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Smith & Wesson Model 41 Review

by Frank W. James   |  October 28th, 2013 12

Conventional Pistol or “bullseye” shooting doesn’t get a lot of publicity these days, but back in the dark ages when I started, it was the only game in town. That’s no longer the case, but learning how to shoot an accurate handgun well with one hand remains an essential skill for any handgunner.

The Smith & Wesson Model 41 in .22 Long Rifle is a perfect example of the pistols designed to develop these skills and this test sample proved just what a classic design this pistol really is.

The Smith & Wesson Model 41 came out of a project in the late 1940s to develop an extremely accurate .22 cal. target pistol, but it wasn’t until 1957 the first production gun was introduced. The response at the time was overwhelming and S&W found they couldn’t produce enough guns to meet demand.

That first year of production they produced 679 examples and the first gun bore had serial number 1,401 with no prefix. The first pistols featured a 73⁄8-inch barrel and a muzzle brake, as was popular in the 1950s.

By the end of 1958 the factory had produced 9,875 Model 41 pistols and they still couldn’t satisfy demand. In 1959, Smith & Wesson introduced the lightweight 5-inch barrel version that duplicated the sight radius of a Model 1911.

I’ve had a Model 41 for several years and my personally owned example was manufactured in 1958 according to its serial number and it came with two barrels; the 73⁄8-inch iron-sighted version with the muzzle compensator and the short, lighter weight 5-inch model.

I had a red dot sight mounted on the 5-inch model years ago when I shot regularly in a winter indoor league. I had to have the barrel drilled and tapped to mount the battery powered red dot sight; that isn’t necessary with this newest version of the Model 41.

Why One Handed Target Shooting?
Today’s shooting community places very little importance on traditional one-handed pistol shooting, and I believe this is an error. Not only does formal one-handed, stationary target shooting develop skill (great skill if you become good at it), such endeavors also reinforce the fundamentals needed to properly shoot a handgun.

Shooting a pistol one-handed is difficult when compared to shooting a handgun in the Isosceles or Weaver stance, but it remains an essential skill. And if you can hit a target with one hand, think how much easier it will be to do it with two!

As for those who always have to have a handgun skill rooted to something in the “tactical” world, why assume you’ll get to use both hands and arms during a violent conflict? Even for the professional, there are often circumstances during a criminal or violent attack where the non-dominant hand is needed to protect an innocent bystander or family member, if not access an avenue of escape such as to open a door, remove an obstacle or start and drive a motor vehicle, all while engaging the threat one handed with the dominant hand.

Developing skill at one-hand shooting of a handgun does not detract from the skills needed when using both hands to stabilize and fire a defensive handgun. In fact, it can only add to those skills, so owning and practicing with a traditional small-caliber target pistol like the Smith & Wesson Model 41 can be beneficial even for the firearms martial artist.

The Physical Facts
The Smith & Wesson Model 41 is a typical blowback single-action semi-auto. The barrel is fixed, with the forward part of the slide running under it. Barrel length on the test pistol is 7 inches. The gun, empty, weighs 42 ounces.

The left side of the frame features two control levers: the forward tab is the slide release, as the slide will lock open after the last round has been fired. The manual safety is found at the left rear of the frame, and is moved up to place the pistol on safe. The safety lever is never used in competition, of course.

The grips are laminated hardwood with a prominent thumbrest on both sides and a checkered panel below each. The magazine release is a pushbutton located just aft of the junction where the trigger guard meets the frame on the left side.

The iron sights are what you would expect to find on a premium level, match grade target pistol. The front sight is an undercut Patridge blade front sight while the rear sight is a fully adjustable BoMar style with a large serrated, slightly backward-sloping rear blade.

The top of the barrel is serrated in a milled flat that runs the length of the upper surface from the back of the front sight to the rear. The top of the slide is also drilled and tapped to ease installation of optional optical sighting systems as indicated by the four screws near the middle and rear of the slide. (A feature I would have appreciated many years ago and one that many will appreciate today.)

One of the advantages of this premium grade design is the fact it is so easy to change barrels. Just pull the trigger guard down, release the barrel lock. Removal of both the barrel and slide is straightforward from that point on. Reassembly with the original or a substitute barrel assembly simply requires locating the slide and barrel in the proper location and closing the trigger guard.

Additional features of the sample Model 41 include an adjustable trigger stop. A hex wrench is provided with the pistol, Pulling the trigger guard down reveals a set screw that allows adjustment of the trigger travel.

Of course, any operator performing this adjustment should make sure the gun and chamber are empty and the magazine is removed from the pistol. Turning this adjustment screw counter-clockwise decreases trigger travel while turning the adjustment screw clockwise increases trigger travel.

Shooting The Model 41
It takes a far more skilled shooter than I am to discover the gun’s limits. Fortunately for our test purposes I had a hidden stash of good .22 target-grade ammo, because of the recent rush on ammunition has made it difficult to locate any.

My best group at 50 feet was achieved with CCI Green Tag, and it was 10 rounds that measured just 15⁄8 inches, which I thought was spectacular performance for me on a dimly lit indoor range.

With that success, I set a new target all the way to end of the indoor range at 25 yards. I was rewarded with a best group of 10 rounds that measured an even 2 inches. Five of those 10 were well within an inch at the lower portions of the 9- and 10-rings of the bullseye target. Again, the ammo was CCI Green Tag.

I also used Remington’s .22 Standard Velocity Target ammo in this test but I never achieved any performance close to these groups in terms of tightness. The same could be said for some older Federal Standard Velocity Target ammo I found stashed away in one of my hidden ammo cans.

The Remington Standard Velocity Target ammo averaged 994 fps out of the sample Model 41, while the Federal Target averaged 1071 fps. The CCI Green Tag had a consistently lower standard deviation during my chronograph testing and that may help explain why I was able to get my best groups with it. The CCI Green Tag ammo averaged 980 fps out of the test Model 41 pistol.

The only problems I encountered during all of my testing of the sample Model 41 involved three instances where the trigger failed to reset, and they all happened within the first 50 rounds of testing. I had to clear the pistol and cycle the slide to reset the trigger in each instance. What I think happened is the adjustment was just too tight for a brand new gun as the problem disappeared after the third instance and was never again experienced during the remainder of the 300 rounds I fired during testing.

Having owned and used a Model 41 of my own for more than two decades, I can’t say I’m unbiased as to the performance of this design. It is one I heartily endorse and the reason is for its performance. The design has changed slightly over the years. For one thing, the loaded chamber indicator found at the back of the slide on my personal pistol is not found on the test sample. It was a nice feature but not one that is absolutely required.

Accuracy performance, however, is the same if not improved and for those who still seek to improve and develop their one hand shooting skills it’s hard to beat the Smith & Wesson Model 41; especially so if you have the opportunity to work on those skills during a winter indoor league.

The Smith & Wesson Model 41 has a MSRP of $1,369 and is manufactured by Smith & Wesson, 2100 Roosevelt Ave., P.O Box 2208, Springfield, MA 01102-2208, tel: 1-800-331-0852, web:

  • Richard

    One of the most pleasant if not THE most pleasant .22lr pistol I ever shot ! Extremely well made and accurate too !

    • GringoEd

      Another option : send your Mod.41 to a custom pistolsmith and have the barrel machined from a Lilja or Douglas Premium BBL blank with a custom target chamber. Use with Eley EPS for outstanding thumbnail sized groups at 50 yards.

  • Repulsive Rogan

    I’ve owned 5 of these of the years and still have 2 left over from my Bullseye Match days. Back then the only serious competition was High Standard’s line of excellent pistols; Entry level shooters opted for a Ruger (not a bad choice). These M41s weren’t inexpensive back then but you could get 3 of them for the price of one today.

  • petru sova

    Do not fool yourself the newer guns have been cheapened. Junk MIM cast parts as well as a cheapened magazine that no longer has a detachable floor plate. Nothing these days escapes the design Engineers who are employed not to make guns more reliable or better but only to cheapen them for the blind greed of the stock holders. And just when you thought they could not make barrels any cheaper did you know that Smith barrels are now rifled with EDM machines, the rifling is burned into the barrel. No thanks Smith, keep your high priced junk.

    • Heretic2011

      I once put an EDM rifled barrel into a 1911 I was building. Bore was smooth as glass, and printed very nice groups.

  • Sequoyah

    I also have a couple M41’s and I have no complaint whatsoever. They’re reliable and accurate. I have however ventured away from the M41’s to Marvel .22 conversions for 1911’s. I’ve found the Marvel’s to be more accurate and nearly equal in weight with a standard 1911. When shooting bullseye IMO it’s important to build muscle memory with only one grip angle. In essence I can switch between my Marvel top-end and my wad-gun top-end so I only have to learn one lower, same trigger for both.

    • Ray

      41s and 1911 grip angles are the same.

  • mkspw

    These 41’s feel like they were built for your hand. Very good balance and trigger. Mine has had 1000’s of round thru it and still shoots perfect.

  • Wayne Hermit

    the sister pistol was the 2206 sst. I had bought one when my daughter was competing. I mounted an Aimpoint reddot on top of a weaver base plate. She and it were a deadly combination to a bullseye target. Don’t know why the stopped making it-seemed but only out for a few years. Uses the same mags. as a 41. Granted it wasn’t as adaptable as a 41 for bullseye but a sweet pistol.

  • Spyderman

    I bought a 41 about thirty years ago and still love the pistol. It is the most accurate semi-auto that I own. It was accurate right out of the box and is not finicky about the ammo it uses. The only change I made was to add a Herrett target stock. At over $1,300, it has gotten rather pricey (IIRC, I paid $300 or $400 for the new pistol). Glad I kept it.

  • LetMeGuessThis

    Never shot a S&W 41, but wonder how it compares to my 1973 Collt Targetsman. I imagine it is more muzzle-heavy than the Colt, which would be a plus.

  • 101nomad

    My first love was a .22. For $1369, that ain’t love. That is like finding a woman that hates you, and buying her a house.

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