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‘A Tale of Two Rugers’...

The 41 magnum is what some might call a cartridge on its way to being extinct, but when you get right down to it, this cartridge has been popular among handgunners since its inception back in 1964 when it was introduced by the Remington Arms Company.

The original intent for this caliber was handgun hunting and law enforcement, but over the years, law enforcement use has dropped to almost zero, mainly due to so many high-capacity semi-autos on the market today.

The 41 magnum was originally conceived by Elmer Keith and Smith and Wesson as a handgun cartridge to fill the ballistics gap between the 44 magnum and 357 magnum.

His idea was to have a handgun cartridge that was more powerful than the 357 magnum with less recoil than the 44. The 357 just didn’t have enough stopping power, and the 44 magnum was considered overkill and was too heavy for police carry.

Elmer Keith envisioned a cartridge that could be chambered in a revolver that was smaller and lighter than the 44 magnum, yet still had close to the stopping power of this large hunting round.

Smith and Wesson had other ideas and developed the 41 magnum in the large, already-too-heavy-for-police-carry, N-frame revolver, making the 41 magnum just another heavy revolver.

This was not at all what Elmer Keith had intended.

The 41 magnum was never adopted by enough law enforcement agencies to make it popular, but handgun hunters found this cartridge to have a little less recoil than the 44 magnum and a slightly flatter-shooting bullet.

Over the years, the 41 magnum has dwindled in popularity except among a few handgun hunters. Fast forward to today, and you will find only a few factory loads available from a few ammo manufacturers, compared to the more popular 44 magnum or 357 magnum.

But, even with the limited availability of factory ammo, the older Smith and Wesson and Ruger handguns chambered in this caliber bring top dollar if they are in good condition.

Three of the most popular 41 magnum handguns are the Smith and Wesson Model 57, which is still in production, and the no-longer-produced Ruger Redhawk and Dan Wesson models.

Smith and Wesson also still produces the models 58 and 657, and Ruger has limited their production of this caliber to the Blackhawk. Other handgun manufacturers of this caliber are Taurus and Freedom Arms.

As for rifles chambered in 41 magnum, good luck. Marlin made a lever action, Model FG 1894, but this is also no longer in production.

A few months back, I was looking for a 41 magnum handgun and stumbled onto a Ruger Redhawk in cherry condition, which I quickly snapped up.

While I was waiting for the Redhawk to arrive, I also purchased a Ruger Blackhawk in 41 magnum. What’s wrong with me? I have more handguns than I could wear out in 10 lifetimes, but I did not have a 41 magnum. Well, now I have two.

While waiting for my new toys to show up, I looked for ammo and found a few companies that still made factory loads and a few places to purchase bullets and brass, so out came the credit card.

I stocked up on plenty of brass and bullets. I already had plenty of powder and primers, so now all I needed was a set of dies.

In my search for ammo, I had found the usual companies, like Remington, Federal and Winchester, but also ran across a company I had never heard of, DPS ammo. They were offering loaded ammo for almost less than I could hand-load it and for way less than the well-known companies, so I just had to have a few of these in a couple of offerings.

After everything showed up, I proceeded to load a few rounds in several different flavors, from 170-grain to 210-grain bullets. I was thinking the 170-grain would shoot flatter with less felt recoil, yet still have plenty of power to stop a pig with a well-placed shot, so I concentrated on this bullet weight and, of course, loaded a few in the other weights.

My loading data stated this bullet would reach velocities of around 1650 fps with the lighter bullet and 1300 fps with the heavier bullet. Now, all I had to do was find one for each handgun that would shoot accurately. This was not that difficult. All I needed was plenty of powder, bullets, primers and time at the range. Don’t let me act like this is like going to work, because when is shooting guns ever like work? That’s right, this was like a mission, but an enjoyable one.

The guns were here and I had a pile of bullets to shoot, so off to the range I went.

(The following video depicts the powerful Ruger Blackhawk .41 Magnum in action)

After setting up my targets, I was ready for some Fun Shooting. I started with the Redhawk and was impressed with the accuracy and trigger. After several of each of the handloads and factory offerings, I switched to the Blackhawk.

The Blackhawk is a little lighter by a few ounces, but the weight difference did not seem to matter with felt recoil. Both guns felt good in my hand and shot some of the loads very accurately and some not very accurately.

Even after many years of shooting, I am still amazed at the difference in accuracy between different factory offerings in the same firearm. It’s just weird how you can have 1-inch groups with one and 4-inch groups with another.

The loads I shot from each are listed in the graph (above left) included on this page.

The factory ammo was fair, but when the handloads were fired, both of these fine handguns shone with groups at 25 and 50 yards that were dead-on accurate. Redhawk Results: The ammo this handgun liked was 22.2 grains of H110 powder pushing the Swift 210-grain bullet. It shot groups at 25 yards that averaged less than 1 inch and at 50 yards averaging 1.5 inches.

The Winchester 175-grain Silvertip was acceptable, posting groups of 1.5 to 2 inches, respectively. None of the others I fired in this gun would have been acceptable for me to hunt with.

Blackhawk Results: This gun liked 20.6 grains of H110 and the Hornady 210-grain, jacketed hollow point, posting groups of 0.75 inch at 25 yards and just a hair over 1.5 inches at 50 yards. The factory ammo that fared best was the DRS with 1 and 1.5 inch groups, respectively.

I do believe with a little more work, I can find loads for each of these that are in the 1/2-inch group at 50 yards. Looks like I am just going to have to SHOOT MORE. Damn the bad luck!

I also think handloading is the way to go with both of these if you are trying to fine tune a very accurate hunting load. It also seemed both of these guns liked loads that were more on the hot side than the middle of the road.

As with any handloading, be careful when you start getting near the maximum loads. Go slow and keep an eye out for excessive pressure like primers being pushed out, bulges in cases and so on.

I took the Redhawk and my Excalibur crossbow to Tiger Island Outfitters on a pig hunt, and you can read about that next month.

Shoot straight, shoot safe, and remember: If all firearms were treated as if they were loaded, there would be no more accidental shootings.


Jim Hammond has had some sort of gun in his hand since he was 5 years old. He started with a Daisy BB gun as a small boy, and with careful instruction from his very safety-minded father, has become a skilled and knowledgeable shooter now willing to share his knowledge and experience as he has FUN SHOOTING. “Safety first and everything else will follow.”