Around the turn of the millenium I encountered a most curious creature at my local gun shop; a compact, 5-shot stainless revolver chambered in .41 Magnum. I’m a sucker for a big-bore snubby, and it’s not overstating things to say it was lust at first sight. This was the Taurus Model 415, and I wanted it bad. I did not get it. Finances were tight, the ammo was bloody expensive and… well life and all that.
Flash-forward to early 2020. I walked into McCallen Defense and there, in the case, was a pristine Model 415 at a rather stunningly good price. This was even more stunning when Chris informed me that the gun came with ammunition, new brass and carbide reloading dies! A short ‘shut up and take my money’ later it was all over but waiting for the background check.
I picked up the gun today. Since it came with ammo and Champion Arms indoor range is on the premises, I decided that a little ‘getting acquainted’ session was in order.
.41 Magnum is, to all but hardcore wheelgun fans, a somewhat obscure cartridge these days, so perhaps a bit of history is in order. In the early 1960s several of the big names in handgun circles, namely Elmer Kieth and Bill Jordan, felt that a better police cartridge was needed. Hollow points were not readily available or in use at the time, and they felt that .357 Magnum was not as effective as a service cartridge should be, but that .44 Magnums were large and heavy, and the cartridge was a bit much for the average cop. Mind you, I have not uncovered much in the way of confirmation of their belief that .357 magnum was in any way insufficient , but that’s not really relevant.
These gentlemen, reportedly with some assistance from the renowned gun-detonator Skeeter Skelton, approached Remington with the idea of a .41 caliber cartridge, which could have a ‘mild’ law enforcement load that would propel a 200gr. LSWC at 900 fps., or a more powerful load pushing a 210gr. bullet around 1400 fps.
Remington, perhaps a bit magnum-happy at the time, produced the cartridge, but with a significantly more powerful ‘police’ load. S&W came on board, but rather than the intermediate sized weapon the boys had envisioned, simply chambered their N-frame revolver in the new cartridge. It was a perfect storm of bad implementation of a worthy idea; a cartridge with excessive recoil compare to .38 Special and .357 magnum revolvers but lacking the power of a .44 Magnum, chambered in a gun that was actually slightly heavier than a .44 magnum built on the same frame.
A few agencies adopted this new cartridge, but overall the reception was lukewarm. If Ruger hadn’t promptly chambered their popular Blackhawk revolver in this cartridge and introduced it to sportsmen, the .41 Magnum might have become just another footnote in firearms history. Thompson Center added it to their line of Contender barrels, handloaders explored and expanded the round’s potential. The cartridge was quite capable of taking any North American game, and some favored it because of it’s lighter recoil and flatter trajectory compared to .44 Magnum.
As a result the cartridge has survived, though it has never attained anything resembling the popularity of either .357 or .44 Magnum. As of this writing Smith & Wesson, Charter Arms, and Taurus all offer revolvers in .41 Magnum.
Enter the Taurus Model 415. Produced from 1999-2003, it features a drop-forged stainless-steel frame, a 2-1/2″ barrel with a full under-lug and six circular ports in the barrel, flanking the front sight, to assist in managing the gun’s not insubstantial recoil. It is fitted with a Taurus Gripper neoprene grip, which looks a bit odd but is secure and comfortable in the hand, and also helps the shooter to cope with recoil. The gun weighs 30.4 ounces according to my scale, and while Taurus made a Titanium-framed version for masochists, you really wouldn’t want it much lighter than it is. In size it’s a bit larger than a S&W K-frame, but not so much so that it doesn’t fit in my K-frame holster.
The stainless gun is a ‘frosted’ matte silver color, and the fit and finish is very good. The fixed sights are clear and sharp, but the front sight might benefit from a colored surface; I’ll attend to that presently. The double-action trigger is not heavy, quite smooth but not exceptional. The single action has a tiny bit of creep, but I didn’t even notice it until I really looked for it.
The ammunition that came with the gun was Winchester’s 175gr. Silver-tip hollow-point. If my math is close it should be leaving this short barrel in the neighborhood of 900fps., yielding about 315 ft.lbs. of energy. More on that later.
So what’s it like to shoot a short-barreled, medium-frame .41 Magnum? Well, with this ammo it’s a lot like shooting a short-barreled, medium frame .357 Magnum. OK, I won’t kid you; it’s a hoot. There is a definite rush, for me at least. The jets of flame shooting up next to the sight were quite visible in the indoor range and a bit disconcerting on the first shot, but after that I ignored them. Recoil is substantial, but if you are used to shooting powerful revolvers it’s quite manageable. The neoprene Gripper grips do a good job of keeping things from becoming uncomfortable.
Let’s talk about that recoil for a moment, and the ported barrel. Ports do not reduce recoil. If you propel a bullet of x-weight at y-velocity it produces z-recoil, and ports do not change that. What ports do do is to bring the muzzle back on target faster, and on this gun that seemed to work well. I shot a couple cylinders at a brisk pace, then did a full-on rapid-fire string. It was slightly brutal, and while there was no timer in use I think I put five rounds of 41 Magnum on target in roughly the time it takes me to put six .38 Specials downrange.
The gun shoots a little high and right for me, but that could be me as easily as the gun. We’ll see what happens with more practice. I did run a target out to 25 yards, and careful double action shooting produced… well, let us draw the curtains of charity over the group that resulted, and hope that will improve with practice. I’m really pretty sure it was me, not the gun. It usually is…
Make no mistake, this is not a gun for everyone, but it is a gun for me. I only had a few cylinders full to shoot today, but I had an absolute, uh… blast.
When I try to be a sensible adult and apply my years of study and experience, big bore snubbies really don’t make a lot of sense. Oh, I totally adore them, don’t get me wrong. For a companion gun when tromping our local wilderness it arguably has a place; with the right load it will handle anything of the four-legged variety that I am likely to run into, and it’s compact packaging and double-action are an argument in it’s favor in that role.
How about as an EDC? OK, let’s look at that. My 3″ K-frame .38 has a loaded weight that is just shy of two pounds, the Taurus has a loaded weight about 2 ounces heavier. Not much to choose between them there. The Taurus’s grip is noticeably larger, but not too big to accommodate, particularly at this time of year when I normally wear a coat.
The 415 is a fair bit more powerful; the .38 +P HST Micros in my .38 make about 204 ft./lbs. compared to the 315 ft./lbs from the .41. But I am a disciple of The Holy Church of Hit Location, and am unconvinced that five rounds of .41 Magnum will serve me better than six rounds of .38 Special. OK, it’s not that likely they’ll serve me worse, either, but that isn’t an argument for switching.
There is one argument, though- if I am going to use this gun as a sidearm for wilderness excursions I want to be as familiar and comfortable with it as possible. Besides, it already fits my holster… Five-Star Firearms makes an excellent billet-aluminum speed loader for this gun, and as I write this there are two on order, so when those arrive and I’ve had a bit of practice with them I’ll start packing this gun.
When you want something for a long time and finally get it, there’s always a little fear that it will not be all you had hoped. In this case it is, and I’m delighted that I was able to finally pick one up.
This could be the start of a beautiful friendship…
Michael Tinker Pearce, 15 February, 2020
ADDENDA: OK, as Jim Downey has pointed out, my math is NOT correct. I suffered a rush of excrement to the brain and failed to take the length of the cylinder into account as part of the ‘barrel’ for test purposes. Oops.
The revised energy figures are complicated by the muzzle-gap and porting, but my energy figures for both the .41 Magnum Silvertip and the .38 +P HST Micro are about 30-35% low, meaning the Silvertips are likely closer to 400 ft./lbs and the HST is getting more like 275 ft./lbs. I’ll need to chronograph these loads to produce a more exact figure.
Good catch, Jim, and thank you!
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