost of ammo.

    Your post was interesting and very informative.

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    VIP Member Array glockman10mm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by OldVet View Post
    Had a .41 6 1/2" Blackhawk in AK and loved it. I loaded Speer 210 jacketed SWCs with Blue Dot (a no-no now for some reason) that did everything my buddy's .44 Super BH did except kick like hades. I found it very controlable. I tried pachmayr rubber grips and hated them. Tore my hand up. Went back to the OEM wood grips with no issues.

    Alas the gun was stolen, and I can't bring myself to pay what one costs these days. But I sure do miss it.
    I have been listening to you lament the loss of that 41 for a few years now. Why dont you go and get yourself another with the new grip frame?

    I cant stand to see a grown man in so much anquish. Would you like for me to loan ya mine for a while?
    Ignorance is a long way from stupid, but left unchecked, can get there real fast.

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    Member Array 336A's Avatar
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    Glockman10mm, to expound a bit on the Unique load, there is something special about it. It just seems at that charge weight Unique hits that certain pressure curve in the .41 magnum. It burns clean while offering great accuracy and good velocity. It is one load that I'll be using quite a bit to be sure.
    glockman10mm likes this.

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    Quote Originally Posted by glockman10mm View Post
    I have been listening to you lament the loss of that 41 for a few years now. Why dont you go and get yourself another with the new grip frame?

    I cant stand to see a grown man in so much anquish. Would you like for me to loan ya mine for a while?
    Don't make me cry! Tell you what--what's that double barrel .45-70 really worth to you?
    Retired USAF E-8. Lighten up and enjoy life because:
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    Distinguished Member Array GlassWolf's Avatar
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    .41 mag is a great round, but aside from the Deagle, the only thing that uses it is a revolver, which severely limits it's potential as a round to seriously consider.
    It picks up where the 10mm leaves off in terms of power.
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    Great read. Good article.

    I too am a fan of the .41 Mag.
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    VIP Member Array glockman10mm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GlassWolf View Post
    .41 mag is a great round, but aside from the Deagle, the only thing that uses it is a revolver, which severely limits it's potential as a round to seriously consider.
    It picks up where the 10mm leaves off in terms of power.
    Consider for what?
    Ignorance is a long way from stupid, but left unchecked, can get there real fast.

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    Member Array 336A's Avatar
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    So exactly why is it's potential being limited due to being chambered in revolvers? There are a lot of great cartridges that are revolver only rounds. I've never heard of them being limited in potential. It is what it is, and the .41 magnum is a cartridge that was meant to be housed in a revolver just like a lot of other great cartridges. That however does not limit them. Housing them in a semi auto platform on the other hand would would severly limit it. I highly doubt that you would get away with being able to use the full array of bullet wieghts and profiles in a semi auto due to magazine constraints.
    Last edited by 336A; January 2nd, 2013 at 01:31 AM. Reason: spelling

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by glockman10mm View Post
    Some have suggested, that the S&W used by Dirty Harry may have actually been an M57, and not the 29.
    I've also read that it was the 29, but they used 44 SPLs.

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    Member Array 336A's Avatar
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    I would also like to add how funny it is that we came full circle. Keith and Jordan both said that a .40 something caliber with a bullet weight of about 200gr at about 1,000fps would be the ideal LE round. Here we are today in 2013 and what is the predominant LE round....? exactly what they were extolling but in a semi auto format. Kinda funny how we keep re-inventing the wheel Sometimes it pays to shut up and listen to your elders, they might know a thing or two.

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