Makin’ Pork, Powermag Style


Staff member
Early 1960s were a time of great change for the shooting world – slower powders were becoming available for both rifle shooters and pistol shooters, shooters were getting obsessed with higher and higher velocities, wildcat cartridges were getting very popular, and handgun hunting was becoming a thing, getting written about, and becoming popular.

Herter’s was a popular mail-order company that sold everything the outdoorsman could possibly want – hunting, fishing, snow-shoeing, fly tying, bow-hunting, handloading, bullet-casting, decoy carving, they sold it all. Their catalogs were nirvana for a little boy who had grandiose dreams of outdoor adventures in exotic lands!

In the early 1960s, Elmer Keith and Bill Jordan were asking the shooting industry for a new revolver cartridge, specifically for law enforcement applications – a .40-.41 caliber round capable of driving 180-200 grain bullets about 1100 fps -- something more powerful than the .357 Magnum, but without the stiff recoil and slow recovery of the full-throttle .44 Magnum. What the shooting industry delivered in 1964 was the .41 Magnum, with a 210-220 grain bullet at 1400-1500 fps (they would also provided a swaged 170 grain lead bullet load at reduced velocity, but this load is reputed to have leaded badly and was never popular).

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Meanwhile, in 1961, Herters had quietly introduced its own cartridge, the Herter’s .401 Powermag, a .40 caliber rimmed case 1.275” long, loaded to magnum pressures. Herters also sold single-action revolvers (made by J. P. Sauer and Sohn) chambered for the round, and claimed to have a DA revolver in the works. Brass was made by Norma, and loading dies were available. .40 caliber bullet moulds for the .38-40 (and others) could be used. Herters (as they tended to do with much of their merchandise) made a number of over the top, outlandish claims about the performance of the .401 Powermag in the field (it will shoot through the engine block of a car, kill any animal.....” blah, blah, blah...).

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The .401 Powermag didn’t sell well, and the 1968 Gun Control Act was hard on Herters since it limited mail order sales of firearms. The .401 slowly faded from view, and eventually Herters did too.

These guns are occasionally encountered on the used market today. I picked one up on a lark 15+ years ago, and was fortunate to be able to find several boxes of factory brass shortly thereafter (cases can also be made by swaging down .41 Magnum brass). I was able to find a set of CH4D dies as well, but quickly learned that carbide .40 S&W/10mm dies work just fine. I worked with a lot of different bullet moulds, ranging from 165 grains to 270 grains, and was able to get good accuracy from them all. This revolver had some serious potential as a hunting gun! Loads got worked up, ammo got loaded, and the gun got taken on a few hunting trips, but as things worked out, I never got a shot opportunity when I had the .401 Powermag in my hands.

I had a mould made up by Dan Lynch at Mountain Molds (now retired) for a Keith-style 200+ grain SWC. I sent it over to Erik Ohlen at and had him convert it using his excellent inset bar design. It now drops excellent 197 grain SWC-HPs that shoot very well at 1400 fps out of this revolver.

My buddies and I had a hog hunt scheduled for spring 2019, but something came up and it got pushed back to the summer. Something else came up that summer and it got re-scheduled for early spring 2020. Then my wife got diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and had major abdominal surgery, so the hunt got re-scheduled for summer 2020. Then I tested positive for covid and had to quarantine, and with the covid-19 shutdown, the earliest date we could find that would work for everybody was July 2021. July is not my favorite time to hunt hogs due to the heat, but the ranch does have a sizable chiller and can get the meat properly cooled down.

Bob and I met the night before and did some catching up. John met us out at the ranch bright and early the next morning, and we hit the hills with Jake as soon as possible so we could hunt before things got hot (100+F) and the hogs headed for the shade of heavy cover and bedded down for the day. Bob and I were both looking for meat hogs in the 150-200 lb range, and John was looking for a 4-horned ram.

Things were pretty dry, so Jake took us well up into the hills to a spring he knew about that was shaded by some trees and brush, and sure enough, there was a group of 4 hogs there, all in the size range Bob and I were looking for. We sat back and watched them for a while, then Bob and I each picked on one out. I worked my way in to about 30 yards and stopped. I wasn’t getting a good shot presentation because they were all clustered together, rooting and rolling about in the mud. After a minute or two, the rusty red-orange boar I had picked out separated from the group, but was looking straight away from me. Not wanting to take a Texas heart-shot on a boar hog with a revolver loaded with a cast HP, I held off. He mixed back in to the group. On hold once again, but then he circled around and stepped free from the group and gave me a clear broadside shot at his right side. The black-on-black sights of the revolver made for a stark sight picture against his red-orange hair, and the 197 grain cast HP went in just behind his right shoulder, about 5-6" up from the bottom of his chest. He squealed and reared up slightly, then staggered back about 20 feet into the mud pit and collapsed, bleeding heavily through the nose and the exit wound. As the other 3 hogs milled about after my shot, Bob got a clear shot presentation at his boar, and shot him in the head with his .250 Savage (Bob likes head shots). My pig continued to struggle somewhat as he lay in the mud, so a .38 coup de gras behind the ear was applied.

We pulled the hogs out of the mud, took some pictures, got them loaded up, and happily went off in search of John’s 4-horned ram.

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We found him in the big pasture up on top, along with 4 bison, grazing up by the big catch basin. John watched him from about 200 yards off through binocs for a while, before deciding that his unusual horn configuration was what he was looking for. Bob and I hung back, while John and Jake moved in closer. At about 100 yards, Jake set up the shooting sticks and John lined up the shot with his .308. The ram was not cooperating in terms of shot presentations, so John had to stand down a couple of times. Finally, the ram started grazing away from us, uphill, quartering away, and John made an excellent raking shot, with the 180 Partition entering the middle of the right ribcage, and exiting the middle of the left side of the neck. The ram collapsed in his tracks. Once again, pictures were taken, then we got him loaded up, and headed down to the skinning shed. The steaks and stories were good that night.

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In the skinning shed, I learned that the 197 grain cast HP had expanded well, ripping a 50-cent piece sized hole in the right (entry) side ribcage of my hog. It tore a 3/4" path through the center of both lungs, just missing the heart (which was peppered with small bone fragments), and leaving a 3" path of bloodshot tissue through both lungs. There was a nickel-sized exit in the left ribcage and hide.

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The next morning we got the chilled meat loaded up into the coolers before the day started to heat up, and then started the long drive home. It was a short, fast hunt, but it was really good to spend time with good friends and good guns in the hills.
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