LJ Bonham is a semi-subsistence hunter, hunting magazine editor, and firearms enthusiast who lives in the Rocky Mountains.
The .41 Remington Magnum is the best revolver cartridge. Period. A bold statement given there are so many other good, useful revolver rounds out there. The truth is, when all factors are weighed; lethality, accuracy, recoil, and versatility, nothing else eclipses the .41 Rem. Mag.
The .41 began in none other than famed gun expert and visionary, Elmer Keith’s, mind. In 1935, Keith, along with Phillip Sharpe and D.B. Wesson, gave birth to the .357 Smith & Wesson Magnum. This suped-up and stretched .38 Special set the standard for powerful handgun cartridges. A standard no one, except Keith, could exceed until he lead the charge in 1955 to develop the mighty .44 Remington Magnum.
By the early 1960s, Keith believed he had erred with the .44, and he wanted to redress the issue. In his opinion, he should have made an intermediate round first: more powerful than the .357 but less than the .44. Keith still felt police officers were not well served by either the .357 or the .44 Magnums. The .357 over penetrated human targets with the bullets available at the time, and the big, bad .44, which he intended for hunting, had far too much recoil for the average officer.
Search for the Holy Grail
Keith collaborated with his good friend and lawman, Skeeter Skelton, to find a “Holy Grail” police cartridge. After some deliberation, the duo decided on a .41 caliber, 200 grain bullet propelled at 900 feet per second at the muzzle. Keith, an avid hunter, also wanted a second power level—a 210 grain bullet driven at 1300 - 1400 fps.
Skelton later stated he and Keith roped executives from both Smith & Wesson and Remington into a discussion about their ideas at a gun industry convention in 1963. Remington agreed to develop the proposed round if S&W would build the guns to chamber it.
Much to Keith’s dismay, Remington dropped the low pressure, law enforcement focused load and introduced the full-power version (210 grains at 1250 fps.) in 1964. Smith and Wesson also let Keith down when they refused to chamber their medium-sized K-Frame revolvers for the round and instead introduced the large, N-Frame Model 57 with a six or eight-inch barrel and adjustable sights. To appeal to the law enforcement market, the Massachusetts based gun concern also offered the Model 58: a four-inch barreled Model 57 with fixed sights.
The Red Headed Step-Child
The .41 Magnum encountered head winds from the start. Few law enforcement agencies wanted the big, heavy revolver and its high-powered ammunition. Hunters already had the .44 Magnum and a less powerful cartridge didn’t interest them. .357 Magnum fans had lighter revolvers to choose from and the advantage they could fire milder, less expensive .38 specials in their guns for practice. The .41 had no commercially available non-magnum parent.
If so many shooters didn’t want the .41, why is it the best revolver cartridge ever made? The .41 Remington Magnum does what its rivals do, but does it better in many ways.
.41 Mag. vs. .357 Mag.
When standard factory ammo is considered, the .41 delivers 25 percent more energy than the .357 Magnum with a wider, heavier bullet. This means it hits a target harder, makes a wider wound cavity, and all things equal, will penetrate as deep, or deeper, than Keith’s first magnum. All this with the same recoil as a medium-framed .357 when the .41 is fired from a large-framed revolver.
Some might argue the .41 goes off the recoil chart if it’s fired from the newest, compact “trail” guns which appeared on the market in the last few decades, and the .41 doesn’t have a non-magnum alternative load like the .357/.38. The answer here is simple. Reduced power .41 loads, which come closer to Elmer Keith’s original concept, are available. Winchester, for example, offers a 175 grain Silvertip at 1250 fps which has much less recoil than the standard 210 grain load at the same velocity. In a compact .41 Magnum revolver, it slaps the shooter the same as a .357 in a medium-frame, and still generates almost 100 ft-lbs. more energy in the process. The proverbial “win-win.” For comparison’s sake, try a full power .357 load in the latest ultra-light concealment revolvers and you’ll return to the .41 with a smile—after your orthopedist resets your hand bones.
.41 Mag. vs. .44 Mag.
It is true the .44 Remington Magnum produces more energy than the .41 if standard factory loads are compared (800 ft-lbs. vs. 700 ft-lbs.). The other truth is the terminal effect on either an animal or human doesn’t change much between those two numbers. A deer hit with a .41 and then a .44 is hard pressed to tell the difference. They make similar wound channels to similar depths. If the results are the same, why put up with the .44’s much heavier recoil?
When it comes to self-defense use, the .41 Magnum is far superior to the .44 Magnum. The .41 will do everything to an assailant the .44 will do, and it is the only big-bore magnum most shooters can manage with a one hand hold on the gun. This is more important than many people think. While a two-handed hold is the modern, preferred method, many times it is necessary to shoot one-handed. Your off hand might have to hold a flashlight, baton, etc. You might need it to hold your attacker or push them away from you. The .41 allows quicker, more accurate follow up shots either one or two-handed than the .44 ever will.
For all its current popularity, the .44 Magnum languished in the marketplace for over a decade after its introduction for the simple reason it generates so much recoil. This mighty beast almost disappeared until the “Dirty Harry” movies launched it into the public’s consciousness during the 1970s. Today, all too many people own a .44 for its cache’, not what it can actually do for them, and they can’t shoot it well either. Those people are much better served with the effective, controllable .41 Rem. Mag., but they’ll never admit it.
.41 Mag. vs. the Elephant Guns
What holds true for the .44 Magnum, is even more so when the newer super-magnums are considered. The .454 Casull, .480 Ruger, .500 S&W Magnum, etc., are all non-starters if you want a reasonable weight gun with recoil which won’t break your arm. These cartridges are all intended for hunting large or dangerous game and are chambered in guns more akin in size to crew-served weapons than duty-sized revolvers. Yes, they are far more powerful than even the hottest .41, but their focus is so narrow, they fail when it comes to cost, versatility, and all-round usefulness.
Requiem for a Middle-Weight
The .41’s virtues have given it a renaissance in the last few years. Shooters have rediscovered it and there are more loads, from more ammo companies, available than ever before. Hand-loaders have known for decades the .41 will keep pace with the .44. The .44, however, does pull ahead when the heaviest bullets (300 grain and up) are used. For a dual purpose, hunting/self-defense gun, the .41 is far superior to the .44 in most respects. Dirty Harry’s favorite is best reserved for hunting where it can do what Elmer Keith envisioned in 1955.
Some .41 Remington Magnum Factory Loads
- Federal 210 grain Swift A-Frame HP: 1270 fps., 752 ft-lbs. (dual purpose)
- Federal 210 grain Power-Shok HP: 1230 fps., 705 ft-lbs. (dual purpose/practice)
- Grizzly 265 grain lead flat-nose: 1400 fps., 1153 ft-lbs. (hunting/bear defense)
- Hornady 210 grain XTP HP: 1545 fps., 1113 ft-lbs. (hunting)
- HSM 230 grain lead semi-wadcutter: 1233 fps., 777 ft-lbs. (hunting/bear defense)
- Remington 210 grain HTP HP: 1300 fps., 788 ft-lbs. (dual purpose)
- Winchester 175 grain Silvertip HP: 1250 fps., 607 ft-lbs. (self-defense/reduced recoil)
- Winchester 210 grain Silvertip HP: 1250 fps., 729 ft-lbs. (dual purpose)
- Winchester 240 grain Platinum Tip HP: 1250 fps., 853 ft-lbs. (hunting)
Some .410 Caliber Bullets for Hand Loaders
- Berry’s Superior Plated Bullets, 210 grain (practice)
- Hornady XTP hollow point, 210 grain (dual purpose)
- Cast Performance Bullets lead flat-nose, 250 grain (hunting/bear defense)
- Swift A-Frame hollow point, 210 grain (dual purpose/bear defense)
- Speer Deep Curl bonded hollow point (dual purpose)
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2018 LJ Bonham
Alexander on December 27, 2019:
I'm not a Hunter but have been involved with firearms since the age of ten ; my very 1st firearm was a Marlin mod. 39-A (.22 short-long-long-rifle) . From the day my Dad's colleague gave me the gun , I've owned at least 1000 firearms . In '82 I bought a 4" mod.58 from a friend . I kept it 'til '99 , and traded it for a Colt light-weight Combat Commander . What a mistake that was . Anyhow , I bought a s/s mod. 57 w/ a 3" barrel in '96 , and it shoots as though it has a 6" barrel . This is an incredible cartridge , and I trust it with my life .
Edward J. Palumbo on June 22, 2018:
I note that many of the shooters who claim the .41 Magnum is "too much" or "not enough" have never owned one and certainly haven't reloaded for the .41 Magnum. I was pleased with the S&W Model 58, the Model 57, the Thompson-Center "Contender" with 14-inch heavy barrel and the Ruger Blackhawk. Ioaded for each and was pleased with the accuracy and performance I'd gotten. I have often recommended the .41 Mag, only to have the shooter quote some gun scribe who said it didn't answer all his prayers or didn't drop his elk on the spot. Poor bullet placement? No, certainly not that! The .41 Mag has served me well and I'm glad to read it has served you well also.