Loading the Forgotten .41

Loading the Forgotten .41

The .41 Magnum is surely the Rodney Dangerfield of cartridges: It don't get no respect. But while Rodney is no longer with us, the .41 Magnum continues to gain fans.

I joined the fan club fairly late in life. I got my first one at the height of the Dirty Harry movement--about a decade after the cartridge's introduction--because you couldn't get a .44. It was a very nice four-inch that hurt my hand when I shot it. That was before I acquired some of the shooting skills needed for magnums, and when I still believed that only maximum was good enough.

The original purpose of the cartridge was to provide an intermediate round between the .357 and .44 magnums for law enforcement, and some departments did adopt it, but apparently the cops had the same problem I did, and its tenure as a law enforcement round was short.


Remington 200-Grain Jacketed Hollowpoint
Powder: Hodgdon H-110
Charge Standard Primer Magnum Primer
Velocity (fps) Accuracy (in.) Velocity (fps) Accuracy (in.)
20.0 1,272 2.05 1,363 1.93
21.0 1,338 0.59 1,404 2.07
22.0 1,450 1.88 1,432 1.52
Powder: Ramshot True Blue
10.0 1,097 1.43
11.0 1,173 2.23
12.0 12.0 1.68
Powder: Alliant Unique
8.0 1,049 1.97
8.5 1,138 1.27
9.0 1,178 1.46
Speer 220-Grain Jacketed Semiwadcutter
Powder: Hodgdon H-110
Charge Standard Primer Magnum Primer
Velocity (fps) Accuracy (in.) Velocity (fps) Accuracy (in.)
18.5 1,171 1.42 1,303 2.65
19.5 1,230 0.70 1,334 2.79
20.5 1,326 1.43 1,386 1.59
Powder: Ramshot True Blue
8.5 921 2.51
9.5 1,015 1.76
10.5 1,115 2.00
Powder: Alliant Unique
7.5 941 1.25
8.0 1,042 0.71
8.5 1,119 1.44
Notes: Results are average of 10 shots at 25 yards from a Pistol Perch. Velocity is the instrumental average measured at 10 feet with a PACT Professional Chronograph.

Today it is popular with handgun hunters who think--rightly, I believe--that it can do anything a .44 can and some say even better. The standard factory load is a 210-grain jacketed hollowpoint at around 1,300 fps, but at various times bullet weights from 170 to 250 grains have been offered.

The .41 Magnum comes and goes in the S&W catalog, but the company never quite let it die until this year. When it introduced the Model 657-5 last year with a 7.5-inch barrel, that appeared to be a much better choice than my earlier one, so I ordered it. Almost from the first shot I became a fan. It didn't hurt and was pleasingly accurate.

For me, handloading is where it's at for magnum cartridges like the .41 because you have the option of going flat out or gentling it down a bit for fun. In fact, one of my favorite things is to work up cast-bullet loads that some folks would consider sissy. I've found that lead bullets at 800 to 900 fps generally shoot well in the .41 and are easy on the shooter.

However, with big cases like the .41, powders used for the lighter loads can leave too much empty space in the case and cause powder position to become an issue. There can be significant differences in velocity between powder-back and powder-forward positions.

Powder-forward can, in a worst case, result in squib loads or a bullet stuck in the barrel. Both Bullseye and 231 are susceptible to this, and for that reason I use Titegroup almost exclusively. You can still see some variation due to powder position, but I've yet to see it be enough to cause problems.

Powder selection for the magnums can be something of a challenge any way you look at it, so I usually work up four categories of loads: plinking with cast bullets; and light, moderate and full charges with jacketed bullets.

For the full-charge stuff there is almost a unanimous selection either H-110 or 296. At the modest end of the scale for jacketed bullets there is another consensus choice: Unique. Recently Alliant has made some improvements to it, and the new version is much cleaner burning without necessitating any change in charge calculations.


The hard choice is something middle-of-the-road that is almost but not quite as hot as the maximum loads. I could have chosen any number of powders but elected to use Ramshot True Blue, which is a very fine-grain ball powder that meters beautifully. It has proven itself to be useful in .357 Magnum, so this was a logical addition.

Loading the .41 Magnum is routine, although it does want a fairly stout crimp for good burning and to prevent bullet pull with heavy loads. When it comes to primers, everyone seems to believe that if it says magnum on the cartridge you must use magnum primers. Not so.

Some loaders think they are required for any ball type powder. That's not true either, and I'm pretty sure you could get along happily never using them with the possible exception of the very slow burning magnum powders such as H-110. Even there you might not notice any difference unless you chronograph the loads.

Over the years I have shot many comparisons where the only difference was standard versus magnum primers. With some powders they are positively detrimental to consistency and accuracy, but my experience with the .44 Magnum and now the .41 shows a velocity gain with the magnum primers and H-110. Accuracy was about the same, so if velocity is paramount use H-110 and magnum primers.

We are always asked for "best" comparisons, and the more tests I do the more convinced I am that such things simply do not exist in shooting. If you look at the accuracy results in my table you will see a couple of sub-one-inch groups, and it is certainly tempting to consider the half-inch group to be the best load, but it is at that point I remind myself about the bell curve.

We know that within every set of test results we can find both good and bad numbers, and this is where we must back up and look at the bigger picture. In the examples here, slightly different powder charges did not show similar wonderfulness, so it might be best to think that the half-inch group was a happy convergence of chance. All the other averages are very much alike.

Some time ago S&W had the bright idea to change its rear sights from machined forgings to a metal injection molded part made by a vendor. This is one of those changes that resulted in a better looking part with no decline in quality. After all, the rear sight is not exactly a high-stress part where a forging might be beneficial.

At the same time, S&W also drilled and tapped the top strap--under the rear sight--for easy installation of a scope base.

So for this exercise I mounted a Simmons 2.5-7X variable scope in a Weigand base. The scope combined with the 7.5-inch full lug barrel and unfluted cylinder of the 657-5 brought the weight of the gun to 4.1 pounds and made recoil a non-issue.

I'm sure the Hogue rubber grips helped, too. In fact with some of the lighter loads it felt very much like shooting a .38 with wadcutters, but the chronograph told a different story and things were speeding along nicely.

Just for grins I took the .41 over to the rifle range and after a bit of trial and error found where I had to hold to hit a 14-inch diameter steel plate at 300 yards. Actually there was a nice rock a couple of feet over the gong that became my aiming point and then, from a good sandbag rest, using a maximum load of H-110 and the 220-grain Speer bullet I was able to hit the gong with p

leasing regularity. To me that's plinking with style.

As fans of the .41 know, it's a capable performer that can do nearly anything the bigger .44 can do.

I always begin tests like this with a variety of factory ammo to establish baselines for both velocity and accuracy. There really aren't that many .41 Magnum factory loads but I was able to test four: Georgia Ammo's 210-grain lead semiwadcutter (863 fps, 1.5-inch accuracy average); PMC's 210-grain jacketed flatpoint (1,281 fps, 2.2 inches); Remington's 210-grain jacketed softpoint (1,389 fps, 2.0 inches) and Federal's 250-grain Cast Core 1,207 fps, 1.8 inches)

Generally I am not a fan of very light bullets in magnum cartridges, and while you can make them go very fast I favor the heavier weights for most uses. Still, it is fun to see what sort of bullet racing results you'd get, and browsing through various manuals I came across a maximum load in Sierra's of 21.5 grains of Accurate No. 9 with its 170-grain jacketed hollowpoint.

Since I had both components I loaded some and worked up. At the maximum charge I got a blazing 1,678 fps from the 657's 7.5-inch barrel. I went back to the manual to check what the load developers had used and found a velocity of 1,450 fps from their six-inch Model 57. It isn't often that our handloads exceed what it says in the manuals and I doubt that an extra inch, and a half of barrel accounts for the more than 200 fps gain I saw, but it sure was a sporty load. Lots of flash and noise.

Then I got more serious and began to work with bullets I've come to like: Remington's 200-grain JHP and the Speer 220-grain JSWC, a half-jacket style.

As I've said, I wanted to develop light, medium and heavy loads for both, so I worked up to maximum levels with three powders. I also did a couple of plinking loads using 215 grain lead semi-wadcutter bullets and Titegroup powder. While Hodgdon shows a maximum charge of only 5.5 grains, with that bullet the company considers it a Cowboy Action load and doesn't take it to a real pressure maximum.

All loads were assembled in Starline brass with CCI large pistol primers except for those identified with magnum primers which were also CCI's.

I've learned a lot since my early experience with the .41 Magnum. I know for sure that I still don't like short barreled magnums of any kind, but I got turned off on the cartridge because of a poor choice of revolver.

Had I been able to get a six-inch Model 57 way back then I might have felt differently, but I am also a much better shot now and more experienced in managing recoil so my reaction might be different. But S&W has also addressed those issues with a longer barrel and more weight.

The final question everyone asks is, "What's it good for?" Anything you can do with a .44 Magnum can be, with proper load and bullet selection, done with the .41. Handgun hunters like it, and it has a following among silhouette shooters. Obviously it could be used for defense, and it's a fun plinker so I guess the real answer is, "Anything you'd like."

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