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.41 Magnum; the long and short of it.

An "also-ran" for its entire 20-year life, the .41 Magnum may finally be getting a shot in the arm from the firearms industry. This is good news for shooters who have always felt that the .41 Magnum is an excellent cartridge that has been short-changed by the industry and the press. The good news comes in the form of two guns, a revolver and a rifle. The revolver is the Ruger Redhawk, a heavy, strong double action that I regard as one of the finest big-bore revolves ever developed. Ruger announced the .41 Magnum Redhawk in January, 1984, and it's beginning to gather fans. The rifle is the latest from Marlin, the venerable Model 1894 lever action. Introduction of the 1894 in .41 Magnum was undoubtedly prompted by the tremendous reception afforded this rifle in .44 Magnum and .$357 Magnum chamberings.

First, let's take a look at the .41 Magnum Redhawk. Of stainless steel construction, it's available with your choice of a 5-1/2 or 7-1/2-inch barrel in .41 Magnum. My test gun was the 5-1/2-inch model which weighs in at 3-1/2 pounds. It's factory-equipped with iron sights consisting of a 1/8-inch wide red insert ramped front blade and a rear unit adjustable for windage and elevation.

There's not much I can say about the Redhawk that I haven't said many times before. But for those of you who might have missed those past evaluations, let's take a quick look at the most important features of the Redhawk.

Many of its design features are unique and not the least of these is the use of a single horizontally-deployed mainspring to afford both hammer and trigger return power. The front of this mainspring attaches to the trigger link, while the rear nestles in a recess in the mainspring lever. When the hammer is cocked, either manually for single-action shooting, or, for double-action shooting, by simply pulling the trigger to cycle the hammer, the mainspring is compressed from both ends toward the middle. When the sear releases the hammer, the rear portion of the mainspring decompressed from both ends toward the middle. When the sear releases the hammer, the rear portion of the mainspring decompresses rearward, powering the hammer forward. Then, when finger pressure is released on the trigger, further decompression of the mainspring returns the trigger to its forward position.

While this is an excellent and innovative mainspring design, it can be a problem for the fastidious shooter because reducing the weight of both the single and double-action trigger pulls is very tricky. As in any double-action revolver, reducing the single-action pull weight is primarily a matter of reducing trigger return spring tension. On the Redhawk this means reducing mainspring tension and very careful work is required to avoid getting misfires as a result of too little mainspring tension. The best way to handle this trigger pull job on a Redhawk--the only way for anyone except a superb pistolsmith--is to replace the factory spring with a Bullseye mainspring. The Bullseye kit for the Redhawk contains three springs--light, medium and heavy. If installation of the light spring results in misfires, go to the medium spring. If you still get an occasional misfire, use the heavy spring.

The Redhawk locks up the cylinder both front and back. Up front a heavy, springloaded steel latch engages a recess milled in the frame. In the rear, a spring-loaded steel latch plunger engages a corresponding hole in the standing breech. Pushing the latch, located on the left rear of the frame behind the recoil shield, releases both locks simultaneously so the cylinder can be swung out to the left. To facilitiate this, the ejector rod assembly is located slightly below the cylinder's center line and does not rotate with the cylinder. The resultant mechanics of this system are complicated, but strong and reliable.

The Redhawk was specifically designed for the .44 MAgnum and no changes are made for .41 Magnum chambering except to bore the cylinder and barrel for the smaller-diameter cartridge. Naturally, this results in even more steel around each chamber in the cylinder. In my revolver, the walls between chambers measure .111 inch while the outside walls are .125-inch thick. With the cylinder latch cuts in the cylinder located off center of each chamber where they don't diminish wall thickness, we have a very heavy, strong cylinder.

For test purposes I decided to do no alterations on the Redhawk. I'd use it as it came from the box--factory grips and all. For trigger pull I was working with five pounds single action and 11-1/4 pounds double action. These pulls are too heavy for my liking, but there is no creep so the letoff is crisp and smooth.

Now to the Marlin Model 1894 lever-action rifle. The original Model 1894 was made for the .44-40 cartridge, but was reintroduced in 1969, somewhat redesigned, in .44 Magnum chambering. It has a bolt that's square in section and a full-length bolt slot in the right side of the receiver.

The barrel on the Model 1894 .41 Magnum is 20 inches long and is rifled with the famous Marlin Micro-Groove system. The theory behind the Micro-Groove design is different from that for standard rifling. Instead of two, four or six deep grooves and large lands, the Micro-Groove barrel has several shallow grooves and narrow lands. In the case of the Model 1894 .41 Magnum there are 12 grooves. In theory the small, shallow lands grip the bullet jacket gently, causing less deformation of the bullet, yet gripping it adequately for complete stabilization. It's claimed that better accuracy results from the Micro-Groove design. Whether or not this is true, I don't know. HoweveR, I've never heard of poor accuracy attributed to a rifle chambered for an inherently accurate cartridge and fit with a Marlin Micro-Groove barrel.

The Model 1894 has many features that endear it to a large number of lever-action afficionados. One is the receiver featuring side ejection, especially important in this day of scope sight popularity. The top of the receiver is solid and has four 6/48 holes tapped in it for mount attachment, allowing for low scope mounting. With side ejection, the mount and scope don't interfere with ejection.

The Model 1894 has a tubular magazine running full length under the barrel. Loading is through a port located on the front right side of the receiver. In .41 Magnum the magazine has a capacity of ten rounds. As with any tubular magazine rifle, the ammunition you use must have bullets with a flat nose that won't put pressure directly on the primer of the round ahead of it and possibly cause accidental firing of a round in the magazine.

There are four safeties on the Model 1894. One is the safety notch on the external hammer--easy to see and relatively easy to use. However, the safety notch alone isn't enough because the hammer must be lowered from full cock to the safety position manually. Should your thumb slip, the hammer could drop to hit the firing pin. Also, a hard blow to the hammer could break the notch on the hammer, or the sear, and cause accidential firing. As a backup, there's a trigger safety block located directly behind the trigger and under the lever. This spring-loaded pin protrudes from the bottom receiver tang and blocks rearward trigger movement until pushed up by the lever. To do this the shooter must squeeze the lever up against the tang. As a third and very positive safety, there's a crossbolt safety located in the receiver just forward of the hammer. When pushed to the right it blocks the hammer so it can't fall against the firing pin. Pushed to the left it frees the hammer to fall. And finally, Marlin uses a unique two-piece firing pin which is aligned only when the breech-block is fully closed.

Despite a short barrel and straight stock with no pistol grip, no recoil pad and no sling swivel studs, the Model 1894 .41 Magnum is no lightweight. Short and compact, yes, but there's a lot of steel in this design and the carbine tips the scale of 6-1/4 pounds as it comes from the box.

For sights, the Marlin Model 1894 .41 Magnum has a hooded gold bead up front and a semi-buckhorn rear sight adjustable for elevation; the rear leaf can be folded down if desired. Crude as these sights are, they're probably adequate for hunting use at close range in the brush. Since I was most interested in assessing the accuracy of this rifle, I decided to scope it. I was lucky enough to find a Weaver base for the rifle at my local gunshop and to this I clamped a Weaver K4-1 scope set in Weaver rings. This brought the weight of my 1894 up to 7-1/4 pounds.

As I see it, the only reason for having a lever-action carbine chambered for the .41 Magnum is so that you can have both a sidearm and a long gun to pack afield in which the same ammunition can be fired. When you think about it, this can be a very attractive combination, particularly for whitetail, boar and bear hunters who encounter shots at distances ranging from a few feet to 100 yards. I decided that in my load development work I would strive to find loads that would shoot well in both the Redhawk revolver and the Martin Model 1894 rifle.

To test loads, I decided to shoot my groups with the open-sighted Redhawk at 25 yards and those with the scoped 1894 at 50 yards. Then, when the best loads were arrived at, I'd test both guns at 25-yard intervals from 25 yards to 100 yards. All of my firing would be done from a benchrest to minimize shooter error.

Factory loads were to be my first test, but to my chagrin I found that the supply of .41 Magnum ammo at the local stores was worse than limited, it was almost non-existent. I bought the one and only box in town--Remington 210-grain jacketed soft points. A limited supply, no doubt, but the results were most encouraging. The factory ammo shot very well in both the Redhawk and the 1894, so well that I figured I was going to be hard put to find handloads to better this factory fodder.

And hard put I was. At first I found a lot of loads that would shoot well in either the Redhawk or the 1894, but not in both. I was determined, though, and a lot of work resulted int he loads shown in the accompanying table. These loads shoot well in both the revolver and the carbine, thus making the handgun/long gun combination as versatile as intended.

As you might expect, there are a number of problems encountered in devising loads that shoot well in both a 5-1/2-inch barreled revolver and a 20-inch barreled rifle. Not the least of these concerns chamber pressure. In a revolver, gas is escaping between the barrel-cylinder gap at the moment that the bullet is entering the rifling. In the closed breech Marlin 1894, all of the powder gas is being utilized to impart higher velocity to the bullet. But what is this doing to the chamber pressure? Is the pressure of a given load higher in the carbine than in the revolver? If so, and it stands to reason that it is, how much higher? Could the difference result in dangerous pressure in the closed breech? These are questions that can only be answered by labs with the facilities to measure pressure accurately.

Until we have the answers, handloaders must proceed with extreme caution in developing loads for such cartridges as the .41 Magnum for use in both a revolver and a rifle. I first encountered a problem while trying to develop a good hot hunting load with 2400 powder and the Hornady 210-grain jacketed hollow point bullet. Working up very carefully, I arrived at a powder charge of 20.0 grains of 2400 which pushed the 210-grain Hornady out the muzzle of the Redhawk at 1,345 fps. The accuracy of this load in the revolver was excellent, with five-shot groups at 25 yards running around 1.8 inches. Extraction was easy and the primers showed no signs of cratering or excessive flattening. Then I tried this load in the Marlin. Extraction was a little sticky, the primers were cratered and flat, and two of the first five cases completely separated in the chamber, breaking not at the web, but about halfway up the case. A close examination of the remaining three cases showed that they had all cracked.

I checked the headspace on the 1894 and found that while it was near maximum, it was not excessive. I then backed the load down one grain and while the primers were flat and slightly cratered in the rifle, the cases showed no signs of breakage and accuracy was greatly improved. Still not satisfied, I took five once-fired cases--from factory ammo fired in the Marlin 1894--and again tried the 20 grains of 2400 load. The result was terrible accuracy, one completely separated case and three cracked cases! That was all I needed to substantiate, in my mind at least, that a load that was obviously quite safe in my Redhawk was too hot for the lever-action rifle. A combination of pressure, maximum headspace and action flex under such pressure was breaking cases and I had a potentially dangerous situation. In view of this and other instances I encountered with near-maximum charges of other powders, I cannot stress too strongly the need for caution when you set out to develop .41 Magnum loads that can be used interchangeably in both a revolver and a rifle. Begin with the lowest powder charges shown in the reloading manuals and work up your loads very carefully.

Another problem I encountered was with powders that could be used in both guns. The fast-burning powders that hand-loaders often find so satisfactory for revolver loads--Unique, Blue Dot, HS6, HS7, Norma R-123--are not compatible with the rifle. Loads with these powders worked beautifully in my Redhawk, but in the rifle they produced poor accuracy, subpar velocities and occasionally, high pressure signs. I also found that slower H4227 was great in the Marlin, but unsatisfactory in the Redhawk.

Of the powders I tried, Hodgdon's H110 proved to be the best for use in both the Redhawk and the Mariln 1894; Winchester 296 ran it a close second. With these powders I was able to achieve acceptable accuracy and velocity from both guns without pressure problems in either.

Thef rifle definitely affords a velocity advantage over theshort-barreled revolver, anywhere from 25 to 35 percent higher depending on the particular bullet and charge of powder being used. This is a considerable increase and raises a question about bullet performance on game. Are the standard jacketed soft point and hollow point pistol bullets going to hang together when they hit a deer at 35 percent higher velocity than they were designed for, or will they go to pieces? While I had no opportunity to test these loads on game, I'm betting that bullet performance from both the revolver and the rifle will be satisfactory. For hunting everything from coyotes and cats through whitetail deer, I'd recommend that you use jacketed soft point and hollow point bullets. But for black bear and wild board, where you have to penetrate heavy boar, where you have to penetrate heavy bone or gristle plate to get deep penetration, I think the Sierra 220-grain Full Profile jacketed match bullet (this one used to be called simply the Silhouette bullet) will be best.

Where cast bullets are concerned, I ran up against a stone wall in the Marlin 1894. Admittedly, I didn't get into the testing of lead bullets in depth. In fact, when tests with two different cast bullets produced mediocre accuracy and bore leading in the Marlin, I quit immediately. The last thing I wanted to do was fight a lead removal problem in that Micro-Groove barrel. However, I'm certain that good .41 Magnum loads with cast bullets can be developed that will shoot satisfactorily in both revolvers and the Marlin 1894. I suspect a very hard bullet with a gas check will be required and special sizing may be necessary for use in the Micro-Groove barrel. Since I'm a fan of jacketed bullets for hunting, I'll leave the development of cast bullet loads that perform well in both the Redhawk and the Marlin 1894 to those individuals who love lead and don't object to toiling long hours over a hot lead pot.

The accuracy of a load to be used interchangeably in a revolver and a rifle is a matter of concern. As I see it, the handgun should be used for close-in work, say to a maximum of 50 yards or so, and the rifle put into action for those shots from 50 to 100 yards. Therefore, I concerned myself primarily with revolver accuracy at 25 and 50 yards and Marlin Model 1894 accuracy at 50 to 100 yards.

I must say that I was very pleased with the Redhawk. Nearly every load shown in the table will stay inside 2-1/2 inches at 25 yards and inside 4 inches at 50 yards. I can't hope to shoot any better than that with factory open sights. I checked a couple of my loads in the Redhawk at 25, 50, 75 and 100 yards, but to be frank, beyond 50 yards the results are suspect due to sighting error.

The Marlin Model 1894 .41 Magnum was acceptably accurate, but nothing to rave about. At 100 yards, most of the loads shown will hold in close to six inches although a couple wouldn't do this well. With a carefully prepared load I feel safe in saying you can expect five to six-inch groups from the Marlin. Before you start screaming that this isn't good enough for a rifle, think about this. The loads are designed for both a revolver and a rifle and the bullets being used are pistol bullets--short, fat and with a lot of lead exposed at the nose. Neither of these things is conducive to wringing optimum accuracy from the rifle. Whether or not you like what I get for accuracy from the Redhawk and Marlin 1894 .41 Magnum guns, it's good enough to keep the shots well inside the vital chest area of a deer at reasonable range and that's what counts.

Will the sales of the Ruger Redhawk and Marlin Model 1894 in .41 Magnum chambering be good enough to justify continued production of the guns for this cartridge? I don't know, but I hardly think the matter depends on the mechanical reliability or inherent accuracy of the guns themselves. Both are more than adequate for the purposes intended. Their success or failure depends almost entirely on future acceptance of the .41 Magnum cartridge by the shooting public. If enough shooters feel as I do that the .41 Magnum is an excellent cartridge--possibly the best of the big three for all around use--then the .41 Magnum Redhawk and .41 Magnum Marlin 1894 have bright futures.
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Title Annotation:evaluation; long Marlin gun and short Ruger gun
Author:Milek, Bob
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Date:Feb 1, 1985
Previous Article:Bore capacity & expansion ratio.
Next Article:Spencer Repeating Firearms.

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