The .41 Magnum Cartridge: Underrated and Unappreciated

.41 Magnum (courtesy midway.com)Doug Gilmer writes [via Ammoland.com] 

The .41 Magnum ammunition is the most underrated, and unappreciated of all magnum handgun cartridges. While still maintaining a healthy following, it is widely overlooked. This is unfortunate, it is a widely capable handgun cartridge. It is a far better big game cartridge then the .357 Magnum and a better defensive cartridge then the .44 Magnum. With the right loads, there is not much the 41 Magnum ammo cannot do . . .

Famed shooter Elmer Keith and lawman Bill Jordan persuaded Smith & Wesson and Remington to develop the cartridge in 1963. Fellow lawman Skeeter Skelton jumped on the 41 bandwagon believing it to be a better cartridge for law enforcement than either the previously introduced .357.

Interestingly enough, both the .357 and .44 magnums had forerunners, the .38 Special and .44 Special, from which the magnum loadings were developed. The .41 Special would come later.

The .41 Magnum saw law enforcement use in the Smith & Wesson models 57 and 58. It found favor in San Antonio, San Francisco, Detroit. and in many North Carolina jurisdictions. While a proven fight stopper, like the FBI’s 10mm, the .41 would prove to be too much for many officers to shoot effectively and it was soon replaced. Had the .41 Special been introduced first, shooting a 200 grain bullet at 1000fps the story might be different.

Elmer Keith saw the .41’s potential as a hunting round. While on a polar bear hunt he shot a caribou in the head at 100 yards. Elmer figured out, as have many after, including sixgun expert John Taffin, the .41 shoots flatter than the bigger .44 Magnum. My experience confirms this. J. Scott RuppDick Metcalf, and Dave Workman are among modern gun writers with an affinity for the .41 Magnum.

Classic Special and Magnum Cartridges: .38 Special and .357 Magnum, .41 Special and .41 Magnum, .44 Special and .44 Magnum.

Classic Special and Magnum Cartridges: .38 Special and .357 Magnum, .41 Special and .41 Magnum, .44 Special and .44 Magnum

While it’s easy to understand how the bigger .41 surpasses the .357 Magnum in power and performance, how it stacks up against the bigger .44 Magnum is misunderstood. Their differences are not as big as one might think. The .44 Magnum is actually .429 caliber where as the .41 is a true .41 caliber.

Many ballistic tables show the 41 outperforming the .44 in velocity, energy and penetration depending on bullet weight. Companies like Underwood Ammo and Buffalo Bore have used modern powders to push the 41 beyond traditional factory loadings while maintaining SAAMI specs.

Underwood Ammo 41 Remington Magnum 210 Grain XTP Jacketed Hollow Point
My favorite .41 Magnum deer hunting load from Underwood pushes a 210 grain Hornady XTP out of a 6.5” barrel at about 1560fps and develops 1135 ft. lbs. of muzzle energy.

The .44 Magnum’s advantage is with heavier bullets. The heaviest standard load one can buy for the .41 holds a 265 grain bullet while bullets for the .44 exceed 300 grains. Still, the .41 delivers enough power and penetration for North American big game. It’s doubtful an animal will notice the difference in bullet weight and diameter.

The shooter will, however. The .41 Magnum recoils noticeably less than the 44. Less powder, lighter bullets, and lower pressures make for a more pleasant shooting experience. The .41 is also accurate. Accuracy is subjective and dependent upon the shooter as much as the gun and load but my open sighted .41’s are most capable of game taking accuracy at 100 yards.

For the reloader, a great deal of information is available for those who want to tailor their own 41 Magnum loads. The .41 Special is another option. To the .41 Magnum what the .38 or .44 Special is to their magnum counterparts, the .41 Special is not loaded commercially but brass is available. The .41 Special makes an excellent defensive round or woods load. A 200 grain bullet at 1000fps should offer enough power for most situations.

RUGER New Model BLACKHAWK Handgun in 41 Magnum.

Ruger leads .41 handgun manufacturing today, particularly in its single action Blackhawk line. New for 2016 is a 4.2” double action Redhawk. Smith & Wesson currently lists a six-inch barrel Model 57. Their stainless 657 and Mountain Gun are hard to come by but are excellent shooters. Freedom Arms chambers the .41 in their Models 83 and 97 single action revolvers.

My .41 collection includes three Rugers and a custom 10” MGM barrel for a Thompson Center Encore frame. Topped with a Trijicon RMR this gun is quite the shooter. “Maude”, as I’ve named her, has traveled with me to the whitetail woods, bear hunting in Maine, and to southeast Alaska to hunt deer and bear. Never once did I believe the .41 would not be up to any task it may face. Loaded with hard cast bullets, many in the north country depend on the .41 for protection against big bears.

Are you looking for handgun power and performance without punishing recoil? If so, give the classic .41 Magnum some consideration. While its never been featured in a movie like the .44 Magnum, but its reputation in the field is nevertheless proven.

41 Magnum Resource:

.41 Magnum Load Data:

.41 Remington Magnum Load Data by Nosler

About Doug Gilmer,

Building on his over 20 years of law enforcement and military experience, Doug began writing law enforcement and tactical articles as a way to break into the outdoor market. Today, Doug is published in Grand View Media. He also provides content to a number of other traditional print and digital publications. As a professor of Adventure and Outdoor Leadership at Liberty University, Doug is a mentor to dozens of students each year. He’s also a frequent seminar and conference speaker and author of Backcountry Devotions. Also known as the Backcountry Chaplain, Doug and his family make their home in northern Virginia.

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