The .32 ACP is Still Kicking!

By Bob Campbell published on in Ammunition, Range Reports

Used as a military cartridge and firing the shot that began World War I, the .32 ACP is a giant of a cartridge in popularity worldwide. Designed for use in the 1900 Browning self-loader, FN of Belgium manufactured the cartridge.

And at 71 grains at 1000 fps, it is considerably hotter than the various .32-caliber revolver cartridges chambered in light revolver. I jumped at the opportunity to begin a series on cartridges, with an in-depth look into each one.

Why the .32 ACP?

Three .32 ACP cartridges: Left to right- Fiocchi FMJ, Hornady XTP and COR®BON PowRBall.

(left to right) Fiocchi FMJ, Hornady XTP and COR®BON PowRBall .32-caliber cartridges.

It may seem strange to begin with the .32 ACP because I demand a lot of smash from defensive cartridges. The .32 ACP is too important historically to ignore, and it is one great recreational cartridge.

  • The Walther PP and Walther PPK are well made and accurate.
  • The Colt 1903 .32 ACP is a great pistol that has seen a lot of action worldwide.
  • The tip-up barrel Beretta Tomcat is a well-made handgun and among the most desirable of small defense handguns.

That is the bottom line with the .32 ACP—reliability and accuracy. Some are very reliable and quite accurate. Although my old Colt will not feed most hollow-point bullets, it has never stumbled with FMJ loads and is very accurate. In this report, I cover not only factory ammunition but also handloads for the .32 ACP. And here is the trick, even if you do not handload when you study this report, you will gain an excellent understanding of the ballistics, accuracy and wound potential of the .32 ACP.

The wound potential is not impressive, but the accuracy and reliability are. I have used the .32 ACP extensively as a game and recreational cartridge. It is a fun cartridge with many useful applications.

What is Available

A green white and orange target with a man's hand holding a black handgun pointed at the target

The .32 ACP is plenty accurate.

The first thing to notice is that the .32 ACP is a bit odd compared to most centerfire cartridges. It was John Moses Browning’s first attempt at an auto-loading cartridge; he thought he needed a semi-rim for head spacing. The rim is 0.021 inches wider than the case. That design works just fine, without the accuracy problems often associated with a similar design, the .38 ACP.

The case feeds just fine, and the cartridge is more accurate than I would have thought. As for bullet selection, there is no room for heavier bullets. Factory standard or lighter weight bullets are the rule. If you handload, bullet selection is not terribly broad.

  • The Sierra 71-grain full-metal-jacketed bullet is a fine feed-reliable ammunition for general use, but good luck finding those. I had a few put up for a rainy day; in early 2014, you could not find any in the supply system.
  • The Hornady 60-grain XTP offers a hollow-point option.
  • The Gold Dot hollow point sometimes is available.

As for reed reliability, all hollow-point bullets feed in the Europeans, and none feed in the Colt unless seated further out than I am comfortable. There is little case adhesion when the short bullet seats so far out. Powder selection is critical. You must use only the fastest burning powder. Your scale absolutely must be properly maintained and accurate.

Remember, a tenth of a grain is a vast variation in this tiny cartridge case. Two tenths of a grain variation makes for as much as 100/feet per second variation. This is not a cartridge with much leeway for experimentation. Always exercise care; always exercise special care with such a small case. This is not a high-pressure number with maximum pressure on the order of 20,000 pounds per square inch.

What Happened During Testing

A man's hand holding a black handgun, barrel pointed to the right

A big plus is that the .32 ACP is controllable and easy to use well.

During the test program, I used primarily Fiocchi cartridge cases. I have fired a good bit of Fiocchi ammunition in .32 ACP with excellent results. That ammunition is loaded a tad hotter on average than our domestic product, gives good results and often actuates the action in the tighter European handguns. The cartridge cases are high quality.

I worked up a number of loads that produced well more than 1000 fps in the Walther PP, the primary test piece. They would be as adequate for small game and personal defense as any factory load—and this is a recreational shooter in my household. Having taken rabbit and squirrel with more sedate .32 Smith and Wesson long loadings, I am certain the .32 ACP will drop a bunny with a head shot.

As the tables show, the .32 ACP operates on a very narrow band of powder charges with minuscule powder weight. Slight variations may result in greater pressure. Small they are, yet there is a lot cooking in those little cartridge cases. Increments of 1/10th of a grain make a large difference in velocity as you near the maximum charge. You must exercise care and discipline in loading it. You must check and maintain the overall cartridge length carefully. You will experience a failure to cycle due to light loading, and the next step up works fine, then the next increment produces snappy ejection.

As for bullet selection, probably the best all-around performer as far as expansion and accuracy is the Hornady XTP. In some test media, the XTP was the only bullet that showed any expansion at all.

Gold .32 ACP and a black sub caliber adapter on a gray background

The author has even used the .32 ACP in a sub-caliber adapter for firing in .30-06 rifles.

Due to the long for the caliber bearing surfaces, the XTP gave good accuracy. The .32s do not open much; there is a great difference between an FMJ bullet that slips through tissue without cutting and a JHP with a flattened nose that tears through tissue. I do not spend a lot of time with the .32, and I tested only a handful of loads. Once I obtained good results as far as accuracy and function, there was little point in continuing because the handguns are unlikely to produce great accuracy.

The loads I worked with are good ones—as accurate, reliable and capable as any .32 ACP loading. Incidentally, the Colt functions with loads considerably lighter than the norm, although the others demand full-power loadings. The Walthers have that air of quality, and the Beretta is a neat piece with good performance for its size.

All in all, you get good performance from squeaky little mouse guns. If you have a .good .32 ACP, I guarantee you will find it fun to fire and perhaps even more accurate and useful than you may think. And you may get better factory ballistics with the Gold Dot and XTP bullet by more than 100 fps.

If you are bored with other projects, this is a challenging caliber for any handloader.

Handload Ammunition Results

  • 15 yards
  • 5-shot groups measured in inches
  • OAL .978

Walther PP and Walther PPK




PP Group

PPK Group

 Sierra 71-Grain FMJ  2.2 Titegroup 890 fps 1.9 1.5
 2.3 W 231 874 fps 2.0 1.8
 2.4 Universal 889 fps 2.3 1.9
 2.6 HP 38 899 fps 2.15 N/A
 Hornady 60-Grain XTP  2.0 Bullseye 855 fps 2.0 1.8
2.1 Red Dot 869 fps 2.2 2.3
2.4 Titegroup 1050 fps 2.5 1.8
Speer 60-Grain Gold Dot 2.0 Bullseye 866 fps 1.7 1.9
2.3 Bullseye 1040 fps 2.0 2.4
Average Accuracy 2.0 1.7

Colt 1903





 Sierra 71-Grain FMJ  2.2 Titegroup 901 fps 2.6
 2.4 Universal N/A 2.4
Average Accuracy 2.5

Beretta Tomcat





 Sierra 71-Grain FMJ 2.2 Titegroup 840 fps 4.0
Speer 60-Grain Gold Dot 2.3 Bullseye 960 fps 3.8

Factory Ammunition Results

  • 15 yards
  • 5-shot groups measured in inches

Walther PP and PPK





Cor-Bon 60-Grain JHP 1111 fps 2.2 2.4
Lawman 71-Grain FMJ 945 fps 1.9 1.6
Hornady 60-Grain XTP 838 fps 1.9 1.8
Speer Gold Dot JHP 875 fps 2.5 2.8
Average Accuracy 2.1 2.2

Beretta Tomcat




Hornady 60-Grain XTP 790 fps 4.65
Speer 60-Grain Gold Dot 819 fps 4.75
Fiocchi 71-Grain FMJ 803 fps 4.5

Astra Constable




Fiocchi 71-Grain FMJ 889 fps 1.8

Ballistics Testing Results

Firing Walther PP into wet newsprint




Cor-Bon JHP 11.0 inches 0.41
Hornady XTP 10.5 inches 0.40
Speer Gold Dot 11.8 inches 0.37

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What are your thoughts on the .32 ACP? What gun do you use it with? Share your thoughts in the comments section.


Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooter’s Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.

View all articles by Bob Campbell

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Comments (24)

  • Most Powerful 32 Acp Ammo – Hunt Sodak


    […] The.32 ACP is Still Kicking! – The Shooter's Log – Cheaper Than Dirt – Jul 13, 2014. That is the bottom line with the.32 ACP—reliability and accuracy. Some are very reliable and quite accurate. Although my old Colt will not feed most hollow-point bullets, it has never stumbled with FMJ loads and is very accurate. In this report, I cover not only factory ammunition but also handloads for the. […]


  • Joe


    I have owned a PPK .32 for 45 years and have carried it thousands of days. I have always carried Silvertips. I never felt disadvantaged by it until I started to read the hype on how you need 15+ rounds of minimum 9mm in order to defend yourself. I get that argument. Believe me, I really get it and I’m not going to argue it. But my old PPK is very reliable and it is German made (not imported) so I’ll never ever give it up. I live in TX and it can get hot and muggy here. In summers when it is shorts and sandals weather (with the lightest t-shirt you can find) I now often carry my newest addiction which is a Seecamp LWS 32acp. Small, small, small. High quality stainless. Never a failure to feed or failure to extract after 1000 rounds of Silvertip. I keep it clean. I have a new recoil spring in it. You can get that same gun in .380 but it is NOT fun to shoot. My 32 is actually fun to shoot. No painful recoil and even without sights you can hold a 6″ group at 10 yards easily. The .32acp is a great little round and many years ago I was at a gun auction and there was a box lot at the end containing 1000 rounds of Silvertip 32 acp. I got that box lot for $8.00! I kid you not. Those are my carry loads and I have savored them. I can’t shoot ball out of the Seecamp because it won’t feed them in the magazine but the Silvertips is what it was designed for. My PPK will shoot any 32acp ever manufactured. Anyway…I love the 32 acp and I sure as hell wouldn’t want to get shot with one. I have killed a coyote and some feral cats and tons of rats with my PPK. I’m not saying this is the world’s best defensive round but either of those guns is pretty easy to slip into your cargo shorts pockets unseen. Why leave home without a gun even when it is hot? So what if it is a .32? I call it a “get off me” scenario gun. I’m not looking for trouble and in 45 years I’ve found none. But you never know and I’m comforted by either my Walther or Seecamp in my pocket.


  • Rob


    The shot that started World War I was from a 380ACP, not a 32.


    • Servitor


      @ Rob

      A Browning Model 1910 S/N 19075 in .380acp.


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