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)

  • JCH

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    My first 41 was a Ruger three-screw (serial number 707) 4 5/8 bbl Blackhawk that I bought with a 1988 tax return check while I was a college student (125.00 bucks – very gently used (faint cylinder drag marks,etc.) with box). This revolver remains the most accurate pistol I’ve ever shot and a sweetheart/joy to shoot/own. It was the catalyst for my lifelong affliction with the fabulous cartridge and hand-loading.

    Reply

  • dts3204

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    I just realized something all my revolvers are .41 Magnum S&W 657 Mountain Gun, S&W 57-2 and a Ruger Blackhawk with 2.75 barrel. One rifle 1895S Marlin. Have owned a Model 57 & 58 in the past (regret selling them) Also regret never buying the Desert Eagle I once handled

    Reply

  • Howard

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    My first Blackhawk was of course the .357/9mm convertible back as a teenager in the early 80s. While stationed in Colorado in the 90s I bought a Super Blackhawk Bisley in .44 Magnum to carry as a bear gun while bow hunting out there (I carried it in a custom chest holster while hunting). A few years later I ran across a deal I couldn’t pass up on a Stainless .45ACP/45LC. While I carry the Blackhawks in the woods here in Florida or at the hunt camp in Georgia the Bisley stays in the safe these days. Having already owned the .357 and .44 Magnums the .41 seemed a little superfluous. While stationed in Korea prior to Colorado I read an article in Guns & Ammo or American Handgunner magazine about the custom Blackhawks & Super Blackhawks from Stoney’s Pistol Palace in Sarasota (long gone now) and they were my first stop on arriving home after that tour in Korea. I have loved my Ruger single actions since my father bought my first, a Super Bearcat, at a tender age!

    Reply

  • Robert Nelson

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    My first .41 mag. is a Ruger Blackhawk with very nice trigger pull and magna porting. I have sold it 2 times and I have bought the gun 3 times! LOL I won’t part willingly with it again! I am now the proud owner of a Henry in .41mag and love them both EXTREMLY compared to all my other caliber’s and I have most all of the hand gun caliber’s . I would recommend .41 mag to anyone for hunting self defense as long as loudness is not a problem!
    LOL

    Reply

  • Don Keller

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    I modify a Ruger New Model Blackhawk Bisley frame with a 1:16 twist, 8” tapered octagonal barrel. The revolver is loaded with a 300 grain lead bullet in front of a sizable amount of 1680 powder. Sightseeing system is a custom mount for a Burris Fast Fire III. A sling swivel is mounted on the left side of the frame with the sling going around the neck and adjusted to arms length with tension. Makes a great deer or hog gun from 10 to 50 yards.

    Reply

  • Randy Reese

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    Does anyone make the .41 Magnum in an automatic pistol? This day and age the technology ought to be available and demand would be pretty decent.

    Reply

    • Dave Dolbee

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      I am not sure about current production, but I recall Coonan and Desert Eagle both having .41 Mag. Semi-Autos in the past. ~Dave Dolbee

      Reply

    • Pete In Alaska

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      I have the .41 Mag Desert Eagle in my collection. Four magazines. It’s primarily a collector piece for me now, somewhat heavy and difficult to carry. However, it’s quite accurate, easy recoil, and reloading is simple. If I ever sell it I’ll do it as a package with all the bits an bobs. It is responsible for several hogs in past years! If one was to carry this platform effecently in the field I would now suggest an Alaskan Chest Rig holster system

      Reply

  • David

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    I agree the 41 mag is the best…for me. I have had Both the Ruger BN 41 and the Smith M57. I now just carry the Smith. Super accurate and recoil is easy to manage. Target Sports has ammo. I am thinking of purchasing the companion rifle from Henry with the big loop for deer and bear.

    Reply

  • Mike

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    Mine is a Ruger Redhawk. Great caliber. I think too many times, popularity is based on fads (can you say DirtyHarry?) and not on true performance. Thanks for the article. Can you do one someday on the .257 Roberts?

    Reply

  • James M Lake

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    I own all the Ruger magnums in both blackhawk and redhawk designs and would stack rate the calibers like this for hunting deer up to 300lbs…at up to 100 yards
    1. 44mag
    2. 41mag
    3. 480
    4. 454
    5. 357
    For general sidearm wear
    1. 357
    2. 41
    3. 44
    4. 480
    5. 454
    For brown bear country
    1. 480
    2. 454
    3. 44
    4. 41
    5. 357
    For elk from 75 to 100 yards
    1. 454
    2. .480
    3. 44
    I love my 41 as a reliable, relatively easy shooting revolver that tips its hat to the days of the cowboy. The ruger biseley pistols are best for recoil and better cocking leverage. I agree that ammo is limited but the 41 is a dream to shoot…try a 44 special in a 44 mag…feels close to that. Sure, i could just roll with the 44 but the 41 is just right for a general hunting sidearm or hiking/camping.

    Reply

    • Vincent

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      James, what a nice list! But I am a bit confused why you have put the 454 where you did. If you are referring to the 454 Casull, then that is way more powerful than any of the other calibers you have listed, including the 44. mag. In my Ballistics file it shows that the 454 Casull ranges in power from about 1,000 ft. lbs. of ME to 2,302! The average comes in at 1,164. The .44 Mag maxes out at 1,533 Ft. lbs. (Buffalo Bore). The 480 maxes out at 1,453,bb but averages out at 1,293 (only 7 entries). This high average simply implies that manufacturers load it heavily routinely, probably because who wants a low power 480 load!

      However, the cost of the 480 cartridge varies from $1.37 to $3.22 per round, which is quite high. The 454 is also high – varying from $1.20 to $2.70 per round. The .44 Mag costs between $.50 to $2.09 (the max load of 1,533 ft. lbs.). I already discussed the .41 Mag costs and power in a previous note here.

      So, why did you put the 454 so low in the list?

      Vincent (10-23-2018)

      Reply

  • Joseph desmond

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    I am retired Leo here I n the peoples republi of new jersey we are allowed 15 rd mags,if we have a carry permit,my favorite carry gun is my smith and Wesson 58 With 250 grain handmade, or my Remington rand 1911a1,with 230 grainfmj hardball, don’t think I am undergunned,

    Reply

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