In this week’s Wheelgun Wednesday we take a throwback look at a revolver with a common appearance, but a very uncommon chambering. The wheelgun we are talking about is the Smith & Wesson Model 57 .41 Magnum, and the example we will take a closer look at is from 1984. Not much love is given to the forgotten .41 Magnum, but we will cover what makes it special and what drew me to buying one for myself almost a decade ago.
Many people are aware of the .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum because in revolver circles they are still wildly popular today. A forgotten cartridge from the past is the .41 Magnum which was birthed through a unique collaboration between Remington and Smith & Wesson. In the “Lyman 50th Edition Reloading Handbook” they explain in great detail how the .41 Remington Magnum cartridge came to be:
Remington and Smith & Wesson introduced the .41 Magnum in the Model 57 revolver in 1964. The original factory ammunition was offered in two performance levels. The first was a full power load with a 210 grain jacketed soft point bullet, and the second was a 210 grain lead semi-wadcutter “police” load. The police market never really developed for the cartridge however. The civilian market was better, but never really large. Handgun hunting is the area that is given the 41 Magnum its largest following. Hunters found it to be as effective as the 44 Magnum with a slightly flatter trajectory.
So, while the Smith & Wesson Model 57 might not be the most popular or sought-after revolver for collectors, it’s one claim-to-fame is being the 1st revolver ever chambered in .41 Remington Magnum. The specific revolver in my collection hit the market 20 years after its inception in a gun shop in Minnesota called “Burger Bros.” It sounds like a great place to grab a milkshake and cheeseburger, but that actually used to be a pretty popular gun store in MN at one (but that is a story for another day).
Most of us are familiar with the plastic boxes that Smith & Wesson’s revolvers come in nowadays. Back in the day though you got your wheelgun in a blue cardboard box with metal crimped corners for reinforcement. I am a young revolver nut at 33 years old, but maybe some of you remember or have those same boxes (or remember reloading bullets being packaged the same way, but only smaller). Inside that crimped, cardboard box I still have the original owner’s pamphlet (not a full blown manual; simpler times back then). These are the specifications listed in the pamphlet of the original box from 1984:
- Caliber…… .41 Magnum
- Number of Shots…… 6
- Barrel…… 6″
- Length Overall…… 11 3/8″
- Weight…… 48 oz.
- Sights…… Front: 1/8″ S&W Red Ramp, Rear: S&W Micrometer Click Sight, adjustable for windage and elevation. White outline sight slide notch.
- Hammer…… Wide checked target type
- Trigger…… Wide target type with S&W grooving. Internal trigger stop.
- Frame…… Square butt with grooved tangs.
- Stocks…… Special oversize target type of checked Goncalo Alves, with S&W monograms.
- Finish…… S&W Bright Blue and serrations around sighting area to break up light reflection.
To me, it is pretty fun to read that pamphlet just to remember the nomenclature and verbage used back then. Stocks equal grips… Number of Shots is a long form way to say cylinder capacity… and they actually go on to explain the serrations on the rib of the barrel and sight (for those who did not know why they were there even on modern revolvers).
So, there is still the question of why? Why does this cartridge even exist? Why?… Lyman does a good job explaining its origin and how it was possibly a misadventure in attempting to conquer the police market back in the ’60s. I was also told another story though from an old man with a revolver collection significantly more vast than mine. Take it as a grain of salt, but I found it intriguing.
This collector told me that in the early 1960s the .357 Magnum was popular for recreational sport because of the velocity it carried and its versatility to also shoot .38 Special loads as well. Then, there was the .44 Magnum which plowed like a freight truck and kicked like a mule. There needed to be a middle ground. So, the .41 Magnum came to be to split the difference. You had the spirited flat trajectory of a .357 Magnum with the power of a .44 Magnum in your hand. Then, with a twinkle in his eye and beaming a smile he softened his voice to say, “the .41 Magnum is the gentleman’s cartridge.”
Was this the thought process behind Remington and Smith & Wesson brain-storming the .41 Magnum; thus, the Smith & Wesson Model 57 to life? The world may never know, but if there is someone in this world who likes .41 Magnum more than me it was definitely the old collector who told me that story.
As out of place the .41 Magnum round is in today’s world it is one of those uncommon cartridges you can find in gun shops with decent regularity. Couple the fact that you can still reload your own ammunition or hunt down cheap stuff at local gun shows like I occasionally do, and it is not terribly bad to obtain. This round might not be akin to 9mm where you want to shoot cases of it a year, but I could see where it has the nickname of the gentleman’s cartridge because it is suspiciously accurate, powerful, and pleasurable to shoot.
I have lobbed 200+ rounds of lead downrange with mine and have successfully taken it on a wild boar hunt. That was a one-shot, knockdown hunt while in comparison a few years later I tried a 10mm, and it took 3 well-placed rounds to down a wild boar as opposed to one. This revolver walks and talks like it should be a Model 586, but it steamrolls targets and critters just like Dirty Harry would want.
While coming across a cleaner, used revolver like this is becoming less common every day, you can always relive this vintage magic with a brand new reproduction from Smith & Wesson. They make this revolver in all of its old school glory as a part of their Smith & Wesson Classics series. The MSRP for a brand new one is currently set at $1,018.
My love of revolvers was not born from what revolver manufacturers are crafting today. Quite oppositely, it started from old dogs like this one. Learning their history, their use, and seeing how well things were made back then. I now have an appreciation of new and old, but weird stuff like this Model 57 is what gets me excited. What do you guys and gals in the reading audience think? Is this too far out in left field? Do you own a .41 Magnum yourself? Would you be willing to get one? Let us know all of your thoughts in the Comments below! We always appreciate your feedback.
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