TAFFIN TESTS: THE .41 SPECIAL
In 1899, Smith & Wesson introduced the .38 Special in the first of what is now known as the K-frame series, the .38 Military and Police. In 1930, the .38 Special was "Plus P'ed" and chambered in the larger sized, now N-frame, Heavy Duty. Five years later, in 1935, the .38 Special cartridge was lengthened and became the now legendary .357 Magnum with the first sixgun being what is now known as the S&W Model 27.
In 1908, the .44 Special was introduced in the .44 Military Model better known to sixgunners as the .44 Triple Lock. Handloaders took the new gun and cartridge to heart and left its factory loaded 246 grain round nosed load loping along at 750 feet per second in the dust as they pushed 250 grain semi-wadcutter bullets to a full 1200 feet per second. The end result was the lengthening of the .44 Special to .357 Magnum length and the .44 Magnum became reality in 1955.
The world was perfectly ordered and everything was just as it should have been, first came the Special series, then the Magnum followed between thirty-five and fifty years later. We had the .38 Special/.357 Magnum and the .44 Special/.44 Magnum, but where was the in between caliber, the .40 or .41 Special? In the normal turn of events the .41 Special should have surfaced and then been followed in thirty-five to fifty years by a .41 Magnum. Everyone knows the .41 Magnum came along in 1964 nine years after the .44 Magnum , but where was the introductory .41 Special?
In the 1920's, at least ten years before the advent of the first official Magnum, the .357, gunsmith Cyril "Pop" Eimer was building the .40 Eimer Special in his Joplin Missouri gunshop. Utilizing Colt Single Actions in either .38-40 or .41 Long Colt chamberings, Pop Eimer mated their .403" barrels with new cylinders chambered for what may have been the first revolver wildcat. The .40 Eimer Special, also known as the .401 Eimer, was made by shortening .401 Winchester rifle brass to 1.25 inches and using 200 grain bullets. No less a personality than "Fitz", J.H. Fitzgerald of Colt, tried to interest his company in chambering the Colt Single Action Army and the New Service in the .40 Eimer. Colt declined.
Experimenters Gordon Boser and Ray Thompson carried the work of the .40 caliber further in the 1930's and 1940's . Boser was a Springville, New York gunsmith whose favorite sixgun cartridge was the .44 Special but he wanted more than the Single Action could offer with this chambering. Using .401 Self Loading Winchester brass (some report that Eimer used .30-40 Krag brass), trimmed to a length of 1 7/32 inches, Boser used .38-40 and .40-60 bullets and finally designed his own bullet for Lyman, a 195 grain semiwadcutter #401452.
In 1932, Fred Moore was the factory superintendent at Colt's and did experimental work with a new cartridge which was designed to be a better man stopper than the .38 Special. Remember, this is three years before the advent of the .357 Magnum. The Colt Official Police revolver was chambered for the .41 Colt Special and three variations of ammunition were tried using 210 grain bullets at 810, 925, and 1150 feet per second. The last loading was used in the larger framed Colt New Service. Remington supplied the ammunition and the latter was made long enough so that it would not chamber in the shorter cylindered Official Police. If you should happen to run across a .41 Magnum cartridge without a headstamp, chances are very good that you have the very rare .41 Colt Special.
For the second time, Colt had a chance to scoop Smith & Wesson and bring out a modern law enforcement and outdoorsman's cartridge and for the second time they backed off and instead of introducing the .41 Colt Special in the 1930's, it was the Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum that would bring sixgunnin' into the modern era. Remington and Colt had the .41 Special in 1932; Winchester and Smith & Wesson brought out the .357 Magnum in 1935.
If Colt had brought out the .41 Special in the 1920's or 1930's as it seemingly should have happened, then the natural turn of events would have been the introduction of the .41 Magnum in the 1950's or 1960's. Instead, the .41 Magnum came on the scene without the customary Special cartridge first.
In fact, the .41 Special is what Elmer Keith, Skeeter Skelton, and Bill Jordan asked for as the perfect defensive sixgun shooting a 200 grain bullet at 900-1000 feet per second. Instead they, and sixgunners all over the world benefited with a grand outdoorsman's cartridge, the .41 Magnum. It would be nearly thirty years before the cartridge asked for by Mssrs. Keith, Skelton, and Jordan would come along and when it did, it was not in a sixgun but in the form of the .41 Action Express and the .40 S&W and the FBI 10MM load all in semi-automatics.
Now an oversight has been righted by custom pistolsmith Hamilton Bowen (Bowen Classic Arms, P.O. Box 67, Dept. AH, Louisville Tennessee 37777. Three dollars for a brochure). Pistolsmith of the Year Bowen has strong traditional leanings and likes the older, milder cartridges as well as the .475 and .500 Linebaugh powerhouses. Two of his creations are the .50 Special and the .41 Special. I first shot the .41 Special in a Bowen Ruger Security Six at The Shootists Holiday in 1987. I liked the concept. So much so that I handed over a Colt Single Action .45 Buntline Special to be made into a five and one-half inch barreled .41 Special. My idea was a sixgun that would handle 200 grain bullets at 900 to 1200 feet per second or about the same as heavy loaded .44 Specials with 250 grain bullets.
Bowen returned my Colt with a five and one-half inch Douglas barrel and custom .41 Special cylinder and everything else is stock. In fact except, for the non-fluted cylinder, it looks like an ordinary Colt Single Action Army. But ordinary it is not as it is one of the finest shooting single actions I have ever come across in a thirty-five year love affair with the old thumb-buster.
Brass for the .41 Special for this mild wildcat is easily made. Using an RCBS case trimmer set to .44 Special length and hooked up to a quarter-inch drill for power, and with my friend Joe Penner feeding the brass and yours truly running the drill, we were able to produce 125 .41 Special cases in less than one-half hour. Trim, de-burr, load and shoot, is all that is necessary for the .41 Special. I use a .41 Magnum sizing die and .41 Action Express expander and seating dies. Thus far, the taper crimp die of the .41 AE has worked well, but I will be shortening a .41 Magnum seating die to afford the proper crimp that all sixgun loads should have.
Although the Colt Single Action frame would probably handle .41 Magnum style loads, at least for awhile, I keep the .41 Special loads in the Special range and thus far have stayed below 1250 feet per second with 215 to 220 grain bullets and I intend to continue to observe this self-imposed limit.
Excellent loads have surfaced with the .41 Special. My first loadings were all accomplished with Bull-X 215 grain semi-wadcutters. These are machine cast commercial bullets, but the first five shots over 12.5 grains of #2400 cut one ragged hole at 25 yards that would have done the finest target pistol proud. This is from a standard, fixed-sighted Colt Single Action Army sixgun. Standard except for the Bowen cylinder and Douglas barrel. Velocity is 1063 feet per second. Very mild and pleasant to shoot and incredibly accurate. Bull-X can be contacted at 102 S. Main St., Dept. AH, Farmer City, Illinois 61842.
Increasing the load to 13.5 and 14.5 grains of #2400 gave velocities of 1167 and 1227 feet per second and both of these loads will stay well within one and one-half inches at 25 yards. Switching over to Lyman's #410459 standard bullet for the .41 Magnum, Elmer Keith's 220 grain semi-wadcutter, also resulted in excelllent accuracy with 14.5 grains of H4227 for 1065 feet per second, 10.0 grains of Blue Dot for 1060 feet per second, and a full house .41 Special loading of 14.5 grains of #2400 for 1226 feet per second.
I plan to do most of my .41 Special shooting with 215-220 grain cast bullets at 1000-1050 feet per second and these velocities can be accomplished accurately with 7.0 grains of Unique, 9.0-10.0 grains of Blue Dot, 12.5 grains of #2400, or 14.5 grains of H4227.
Switching over to jacketed bullets for the .41 Special, I opt for Speer's .41 Magnum jacketed bullets which are quite unlike other jacketed .41 bullets as they are made with a copper cup and a lead core much like home-swaged bullets. No lead touches the bore as the copper cup is full length. I've often wondered why Speer did not offer standard style jacketed bullets for the .41 Magnum. Now I know. With their fully exposed lead nose they are a natural for the slower, non-Magnum velocities of the .41 Special.
Speer's .41 jacketed bullets come in 200 grain hollow point and 220 grain solid persuasions and they have proven to be good shooting bullets in the .41 Special. Accurate loads in the 1000-1150 feet per second range are assembled with 12.5 grains of #2400 (1082 fps), 13.5 grains of AA#9 (1142 fps) and 7.0 grains of Unique (1043 fps) for the 200 grain jacketed hollow point. Switching to the heavier solid point Speer .41 bullet best results are obtained with 15.5 grains of H4227 (1102 fps), 12.5 and 13.5 grains of AA#9 (1034 and 1130 fps), 7.0 grains of Unique (1021 fps), and 10.0 and 10.5 grains of Blue Dot (1049 and 1085 fps).
Just what good is the .41 Special? In a medium-framed double action conversion it makes a dandy defensive cartridge/sixgun combination. A Model 19 .41 Special with a five-shot cylinder would be close to perfection as an easy handlin', fight stoppin' sixgun. With a Colt Single Action or Ruger Old Model Three Screw or Flat-top .357 Single Action converted to .41 Special we have may what could well be a nearly perfect packin' pistol for woods loafin'or mountain bummin' or desert roamin'.
The .41 Special is an accurate, pleasant shooting cartridge that will handle varmints with ease, do fine on close range deer, mountain lion, black bear, etc., and should the unpleasant need arise it will match the .41 Action Express, the .40 S&W, or the 10MM as a defensive cartridge. Certainly enough reasons to justify its existence today. A long time wrong has been righted and the .41 Special is now a reality.
LOADS FOR THE .41 SPECIAL
FIREARM: CUSTOM COLT SINGLE ACTION BARREL LENGTH: 5 1/2"
BRASS: MIDWAY .41 MAGNUM TRIMMED TO 1.160" PRIMER: CCI #350
CHRONOGRAPH: OEHLER MODEL 35P
CAST BULLET LOADS
BULL-X 215 SWC LYMAN 220 KEITH
LOAD MV MV
5.0 GR. UNIQUE 798* 791
6.0 GR. UNIQUE 900 922
7.0 GR. UNIQUE 1027* 1013
13.5 GR. H4227 1010 982
14.5 GR. H4227 1037* 1065*
15.5 GR. H4227 1120* 1100
12.5 GR. #2400 1063* 1088
13.5 GR. #2400 1167* 1173
14.5 GR. #2400 1227* 1226*
9.0 GR. BLUE DOT 1008* 984
10.0 GR. BLUE DOT 1122 1060*
11.0 GR. BLUE DOT 1211 1156
12.5 GR. AA#9 1018 987
13.5 GR. AA#9 1184 1173
14.5 GR. AA#9 1242 1225
JACKETED BULLET LOADS
LOAD MV/SPEER 200 JHP MV/SPEER 220 JHP
14.5 GR. H4227 1035 1037
15.5 GR. H4227 1080 1102*
16.5 GR. H4227 1155 ----
12.5 GR. #2400 1082* 1063
13.5 GR. #2400 1157 1108
14.5 GR. #2400 1222 ----
12.5 GR. AA#9 1042 1034*
13.5 GR. AA#9 1142* 1130*
14.5 GR. AA#9 1207 ----
7.0 GR. UNIQUE 1043* 1021*
7.5 GR. UNIQUE 1113 1079
8.0 GR. UNIQUE 1175 ----
9.0 GR. BLUE DOT ---- 980
9.5 GR. BLUE DOT ---- 1008
10.0 GR. BLUE DOT ---- 1049*
10.5 GR. BLUE DOT ---- 1085*
*MOST ACCURATE LOADS, LESS THAN 1 1/2" FOR FIVE SHOTS @ 25 YARDS