By: Greg Chabot
In 1963, Bill Jordan, Skeeter Skelton, and Elmer Keith envisioned a round to bridge the gap between the .357 and .44 magnums.
Addressing the perceived shortcomings of both rounds, Bill Jordan believed a .41 caliber 200 grain SWC (semi-wadcutter) moving at 900 fps would make for an excellent police service round.
Elmer Keith felt a 210 grain JHP moving between 1300-1400 fps would be an excellent round for hunting. After lobbying various companies, Remington and Norma agreed to work on a new round that was to be called .41 Police. Smith and Wesson pledged to make a weapon chambered for the new round. Bill Jordan asked for a K-frame to address the weight concerns of potential law enforcement customers.
Due to the fascination of high-powered rounds by the shooting community, Remington made the decision not to follow Keith’s blueprint, choosing rather to release the round at the higher end of the loading specification, based on the sales success of magnum handguns. The round was named the .41 Remington magnum, and it hit the market in 1964.
Due to the high pressures of the loading, Smith and Wesson used the N frame for the .41 magnum, releasing the Model 57 as the first weapon chambered for the new cartridge. For the law enforcement market, S&W released the Model 58. Due the size and weight of the N frame, sales lagged to law enforcement agencies. Many agencies felt the recoil was too hard to control for some officers. There were also fears of over penetration, even with the reduced loads.
With the popularity of the .357 and .44, the .41 magnum faced an uphill battle with the shooting public. Hunters and silhouette shooters praised the .41 for its accuracy and controllability for follow-up shots. Then, in 1971, Dirty Harry was released, sealing the .41 magnum’s fate as a niche round. Overnight, everyone had to have a Model 29, “The world’s most powerful handgun.”
The .41 fell by the wayside, with a vast majority of the shooting public, being kept alive only by dedicated hunters and shooters. Sales were still just enough for S&W to keep the Model 57 and 58 in production. Due to poor sales the Model 58 was discontinued in 1977. Ruger and a few others also produced weapons chambered in .41 mag, giving shooters another option besides Smith and Wesson, which dropped the .41 magnum from production in 1991.
Shooting the .41 Magnum
I started shooting the .41 back in the 70s as a kid. My grandfather collected N frames, and I spent many a summer shooting all the magnums. Out of all of them, the .41 was my favorite due to its accuracy, as I would outshoot adults who were shooting .44s. Throughout my adult life, whenever I would go visit, I would always ask to take the Model 57 out. After my grandfather’s passing, my interest drifted to the 191, and my revolver shooting fell by the wayside. Due to arthritis and hand injuries, I stopped shooting magnums entirely. Recently, I was given the opportunity to borrow a pristine 4” Model 57 to T&E. It was like reuniting with a long-lost friend. The sample model was a no dash model that is pinned and recessed, with the target trigger and hammer. The Goncalo Alves grips were beautifully finished and fit my hand like a glove. Trigger was smooth as silk in both SA and DA; timing was perfect. A testament of the workmanship and quality that gave Smith and Wesson its reputation.
For range sessions, I used various loadings and brands, including some from companies that have passed into history. Even with the China virus and stolen election, .41 magnum ammo was easy to find in my area though not cheap. Due to how flat it shoots making shots over 25 yards is easy even out of a 4” barrel. My best group measured 1” at 25 yards firing DA. Recoil is mild compared to both the .357 and .44. The .41 has more of a “Push” than the “snap” of its magnum siblings. Making quick follow up shots easy even with the heavier loadings while shooting defensive drills. Do not let the mild felt recoil fool you, it rings the steel with authority. Hitting hard enough to break the bolts on my target. My personal favorite load for self-defense is the 175 gr Winchester Silvertip that gives a good balance of control and accuracy.
Pros and Cons of the .41 Magnum
1) True to size at .410, whereas the .44 Magnum is .429.
2) Accurate and very flat shooting compared to other magnums.
3) Depending where you live, ammo is available, even with ongoing China virus and election theft panic.
4) Reloaders’ dream: with the various bullet weights, one can take this round to its full potential.
5) Guns chambered in .41 usually cost less than other calibers on the used market.
1) Factory ammo is expensive unless you reload.
2) Being built on large-framed weapons, weight might be a factor for some.
3) Not as many options for new weapons (barrel lengths, finish etc.)
Is the .41 Magnum right for you?
That would depend in what you want. If you are looking for the Swiss Army Knife of magnums, the .41 is it. The .41 mag can do more than any .357 and almost as much as the .44 mag for hunters with less recoil and superior accuracy. For self-defense, the .41 is a fight stopper against two-legged and four legged predators with the right loads. In my opinion, it is the max that most shooters can control and shoot accurately under stress in magnum handguns.
Which .41 should you buy?
That is a personal choice, whether you purchase a handgun or long gun in .41 magnum. Personally, I am very fond of the vintage N frame Model 57 that is pinned and recessed. In 2008, S&W reissued the classic N frames, including the Model 57. Compared to the pre-1982 guns, the reissues are garbage, in my opinion, with that stupid safety lock that ruins the look of the gun, along with poor fitment of the two-piece barrel. I would rather pay more for a vintage sample built by skilled craftsmen of a bygone era.
Do some research and pick a make and model that is right for your needs. Good deals can be found in shops of vintage Ruger, Dan Wesson, and S&W revolvers. For shooters who like semi-autos, Desert Eagles were also chambered in .41 magnum. Henry and Marlin offer excellent choices if you prefer a long gun.
The .41 magnum is the best-kept secret of the magnum world. Though largely forgotten by many, it is still a viable round for the 21stcentury shooter.
Big Thanks to the Gun Closet!
Greg Chabot is an Iraq Combat Veteran freelancer, writing from New Hampshire.