In a recent column, I was espousing the virtues of my favorite big bore revolver cartridges, the .44 special and the .45 Colts. Unfortunately there wasn’t enough room for my third choice, the proverbial red-headed step-child of the big bore sluggers, the .41 magnum. To be truthful, perhaps it is because we, the chambering and I, share that unlikely commonness that I have developed a fondness for the chambering, but I think it to be more than that.
Actually, the .41 magnum was a late comer to the big bore world, an afterthought if you will. There are many shooters who would argue that the cartridge should have been stillborn and that it actually fills no function in actual practice. After all, it is bracketed by the long familiar .357 magnum on the lower end and by the .44 magnum on the top end. In reality it can’t do anything that either one of those older magnums can’t do. Or can it?
With a 240 grain cast bullet at close to 1,500 FPS it shoots flatter than a stretched string and hits like a sledgehammer on steroids. It ain’t no itty bitty 10mm either. This I know from years of practical experience, although, granted, I’ve yet to kill a bison with one.
Somewhere in my motley assortment of firearms, I had an old, second year of production, three screw Ruger Blackhawk in .41 magnum. I haven’t seen it for awhile since it lives at a different address than I do, but I remember it as well worn and well used, but not abused, sporting some light rust pits on the outside of the frame, barrel and cylinder. The results of living in a leather holster on my hip during inclement weather. You know, spring time in the mountains and all that.
Over the years I’ve experienced several .41 mag handguns, from snub nosed Taurus double actions to stainless steel Ruger Blackhawk Bisley models. I even bought, at one time, a slightly used 6 1/2 inch barreled, stainless steel S&W with a scope on it. Since I don’t tolerate scopes on revolvers, that got canned immediately. All of those revolvers did their respective jobs with dispatch and went to other homes when I no longer required their services.
Understand that in my prime, I was never the skinniest rake in the shed nor was I the wheelbarrow. On my frequent backcountry excursions, I carried only what I needed, but always two guns, a rifle and a big bore handgun, plus a pair of sharp knives and a small hatchet or a tomahawk. Why? Military training I suppose, or possibly simply because I enjoy using good tools and like to use sharp ones.
Since, over the years, I have used handguns, primarily single action revolvers, for harvesting everything from squirrels to bull bison, I tend to pick the caliber most appropriate for the task at hand. Granted, for over a quarter century, when woods wandering, I used only my little .45 Colts chambered Ruger that George Conner built for me back in the day. I carried it everywhere and killed a mess of critters with it. It shot one load and one load only and that a 300 grain hard cast bullet at a chronographed 1,460 FPS. Same as a 1886 lever action Winchester chambered for the .45-90. But on occasion, I needed something where less was more.
Like the time my son Greg and I went hog hunting down in Texas and I got wrangled into hunting a black buck antelope with my old .41 magnum. A native of Asia, black buck antelope were transplanted to Texas around the turn of the previous century and exploded, population wise. Half the state of Texas has the little dudes bouncing around the pastures and backcountry. Dudes with more money than common sense – black buck are very spendy – pay a small fortune to hunt the critters. They are, if anything, more mobile and spooky than our native pronghorns.
Anyway, somehow this particular buck had wound up with one horn halfway broken off and, as such, was no longer considered desirable as a high dollar item. Just as spooky, just as slick, but nowhere near as expensive, the buck just something that needed to be gone. So my friend Joe, who guided for several game ranches, decided I should take a whack at the varmint. Unexpectedly for him, the only firearm I’d taken on our trip south was that old .41 Ruger magnum. Despite his entreaties to use his rifle, I insisted that if I was doing the deed, it would be with the .41 magnum.
After the dust settled, so to speak, Joe confided to Greg that although he’d had many hunters try to take a black buck with a handgun, I was the first hunter that had actually accomplished the feat. Hence, initially he’d had little hope I could score. Greg told me that on our trip home afterwards.
This was no corral shoot type of hunt either. I stalked, ( followed) that critter across what seemed like a half a dozen counties (it was hot and Texas ranches can be extremely large) for several hours, never being able to close the distance to my preferred range of a hundred yards or less. Every time I thought I had him, one of his girlfriends would spot me and light out of there post-haste. Naturally, where the girls went, he followed. Greg and Joe watched from afar.
Finally, I backed off and just watched. Broken horn finally settled down and wandered off to get a drink from a pond and lie down in some cover. I snuck up within 50 yards, the little .41 magnum barked and it was over. Finally.
Could I have done the same with a .357 or .44 magnum? Certainly. But in this case it would have been too much of one and not quite enough of the other. The .41 magnum was just right.