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by a.k.a. Gary Last updated: 2009-08-16 13:35:08
Destined to fill the gap between the .357 and .44 Magnum cartridges, Elmer Keith, along with Doug Hellstrom of Smith & Wesson, Bill Jordan and a few others, spent much of 1963 developing the idea of a .41 caliber cartridge. Keith was sent the first two Model 57 .41 Magnum revolvers and thought enough of the new cartridge that shortly after its introduction, he carried the pair of four-inch 57ís with him to Alaska on a Polar bear hunt. To my knowledge he didnít use the new magnum on Polar bear but he did take three caribou with the sixguns Ė classics in the making.
The new ďClassicĒ is missing the long barrel from the lineup but this remains a no compromise sixgun. The "Classic", designated as a 57-6, is the sixth major revision of the gun, which was discontinued for all practical purposes in 1993 as the 57-4. The exception is the 57-5 produced in 2005 only in the Mountain Gun configuration. The Classic 57ís notable features include a drilled and tapped top-strap (carried over from the 57-4) and sleek diamond grips adding a classy and original touch to their retro style. I expected the grips to be similar to the wide target-style Model 29 grips I'm used to but they are slender and offer a pleasant shooting experience even with heavy hunting loads. The iron sights are standard Smith & Wesson adjustable in the rear and red insert front ramp. If there is one detriment to hunting with open sights, itís their visibility in low light and shooters will appreciate the red insert under challenging conditions. I found the single-action trigger pull a little heavy for my liking on a hunting revolver, measuring 4 lbs.-10oz., but it's smooth and that more than makes up for being a just little overweight for my tastes. The double-action (DA) pull is heavy at well over 8lbs. but you shouldn't choose to shoot in DA mode anyway barring a self-defense situation.
Spending time at the range with the 57 was challenging due to the current shortage of all handgun ammunition. Remington produced the first factory ammunition back in 1963 in the form of a 210 grain jacketed soft point and they still produce that loading today. Iíve had excellent results with the Remingtonís in other guns but it was not to be for this test. I was able to find some Winchester 240 grain Platinum Tip Hollow Points, a couple boxes of Federal Fusion 210ís and one box of Federal Premium Vital-Shok loaded with the 185 grain Barnes Expander projectile.
Shooting the 57 at the range quickly showed itís capable of excellent accuracy thatís more than adequate to take deer sized game with much less recoil than some of the other popular magnums. The .41 Magnum has a devoted following of knowledgeable shooters and I think one main reason it isnít more popular is because so few shooters have ever fired one. For those of you who rarely hunt anything larger than deer, hogs or black bear, the .41 Magnum is a top choice and itís a much better choice for your first hunting revolver than a larger round that could easily produce more recoil than you find enjoyable.
Hunting with a revolver is a fantastic challenge and I couldnít have been more excited to try out the new Smith & Wesson on a feral hog hunt at the Drop Tine Ranch in Pearsall, Texas. I talked with owner Frank Fackovec just a couple hours before leaving for the ranch and I found out the prime hog area was underwater. They had received three inches of rain only a couple hours earlier and I was worried the rain and high water would be a major problem with my limited time to hunt. Fortunately the water receded just as fast as it came up and by 7:00 PM the hog spot was again accessible. In addition to hunting feral hogs in this country, I have also hunted warthogs in Africa and there is something about hog hunting that gets in your blood regardless of their locale. I donít know if itís just their feisty attitudes I find entertaining or whether they stir some ancient ancestral hunting instinct but I find them addictively fun to pursue with a handgun. A friend in Africa once described warthogs as, ďsuch cheeky fellowsĒ; I canít think of a more accurate characterization for hogs regardless of where they hail from.
For this South Texas hunt I chose the Platinum Tip because they were the heaviest bullets I had and I knew from experience the Winchesterís wouldnít let me down if I did my part; I wasnít disappointed. Because hogs are frequently encountered in low light and the fact that many of them are black, making a correct sight picture even more difficult, I took advantage of the ease of mounting optics and attached a Leupold 2X EER handgun scope using a Warne base with quick-detachable rings.
A few minutes before dark a mature hog stepped out in the open area I was watching. Heavy shoulders indicated he was a shooter but as I switched to the mindset of the predator, he started to feed walking slowly straight away from me. Fortunately a doe popped out of the brush on the other side of the clearing and the boar turned to face her, silently communicating he had little intention of sharing the territory. Taking advantage of his belligerence I fired, and from his reaction I knew I made solid hit. The boar ran about 50 yards and piled up. My first Texas hog was, ďin the saltĒ as they say. The fat Winchester slug entered the shoulder about mid-way up and collected both lungs in the process. The bullet did not exit but was lodged in the inch and half thick gristle plate covering the boarís off-side shoulder and expanded to just over seven tenths of an inch, retaining 225 grains of the original 240.
The .41 Magnum remains a potent hunting round without punishing recoil and the Model 57 Classic will serve American hunters as well in the game fields today as it has over the past 45 years. The 57ís classic styling mimics the first guns Keith carried so many years ago and like the originals, the deep blued finish is a welcome addition to the Smith & Wesson line for those of us who appreciate good looking and good shooting sixguns.
Drop Tine Ranch
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