Let’s be honest. The .44 Magnum is a fraud, being a .429 in true caliber, while the .41 Magnum is the real McCoy. With comparable loads, the .41 Magnum can do anything the .44 Magnum can do, and it is a real survivor.
The popularity of the .41-caliber Magnum seems to ebb and ﬂow, but those who have stuck with it make it as versatile a choice as its siblings. I’ve carried the .41 Magnum for personal protection, killed a couple of deer with it, shot long-range targets (it’s a favorite among silhouette shooters) and had it in the backcountry as a utility gun.
I like to think the really smart handgunners prefer this to the everybody’s-got-to-have-one .44 Magnum. And a lot of guys who have been around the block a few times have come to the same conclusion I did more than 30 years ago: It’s a damned ﬁne cartridge.
Last year, I visited my friend Jim Zumbo at his place in Wyoming, and the former hunting editor for Outdoor Life magazine had a Ruger Blackhawk in .41 Magnum parked near the front door. Veteran gunwriter Dick Metcalf and the late Bob Milek also wrote often about this caliber, and I always ﬁgured that this trio of wordsmiths were on to something.
IT’S A GEM FOR HANDLOADERS too. Thanks to modern powder research, there are more than a few propellants that make this round sizzle. My two favorites are Hodgdon’s H110 and Alliant 2400.
There are several good bullet choices in the 200- to 220-grain ﬁeld, and I’ve had great results with the 210-grain XTP from Hornady, the 210-grain Nosler JHP, and the 200- and 220-grain halfjacketed semi-wadcutter projectiles and a 210-grain Gold Dot JHP from Speer. In addition, Barnes offers a 180-grain solid-copper hollowpoint, and Sierra has two pills, a 170-grainer and 210-grain bullet, both hollowpoints.
Thanks to updated reloading data in the Speer, Nosler and Hodgdon manuals, I’ve been able to tinker with the cartridge over the past couple of years, and especially since last summer when I bought a little-used and nearly new-inbox 1980s vintage Smith & Wesson Model 57 in .41 Magnum.
There are plenty of factory loads available, including Winchester Silvertips, and JHPs from Remington, Federal and other manufacturers. When I acquired that 4-inch S&W last July, it came with four boxes of factory BVAC (Bitterroot Valley Ammunition) loaded with 210-grain semiwads.
I’VE OWNED RUGER BLACKHAWKS and two S&W Model 57s, the ﬁrst of those being a 6-inch version I’ve shot a few times in the annual Elmer Keith long-range handgun shoot just south of Spokane.
Keith is largely recognized as having been primarily responsible for the .41 Magnum, along with a man named Bill Jordan. It was originally intended as a law-enforcement caliber, but it proved to be a bit much for some lawmen, especially those of smaller stature, to handle. If that sounds like a similar story to that of the 10mm Auto, it is. But while the latter round led to the development of the .40 S&W, nobody bothered to create a .41 Short, so the original cartridge has remained the same since birth.
Of the two deer I killed with a 6.5-inch Blackhawk single action, the muley was the more memorable. Two shots downhill dropped the forkhorn. One bullet went clear through and the other was a perfect mushroom recovered just under the hide on the exit side.
While I prefer the longer barrel for precision shooting and hunting, in recent years I’ve opted for shorter-barrel versions. They’re lighter, they can ride on my hip in a truck, and they’re more concealable. A couple of years ago, I swapped out the alloy ejector rod housing on my 45/8-inch Ruger for one made from steel.
One thing I’ve noticed is that my loads lose 50 to 100 feet per second out of the shorter barrels, though that probably won’t make a lot of difference to anything I shoot within, say, 100 to 150 yards.
THE .41 MAGNUM IS CAPABLE of some impressive ballistics. With lighter bullets, it can warp along at more than 1,650 fps, and my favorite handloads zip out in the 1,250 to 1,600 fps range, depending upon the bullet weight, powder charge and barrel length.
When I shoot Alliant 2400, I stick with standard large pistol primers, but with H110, I always use magnum primers. Other powders are also good choices, including Winchester 296, H4227, Blue Dot, Lil’ Gun, Unique and Vihtavouri N110.
The cartridge case should measure 1.290 inches, and the overall length for cartridges should not exceed 1.590 inches. I have two sets of carbide dies, one from Hornady and one from Redding, with the seating die from each set for a different bullet, because they each crimp at a slightly different depth.
I’ve built gunbelts with ample cartridge loops for the .41 Magnum. One needs to use a slightly tighter loop for the .41 than the .44 (.429), and they need to be well-oiled. Mine are all individually hand-stitched rather than looped in and out of the belt.
AS A FIGHT-STOPPER, the .41 Magnum is no slouch. A cartridge that will knock down a black bear, big buck, caribou or bull elk is also fully capable against predators of the two-legged variety. This is a defensive round that should be approached with a little caution, of course, due to the potential for overpenetration.
When it was ﬁrst introduced, proponents suggested it would be a good load for law enforcement officers to shoot through the windshields of ﬂeeing getaway cars or to foul up an engine block on similar vehicles.
When I carried my 6-inch Model 57 in an old Safariland shoulder holster, I always had a couple of HKS speed loaders stoked with factory Remington ammo because the bullet shape contributed to quicker reloading than a wadcutter. Under a winter parka, that big gun disappeared, and nobody was any the wiser.
So why doesn’t the .41 Magnum get more respect? The reason is probably as simple as Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty” Harry Callahan ﬁring a .44 Magnum on ﬁlm. But even if it won’t ﬁre out of the “most powerful handgun in the world,” it has become something of a cult favorite with people who like to shoot metal chickens and rams, as well as discerning handgunners who don’t choose to follow the herd. ASJ