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Four Cheers for the .41

by J. Scott Rupp   |  June 21st, 2011 36

The author’s three-screw Ruger Blackhawk is the lone .41 Magnum in his arsenal—a fact that needs to be changed.

 

Like many people, I root for the underdog, and that tendency spills over into my gun choices. Favorite shotgun gauge? 16, of course. Favorite rifle cartridge? The .280 Remington. So it makes sense then that of the straight-walled revolver cartridges I have an affinity for the .41 Magnum.

Developed in the 1960s by revolver aficionado Elmer Keith (who had also brought us the .44 Magnum)—with help from legendary handgunners Bill Jordan and Skeeter Skelton—it filled the gap between the .357 and the big .44, and Keith’s goal for it as a law enforcement round. But it didn’t pan out that way. Smith & Wesson developed the models 57 and 58 for it, but while Keith envisioned two loads—a relatively sedate 200-grainer at less than 1,000 fps and a smokin’ 210-grainer running at more than 1,300—the mild load never saw the light of day. The result? The 4-inch Model 58, the law enforcement gun, was too much for most officers to handle.

And for sporting use, there wasn’t anything the .41 could do that the .44 couldn’t do better or at least as well. What really doomed the .41 to cult status, in my opinion, is the lack of an alternative chambering. The .357 and .44 Magnums have, respectively, the .38 and .44 Specials that allow you to enjoy shooting with low-power, lower-cost ammo. And in both cases for the person who wants his or handgun to do double duty, both Special loads are excellent for home defense—controllable and effective.

But I still love the .41 because it’s different and because it’s not popular. Fortunately I’m not totally alone.

“We sold and continue to sell .41 Magnum revolvers at a somewhat mediocre rate,” Smith & Wesson’s Paul Pluff told me. “The .41 has somewhat of a cult following, and those who own them tend to own several in that caliber. I think we will continue to see the sales of that caliber year after year stay the same.”

See, that’s why I love this job. Mr. Pluff has now given me the ammo I need to go to my lovely wife and say, “Gee, I have just the one .41. Seems I should have more!”

My current .41 Magnum is a Ruger Blackhawk, a platform I love. It’s an older three-screw model, and it’s pretty accurate, despite the fact I haven’t tried loading for it. And here’s what I like about the .41 Magnum. Even with full-house loads, it’s very comfortable in the Blackhawk, more so than a similar Blackhawk I have in .44 Magnum. And to revisit and rephrase a point I made earlier, as a hunting cartridge the .41 Magnum will do nearly anything a .44 will do. It’s got more than enough punch to handle deer, wild boar and similar game with the right bullet.

The question of what new production gun to add to my battery is a tough call, even though there aren’t a ton choices. Smith has brought the classics back—the Model 58 with 4-inch barrel originally designed for police and the 6-inch, adjustable-sight 57 that was intended as more of a hunting gun—along with a Model 657 with 2.63-inch barrel.

I’ve shot the Model 58, which I immediately thought about getting when it was announced a couple of years ago. But I can’t say I enjoyed it much. With full-power loads I discovered the same thing many law enforcement officers did back in the day: It’s a handful.

The 6-inch 57, which I haven’t shot, might be a better choice, as might one of the Taurus offerings. Taurus has a couple of Raging Bulls chambered for the .41 (6.5 and 8 inch barrels), as well as two Trackers—a snubby and a 4-inch. The latter is intriguing. While it has the same barrel length as Smith’s Classic 58, it has Taurus’ comfy Ribber grips (as opposed to the checkered wood grips of the 58, which sting with typical .41 loads), and its barrel is ported. At less than $600, this might be the one I can get my wife to sign off on.

If money were no object (like that’s ever the case) and I wanted another single-action, I’d jump at the chance to buy a Freedom Arms Field Grade with a 7.5-inch barrel. Several years ago, I hunted with a Freedom Arms .41 in conjunction with Winchester’s introduction of a Platinum Tip hunting load for the cartridge. I killed a good wild boar with it and fell in love with the gun’s beauty, function and outstanding accuracy. Certainly you get what you pay for, and in the case of the Freedom Arms gun you’re buying what’s essentially a custom revolver—hence the nearly $1,900 price tag.

Of course, I could upgrade my old model Blackhawk with a New Model Blackhawk from Ruger. They still carry the .41, in both a 6.5 and a 4.62 barrel. (Wouldn’t the .41 be a cool choice for the flattops they’ve been coming out with the past couple of years? Hint, hint.)

Whatever I end up getting, the day I order it I’m buying a set of dies, which I should’ve done years ago and probably will buy anyway. The only way to get the most use and enjoyment out of the .41 is to handload for it. If you’ve got some pet loads, please share!

  • Ed

    Where has the "Handguns Magazine Forum" gone?

  • Mick Wood

    I had a used 4-3/4" Blackhawk back in th '80's that I couldn't keep a cylinderful on a paper plate at 25 yards no matter what I tried, factory or reload, cast or jacketed, nothing. I kept all my equipment, and picked up a Smith& Wesson 657 with A 7-1/2" barrel. What a difference! That paper plate is not safe at 200 yared with the Burris 2x scope on it and a good rest. Moderate recoil, wide velocity range for a reloader, very good whitetail round with power to spare.

  • http://Google Paul Bowers

    I have a S&W model 58. it was "tuned" by a previous owner. when I showed it to my Chief of Police one year he let me shoot it for qualifications scored high 80's but he wouldn't let me carry it on duty. after a few years the hammer spur broke off. I had a local gunsmith smooth the hammer shape and shoot it double action, works better except for long shots where I can still cock the hammer if needed.

  • http://www.FirearmsCoalition.org Jeff Knox

    The .41 Mag was one of Dad's favorites too. He had a scoped S&W 57 he used for deer hunting and silhouette shooting. He was constantly tinkering with loads for the thing and dry firing at the talking heads on the evening news shows (a practice now frowned upon, but engaged in safely and enthusiastically by my father). Dad and Elmer were good friends and Dad considered the .41 Elmer's second greatest contribution to the shooting world – second only to the collective writings of that mildly opinionated lover of guns and the outdoors.

    Jeff Knox, The Firearms Coalition

  • chris alisi

    In some ways Im alot like mr rupp I dont follow the crowd

    16gauges are my choice in shot guns I have five including a1929 lc smith and two 41 mags an old model ruger

    and a S & W 657-5 oh yes my favor deer rifle? amodle 14

    remington game master in 35 rem

  • Mark

    I have a New Model Blackhawk .41 magnum 4 5/8 barrel, got it from a fellow Deputy Sheriff, I don’t think he liked it much as he had a scope on it and it really didn’t help it be all it could be! I took off the scope and replaced the factory sights, then gave it a good tune-up! The local hogs have learned the hard way that they are in danger anywhere near the 50 yard mark. It is a great shooter!

  • Howard

    The 41 MAG is sweet and a well keep secret.

    • olemort

      You are soooo right..I have three .41's including a Marlin rifle. Luckily I have thousands of brass. The S&W
      8 3/8 inch Double action is by far the most acurate…..I haven't got the new peep sight for the Marlin…………..
      We'll see………..cheers to you

  • Rabbit

    The first Pistol I bought in the early 1970s is a Ruger Blackhawk .41 Mag with 45/8 inch barrell. I load a 210 grain simi wadcutter with 21 grans of 2400 powder. Velosity although never measured I believe to be between 1350 and 1400. An great hand gun and still my favorite amoung the many other handguns I own.

  • Charles D. Lopez

    The 41 Mag is a great gun for hunting, the main reason the 44 is more popular is you can use the 44 special loads.

    Under 40 yards the 44 sp loads will work as well as the 41 mag or the 44 mag, without the recoil.

    There are some shooters that can control the mags just as well, but dam few.

    Just put up a target and tell the guys that brag how good they can shoot the mags to show you. It takes a lot of practice to shoot a group under 4inches at 40 yards with any hand gun let along mag loads.

    There are some guys that are just natural shooters.

    In Alaska we have a few hunters that can shoot a 44 mag better than the average guy can shoot a 30-30 rifle.

  • Edward Pasciullo Sr.

    My first 41 magnum was a ruger 3 screw with a 4 5/8 inch barrel. In 1965 I used it to kill groundhogs and deer. My 2nd 41 was a smith & Wesson 657, 6" barrel with a 2 power tasco stainless steel scope. I have taken deer with it. I hand load 17 to 18 grains of 2400 with 210 grain hollow point.When Cabelas opened in Hamburg, Pa., I talked to a Beretta representative who showed me the new 6 gun in 44 magnum. I asked him if they were coming out with a 41 magnum. He said he only knows of 2 people who shoot a 41 magnum. Well, now you know 3.

  • Jimbeaux

    Agreed, 4 cheers for the .41. Mine is a Dan Wesson SS .41 with 4", 6", and 8" barrels, and I love it. It is a big framed revolver, and even on handloaded mag loads it is not too much to handle if you ignore the foot-long spout of flame that 20 gr of H110 produces under a Hornady 210XTP–the deer round. But I've got a few target loads I worked up for lead 230-gr Keith bullets that I call "41 target loads"–load ramps of 3.8-4.2 gr of Clays, or 13.6-14.2 gr of 2400 in a "+P" load, both over CCI300 primers, with 13.9 gr of 2400 producing <2" 5-shot groups off a rest at 25 yds. Someday a Ruger Blackhawk 41 mag will also find its way into the arsenal.

  • Steve

    My first duty weapon was a 4" Model 58 that I loved and carried until I later joined different departments that either prohibited it or issued duty wapons (.38 heavy barrel Model 10 style….ugh!). I later acquired a Model 657 6" that I intended to hunt with but alas both were trade off to something else (as was usually the case due to economics). Wish I had them both back now (esp. the 58…..a 1975 era gun). This collumn now has me wanting to go try to find something in.41 again.

  • Jean François

    I am waiting for the .41 Special that someone is reloading and cutting down the case about 1/10 of an inch, can't remember which magazine I was reading. Should be a wildcat going main line real quickley!

  • Richard G. Reed

    Ruger does make a 41 magnum New Model Blackhawk Flattop. I have one in a 6.5" barrel. I also have a New Model Stainless 41 mag. Custom made by Andy Horvath. Both guns are very accurate. All of the magnum shooters (41 – 44- 454) that I shoot with, can hit steel targets out to 200 yards. That is one of the reasons for owning a magnum handgun.

  • David Pratt

    I think if the .41 Special had come out before the magnum, a la the .38/.357, the .41 would be much more popular. You can still get .41 Special ammo, though, from reedsammo.com (http://shop.reedsammo.com/category.sc?categoryId=163)

    $27,50 for 50 rounds of 210gr LSWC

    $31.02 for 50 rounds of 230gr 'Keith Style'

    I want a 58 real bad. What a versatile revolver!

    • Daniel Falotico

      David, have you used the .41 special ammo? I have a Super Blackhawk unter version. Would like to know how this ammo shoots. I would probably shoot much more if there was more special loads available.

    • tjohn1

      What would u pay? I have one that is as new! tomjohnson12@charter.net

  • Alfonso A. Rodriguez

    I have a S&W model 657 and I love it. I've had it for 15 years and I shoot reloads that can considered "41 Special" at no more than 850 to 900 FPS. I also shoot heavier loads at 1000-1100 FPS. I can put a stiff load (1300 FPS) once in a while but the lower level is more fun and still powerful enough. I am thinking of getting another one but the S&Ws have double in price with some going up to over $1150.00. I may get a Ruger single action or a Tarurus Tracker double action (5 round cilinder for extra strength) in the future. The Ruger single action Blackhawk has very tight tolerances in the cilinder and and between the cilinder and forcing cone gap so if you reload you must be carefull with the tolerances of your loads which should be just like a factory load. Both are high quaility strong guns as well as accurate. The 41 Mag is a pleasure to shoot. I have shot the 175gn Silvertips and the revolver makes the recoil feel very light. Handloads.com has many loads listed for the 41. I use H110 for heavy loads with JHP only and Unique for anything from light to medium heavy with LSWC to JHP. 41 Mag ammo is more expensive compared to others like the 44 Cal . There is now 41 Special brass from Starline for reduce loads although this brass cost more than the regular 41 Mag brass. Enjoy!!!

  • Scott Rupp

    I've started looking for an M657 4-inch. Scarcer than hen's teeth, apparently, as they only made that barrel length for a brief time. I'll just have to keep haunting the internet gun sale sites. Once I find one, I'll be loading it to Mr. Rodriguez's levels, under 1,000 fps. Should be just right for trail or home defense, plus fun to shoot.

  • Wm Mog

    Got my first revolver around 1980. S&W 57 model, it seemed like a cannon at first. After a lot of practice with full power Winchester 210 grainers, maybe 10 boxes I could shoot a pie pan at 100 yds one handed every shot. Didn't know any better and I out shot guys with 30-30's like in above post. The Smith DA's have the sweetest trigger imaginable. Got a reloading kit, it just got better.

    Speer 200gr half jacket hollowpoint 20.4 gr H110 MAX LOAD accurate, awesome flame

    Sierra 170 JHC 15.5 gr DuPont 800x MAX LOAD

    high velocity load not too much recoil accurate

    Hard cast 215 SWC Keith style lead Unique or HS7 ball which is messy and smoky but way fun, no recoil at 1000 fps.

    Now however I have to work up a load for pure copper projectiles CA condor rules, SHH

    Fired a Super Blackhawk 7.5 240 gr w max 296 loads a lot. Also very accurate, in the black at 100, like 41 mag better!

  • cew

    coy i have 2 sw's model 57 and 657 they will shoot with anything– ialso have a marlin 41 lever gun– i do my own reloading –enjoy all very much my rifle and model 57 is my deer guns and they will lay'em down

  • Daniel Falotico

    I yearn for the day that you can buy ..41 special ammo just as easily as .38 special ammo. Hopefully one day.

  • Bob

    I have a 1970 flattop, 3 screw Ruger Blackhawk 41 mag that is in mint condition. I've been reading a bit about them lately but have not seen what the going price might be for one. My dad bought it new and it pretty much just sat in the box. We took it out shooting a few times when I was a kid and he pretty much shelved it. When he died, the gun was given to me. I haven't shot it in 25 years or more. It's in pristine condition and I was wondering if anyone knew roughly what it might be worth in today's market?

  • Chris W.

    I have a 58 "no dash" that shipped from S&W in October of 1965. I am a huge fan of S&W K's with fixed sights. I have to say though, that the model 58 is the King of all of S&W's fixed sight revolvers.

  • Todd

    Purchased a S&W 657 used in mint condition lightened the double action just a bit and removed some tool marks, it shoots great. I carry it working in remote Alaska with Buffalo Bore loads, I've read a few articles claiming
    it will drop a bison, if you do the math 265gr at 1300fps =1000 ft lbs at the muzzle. The difference between it and a 44 is splitting hairs a 41 special load would be great for target loads, I thought my wife would feel more comfortable firing it if necessary.

  • Bubba

    i have a new model super blackhawk, 6'' in .41 and a new model super blackhawk 7.5" in .44 and like the .41 better, just hard to get ammo here for my .41

  • Derf

    If you want a nice target load try IMR Trail Boss and a 210-215 cast bullet. It is a sweet load, I use 5.8 grains of Trail Boss in my 7 1/2" Ruger Redhawk and it makes just under 900fps. In my 6.5" Blackhawk it makes about 850. Very mild and you can not double charge a case with Trail Boss. It is great in 45 Colt also. I also like Serria 170 gr JHP with H110. Talk about a flame thrower.

  • Dan

    Many years ago, in the 70's I worked for a Harkey Dealer as a mechanic. I worked on most all of thed Houston police force motorcycles (they liked my work!). One of them carried a 41 as his duty gun. He many times offered to let me shoot it, right out back of the shop mind you, (Texas was and is a wild place), so finally took him up on it and let er rip into a pile of cardboard that new bikes came in. Wow what a piece. Tony hand loaded all of his loads so it had a pretty good bark and kick to match. Lead hollow points all clustered together sure looked pretty. Maybe time to scour some gun shows to find one.

  • Jason Landers

    Hi J. Scott,

    I was wondering if you were interested in doing a guest post on my blog? http://www.gunsmithingschoolsonline.com

  • jdd

    have nib mo57 4in blue in prebox will sell 1000.

  • Bravekitkat44

    I have been shooting the 41 mag since the late 70s. My favorite hunting gun is 6 1/2 barreled Ruger Blackhawk with Bowen Rough Country rear sight, slicked up action, ( 2 1/2 lb trigger pull) Esmerelda Cocabola grips, and I fire lapped the barrel. My favorite hunting load consists of Cast Performance Bullets fine 255 gr.
    WFNGC bullets and a stiff charge of H-110 in W.W. brass and CCI 300 primers. Velocity averages 1350 fps and accuracy is splendid. ( Sub 3" groups at 50 yds. and 5" at 100) I have taken over 30 head of big game with this combination and have only recovered 5 bullets. ( one from a frontal shot on a 300+ lb black bear where the bullet penetrated over 40") Great gun!, Great Load! 41s Foreveve!!

  • MGrant

    Love the blackhawk 41 mag . My dad used to develop loads for dupont back in the '60s. They would send him a gallon plastic jug of powder and say,"this powder has a burning rate somewhere between 2400 and H110" . So dad would drag out either a 6 1/2" blackhawk in 357 or 41 cal, or a 7 1/2" super blackhawk that he had tried a new process called 'magna-porting' on as they were a new company just on the other side of detroit from us. cost him $29.95 to get it done. Dad had 2 boys ages 6 and 7 that were more than happy to pull the trigger for him as he sat at the side of the bench reading the numbers from the chrono, and documenting all of the data in his reloading journal.

    That was almost 50 years ago, so when I had the chance last year to get a Ruger Blackhawk in 41 Mag last year I jumped at it and have been reloading ever since. I even tried to do a few 'snake loads' using #4 shot and a reduced powder charge for home defense. (anyone know where I can get some 41 gas checks?)

    Great to know I'm not alone in loving the 41 mag blackhawk.

  • Gunfan

    I have both a Model 58 & a Model 657. these revolvers are so darned accurate, it is downright SCARY! If you want the ultimate "woods walking" revolver(s) the .41 Magnum is the "best on the block". If I'm not carrying either of these on the trail, I'm packing a 10mm Auto pistol.

    Long live the .41 Magnum!

  • oldgunsmith

    I've had a pair of pre-series 4 5/8" .41 Blackhawks for over 40 years. One for each hand. Wore out the cylinder & barrel on my first (.357) Blackhawk at Frontier City, USA in Oklahoma City, made a barrel & used the 9mm cylinder & a .44 spec. reamer to convert it to .44 sp. Was the best shooting Blackhawk I'd ever fired until I tried the .41, which is now and will be my primary revolver round until I find one that shoots better for me. Haven't found one in over 40 years.

  • Heritage2003

    Had several .41 mags through the years. As with money matters, my guns seem to be the bank for all unexpected things. Just picked up a Ruger Redhawk with a 7 1/2″ barrel on Gunbroker. Great deal! And shoots like a dream. Working up new loads, as the S&W Model 57 Mountain gun I last had was a nice shooter with middle of the road loads. But I want to step it up with a bigger, heavier gun. Love the .41 mag!

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