March 02, 2021
Reader Cliff Tilley recently emailed the editor in chief and asked if Shooting Times could revisit the .41 Special. He forwarded Mr. Tilley’s inquiry and urged me to accept the assignment.
I reluctantly accepted—not! You see, I did a reloading column on it almost 10 years ago, and I’ve been wanting to write about it again for quite some time.
The .41 Special’s story starts all the way back in 1964. Sort of. That was the year the .41 Remington Magnum cartridge was launched. Unlike other magnum revolver rounds, such the .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum, a lower-velocity Special round, as in .38 Special and .44 Special, did not exist. Remington did offer a reduced-velocity, swaged lead “police” load, but wildcatters, including Elmer Keith, soon came up with reduced-power loads for the .41 Magnum. Years later, John Taffin wrote reports on a .41 Special wildcat round, and after I read them many years ago, I sent two midsize .357 Magnum revolvers to Hamilton Bowen for conversion to the .41 Special. My .41 Special conversion revolvers are built on a Ruger Old Model Blackhawk single action and a Ruger GP-100 double action.
When I first loaded the .41 Special, I spent more than an hour trimming and deburring each box of .41 Magnum brass. As with the .38 and .44 Specials, the .41 Special is nominally 1/8 inch shorter than the respective Magnum case. You can still acquire cases that way, but the easier way is to order new Starline brass with the correct headstamp.
As for bullets, most of the bulletmakers offer jacketed bullets weighing from 170 to 210 grains. I have used Speer, Hornady, and Remington JHPs. And you can buy cast bullets from several sources or cast your own with Lyman, RCBS, and Redding bullet molds. One of my most exciting reloading experiences occurred when I picked up a freshly cast .41 SWC to inspect it. Since then I have never forgotten that hot and cold lead bullets look exactly the same!
Propellants? Hercules 2400 is now an Alliant product. Other Alliant powders suitable for the .41 Special include 2400, Unique, and Blue Dot. Accurate No. 9 is useful, as are Hodgdon H110 and IMR 4227, especially for the heavier bullet weights. By the way, Starline’s website offers .41 Special load data that includes most of these powders and also recipes using Winchester 572. I tried most of them and included those that performed the best in my guns in the accompanying chart. By the way, Taffin recently told me that Sierra’s 6th edition reloading manual also has load data for it.
There’s no need to use a Magnum Large Pistol primer. I found that Winchester’s standard Large Pistol primers provided reliable ignition and relatively consistent velocities. Off-the-shelf .41 Magnum reloading dies can be adjusted to accommodate the slightly shorter Special case.
As you can see from the chart, the .41 Special is quite accurate. The loads averaged 2.55 inches for five-shot groups at 25 yards. That’s for firing them from a sandbag benchrest. The loads ranged from 1,039 fps to 1,207 fps in velocity, measured six feet from the guns’ muzzles. Recoil ranged from 8.3 ft-lbs to 14.0 ft-lbs in the 37-ounce GP100 and the 35-ounce Blackhawk. For comparison’s sake, standard .41 Magnum loads’ recoil ranges from about 16.0 ft-lbs to more than 27.0 ft-lbs depending on bullet weight and powder charge.
Of course, the .41 Special is a wildcat cartridge, so there are no production guns out there. Custom pistolsmiths have made myriad versions, including five-shot Ruger Single-Sixes. And, of course, you can shoot .41 Special ammo in revolvers chambered for .41 Magnum. In fact, one of the editor in chief’s favorite revolvers is a Ruger New Model Flattop in .41 Magnum. He fired a bunch of factory ammo in it when it was new but quickly solicited my .41 Special load data and now enjoys shooting the shorter, less powerful round in his revolver.
You can, too!