Thursday, July 03, 2003

The Wrong Compromise

The 41 Magnum is not a popular cartridge today. It hangs on because there are a few fans, but new firearms are comparatively rare. (Currently Davidson's only list seven models with a total of 29 guns in inventory.)

It was probably doomed from the start. Marketed as a compromise cartridge, it was hard to get excited about. Sure it was more powerful than the 357,but it still played second fiddle to the 44 Magnum. And unlike the 357, the 41 came only in heavy revolvers like the S&W N-frame and Ruger Redhawk.

The 41 does have less recoil than the 44 Magnum. But that was a weak selling point. The 44 was "the powerful handgun in the world" and Dirty Harry carried it. Choosing a 41 seemed like an admission of wimphood. (Even though most 44s are fired with 44 Special ammo at the range).

The energy/recoil compromise was a nonstarter from a marketing perspective.

There was another compromise, however, that was made to order for the 41. That was "stopping power."

There are two churches when it comes to this concept. High velocity and high kinetic energy like the 125 grain 357 magnum load. Or big bore momentum, Taylor Knockout factor, the church of 230 grain 45 ACP.

In 1965, in revolvers, these were antithetical choices.

The 357 125 grain load left the barrel at 1,450 fps and generated 583 ft-lb But its TKO value was only 9.2.

The 44 special 246 grain load clocked 755 fps with only 310 ft-lbs. But its TKO was 11.4. (The 45 ACP 230 grain rates a TKO of 12.3 @ 835 fps. Energy is 356 ft.lbs.)

The original plan for the 41 split the difference nicely. A 210 grain lead bullet at 950 fps and 434 ft. lb also generated a TKO of 11.7. Better energy than the 44 special, better TKO than the 357. And a superior sectional density of .178 compared to .140 for the .357 or .162 for the 45 ACP.

Plus, where the 357 round is maxed out at these numbers, the 41 was capable of being loaded up to much higher velociities if such was needed. A max load 41 generates 788 ft. lbs. with a 210 grain JHP at 1300 fps..

This sort of compromise-- between light fast bullets and slow, heavy ones-- later proved to be a winning ticket for the 40 S&W.

The 41 never caught on with the police market, and ammo makers soon dropped the milder load as they chased the 44 mag. It is now a moot point since the autoloader has become standard for the police market. The wheelgun is for civilians.

I shoot a handload that mimics the original specs Elmer Keith and Bill Jordan laid out. It is as easy to control in a heavy frame Redhawk as 38+P loads are in a medium frame Smith. If I could get my hands on a 4 inch model 57 i would scarf it up quick and it would become a regular working gun. (The Redhawk is for hunting given its weight