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My Favorite Magnum

My Favorite Magnum

I've always been partial to the .41 Magnum. That's because I'm a compulsive iconoclast.

It's been 46 years since Smith & Wesson and Remington jointly introduced the Model 57 revolver and the .41 Magnum cartridge. The motivating idea came from handgun luminaries Elmer Keith and Bill Jordan. For nearly a decade these two men, along with ST's Handgun Editor Skeeter Skelton, had been trying to persuade S&W to build a revolver chambered for a cartridge about .40 caliber and about halfway in power between the .357 Magnum and the .44 Magnum. Keith, as everybody knows, had been the father of the tremendously successful .44 Mag., and Jordan's ideas for an ideal law enforcement gun had led to the tremendously popular and widely imitated S&W K-Frame Model 19 .357. Skelton's writings were nearly as influential, and the three of them together knew more about how handguns ought to be built than any two dozen other people. So S&W finally decided they probably knew what they were talking about, and the .41 Mag. was the result.

As originally introduced in 1964, the .41 Mag. revolver package consisted of the S&W Model 57, which was an adjustable-sighted, target-grade, large-frame revolver identical to the Model 29 .44 Mag. except for the chambering, and the S&W Model 58, which was a large-frame, 4-inch-barreled, fixed-sight, service-style revolver intended for police duty. Remington's contribution was two distinctly different types of .41 Mag. ammunition: a full-power, 210-grain JSP load intended for hunting and a 210-grain lead SWC load powered at considerably less velocity for police duty use.

The Model 57 is still available in Smith & Wesson's Classic line, in bright blue or nickel finish, with 4- or 6-inch barrels. For 2010 S&W is introducing a new 2 5/8-inch Performance Center version of the stainless-steel Model 657 .41 Mag. as an outdoorsman's companion (the original Model 657 stainless twin to the Model 57 was first issued in 1988). S&W has also offered, and un-offered, many other .41 Mag. models over the years, of which my favorite was always the Model 657 because of its ease of maintenance, especially the Model 657 limited hunting edition briefly cataloged in 2003. It was a beautiful tool, with nonfluted cylinder, 7.5-inch full-lug barrel, Hogue soft-rubber Monogrips, and all of S&W's other top-level revolver features, including micrometer-click adjustable sights and the smooth and crisp trigger pull of the N-Frame action. I still have it, still hunt with it, still love it.

The author's favorite hunting .41 is S&W's 7.5-inch limited hunting edition Model 657, wielded here by action-shooting legend Doug Koenig. The limited run was only produced in 2003.

The main reason so many different versions of .41 Mag. revolver models and configurations have come and gone from the S&W catalog over the years, and from the catalogs of other major revolver manufacturers such as Taurus and Ruger, is that, unfortunately, the .41 Mag. never became a significant market success among either sportsmen or police officers. It was not really the "intermediate" cartridge that Keith, Jordan, and Skelton had envisioned. As introduced, it was actually two separate cartridges loaded in the same-dimension case. One was virtually the same power as a full-blown .44 Mag.; one was backed down to almost the same power level as the .357. It's almost as if Remington was trying to invent both a ".41 Special" and a ".41 Magnum" at the same time--and did.

From a police department's point of view, the top-end load was too much, and the low-end load didn't offer any improvement to justify the expense of switching over from the .357 Mag. revolvers that most were carrying already. Most sport shooters and handgun hunters seemed to feel the same way: Those who wanted a full-power magnum were satisfied with nothing less than the .44 Mag.; those for whom the .357 was enough, got a .357 Mag. The "magnum in the middle" wasn't really there at all.

Smith & Wesson's latest (2010) iteration of the 1988-introduced 657 is a 2 5/8-inch Performance Center version intended as an outdoorsman's companion.

Understand; it's never been really true to say (as many have) that the .41 Mag. is unpopular. The word "unpopular" implies dislike, and the .41 is certainly not disliked. Instead, it has been mainly overlooked--passed by, ignored, and not appreciated for its real value. Nor is it true that the .41 Mag. has suffered by comparison to the .44 Mag. because very few people have ever taken the time to actually make that comparison.

Not very many people seem to notice that the .41 Mag. has the capability to perform both like a .357 Mag. and a .44 Mag., meaning it is more versatile than either. I have noticed, which is why it has always been my number-one choice in the magnum revolver world.

I've always thought that the .41 Mag. is a better .44 Mag. than the .44 Mag. itself. Why? Because comparable full-power standard commercial .41 Mag. loads are indistinguishable from standard commercial .44 Mag. loads in terms of target impact on live game, and the .41 does it with less subjective recoil, a flatter trajectory, and less propellant volume (a real cost-savings for a handloader).

The difference is not huge, but cumulative. According to the published SAAMI-spec data of the three largest ammunition manufacturers (Remington, Federal, and Winchester), full-power 210-grain JHP and JSP .41 Mag. loads generate 788 ft-lbs of muzzle energy at the muzzle of a 4-inch vented ballistic test barrel, while the heavier full-power 240-grain JHP and JSP .44 Mag. loads generate only 741 ft-lbs of muzzle energy from a 4-inch vented ballistic test barrel.

Handload tailoring with different bullet weights can get you nearly any comparative results that you want with either cartridge (because their .410 and .429 actual-caliber diameters are so close), but overall the .41's bullet weight-velocity balance is simply more efficient and cost effective than the .44's.

Consider: In the Lyman Cast Bullet Handbook (my well-thumbed 3rd Edition) a .44 Mag. cartridge is listed as moving a 215-grain cast bullet at 1,227 fps using 25.5 grains of IMR-4227 powder, while the .41 M

ag. moves the same bullet weight at a functionally identical 1,221 fps with 19.2 grains of IMR-4227 powder. That's 6.3 grains less propellant.

Comparing 240- and 245-grain cast bullets comes up about the same with the .41 Mag. using about 5 grains less powder to get about the same velocity as the .44 Mag. The .41 Mag. shoots flatter than the .44 Mag. with considerably less powder. If you handload a lot, do the propellant cost math. And no, I'm not saying that if you want to shoot the most powerful or energetic loads either cartridge is capable of the .41 Mag. comes out on top.

A maximum-loaded .44 with a 300-plus-grain bullet definitely hits the target (and back at you) with more energy. But how often do you need that?

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Favorite .41 Magnum Loads

Bullet Powder (type/ grs.)CasePrimerVelocity (fps) Standard Deviation (fps)50 Meter Accuracy (in.)
S&W Model 657, 7.5-inch barrel, Leupold 2x M8-EER
Sierra 170-gr JHC H110/ 25.0Win. CCI 300 1537 30 3.20
Speer 200-gr. JHP-SWCW296 / 22.0 Win. CCI 300 1415 44 2.95
Hornady 210-gr. HP/XTP IMR-4227 / 20.5 Win. CCI 300 1359 18 2.38
Lyman 215-gr. HP/XTP 2400/20.5 Win. CCI 300 1384 39 2.58
Sierra 220-gr. FPJ/SILH110/ 21.5 Win. CCI 300 1391 27 2.80
SSK 275-gr. FNL IMR-4227/ 17.5 Win. CCI 300 1235 35 3.15
Winchester 175-gr.Silvertip Factory Load 1289 42 2.25
Federal 180-gr. Barnes Expander Factory Load 1353 28 2.35
CorBon 210-gr. Hunter JHP Factory Load 1376 51 2.83
Federal 210-gr. Swift A-Frame Factory Load 1289 31 2.47
Fusion 210-gr. Fusion Factory Load 1259 21 2.35
Remington 210-gr. JSP Factory Load 1400 20 3.00
Winchester 240-gr. Platinum Tip Factory Load 1275 14 2.13
Federal 250-gr. CastCore Factory Load 1178 42 2.25
Notes: Accuracy is the average of five, six-shot groups fired over a sandbag benchrest. Velocity is the average of five rounds measured 10 feet from the gun's muzzle.

Both Taurus's Titanium Tracker (bottom) and S&W's .41 Magnum AirLite (top) are excellent choices when a lightweight revolver is needed, providing .44 Magnum-level power with less recoil. Both, unfort

unately, are out of production.

The .41 Magnum's accuracy in the S&W Models 57/657 is superb. Back when I first adopted the Model 657 as my primary whitetail revolver, I first zeroed it at 50 yards with open sights for Winchester's classic 210-grain JHP ammo. The average size of the sighter groups was about 3.5 inches. That was pretty good for my nearsighted eyes and iron sights, so I shot some full-cylinder groups at 100 yards to see how well they would hold up.

The strings were all under 6 inches, and the midrange rise at 50 yards was only about 3 inches, so I changed the sights to the longer distance and have carried all my deer-hunting .41 Mags. that way ever since. They're the only iron-sighted handguns I zero for 100 yards. When I use scopes, of course, the groups are even better (as you can see in the chart on page 33). So there should be no question of why I am so fond of this cartridge and gun.

Of course, the full-size S&W Model 657 has been far from the only .41 Mag. revolver I've prized, carried, and hunted with over the years--particularly when I'm not using an optical sight.

One of my other favorites is the superb five-shot, 4-inch Taurus Titanium Tracker .41 Mag., which at a mere 24 ounces is a real carry-all-day-without-noticing powerhouse for a serious outdoorsman or hunter. It's what I always use for hunting Utah cougar, clambering up and down the rugged snowy canyon lands. Equally handy is S&W's currently out-of-production scandium-frame/titanium cylinder, six-shot, 4-inch, .41 Mag. Model 357PD that weighs in at 26 ounces.

And when I'm occasionally in the mood for a single-action revolver (which, yes, sometimes happens), there's always Ruger's classic .41 Mag. New Model Blackhawk--my favorite version being my trigger-tuned 4 5/8-inch version fitted with a highly visible, yellow aftermarket front sight.

As for commercial ammunition, there are currently more premium-bullet individual .41 Mag. hunting loads on the market than ever before. The best of them are listed in the chart. Maybe the manufacturing sector is finally coming around. I just wish more handgun hunters and shooters would appreciate them.

Ruger's Blackhawk provides an excellent .41 Magnum platform for single-action lovers. Due to its excellent value for dollars spent, it's also a great way to get into shooting the .41.

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