The .41 Magnum is a useful, powerful, accurate, and well-balanced cartridge. Perhaps, it is one of the best revolver cartridges ever designed. Yet, it seems to be almost on its last leg, and far down the list in popularity compared to the .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum. This is understandable in some ways, but the cartridge is just too good to die.
I have noted lately that even single-action revolvers are chambered for a relative upstart—the 10mm Auto. I understand the popularity of revolvers chambered for readily available self-loading cartridges. I can see the popularity of the 10mm in a double-action revolver intended for personal defense, but not at the expense of the .41 Magnum.
A revolver cartridge is designed for a heavy crimp and headspaces on the cartridge rim. They are more efficient with the heaviest loads. The .41 Magnum with proper handloads will jolt a 210-grain Hornady XTP bullet to 1,400 fps. That’s Magnum performance. The .41 Magnum has a shorter history than most handgun cartridges coming along almost 30 years after the .357 Magnum and eight years after the .44 Magnum.
Unlike the other big-bore magnum cartridges, the .41 has no parent cartridge. There is no .41 Special, at least not originally. There is a custom .41 Special cartridge that must be handmade. The .41 was purpose-designed as a cartridge mid way between the .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum. It really isn’t, as the .357 is a .357, but the .44 is a .429 and the .41 is a .410.
There is little the .44 Magnum will do, that the .41 will not, but in absolute energy the .44 is the king. There are those who state that the .41 has greater penetration with heavy 220-grain bullets than the .44 with 300-grain bullets, but this is difficult to prove. Suffice to say, the .41 Magnum is a grand cartridge, but it is definitely a specialist or handloaders cartridge if the greatest versatility is to be enjoyed. There are but a fraction of factory loads available for the .41 compared to the .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum. I think the ammunition shortage of a few years ago really hurt the .41 Magnum.
The Birth of the .41
The .41 is the result of hard campaigning by Elmer Keith ‘The Dean of American Handgunners’ at the 1963 NRA show. The revolver went into production in 1964. The idea was to offer American Police a superior revolver. The .44 Magnum was too much and some wanted more than the .357 Magnum.
Others wanted a big bore revolver that would offer good wound ballistics without Magnum recoil and penetration. Frankly, I have always been amazed at the history of the .41, as far as this goes. At the time, the .38-44 heavy frame .38 Special was in production. This is a heavy-duty fixed sight revolver.
The Smith and Wesson Combat Magnum is a K frame revolver that chambers the powerful .357 Magnum cartridge. It is light, powerful, and reliable. A standard handload at the time, put in .38 Special cartridge cases, involved a cast 150-grain lead SWC hollow point over enough #2400 powder for 1,200 fps. This load proved excellent in both wound potential and penetration with little left to be desired.
The big bore fixed sight .44 Special, .45 Auto Rim and .45 Colt revolvers were in production. Demand was so low they were discontinued in the 1960s. For some reason, a large number of writers and Smith and Wesson executives felt that agencies not adopting the obvious solution—a big bore revolver—would adopt the .41 Magnum.
While I agree that the .38 Special 158-grain RNL was among the most worthless of service cartridges, we had good alternatives as early as 1950. The Smith and Wesson M57 is a deluxe revolver identical in appearance to the .44 Magnum and even heavier. The M58 is a heavy barrel, fixed-sight revolver, chambered for the .41 Magnum. The M57 is often seen; the M58 is far less common.
Very few agencies, primarily in Texas and California, adopted the .41 Magnum. It was offered with two loads—a full-power, jacketed, hunting load at about 1,300 fps and a 210-grain lead SWC at 890 fps. In a blunder, several agencies issued the 210-grain JSP for training and scared recruits—male and female alike—to tremors! The heavy frame S&W is much slower on the draw than a K frame revolver. The .41 was not a success story. It became a specialist cartridge. The .41 Magnum is a fine outdoors cartridge, with very little in the way of demerit compared to the .44 Magnum. The .41 shoots flat at long range and offers excellent penetration. Recoil is less than the .44 Magnum, with most loads.
My .41 is a well-used and well-worn Ruger Blackhawk with a 6.5-inch barrel. This is an accurate revolver that will place five Hornady 210-grain XTP loads into 2.5 inches at 25 yards. This load clocks 1,325 fps. It shoots flat over distance and is easier to hit with at 100 yards than most revolvers. The sights are excellent.
At three pounds clean, the trigger leaves nothing to be desired. As for recoil, well, this is a lighter revolver than most .44s and with the original grips it sometimes raps the knuckle of the first finger of the firing hand. I like this revolver a lot and find that it is accurate enough for most any hunting pursuit.
With a set of Lyman dies screwed into the press the cartridge is very versatile with handloads. The .41 Magnum is far from dead and the Ruger Blackhawk and Hornady ammunition offer an excellent combination in the field.
Are you a .41 magnum fan? What is your favorite magnum cartridge? Share your answers in the comment section.
Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooters Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.
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