Monday, March 12, 2012

ZOMG! .41 Magnum!

Once upon a time, there was a great solution in search of a problem.

Back in 1963, gun legends Elmer Keith and Bill Jordan got together with Skeeter Skelton and went to Smith and Wesson and Remington Arms with an idea for a new pistol and cartridge that would fill the alleged performance gap between the .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum pistols. Ideally, it would be an asset to both law enforcement and hunters, with loads custom-tailored to both markets--a hot hunting load and a milder police load that would still outperform the .357 Magnum cartridges of the day. This new wonder-cartidge? The .41 Remington Magnum.

It was actually a good idea, but back then the shooting community was all into high performance cartridges and the .44 Magnum held sway, thanks in no small part to Clint Eastwood and his "Dirty Harry" character, who hit the screens toting a Smith and Wesson Model 29 in 1971. Smith and Wesson came out with a couple of nifty N-frame revolvers, the Model 57 (adjustable sights) and the simpler model 58 (fixed sights) but the gun companies chose to disregard Keith and Jordan on the ammo part of the equation and went more to the high-power end of the spectrum. The result: Law enforcement said "no thanks" because it was too heavy and too hard to handle for some officers, and the hunters stuck with the .44 Mag, that despite the fact that many people thought that the .41 was a flatter, more comfortable shooter. As a result, the .41 pretty much faded away, sort of like the 10MM would come to do a couple of decades hence. But they are still great guns. And they're still out there. About 20,000 were made between 1964 and 1977, and S&W has recently started making them again (with those annoying safety locks) in small numbers for the cult followers of the cartridge.

I've been looking for one off and on for a few years, and I've bid on a few on Gunbroker, but they always jumped well up above what I was willing to spend...until I wound up being the only bidder somehow on this somewhat shopworn Model 58 not too long ago.I've been wanting to get it out, but as you may have guessed from my shortage of posts, I've been real busy these days and just haven't had the time. And of course a problem that the old .41 has now is that ammo offerings from the factories are sparse--mainly limited to high-end hunting rounds--and quite pricey. I actually found some hunting rounds on line that I thought I was going to do ok on at $24.00 a box, but I didn't read the fine print and it was only when it arrived that I realized that it was for a box of TWENTY rounds, not fifty.

Youch! A buck and a quarter a shot! That stings a bit.

But I still wanted to shoot the beast, so having this afternoon free, I stopped by the range while out and about on my errand-running. I just had to give it a try.Anticipating the same snap and heavy recoil of the .44 Magnums that I've shot, I sighted the pistol on target and slowy brought the trigger back, only to be rewarded with what seems to be an almost absurdly mild recoil. Seriously? Was that it? I've been smacked harder by some .357 loads in a K-frame. I shot the rest of the cylinder. Then I finished off the box, punching some good-sized holes in a plastic laundry detergent bottle at 25 yards. This was all right!
Dimensionally, this revolver is about the same size as a K-frame, but it's noticeably beefier in the cylinder and frame. The trigger on this old no-dash model is excellent, as is the norm with old Smith and Wessons, and although the pistol sports a fair bit of holster wear, it has almost no gas-cutting behind the forcing cone, suggesting that it was carried and handled more than it was shot.

Well that's likely to change now, as I like this pistol. I like it a lot, in fact. I like it enough to start experimenting with custom loads for it and if all goes well, it may become one of my preferred carry pistols in short order, especially on back-country hiking trips.

This one gets two thumbs up and a bonus "Groovy, dude!", even though I'll have to handload for it almost exclusively.

Me like.


  1. No second place winner that one - the .41 Mag. is a fine cartridge in my book.

    Mine is a Redhawk purchased in the mid-to-late '80s, and is absolutely my preferred hip gun when out in open country (when hunting and no concealment is necessary).

    Now, if I only had a sweet Marlin lever gun in .41 as a companion, I'd be in tall cotton.

    BTW, as a kid, I had the honor of meeting Col. Jordan a couple of times when my dad was president of the local gun club and invited him to installation dinners to display his instinct shooting. And I have a personalized copy of NSPW.

    Have probably related this story before, but I saw the former Border Patrolman at the '95 or '96 SHOT Show. Not wanting to inconvenience him as he made his way about the aisles, I simply shook his hand and said "It's an honor to see you, Sir."

    Afterward, a guy came up to me and asked if I knew the man.


    "Was that Elmer Keith?"

    Stifling a hearty laugh (since Mr. Keith was both vertically challenged...and by that time, over ten years dead), I simply replied that the legendary pistolero was Bill Jordan.

    I saw but missed the opportunity to meet at one of those shows (he had kind of an entourage) Col. John Dean Cooper.

    Such men are in scarce supply these days.

  2. Don't know what you are looking for in ammo, but ammotogo seems to have some FMJ .41 mag for an ok price (for .41 mag that is).

  3. That revolver sounds sweet. Enjoy!

  4. I am very jealous.

  5. No it is a N frame, same as the 44 magnum, but with fixed sights.

    Reloading is the ONLY solution with the .41.

    Saw a 57, adjustable sight version, excellent condition, for $685. But I have a 4 inch 629-1, Lew Horton 3 inch .44 Special, and 3 inch 625 .45 acp.

    I gotta stop buying those N frames, even though I love 'em!

  6. I like the N frame. Nice gun.

  7. I once owned a 4" blued steel M-57 that I let a friend talk me out of. The closest I have now is a S&W M-24 and a Colt Delta Elite in 10 MM Norma. I love the .44 Special but don't plan on hanging on the the CDE.

  8. Keep looking. Taurus made a couple of runs of .41Mag pistols. A friend collects anything in.41, and he has at least two titanium five-shot Taurus pistols. That 2 inch titanium is a handful!

  9. Check his blog out for some good .41 Magnum info if you haven't heard of him. Been reading your blog for awhile, thanks for the entertainment.

  10. Yep, a cartridge I really like.

    I'm going on the prowl this fall for a S&W .41Mag in the 8 3/8" barrel length range to keep my Model 686 and Model 29 of the same lengths company.

    Also gives me a perfectly valid reason to invest in some new brass, dies, and molds in which to cast the projectiles.

    Nice gun, real nice gun!


  11. Frank James likes em too... He'd probably give you a load or three... :-)

  12. That is beautiful!!!

  13. Very nice revolver. I believe that the San Francisco police used that very same gun for a short while in the 1960’s.

  14. +2 on visiting Frank James's blog, that's his favorite handgun cartridge and he's written about it a lot.