The Herters 401 Powermag

Marty Weatherup

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Any gun person who spends more than a few minutes with me will know almost immediately my tastes run to the eclectic if not eccentric. My favorite hunting rifle is a 400 Whelen, I have rifles in odd chamberings such as 10.75x57, 6mmx222, 17 Remington, 8x56 Mannlicher Schoenauer and prefer 2.5" 12 bores. It should come as no surprise one of my favorite handguns is the Herters 401 Powermag.

For those not familiar with the Herters Company, they were the forerunner to some of the large catalog outdoor sales outfits like Cabelas. At one time they were probably the foremost outdoor catalog sale company in the country. And George Herter, the proprietor, a mixture of carnival crier and shrewd businessman, was the king of promoting his wares. His products were better, grander, sharper, stronger and superior to all others in every way. At least according to him. While I doubt all his products lived up to his claims, George Herter did not sell junk. I had many of his knives, decoys, lures and traps over the years and never found them wanting in quality.

The annual arrival of the Herters catalog was a most highly anticipated event for a farm kid like me. By the time a new catalog arrived the old one was tattered and dog eared. You wanted a trout fly or a fox trap. I could turn to those pages in an instant. I wish I had put as much effort into my school books.

George Herter had one proprietary handgun round, the 401 Powermag, housed in a strong and well made, and perhaps a bit homely, revolver. German gun company, J.P. Sauer and Sohn created the Powermag revolvers for Mr. Herter and supplied them chambered in 357, 401 and 44 magnums. Herters was a mail order company and at the time one could order a handgun through the mail. The Gun Control Act of 1968 pretty well ended Herters gun sales and tolled the bell for the Powermags.

The revolvers sported an oversized grip. Kind of a Colt plow handle meets Bisley on steroids. They also had a large rear sight hump. The oversized grip and the sight hump gave them a somewhat ungainly look. I've come to like the look of them and truly appreciate the oversize grip. I find it handles recoil as well as the Ruger Bisley grip frame.

The 401 Powermag cartridge was, according to George, capable of stopping man or beast with one shot, no matter where hit and could shoot through an engine block. Who wouldn't want one.

The 401 was originally offered with 160, 180 and 200 grain bullets. While I've spoken with shooters who used the 180 and 200 grain loads, I've never run into anyone who used the 160's. From the little I've been able to garner, the 200 grain was a favorite.

My efforts with the round have been to work with 200 grain and heavier bullets. I have an Arsenal Mold that throws a 200 grain SWC bullet and an LBT mold for a 240 WLN. I've also resized 41 magnum cast bullets to .403 for use in my 401. My 401 has a groove diameter of .402.

With Bullseye and Unique behind a 200 grain bullet, cast of wheel weights and 2% tin, the 401 is a delightful plinker and will easily run that bullet at 900-1100fps. Stepping up to 2400 and H110, the 401 becomes a serious revolver, especially with a 240 grain bullet. With 19 grains of H11o my revolver comfortably runs 1275 fps and shoots very well at 25 yards. I will carry that load this season on my moose hunt in case I get a poke at a caribou cow. The unit I hunt is open for either sex caribou at the same time moose season is open.

Sorry for being so long winded. I hope you enjoy this short history on the 401 Powermag.

The three Powermags, 357, 401 and 44.
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Housed in a vintage, correctly handed, Bianchi shuck.
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A good hunting load.
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The 401 240 grain WLN next to a 340 grain WLN 45 Colt bullet.
IMG_1220.JPG
 

Velo Dog

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Hi Marty,

Thanks for posting the Power Mag information.
Beginning when I was a teen ager, and on into my twenties (before the wheel was invented), I read gun magazine articles.
I recall the gun writers talking about (typing about) the .401 power mag, among other, sort of obscure type cartridges.
Your post here has reminded me of that time in my life, (to include living in California and wanting to escape).
I myself went through a phase of being interested in not-main-stream guns and even wildcat cartridges, particularly hunting rifle cartridges.

In fact, I often wondered back then, why Remington never legitimized the 6.5-06 cartridge, as a reply to Winchester's .270 cartridge.
Seems like it would've been a probable marketing success, especially in the Western USA / Canada, where shots can be longish, for a multi-purpose mule deer and pronghorn hunting cartridge that, likewise would be a very fine coyote and ground hog getter, especially for the man who can afford only one rifle.
However, I was so broke in those days that, I could not have any of the above.
Now that I could afford to experiment with such things, I am no longer interested.
Funny how that works.
I had fun tinkering around with the few clunker guns (in common / affordable calibers) and 2nd hand "RCBS Junior" reloading press that I did have back in those days, in spite of the fact that I wasn't in love with the place where I was born.
At any rate, thanks again for jogging my memory.
Those were the days.

Cheers,
V Dog.
 

sierraone

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I remember the Herters catalogs as a kid also. I use to order all of the catalogs of the day even before I owned a gun.....just a BB gun!
 

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Enjoyed the story, thank you.
 

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Hey Marty

Thanks for the trip down Memory Lane.

I worked for Herter's, after George Leonard sold the outfit to Dick Larson.

I was freshly out of the Marines and at University, and looking for part-time work to keep the guns shooting.

A friend knew the Manager of the Herter's in Eau Claire was looking for a gun/reloading nut to add to the staff. It was a job I enjoyed so much I would have done it without pay!

I actually had a chance to meet Mr. Herter when he came to the store one cold winter day in about '81 or '82. I know it was cold because when he tried to leave, his diesel car (I think it was a Pugeot) would not fire!

To this day, my brother's all-time favorite rifle was a Herter's U-9 in 458 Win with a beautiful Birdseye Maple stock, purchased at the Eau Claire store.

And you are so right - those old Herter's catalogs were out of this world with their claims!

Ah, the good old days!

Tim
 

cagkt3

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Thanks for the write up Marty, it was a good read!
 

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I remember their assortment of hot sauces. Used to dream about their recurve bows.
 

Bullthrower338

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Marty,
What do you build the 401 brass from? Thanks for an interesting read.
Cheers,
Cody
 

Marty Weatherup

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Cody,

I've been fortunate enough to find a few hundred rounds of factory 401 brass. It's not cheap when you find it but it comes up once in a while.

Prior to finding any 401 brass I took the advice of Lee Martin of Singleactions.com and reformed new 41 magnum brass for use in my 401. He has an excellent I checked my cylinder recesses to find Starline 41 magnum rims would fit the recessed chambers of the Powermag cylinder. Next was to use a 40 S&W die and a shell holder faced off flat. I used a friend's lathe to face it off. This process is very similar to Lee's method. He uses a die reamed and honed to .426 and a hydraulic press to press the cases in and out. I didn't have that so used a 40 S&W die on my first batch of cases. I adjusted the die to where the case goes in far enough for the rim to contact the bottom of the die. This was to size the case closer to the rim than what could be accomplished with a regular shell holder. Then I tapped the case out with a piece of drill rod. This still left a slight bulge just above the rim. Most of them chambered all right but a few would not.

I've since had a 7/8-14 bolt drilled and reamed to .426 so I can resize the case completely to the rim. To lube the case I use the Hornady Unique lube. It's the best case lube I've ever used. Unfortunately I don't have a picture of the bolt. Those resized with in the bolt die all chamber perfectly. The pictures below depict the process I use to convert 41 magnum to 401 Powermag. The final step is to trim to 1.285 case length.

This has worked well for me. I've been pestering Starline to do a run of 401 brass but to no avail. Yet. Here's a few pics of the process. The process is the same using the die made from the 7/8-14 bolt.






 

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Bullthrower338

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Thanks Marty, some good thinking on the bolt idea!
 

Jt nabity

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This was such a great article, thanks so much Marty. Fun story my Grandfather just handed down to me about 350 rounds of (what we think to be) original .401 power mag ammunition. I’m 25 years old and spend a good amount of time outdoors, especially waterfowl hunting. I’ve had a lot of fun reading about Herters as a company. This write up has been the most information I have found so far about the round. I have begun the search to hopefully find my own .401 power mag revolver for myself.

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crs

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Thanks for the trip down memory lane.
I still have a couple of the Herters hardback books and they were a hoot to read. I may still have a catalog or two stashed somewhere. I remember the .401 Power Mag but never had one. One of my deer lease buddies shot a Herters bolt action .284 Winchester rifle and nothing within eyesight was safe from it; buddy had very sharp eyes.
 

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For revolver guys, there is much to be learned on Lee Martins site, I mean lots. Lee is even into building big game rifles now. One of his latest projects is a 9.3x62!
 

Marty Weatherup

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This was such a great article, thanks so much Marty. Fun story my Grandfather just handed down to me about 350 rounds of (what we think to be) original .401 power mag ammunition. I’m 25 years old and spend a good amount of time outdoors, especially waterfowl hunting. I’ve had a lot of fun reading about Herters as a company. This write up has been the most information I have found so far about the round. I have begun the search to hopefully find my own .401 power mag revolver for myself.

That's a good bunch of ammo. 401 original brass or ammo is hard to find. And expensive when you do find it. There are a couple of 401s on GB right now. One is sitting at $150 with 9 bids. The other one is overpriced in my opinion. I wouldn't be afraid of them in the 400-500 range. They are a well made and strong revolver. Good luck on your search.

The original Herters ammo was pretty soft lead and loaded fairly warm. A perfect recipe for leading. If you a re certain they are original you could shoot them up, save the brass and give the gun a thorough cleaning to get the leading out. Or you could pull them all with an inertia puller. A couple of good whacks and they'll be out. That's what I would do myself if it was my ammo.

Once you get a 401 be sure to slug the bore and the cylinder throats. Mine was in good shape for cast bullets with the throats being a touch larger than the groove diameter. Mine has a groove diameter of .402 and I size the bullets to .403.

Let me know when you get a 401 and I'll forward some 200 and 240 grain cast bullets to try. Feel free to contact me with any questions you have about the 401 and I'll be happy to help.
 

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I remember their assortment of hot sauces. Used to dream about their recurve bows.
I,ve owned several Herters recuves including two that we purchased new and they were great, took numerous deer and elk with them. Also bought wood and fiberglass arrows from them. As a avid broadhead collector it's interesting to note that their heads had Japan stamped on them.
 

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