The .41 Remington Magnum
By Chuck Hawks
The .41 Remington Magnum was introduced in 1964 to fill the "gap" between the .357 Magnum and the .44 Magnum revolver cartridges. It uses actual .410" diameter bullets, unlike the old obsolete .41 Colt cartridge (which therefore cannot be used as a practice round in .41 Magnum revolvers).
The .41 Magnum was intended as both a police cartridge and a hunting cartridge, and ammunition was factory loaded at two levels to meet these differing requirements. The hunting load drove a 210 grain jacketed soft point (JSP) bullet at an advertised 1500 fps from an 8 3/8" barrel; the police load drove a 210 grain lead semi-wadcutter (SWC) bullet at 1150 fps.
For the hunter, Smith & Wesson chambered their top of the line Model 29 revolver for the new cartridge and called it the Model 57. For the police market, they introduced the less expensive Model 58, similar to the popular fixed sight .38 Military & Police, but built on their large "N" frame. These were both double action revolvers. Ruger chambered their excellent single action Blackhawk for the .41 Magnum as soon as the cartridge was introduced. Later, when Ruger introduced the double action Redhawk revolver to their line, it was also available in .41 Mag. However, very few police departments adopted the new caliber.
As a police cartridge, the .41 Magnum was a flop. Even the reduced police load kicked too hard for comfort, particularly in the S&W M-58 revolver with its skimpy factory grips. Even the nicely finished M-57, which came with excellent adjustable sights and target grips, still kicked like the devil with factory loads. A shooting buddy of mine bought one of these, and the perceived recoil from that cannon was worse than that of a .44 Mag. Ruger Blackhawk. My .357 Blackhawk seemed pleasant indeed by comparison.
More .41 Mag. revolvers have probably been sold to hunters than for self-defense. As a hunting cartridge, the .41 Mag. will do almost everything the .44 Mag. will do. It is a fine revolver cartridge for game up the size of deer, and for even larger game under favorable conditions. These days the T/C Contender single shot hunting pistol and the huge Desert Eagle semi-automatic pistol are available in .41 Mag, as well as several brands of revolvers.
The .41 Magnum was spawned by the big bore handgun school of thought, at its vociferous peak in the 1960's, which claimed that it was impossible to design a bullet that would reliably expand at handgun velocities, and therefore only calibers above .40 possessed sufficient stopping power for serious police or self-defense use.
At the time I was shooting a great deal out in the Mojave desert with a group of buddies, blowing up jackrabbits and foxes and an occasional coyote with Speer 146 grain JHP bullets in front of the then brand new H110 powder in my Ruger Blackhawk .357 revolver. It seemed to me that if those bullets would expand going through a jackrabbit lengthwise, they ought to expand going through a human being, too. Certainly they did a lot more damage to animals up to the size of deer than non-expanding SWC bullets from .41 Magnum and .44 Magnum revolvers. By the way, all of the magnum revolvers easily outclassed the comparatively anemic M-1911 .45 ACP semi-automatic pistol (the favorite icon of the big bore crowd to this day).
Lots of evenings, after a long day of shooting out in the desert, I'd relax at home with an adult beverage and one or another of the popular gun magazines. In those magazines I'd read articles by Jeff Cooper or Elmer Keith or some other big bore advocate that proclaimed what I had just seen and done in the Mojave with .357 JHP bullets was technically impossible. These articles would use various theories of handgun stopping power to "prove" that the SWC ("Keith style") bullet over .40 caliber was the ultimate in handgun bullet performance.
I particularly enjoyed the writing style of Jeff Cooper, and his articles were always well thought out and contained many useful insights, but I just could not accept his theoretical conclusions about terminal bullet performance over the evidence of my own experience.
But I digress. The point is that the .41 Magnum was the ultimate expression, at least in a revolver cartridge, of the 1960's big bore school of thought. As a police round, it has proven to be less effective than the .357 Magnum, although still a good stopper at about 88% with the modern Winchester 175 grain Silvertip JHP (expanding!) bullet. The original 210 grain SWC lead bullet is good for about 76% one shot stops, according to the actual shooting statistics compiled by Marshall and Sanow.
The top self-defense factory load for the .41 Magnum, as mentioned above, is the Winchester 175 grain Silvertip JHP at a muzzle velocity of 1250 fps and a muzzle energy of 607 ft. lbs. This is a flat shooting load, with a mid-range rise of .8" over 50 yards, and 3.4" over 100 yards. I think it would also be a good choice for hunting most animals with a live weight up to about 100 pounds.
The premier hunting load for the game species over 100 pounds is probably the 210 grain JHP bullet at 1300 fps with 790 ft. lbs. of ME. This load has a mid-range rise of .7" at 50 yards and 3.3" at 100 yards. At 100 yards the remaining energy is 495 ft. lbs. For the handgun hunter who can accurately put his bullet into a vital area, the .41 Mag. is about a 100 yard deer cartridge. For situations requiring maximum penetration, or in a .41 magnum rifle such as the Marlin 1894 lever action carbine, a 210-220 grain JSP or silhouette bullet can be used.
The .41 is an easy cartridge to reload, but there is a limited selection of bullets available from the major manufacturers. Bullets range from 170-220 grains in plain lead and jacketed styles. Use jacketed bullets for all loads approaching or exceeding 1000 fps to minimize barrel leading. The slow burning pistol powders like Hodgdon H110 and H4227, Winchester 296, and Hercules 2400 are best for maximum loads, while HS-6 and HS7 are good for midrange loads.
The Speer Reloading Manual Number 13 shows that 20.0 grains of H110 powder behind their 200 grain JHP bullet gives a MV of 1290 fps, and 22.0 grains of H110 behind the same bullet is good for a MV of 1412 fps. These loads used Winchester cases and CCI 350 primers, and were chronographed in the 6" barrel of a revolver.
Copyright 2001, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.