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IHMSA News Feature Article
Published in The IHMSA News, the Official Publication of The International Handgun Metallic Silhouette Association
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Dan Wesson 414 Supermag

  By Todd Spotti Load data
     The 414 was the last of the Super Mag series to be developed by IHMSA's late founder Elgin Gates - the others being the 357, and 445 SuperMags. The basic idea behind the SuperMag series was simple.  It strived to offer performance that was superior to every magnum revolver cartridge of a given diameter in existence at that time. This was achieved by lengthening the cases to both increase powder capacity and boost operating pressures.

     The first 357 SuperMag and a newly designed Dan Wesson revolver were introduced in 1983 and  came to enjoy an immense popularity among silhouette shooters for at least 10 years. It was THE cartridge to use in the revolver category and was, and still is very popular with many Contender users. It offered higher velocities and flatter trajectories with heavy 357 bullets. This, the smallest SuperMag, was designed to operate at pressure levels never seen before in a revolver cartridge. In fact, pressures were identical to those found in rifle cartridges such as the 30-06. With some loads it delivers the same momentum at 200 meters as the standard 41 Mag and comes close to matching those of the 44 Mag. It definitely broke new ground.  

Todd Spotti with 5 shot, 200 meter group shot with Dan Wesson .414 SuperMag

     It literally turned the shooting press on its head. One well known gun writer said it was "too much too soon" and proceeded to raise fears that the high pressure gases exiting the chambers before the forcing cone would cut through the top strap and weaken the gun to the point that a serious safety problem would be created. It was a phony issue of course but it sowed the seeds of doubt that prevented the cartridge from becoming a major player in the general marketplace.

     Another popular writer didn't understand that the 357 SuperMag was designed for 180 and 200 grain bullets, and criticized the cartridge because it was blowing off the thin jackets on the 110 and125 grain slugs he was loading in it. However, silhouette shooters and real handgun hunters knew how to use the new cartridge and so embraced it.

     The follow-on 445 SuperMag was at first hobbled by the fact that brass wasn't readily available. Cases had to be laborious made from 30-40 Krag brass. Even when commercial brass was finally made available from Starline, many silhouette shooters found the recoil and muzzle blast to be fairly objectionable. Never the less, the 445 has retained a small but fiercely loyal group of advocates that feel that the cartridge can be properly loaded to comfortably shoot silhouettes or pumped up to rival or even surpass the 454 when handgun hunting.

     The last of the series, the 414, never really had a chance to get off the ground. Learning a lesson from their 445 experience, the Gates family arranged for Starline to produce a large run of 414 brass right from the very start. Like the other SuperMags, the old Dan Wesson company would manufacture the new gun. Approximately 25 guns were produced when the company unfortunately went bankrupt and suddenly closed its doors leaving the 414 in limbo and the Gates family sitting on a large amount of brass with no gun to use for which to use it.

     Those 25 guns have evidently become collector pieces. Even to this day, I get around one call a month from people asking me if I know where they can find a 414 Dan Wesson revolver. Well now I can say yes. You can buy them from the new Dan Wesson company where they are in regular production.

     A couple of months ago, I arranged to get a 414 test gun from the new Dan Wesson. When it came, I could immediately see that this indeed was a new generation product. Fit, finish, and general workmanship were absolutely superb. Now, many people immediately ask me if the new DW guns are as good as Freedom Arm's revolvers. The honest answer is no, but on the other hand they aren't that far off either, and they don't cost as much.

     My 414 is one of the new SRS-1 models. SRS stands for Super Ram Silhouette. It's DW's top of the line model and is optimized for silhouette shooting. The gun can be had in both stainless steel and in blue. I was provided with the stainless.

     The SRS features an under cut partridge front sight covered with a very handsome slab-sided hood. The letters "SRS-1" are engraved on the left side of the hood. The hood is dovetailed on to the barrel shroud's top rib and is secured with a screw that is accessible through a hole in the top. The partridge front sight can also be removed by loosening a small set screw located on the front of the shroud.  A variety of other heights and styles of front sights are available from DW and it is an easy matter to replace one with another.

     The SRS rear sight is a Bomar with 18 clicks per revolution. As you would expect, the Bomar clicks were both very crisp and positive.  Even though the gun was equipped with an eight inch barrel (necessary to meet IHMSA weight limits) the sight radius between the front and rear units was 10 inches. This actually exceeds the sight radius of a 10" Contender barrel by at least an inch or more. The Bomar sight is standard on the SRS and is available as an option on other DW models.

     Let me say a few words about Dan Wesson's unique removable barrel/shroud combination. For those not familiar with this system, it features a barrel that easily screws into the frame and then is covered by a heavy steel shroud that is then secured by a screw-on nut at the muzzle end of the barrel.

     This system has three major advantages. The first is that is allows you to easily adjust the barrel cylinder gap. When I first received the gun, it had a standard factory .006" gap. I immediately adjusted it down to approximately .001". By reducing the barrel cylinder gap, I reduced the amount of propellant gases being lost through the gap, and therefore increased efficiency and velocity.

     By the way, the DW's cylinder was so perfectly aligned with the barrel, that even with this tiny barrel/cylinder separation, there was no interference problem at all. On most other brands of revolvers, the face of the cylinder will wobble front to rear and from side to side when the cylinder is rotated. This then requires a larger, energy robbing barrel cylinder gap to insure that the face of the cylinder doesn't bind against the rear of the barrel. Not a problem with the DW.

     I should also mention that the cylinder lock up is the tightest of any double action revolver that I have come across. The cylinder is secured three ways. First, by the beefy front cylinder latch. Many double action revolvers have their locking latches in the rear which does nothing to secure the front of the cylinder (the part that needs the most support). It's also secured with a bolt whose dimensions precisely match those of the cylinder notches to ensure an exact fit. Additionally, the dimensions of the bolt and the bolt window in the bottom of the frame are closely matched to insure there is no side to side movement. Lastly, the cylinder is also held in place by the mechanical hand that rotates the cylinder.

     To check cylinder lock up, just pull back the hammer on an empty revolver and pull the trigger without letting the hammer fall. Then with your other hand, try to rotate the cylinder. Most revolver cylinders will have noticeable side to side movement when this test is performed. When this occurs, it means that a cylinder's chambers aren't going to be perfectly aligned with the barrel's forcing cone. Consequently, the bullet won't enter the barrel dead on, but rather from one side or the other and accuracy will be reduced. The 414's cylinder had only the most imperceptible degree of movement. It was almost totally unnoticeable. This is quite an achievement for a double action revolver since the basic design of this type of gun precludes the total elimination of cylinder movement.

     The second advantage of the DW barrel system is that you can easily replace the barrel if it gets worn out. Barrels do wear out and need replacing from time to time - yes, even on revolvers. You could even say especially on revolvers since the breech end of a revolver barrel suffers significantly more abuse than barrels on closed breech firearms. On other revolvers, replacing a barrel is an expensive, complex job that has to be accomplished at the factory. With the DW, it's a five minute at home job.

     On my particular gun, the original barrel was an optional laser treated type that had a 1:18.75 twist, which is the industry standard for the 41 Mag. Accuracy was good but I felt it could be better, especially with heavy bullets. I recommended that DW use a 1:14 twist instead. They agreed and in time sent me a new barrel. It was then an easy matter to mount the new tube. Accuracy did improve, and the 1:14 is now the standard twist for the 414.

     The 3rd advantage of the DW barrel/shroud system is that it improves accuracy. When the barrel nut is tightened at the muzzle, it pulls the barrel forward, away from the frame. The barrel is now under tremendous tension. Because the barrel is in this state of very significant torque-like tension, it's unable to whip and vibrate to the same degree as it would otherwise when the gun is fired. Less barrel vibration equals increased accuracy.

     Another element of this system is extremely important but tends to be overlooked i.e. the barrel is secured at both it's ends versus just one end as is the case with all other revolvers. To appreciate this system, just take a yardstick and imagine that it's a gun barrel. Now hold it at one end and whip it up and down. This illustrates how a gun barrel vibrates when it's fired. Pretty easy to do isn't it?

     Now hold the yardstick at both ends and try it. It's almost impossible to make it move isn't it? Now, while still holding it on both sides, pull the ends apart as hard as you can and try to whip it up and down. Can't do it, can you? This barrel system gives the DW a tremendous mechanical advantage. In fact, a recent article in "Precision Shooting" magazine discussed this same technique with a rifle. Groups improved significantly when the rifle's barrel was put under tension.

     The barrel shroud is characterized by its very distinctive integrated ventilated top rib and its five, two inch cutaway slots (two on each side and one on the underside), which help bring down the DW's weight to help it meet IHMSA weight requirements. The right side of the shroud is laser engraved with the gun's chambering and a very handsome reproduction of Mr. Dan Wesson's signature inside a crown of laurel leaves, along with the words "Final Issue", and the serial number of the gun. The serial number is also engraved on the frame.

     I also obtained an additional shroud that was drilled and tapped to accept a Burris scope mount. Drilling and tapping of the shroud is a cataloged factory option. This allowed me to mount a set of Burris's innovative Posi-Align scope rings and the new Burris 4X12 pistol scope (a superlative product) on the gun in order to do the accuracy evaluation for this report and also perhaps later in the year to do a little handgun hunting. I should add that the Burris scope performed like a champion and stood up to some fairly brutal loads without a hint of any problems.

     My gun also came with an un-fluted cylinder (factory option) which really gave the gun a very handsome appearance. However, if you should order this option, be very careful about the gun's weight. This gun came in under the weight limit by only a fraction of an ounce. You don't want any surprises when your gun gets weighed at an important match. A fluted cylinder might be a safer option in this cambering.

     While I'm not a huge fan of rubber grips, I have to admit I liked the DW's Hogue grips. They weren't soft and squishy the way some other brands are. Rather they were nice and firm. They also had kind of a pebbled surface that helped me to maintain a firm grip on the gun even when my hands were sweaty. The grip angle also help mitigate the considerable recoil that the 414 is capable of generating. If you don't like rubber grips, no problem. DW has several other styles made from different materials that you can choose from as factory options.

     A major consideration in shooting the 414 is the availability of brass. As I mentioned earlier, the Gates family bought 100K pieces from Starline when the cartridge was first introduced. Portions of that original 100K order have been floating around here and there over the years. The Gates family still has the lion's share. However, the DW factory also has brass and I understand that Starline intends to purchase some of the original brass back from the Gates family. So brass is available. DW is also making arrangements for another run of 414 brass that will ensure that the brass will become even more accessible.

     Like all SuperMag cases, 414 brass is 1.6" in length as opposed to the 41 Mag 1.29". I found the Starline brass to be exceptionally strong with extremely thick case walls - no doubt to handle the extra high pressures that the 414 is capable of generating. In doing a quick check, I found that the 414's case capacity is a full 16% greater than the mighty 44 Mag, never mind the 41 Mag. This extra capacity gives the reloader a couple of options. You can either substantially increase the powder charge and subsequently the velocities, or you can use heavier/longer bullets. It's nice to have choices.

     For bullet selection, all the major manufacturers offer jacketed slugs except Speer, who unfortunately only offers half jacketed bullets which are ok for short range hunting or self defense but not for long range silhouette. Sierra has the best selection, having bullets in 170, 210, and 220 grains, with the 220 being a heavily constructed silhouette style. Hornady has a 210 grain bullet in both XTP and silhouette configurations and Nosler offers a beautiful 210 grain hollow point.

     Unfortunately, there's not really a very robust selection of 41 caliber bullet molds available if you like to cook up your own lead. Redding/SAECO has the best selection with seven very good mold designs available that range in weight from 170 to 220 grains. This includes a 220 grain gas check design. By the way, Lyman is the only current manufacturer of 41 caliber gas checks.

     If it's extra heavy 41 lead slugs that interest you, visit the NEI web site to look at their selection. They offer a very nice 260 grain gas check design by Marty Flack. You can also buy the same bullet already cast, gas checked, and lubed at LeadHead bullets. They sell it as a 265 gainer. I tried the LeadHead bullet for this report and it worked out just fine.

     As I mentioned in a previous article, Dan Wesson has also developed three heavy weight jacketed bullets in 41 caliber - a 240 grain, a 265 grain, and a 300 grain. The 210 grain bullet, which is the one most commonly found in the 41 Mag, was originally conceived for self defense applications and it works very well for that purpose. However, Dan Wesson is giving us more reloading flexibility by offering us even heavier bullets with which we can take full advantage of the 414's longer case.

     I was fortunate to have an opportunity to make a few suggestions in regards to the design of these new bullets concerning the length of the jackets, the placement and depth of the cannelures, and the hardness of the lead which were subsequently adopted. As of this writing the 240 grain and the 265 bullets have completed their development and the testing process. The 300 is almost finished. 414 performance with these new bullets in nothing short of fantastic. The 265 in particular shows particular promise. Accuracy is superb and its performance in ballistic gel is devastating. All three of the new slugs should be in regular production and for sale from Dan Wesson in September or October either as components or as loaded ammunition.

     For dies, I used both RCBS carbide and Hornady titanium nitride 41 Mag dies. The sizer dies worked normally, but I had to screw the expander and seating dies way out so they would work properly with the extra long 414 cases. This was no problem however, and both sets worked well. I understand that the Gates family has Redding dies that were made specifically for the 414.

     Reloading for the 414 was a standard affair as far as the mechanics were concerned. Just be sure that you use a heavy crimp on the bullets to insure they don't move forward during recoil. For extra insurance in this area, I always recommend using the Redding profile crimping die which provides a combination of both a taper and roll crimp for maximum holding power.

     As I got into researching loads for the 414, I quickly found that there was very little to no data available. Sierra has some limited data that was published in a previous version of their reloading manual. You can get the info by calling their tech support 800 number. However, I would literally be starting from almost scratch in developing loads for this report.

     For powder selection I started off with H4227, basically because it's a very good performer in the 357 SuperMag. I then tried out H110, H108, and WW296. I even dabbled with AA5744 and found it to be very good with the heavy cast bullet from LeadHead.

     I also experimented with one of Hodgdon's newer powders, Lil Gun. This is a powder that was specifically formulated for use with the 410 shotgun, which is also a 41 caliber firearm. (Interesting coincidence) Like many shotgun powders, Lil Gun also has magnum pistol applications as well. I found this powder to be an excellent choice for the 414.

     One note of caution, always be sure to use rifle primers with this cartridge. They're needed to properly ignite the relatively large amounts of powder we're using in this cartridge and as a safety factor because of the increased pressures.

     As I got into the evaluation, I found 1500 fps with a 210 grain bullet could routinely be achieved with the 414. This seems to be the normal velocity regime for the SuperMag series. This is sizzling performance for this weight bullet, no doubt about it. Additional velocity was easily possible but probably unnecessary for silhouettes. It was kind of fun shooting the 1600 fps loads but I don't know if I'd want to shoot 40 of them. 1700 fps with 170 grain bullets is also possible. As Shaft would say "Can you dig it?"

     As you might imagine, recoil was fairly stout with these full bore loads but it wasn't anything that an experienced silhouette shooter couldn't handle. The novice however would be well advised to start off with one of the milder loads listed in the table below. Even with the lighter loads, one need not be concerned about the rams failing to fall. Every load listed will do the job quite well.

     In summary, I found the DW to be an extremely high quality gun, far surpassing the quality of previous Dan Wesson products produced by other companies. Simply put, it's the best made double action revolver on the planet Earth. This is just one of those guns that when you buy it, you keep it for life. The massive strength and still innovate design of the DW easily accommodated the very powerful 414 SuperMag cartridge without hesitation. This cartridge is significantly more powerful than the 44 Mag and definitely flatter shooting. This is a happy combination of gun and cartridge that will not only flatten steel with overwhelming authority, but will also allow the revolver hunter to harvest game at greater distances without any fear of running out of performance. That's a heck of a combination.

Good luck and good shooting, Todd

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* These loads are the results of my testing and I accept no liability for the use of this data by others, Todd. < Read Warning below. >


*Loads used in testing the Dan Wesson .414

< All Groups Fired At 100 Meters >

 Powder Bullet Primer Velocity S.D. Group
27.8 Gr. 296 210 Gr. Sierra Winchester 1444 fps 44 2.0"  
27.0 Gr. 296 210 Gr. Sierra Winchester 1503 fps 38 1.25"  
26.5 Gr. H108 210 Gr. Hornady Silh Winchester 1607 fps 30 1.5"  
25.8 Gr. H108 210 Gr. Hornady Silh Winchester 1448 fps 54 1.89"  
24.5 Gr. 5744 210 Gr. Hornady Silh Winchester 1237 fps 28 2.2"  
27.5 Gr. H4227 210 Gr. Hornady Silh Winchester 1465 fps 25  1.75"  
27.0 Gr. H4227 210 Gr. Hornady Silh Winchester 1533 fps 14 1.70"  
26.5 Gr. LilGun 210 Gr. Hornady Silh Winchester 1650 fps 18 1.29"  
24.3 Gr. LilGun 210 Gr. Hornady Silh Winchester 1536 fps 14 1.5"  
25.2 Gr. LilGun 210 Gr. Hornady Silh Winchester 1593 fps 8 1.55"  
26.5 Gr. H110 210 Gr. Hornady Silh Winchester 1609 fps 22 1.25"  
26.7 Gr. H108 210 Gr. Nosler CCI 1539 fps 14 1.38"  
26.7 Gr. H108 210 Gr. Nosler CCI 1539 fps 14 1.23"  
24.2 Gr. 5744 265 Gr. Cast Bullet CCI 1346 fps 12 1.88"  
22.2 Gr. 5744 265 Gr. Cast Bullet CCI 1158 fps 54 2.27"  
22.2 Gr. 5744 265 Gr. Cast Bullet Winchester 1310 fps 18 1.70"


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Warning: All technical data mentioned, especially handloading and bullet casting, reflect the limited experience of individuals using specific tools, products, equipment and components under specific conditions and circumstances not necessarily reported in the article or on this web site and over which IHMSA, The Los Angeles Silhouette Club (LASC), this web site or the author has no control. The above has no control over the condition of your firearms or your methods, components, tools, techniques or circumstances and disclaims all and any responsibility for any person using any data mentioned. Always consult recognized reloading manuals.