A True Classic, Alive And Well
By John Taffin
Sometimes things just don’t happen the way they should. The .38 Spl. arrived around the turn of the 20th century, and then 35 years later was lengthened to become the .357 Mag. The .44 Mag. of 1955 is nothing more than a lengthened .44 Spl., which goes back to 1907 and was itself simply a lengthened version of the .44 Russian of 1871. Everything was done properly; then came the .41 Mag.
There was no .41 Spl. to lengthen to become the .41 Mag. So, some tried to give the .41 Mag. an ancestry by coming up with the round after the fact. At first it was necessary to make brass by trimming .41 Mag. brass to .44 Spl. lengths, but in recent years properly headstamped .41 Spl. brass has been offered by Starline. Just as with the .357 Mag. and .44 Mag., .41 Spl. rounds work just fine in .41 Mag. sixguns.
A pair of Ruger .41 Mag. Blackhawks. The sixgun at bottom has been customized by Alan Harton.
The most accurate sixgun John has ever encountered is this Freedom Arms 10″ .41 Mag.
Birth Of A Legend
Smith & Wesson was the first company, naturally, to market a .41 Mag. sixgun, and Elmer Keith had much to do with it. “While we were attending the NRA convention in Washington, D.C., Bill Jordan, the old border patrolman, came to me and says, ‘Elmer, you’ve got the .44 Mag. How about getting a .41 Mag. for the police and sheriff’s departments over the country that don’t care for the recoil of the big .44?’ I told him, ‘Bill, there never was a better time. All the arms company heads are here as well as ammunition company heads. So if you side me, we’ll get them all together and get the job done right now.’
I asked them for a .41 Mag., case length to be the same as the .44 Mag., bullet diameter to be .410 so that no old .38-40s or .41 Long Colts could ever be revamped to handle the larger bullet as they go around .403. I wanted a 220-gr. bullet. Doug Hellstrom also insisted on the .410 diameter to preclude the possibility of a cartridge ever being used in the old .41 guns which would not take its pressures. Earl Larsen of Remington could make the ammunition if the other boys would make the guns. Doug Hellstrom and Bill Gunn of Smith & Wesson agreed to bring out the gun … .”
Smith & Wesson offered two basic models in the chambering. The Model 57 was simply the .44 Mag. Model 29 with smaller holes in the barrel and cylinder. It was offered in both blue and nickel in standard barrel lengths of 4″, 6″ and 83/8″, and in 1986 the stainless steel counterpart of the Model 57, the Model 657, arrived in the same three standard barrel lengths. Later models would have full under-lugged barrels and before the end of the century the .41 Mag. would be offered in the Mountain Gun configuration.
The second Smith & Wesson .41 Mag. was a 4″ Model 58 which looked much like a slightly larger Military & Police. This one came with fixed sights, standard Magna stocks and an unenclosed ejector rod housing, and was designed as a police-duty weapon using loads with a 210-gr. bullet at around 900 fps. I believe only two departments ever adopted the Model 58 as most deemed it too big and heavy for everyday carry and also had too much recoil, even with the 900-fps load. The Model 57 received a greater reception from a small group of connoisseurs who saw it as an excellent outdoorsman’s revolver combined with a 210-gr. load at more than 1,400 fps. Two attributes of the .41 Mag. over the .44 Mag. were quickly discovered; it recoiled slightly less and also shot much flatter at long distances. Today Smith & Wesson still offers .41 Magnums of different configurations from time to time.
While the Smith & Wesson .41 Mag. was the first to be offered in the then-new chambering, it was soon followed by the Ruger Blackhawk single-action .41 Mag. and subsequently in the Bisley Model. I have these two Rugers turned into 51/2″ Perfect Packin’ Pistols by Alan Harton and Ben Forkin. Both have been totally tuned and feature case hardened frames. They are not only good-looking sixguns, but they also handle much easier with this barrel length. Freedom Arms is known for making the most accurate factory-produced single actions ever turned out.
The most accurate Freedom Arms I have ever experienced, which also makes it the most accurate sixgun I have ever shot, is the 10″ .41 Mag. Tight 1″ groups are the norm at 100 yards and I have had many 3-shot groups come in just over 1/2″ using the Hornady 210-gr. XTP over 22.0 grains of Accurate #9. Double actions in .41 Mag. of excellent quality are the Ruger Redhawk and the now long-gone Dan Wesson.
The classic .41 Mag. first appeared in the S&W Model 57, based off
the Model 29 .44 Mag. And it shoots!
This Dan Wesson .41 Mag. has special significance as it came to John from his friend,
the late Hal Swiggett.
Wringing It Out
To know the .41 Mag. is to appreciate it. Any sixgunner spending much time with the cartridge soon develops some favorite loads. Shortly after the .41 Mag. was introduced in 1964, a standard heavy loading consisting of a 220-gr. Lyman Keith bullet #410459 over 20 grains of #2400 was developed. While 20 grains of #2400 has been perfectly safe in every .41 Mag. tested, giving velocities from 1,450–1,550 fps depending upon barrel length, I really feel most S&W sixguns will last a lot longer if the load is cut back to around 19 grains. This loading with the 220-gr. Keith bullet will give about 1,400 fps, again depending upon barrel length.
This bullet, cast hard, makes an excellent high-performance load whether the targets be live game, steel critters or an elusive tin can on the side of the yonder hill. One of the reasons this bullet is such an excellent performer is the fact its long nose fills out the cylinder to the end. The longer a bullet is, all other things being equal, the more accurate it should be at long range. I have used my standard 220-gr. Keith bullet/19 grains #2400 on both whitetail deer and one very upset, large feral hog. It’s never failed.
It’s difficult to not compare the .41 Mag. to the .44 Mag. However, while the .41 Mag. cannot be made into a .44, nor should it be, it’s an excellent performer in its own right. Those who take up the .41 Mag. must hold on to them as while it’s relatively easy to find both .357 Mag. and .44 Mag. sixguns on the used gun market, one has to do a little searching to come up with a .41 Mag. But trust me, it’s well worth it!
For more info:
Smith & Wesson
Ph: (800) 331-0852