The .41 Magnum — Alive and Kicking

By Bob Campbell published on in Ammunition, Reviews

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.

Ruger Blackhawk .41 Magnum with ammunition boxes

The Ruger Blackhawk .41 Magnum is an excellent choice for outdoors use.

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.

Bob Campbell shooting a .41 magnum revolver with a two-handed grip

Firing from a solid rest, the Ruger .41 Magnum is very accurate.

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.

Barnes hollowpoint bullet

Barnes offers an all-copper hollowpoint for the .41 Magnum, in both bullets and loaded Vortex ammunition.

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.

Bob Campbell shooting a .41 magnum revolver with a one-handed grip

Firing bullseye fashion, the Ruger is controllable and accurate.

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.

SLRule

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 Shooter’s 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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Comments (34)

  • steven c johnson

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    Hi…
    I own several .41Magnum revolvers and shoot them regularly.
    It has been my favorite hand gun cartridge for at least 30-40 years and I have extensive experience with all of them.

    Reply

  • Craven Moorehead

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    I have the .41 magnum in a S&W 657 and Thompson Contender.

    Reply

  • Vincent

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    I think this article has really left us with the question as to why the .4 Mag never made it big, and today is hardly mentioned. I am an owner of two Ruger Blackhawks – a .357 Mg 6.5″ and a 5.5 .45 LC Flattop, both revolvers. When I purchased my .357 Mag in 1965 it had been out for 10 years already, and the cartridge for 31 years.. Whereas, the .41 Mag cartridge has just come out the year before, and the very first Ruger Blackhawk .41 Mag came out in 1965 as well. So, its cartridge AND handgun manufacture was not popular or even spoken at all back then. Ruger stopped making the .41 Mag Blackhack in 1973, and has started up a new one in 2011.

    So, the question is now why did it not go gangbusters and become popular, since it is a fairly powerful cartridge and not extremely expensive, like some of the esoteric .4 and .5 handgun caliber ammo are. I examined both its pricing (today’s) and its power relative to other nearby calibers, like the .357 Mag, .44 Mag, and the .45 Colt.

    I have a ballistics file I have created which shows ballistics for 32 handgun ammo type, and the .41 Mag averages (22 entries) $1.33 per round, whereas the .357 averages on $.74 per round, which is almost double. But of course, you can find some .41 mag ammo to be less than some .357 Mag ammo. This same file show the .44 Mag (63 different entries) to average in cost per round around $1.18, and the .45 Colt ammo (128 entries) averages around $1.15. So, definitely all of these other calibers are better deals.

    Now I looked at the power ratings – ft. lbs. of Muzzle Energy (ME). The .41 Mag varies from typically 675 ft. lbs. of ME to 1,107 (Hornady), with one low entry of 438, and averages around 850. The .357 mag cartridge has just about the widest range of power, varying from 354 to 906, although Armscor shows some ammo at 976 and even 1,170, which if true is probably from very long barrels, like 10″ or even longer, so it is not really what I would call handgun ammo. The .357 averages around 600 Ft. lbs. of ME. The .44 Mag varies in power from about 600 up to 1,533, and averages around 940.

    And finally, there is the .45 Colt ammo, which has been around in some form or another for over 140 years. This ammo varies in my ballistics file from about 400 ft. lbs. of ME, to 1,344(!), with a super low ME of just under 300 for a few ‘cowboy rounds that are used for shows and quick draws, and are not particularly inexpensive either!

    So, my conclusion is that for both of the other .4xx calibers, they are more powerful and less expensive, and of course, a lot easier to find and buy. The .357 mag come in close in the power rating (22-25% less powerful in the max and average MEs), but considerably less expensive (about half) and far easier to find!

    I think all of this goes a long ways to explain fairly clearly why the .41 Mag never made it big.

    Vincent (10-22-2018)

    Reply

    • sls

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      Amen, Brother Vincent,
      There. Is nothing so special a out .41 mag to justify it’s continuation. It will live on among those who want a willdcat type of individuality. The rest of the world has moved on. It is just as well to write an article laminating the shortage of .44 rimfire.

      Reply

  • Fred C Jones

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    I own the .41 magnum revolver in the S&W model 57, and I shoot the 210 grain cartridges with great pleasure. It is my favorite sidearm and anyone that sees me shoot it at the range begs me to let them shoot it.

    Reply

  • Pete In Alaska

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    Bob, If your looking to start a club in support of the .41 Magnum I’d like to become a member as soon as possible.
    As far as I’m concerned the .41 Mag is perhaps the most under rated handgun cartridge ever made and, fortunately, still in production as well as components for reloading. My first Ruger Blackhawk was a 4 5/8” in .41 Mag. I still carry it today when I’m in the Alaskan Bush even though I have a both a .44 and .454.
    The .41 is under utilized, unsung, and never seemed to recieved the praise it should have, and deserves to have. This caliber is more than suitable if needed in Brown Bear country. I also found it to be suitable for carry in Africa while hunting.
    Reloading is easy, components are available, and there are still a manufacture or two that produce factory munitions.
    The .41 Mag has survived years in the shadow of the .357 an .44 Magnums. This fine preforming caliber shouldn’t be allowed to exist in obscurity.

    Reply

  • OldGringo

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    Great load you have there Bob, 210 grains at 1,325 is a wonderful load. I too see all the hype with the 10mm. The 10mm sellers claim they are equal to 41 mag, I call BS. Just check the Buffalo Bore site, all three of the hottest 10mms barely get to 700 foot pounds, but ALL of the 41 mag loads get over 1,000 foot pounds. And this is with the shorter barrels. I own three 44 mag handguns and like them well. Most of my factory carry loads fall at 1,000 foot pounds and it is devastating on deer, so if 41 mag can do that, then for deer the additional recoil is just wasted in my view. Also, I really like to carry a single action cowboy gun usually a Ruger Flat Top in 45 colt which weighs only about 38 ounces, a full size Ruger will weigh nearly 50 or more, which actually will pull your pants down. LOL, my point? The short barrel Ruger 4 5/8 barrel also only weighs about 38 ounces while the 44 again adds another 8 ounces or so. Unless there are actual grizzlies where you are the 41 mag makes for the best weight power ratio of just about anything out there.. Check it out. Also, Charter Arms is again selling their little 5 shot, 22 ounce snubby in 41 mag. Gotta wonder about the recoil. Good article. If you need more than 357, there it is.

    Reply

  • karl

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    I looked at the 41Mag decades ago but lack of readily available ammo and components dissuaded me.I stuck with heavy loaded 357s and 44s.For the last decade I’ve really gone over to the 45Colt.A mouse [shot capsules or round balls]to moose[330 and even 390 grain hard cast slugs.For a 41 caliber,I’d give thought to the 10mm auto…but then there is 45ACP+P AND the 460 Rowland[1200fps with 230gr slugs !].I have seen some Blackhawk combos in 41Mag/10mm.

    Reply

  • Bob

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    The author is marveling that the .41 Magnum offers magnum performance….um…why? It says “Magnum” right there on the box. It does nothing that cannot be done more efficiently by the .357 Magnum or more effectively by the .44 Magnum. And the .41 is NOT a big bore.

    Reply

    • mike hill

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      Sometimes the subtleties of a fine wine, an outstanding bourbon, and a brilliantly conceived and flawlessly executed firearm caliber, just escape some.

      Kudos to “Pete in Alaska.” Well said!

      Reply

    • John Fay

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      Not to pick nits Bob, but the .44 Magnum is only 19 thousandths larger in bore than the .41 Magnum. So you are then arguing that the .44 Magnum is also not a Big Bore? Would love to hear your response to that.

      Reply

  • HW Stone

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    What this boils down to is that .41 mag is the strawberry ripple ice cream of the gun world.

    Perfectly good, just not the most popular, but stil, perfectly good for most people.

    Reply

  • Konrad Lau

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    The 41 was primarily designed as a law enforcement cartridge.
    If one is interested in a true hunting round, most will begin and end their search with the 44 Magnum. If you are looking for bear medicine, revolver power goes up dramatically from there (i.e. 480 Ruger, 454 Casull, etc.). In a service handgun, the 10mm Auto does everything and more than the revolver round, including packing more rounds per reload.
    The 41 was a novel idea when it came out and was never as popular as the loads on either side (357/44).
    I was told once that the sign of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different outcome. The 41 is interesting from a historical standpoint but so is the 6.5 Swedish. Today there is no credible reason to purchase the Swedish round except to feed a historic firearm. I put the 41 Magnum into the same category.

    Reply

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