The .41 Magnum: Is The Middle Magnum Still Relevant? 


The .41 Magnum: Is The Middle Magnum Still Relevant? 
Some .41 Magnum from Steinel Ammunition.

The .41 Magnum… does the “Mama Bear” magnum still have a place today?

The .41 Magnum was the solution for a law enforcement caliber in between the .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum. With better ballistic performance than the .357 Magnum, the .41 Magnum also has less recoil than the .44 Magnum. That all sounds good on paper, but in reality, the .41 Magnum never caught on the same way as .357 and .44.

It very well may have even been reduced to a mere footnote in Cartridges of the World, but it’s been kept alive by a loyal yet small following of enthusiasts, especially handgun hunters.

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From left to right: .44 Special, .41 Magnum, .44 Magnum and .45 ACP. 

Gun Writers, S&W and Remington 

The .41 Magnum started out as an idea from a long-time cowboy and hunter turned gun writer. Elmer Keith, the man behind the .44 Magnum cartridge, had been experimenting with .41 caliber rounds since back in the mid-1950s. Keith’s vision for a .41 caliber “police load” was a 200-grain semi-wadcutter bullet moving at 900 fps. For hunting, he envisioned a heavy magnum load consisting of 210-grain JHP bullet moving 1,300 to 1,400 fps. Keith had influence with both Remington and Smith & Wesson, so those manufacturers listened when Keith had an idea. Two other wheelgunners and firearm scribes, Bill Jordan and Skeeter Skelton, also lobbied Remington about the caliber.

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The legendary Elmer Keith (right).

Jordan was a retired border patrol agent and thought the .41 caliber cartridge potentially the perfect law enforcement round in a low-velocity police load. In theory, it would be more effective than the .38 Special and .357 Magnum while also proving more controllable than the .44 Magnum, which at the time was the most powerful handgun cartridge on the planet.  

One thing to remember is that back in the early 1960s, bullet technology was not what it is today. Since shooters were in awe of the .44 Magnum and anything labeled magnum, Remington decided to officially call the new caliber the .41 Remington Magnum and juice up the velocity against the advice of Jordan and Keith.

Jordan was also in favor of chambering the .41 Magnum in a S&W K-frame revolver. In 1964 Remington offered the new round with a muzzle velocity jacked up to 1,500 fps and S&W decided to chamber the round in an N-frame revolver, the same as the .44 Magnum, and call it the Model 57.  

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A S&W Model 57, blued with an 8.3-inch barrel. Photo: Rock Island Auction Company.

S&W Model 57 and Model 58 Introduced 

The Model 57 had adjustable sights, oversized wood Goncalo Alves grips and was available in a variety of barrel lengths: 4, 6, and 8.3 inches. This was the target or hunting version of S&W’s .41 Magnum revolver. Law Enforcement was enticed with the Model 58, which was like a Model 10 only on steroids. The Model 58 was a spartan, no-frills version of the Model 57. In fact, S&W called the Model 58 the .41 M&P in advertisements touting 2.5 times more stopping power than the .38 Special with a “city” load consisting of a 210-grain flat-nose bullet that “moves just fast enough” and “puts more wallop, where you need it.”  Marketing hyperbole aside, the Model 58 had fixed sights, a 4-inch barrel, and service-style Magna grips. Both revolvers weighed about 41 ounces and were available in either a nickel or a blued finish. 

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A S&W Model 58 with a nickel finish and a 4-inch barrel. Photo: Rock Island Auction Company.

S&W also introduced a stainless steel version of the Model 57 and called it the Model 657. It was produced from 1986 to 2008. 

.41 Magnum In The Streets And In The Field 

The .41 Magnum was squarely aimed at the law enforcement market, but long story short, LEOs were just not interested in a revolver that was bigger, heavier and chambered for an even more recoil-producing round than the .357 Magnum. Police departments in Texas and Nevada, however, did issue Model 58s to officers as well as the San Francisco Police Department and a few smaller agencies across the U.S. The fact was the caliber had too much recoil for the average officer, so agency reception was generally lukewarm at best. 

Keith took the first few Model 57s on a polar bear hunt and used the new .41 Magnum cartridge on caribou with excellent results. Keith touted the slight advantage in ballistics, accuracy and lesser recoil compared to .44 Magnum. The .41 Magnum started to earn respect from hunters because it could do just about everything the .44 Magnum could do while generating less kick. Metallic silhouette shooters also liked the accuracy of the .41 Magnum and the pure hurt it put on steel chickens, pigs, turkeys, and rams out to 200 meters. 

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Other gun manufacturers like Marlin produced lever-action rifles for .41 Magnum, Ruger produced double- and single-action revolvers, Thompson Center created a single-shot pistol and Magnum Research even made a Desert Eagle chambered for the cartridge. So, while there are some .41 Mag. guns out there, the cartridge never gained enough popularity for there to be an abundance of options.

.41 Magnum Ballistics 

If the .41 Magnum has a sweet spot for bullets, it’s a 210-grain jacketed hollow point. This bullet is the most common and is usually loaded to a muzzle velocity of 1,200 to 1,550 fps out of a handgun depending on barrel length. The same 210-grain bullet out of a 20-inch rifle barrel has a muzzle velocity closer to 1,700 fps. 

For handgun hunters, the .41 Magnum shoots relatively flat out to 100 yards. At 100 yards, with a 50-yard zero, a 210-grain bullet drops about 3 inches. If the kill zone of a whitetail deer is 8 inches in diameter—the size of a paper plate—then you can hold dead on out to 100 yards. All Shooter’s Calculator tables were calculated presuming a 1.5-inch sight height, a 10 mph 90-degree crosswind, zero corrections for atmosphere and a 50-yard zero.

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For rifle hunters using a 20-inch barrel, the same 210-grain load will produce noticeably more muzzle velocity. So, if we continue with my paper plate kill zone analysis, a dead hold out to 130 yards is possible with the same 50-yard zero. 

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While the .41 Magnum may not be a wrist cracker like the .44 Magnum, it does have noticeably more recoil than a .357 Magnum revolver. My second magnum revolver was a Model 57 with a 4-inch barrel, and I was happy it was a heavy N-frame. Shooting the .41 Magnum out of a rifle is a totally different experience, of course, as recoil is mild. 

Magnum Revolver Calibers Match Up 

When comparing three common loads of .41 Magnum, .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum, you can see that the .41 Mag. shoots much flatter and has 722 foot-pounds of energy at 100 yards. The .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum have 387 foot-pounds and 663 foot-pounds of energy, respectively. From a hunter’s perspective, at least between these three loads, the .41 Mag. is a better choice than either of the other two. 

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What’s .41 Magnum good for?  

The size and weight of any .41 Magnum revolver will make it impractical as a daily concealed carry gun. Though, if for some reason you did decide to carry a .41 Mag., I’d suggest using rounds loaded to lower velocities like Keith and Jordan originally advocated for. Powerful heavy magnum loads for EDC could be a liability, for instance, if the bullet passes through a bad guy in a coffee shop and causes collateral damage. That said, the .41 Magnum is a good option for personal protection when you are in big bear country. 

In my opinion, the .41 Mag. is still a great caliber for hunting. At close to moderate distances, a revolver chambered for .41 Magnum can take whitetail deer, wild pigs and black bears. I’ve used it on medium game with both iron sights and scopes and I like its performance and how it’s easier on recoil. Don’t get me wrong, when shooting high-velocity loads, the .41 Mag. has a stout kick. More manageable is perhaps the best way to describe the recoil. You can squeeze out more of that .41 Mag. goodness out of a rifle. In a rifle, it is quite capable at distances up to 100 yards and even farther depending on your marksmanship. 

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A S&W 657 outfitted with a scope. Photo: Rock Island Auction Company.

Guns Chambered In .41 Magnum 

As you would expect, there are not a lot of .41 Magnum handguns and rifles being produced today, but the ones that are still being built really bring out the best that the .41 Magnum cartridge has to offer. S&W’s Classic series offers a 6-inch barrel model that is an excellent choice for hunting. I’d like S&W to re-release the Model 57 with a 4-inch tube and the Model 58, and they just might do that if we ask often enough. Ruger chambers their New Model Blackhawk in .41 Mag., and this is another great option for hunting or bear protection. The only current-production rifle chambered in .41 Mag is the Henry lever-action Big Boy, and I can’t think of a more enjoyable rifle to shoot .41 Mag. through than that. Any one of these newly manufactured guns will be more than fine for hunting, but you will have a few more options to choose from if you consider the used market too.

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A Henry Big Boy in .41 Magnum.

.41 Magnum Ammo

Because both the .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum are more popular calibers, there are obviously many more ammo choices. The ammo selection for the .41 Magnum is much leaner in comparison, and these days you’ll probably have better luck finding it online rather than stocked at your local gun store. As far as prices go, .357 Magnum remains the most affordable of this trio while .41 Magnum is the most expensive, though not by much more than .44 Magnum on average.

My go-to round is the 210-grain JHP Federal Power-Shok. It has a muzzle velocity of 1,230 fps and 705 foot-pounds of energy out of a 4-inch barrel. This has been my stand-by hunting load for deer and I have used this ammo for years with good results. MSRP is $51.99 per box of 20.

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When I want to crank up the velocity and energy, I turn to the 170-grain JHP from Buffalo Bore. Out of a 4-inch barrel that lighter bullet blasts out with a velocity of 1,640 fps and 1,028 foot-pounds. With a 25-yard zero, this load only drops 2.5 inches at 100 yards, making it an excellent choice for hunting. That said, the recoil and cost are both painful so you won’t be shooting it that often. It sells for about $2.70 per round. 

We have black bears where I take my hikes, and to me, a bear is a bear no matter what size or color. I also hunt wild pigs and don’t like to track them, so I load up with Grizzly 265-grain Wide Long Nose Gas Check ammo. These bullets are designed to penetrate and crush bone with a 1,400 fps muzzle velocity and 1,153 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. Another excellent hunting round with plenty of wallop. The cost per round is about $2.30. 

For a lighter bullet with a flatter trajectory, you could also consider the Hornady LeverEvolution load with a 190-grain FTX bullet. This is a great round to use through a lever-action gun. Muzzle velocity is more than 1,620 fps and energy will be over 1,107 foot-pounds. Those numbers were calculated using a 10-inch barrel, so while they’d be a little lower out of most revolvers, the performance would also be more impressive when using a rifle. This comes in 20-round boxes for about $1.40 per round. 

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Remington still makes .41 Mag. ammo too, but it only produces one do-all load with a 210-grain jacketed soft point that is designed for hunting and defense. It has an advertised velocity of 1,300 fps and 788 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle. This ammo comes 20 to a box and costs about $2.50 a round. 

Is .41 Magnum Still Relevant? 

If I were asked by someone looking to get into handgun hunting and they were on the fence between a .44 Mag and .41 Mag., I would suggest the .44 Mag. There are more firearm choices available and a wider selection of ammo. It is not as flat shooting and it has more recoil, but all of that can be managed with the right load and the distance to the target. Plus, you can shoot .44 Special ammo in a gun chambered in .44 Mag. If you want something unique, then the .41 Mag remains a solid choice. I like it for the fact it’s an unusual caliber and it provides slightly better performance in some areas than the .44 Magnum without its wrist-cracking recoil. For a caliber that never really took off, the .41 Mag. sure does have staying power. 


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