Whether In A T/C Encore Single-Shot Or Ruger Super
Blackhawk Revolver, The “Middler Magnum” Shines
By Mark Hampton
Like most things in my life, I’m usually late to the party. Take the .41 Mag for example. I’ve just recently jumped on board and become a convert. It wasn’t easy, and it took many, many years to discover what some savvy shooters have known for a long time.
Have you ever talked to anyone who has spent considerable time shooting or hunting with a .41 Mag? Several of my good friends are real serious gun cranks. These individuals shoot more rounds in a year than most folks shoot in a decade. All of the .41 Mag aficionados I have spoken with have told me the .41 Mag is unequivocally one of the best, most underrated handgun cartridges today—especially for hunting. If they have enough trigger time to make an honest assessment, I have yet to find a person tell me anything different. Being from the Show-Me State, I wanted to find out for myself what I’d been missing.
Most of us are familiar with the birth and flat-line history behind the .41 Mag. Initially introduced back in 1964 by Remington and S&W, it was intended for hunting and law enforcement. Unfortunately, timing was not ideal, as it had been born several years behind both the .357 and .44 Magnums. Like a middle child, the middle magnum was starving for attention. The law enforcement fraternity didn’t warm-up to the cartridge for several reasons. Hunters thought they had to have the mighty double-four or for lesser pursuits, the .357 Mag was chosen like the best looking cheerleader for the prom. The .41 Mag struggled to survive and not because it was inefficient by any means.
My initiation to the .41 Mag came by accident. Match Grade Machine—manufacturer of custom T/C barrels—was running a special on a few select barrels. Collecting T/C barrels is addicting to begin with. In a weak moment I ordered a 16.5-inch Encore barrel in .41 Mag. A quality Bushnell Elite 2-6X scope was mounted in Warne base and rings. I ordered a real nice-looking fore-end from Tony’s Forends and Grips. This fore-end was practical and made resting the Encore on bags much easier. I was pleasantly surprised by some velocities obtained while testing this gun, and really pleased with some of the groups obtained from this straight-wall pistol cartridge. While deer hunting one morning I had an opportunity to bust a coyote. One shot from around 80 yards with Hornady’s XTP bullet did the job. So, after shooting the Encore for several months I decided it was time to explore more traditional opportunities with the .41 Mag.
The T/C Encore with Match Grade Machine 16.5-inch .41 Mag barrel fitted in a fore-end
from Tony’s Forends and Grips proved an accurate combination.
The .41 Mag Encore proved not only accurate but deadly. This coyote was taken at 80 yards
using a handload with Hornady’s 210-grain XTP bullet over H 110.
A Ruger Super Blackhawk Bisley Hunter caught my eye. This revolver was a distributor exclusive and not a regular catalog item from Ruger. As soon as I received the gun, it was immediately sent to my good friend Ken Kelly of Mag-na-port. I have enjoyed guns customized by Mag-na-port for over three decades, and Kenny has performed his magic on several Ruger revolvers for me and I couldn’t be happier.
The first item Kenny attended was mounting a Weigand 3-ring base. Weigand’s mount and rings are superb and I couldn’t think of a better system for this project. Kenny gave the revolver an eye-pleasing velvet finish and even gave the Weigand base and rings the same treatment to match. Along with Mag-na-port porting, the barrel received an inverted crown. All internal parts were smoothed with an action job. The trigger pull was lightened, forcing cones re-cut, and timing was addressed. A Belt Mountain base pin was installed. A Leupold VX-3, 2.5-8X silver scope was fitted in the Weigand rings and this revolver was ready for action.
Several factory rounds were procured including DoubleTap, Buffalo Bore, Federal, Barnes Vor-Tx, Swift and HSM. There are a lot of premium factory loads available for hunting—more than I imagined. Four from Federal were tested along with three from Buffalo Bore and two from DoubleTap. Swift also makes a dandy hunting load with their 210-grain A-Frame Bonded bullet. All factory rounds were loaded with bullets ranging from 170 to 230 grains.
One thing lacking with factory ammo is the absence of practice loads. Handloading the .41 Mag really provides versatility from mild, plinking loads to serious hunting medicine. With the help of Redding’s Competition Pro Series titanium carbide die set, I began to crank out some handloads with Starline brass and Winchester LP primers. Jacketed bullets included 210 grainers from Hornady, Sierra and Nosler. Several powders were tested including H110, 2400, AA9 and Unique.
My friend and .41 Mag guru Dick Thompson has been a huge factor in getting me started in the right direction with loading data for cast bullets. Dick casts Keith 230-grain SWC and 250-grain LBT WFN bullets then powder coats them. The powder-coated bullets do not foul the barrel and are much cleaner compared to lead bullets. I have found powder-coated bullets to be as clean as jacketed bullets—and just as accurate. Shooting his own cast creations, the Idaho handgunner has taken a pile of game with the .41 Mag including mule deer, black bear and elk.
The Ruger proved very accurate at 50 yards as these targets attest. Both were made with
powder-coated Keith 230-grain SWC and 250-grain LBT WFN bullets.
Factory ammunition loaded with premium bullets offer serious hunting medicine
and proved accurate at 50 yards as well.
The first order of business at the range was getting sighted-in at 25 yards. It didn’t take long to detect how well this revolver shoots. When Dick Thompson’s everyday load of 8 grains of Unique pushing his Keith 230-grain SWC left clover-leaf groups, it got my attention. Departing the 25-yard range, I moved to 50 yards. As you would expect, the revolver favored some loads better than others but overall, it wasn’t real picky. Some 50-yard groups were surprisingly tight. The Bisley grip frame handles recoil effortlessly and this gun is a joy to shoot. The lack of intimidating recoil along with a good trigger makes shooting sessions enjoyable. During the lengthy sessions, 11 factory loads and 11 handloads were tested.
The custom Ruger will be a hunting gun so I just had to see what it would do at 100 yards. Factory and handloads performing best at 50 yards were tested. Now let me honestly share I am a terrible benchrest shooter with a revolver. The first load tested at 100 yards was 8 grains of Unique with the Keith 230-grain SWC—Dick’s everyday load. Its 3-shot group measured 2.80 inches. For me, this is unusual. Buffalo Bore’s 170-grain JHC produced a 2.71 3-shot group. Then 17 grains of 2400 pushing the 250-grain LBT WFN bullet delivered a 2.75-inch group. I didn’t really believe what I was seeing (especially with me behind the trigger). Put this gun and these loads in the hands of someone who can shoot a revolver and you would have something!
There were several more fine groups shot at 100 yards. Sierra’s 210-grain JHC shot well with 4-inch groups. The Keith 230-grain SWC bullet over 17 grains of 2400 produced 3-inch groups multiple times, so I know it wasn’t a fluke.
When the day was over I couldn’t have been more pleased—especially with me shooting. A couple of days later during a subsequent session, I shot a 3-shot group with Barnes Vor-Tx 180-grain XPB and I am not going to say what this group measured—you probably would call me a liar! The combination of ingredients including Ruger, Mag-na-port, Leupold, Weigand and good loads, stack up a great shooting single action.
Before the ink dries on this article I’ll be heading to Wyoming for a bear hunt. The Ruger Bisley Hunter will be riding in a Barranti Leather Northwest Hunter. This is a high-quality, well-made chest rig capable of carrying a scoped revolver comfortably for long periods. At the moment, I’m having a difficult time deciding what bullet to load for the bear hunt—230-grain SWC or the heavier 250 grainer. Either way, if I do my part, the rest will take care of itself. If a person did not handload, there are some mighty fine factory choices offering serious hunting medicine.
Mark’s Ruger Bisley Super Blackhawk Hunter in .41 Mag was sent for custom embellishments to Mag-na-port.
While the .357 Mag and .44 Mag overshadow the middle magnum, the under-appreciated .41 is a worthy contender. More power than the .357 Mag with less recoil and slightly flatter trajectory than the .44 Mag. What’s not to like? Unless you have a hankering for heavy bullets—300-grain and beyond, the .41 Mag will handle just about anything as well as the bigger double-four. There is very little difference between 0.410 and 0.429 when you compare bullet diameter. I know one thing—if I had spent equal time shooting the .41 Mag as I did with the .44 Mag, I wouldn’t have owned a pile of .44’s. I once saw a poster in a school building that read, “What’s right is not always popular—and what’s popular is not always right.” Only a gun crank would apply the message to firearms. The .41 Mag may not win a popularity contest—but it’s right for me. Give the .41 Mag a try—you won’t be sorry.
Bisley Super Blackhawk Hunter
200 Ruger Rd.
Prescott, AZ 86301
Exclusive Dist: Davidson’s
6100 Wilkinson Drive
Prescott, AZ 86301
Action type: Single action
Caliber: .41 Magnum
Barrel length: 7.5 inches
Overall length: 13.625 inches
“Weight: 52 ounces
Sights: Adjustable irons, barrel machined for Ruger rings
Stock: Smooth laminated wood
Price: $969 (base model)
P.O. Box 14062
Pittsburgh, PA 15239
41302 Executive Dr.
Harrison Twp., MI 48045
Match Grade Machine
2410 West 350 North Bld 2
Hurricane, Utah 84737
Tony’s Forends and Grips
755 Wildwood Trail
Fergus Falls, Mn 56537
2100 Roosevelt Ave.
Springfield, MA 01104
Weigand Combat Handguns
1057 South Main Rd.
Mountain Top, PA 18707