.32 Revolver Cartridges

By Bob Campbell published on in Ammunition

.32 Smith & Wesson Long

Among the most enjoyable to use and accurate of all revolver cartridges is the .32 Smith & Wesson Long. When Smith & Wesson made the move from top-break, hinged-frame revolvers to solid-frame, swing-out-cylinder revolvers, they also designed more powerful cartridges with longer case length. That allowed a shooter to use a longer cartridge. Previously, cylinder length and the strength of the star ejector of top-break revolvers dictated the cartridge length and, in many cases, a longer cartridge was not ejected with ample force.

Old silver barreled, black gripped Smith and Wesson bicycle gun on a brown background

This old Smith and Wesson bicycle gun may have been useful against small dogs.

The .32 Smith & Wesson was a pip-squeak round although quite popular in small top-break revolvers. The Smith & Wesson Safety Hammerless revolver sometimes was called the “bicycle gun” because it was designed not to fire if dropped from a bicycle and to provide a measure of protection against dogs that assailed early bicycle riders—presumably, mastiffs not included.

The swing-out cylinder Smith & Wesson Hand Ejector in .32 S&W Long was a popular police service revolver. The New York City Police Department used the .32 Long Colt in the early years, and railroad police carried them for many years. The I-frame Smith & Wesson is accurate and easy to use well, and recoil is minimal. The 98-grain slug travels at about 700 fps. The bullet tends to deform to an extent.

Black gripped, dark metal rare 6 inch Barrel Smith and Wession I Frame

This rather rare 6 inch barrel Smith and Wesson I-frame is a wonderfully accurate and useful recreational firearm.

It is less powerful than the .32 ACP automatic pistol cartridge, and practically any .32 ACP load outpaces the .32 Smith and Wesson Long. A handloader may considerably improve the .32 revolver’s performance, and Buffalo Bore offers a full wadcutter and SWC that are easily the most powerful factory loads available. The .32 ACP cannot jolt a 100-grain bullet to the level that the .32 Smith and Wesson revolver can.

.32 S&W Long Test Results

Firearm: Smith & Wesson Hand Ejector with 4-inch barrel
Accuracy Test: 25 yards; group in inches

Load Velocity Group
 Fiocchi 98-Grain FMJ  789 fps  1.5 inches
 Winchester 98-Grain  730 fps  2.0 inches

 

Handload Velocity Group
100-grain Magnus SWC 1050 fps  1.9 inches

.32 Harrington and Richardson Magnum

The .32 Harrington & Richardson Magnum is a controversial cartridge. It is intended to give shooters a viable choice compared to the five-shot .38 Special, but some of the revolvers chambered for the cartridge are second-rate quality. At least, that is the excuse made by the factory for downloading the ammunition.

Ruger Single Six variant in .32 H and R Magnum  on a background of leaves

This Ruger Single Six variant in .32 H&R Magnum is not only accurate but also very nice looking and a wonderful small game gun.

The cartridge hardly deserves to be called a magnum because including the term in the name gives the user a false sense of confidence. The bottom line is that it is a poor choice for personal defense. It would be better to deploy a .38 Special revolver with light loads than this cartridge if you are concerned with recoil.

The .38 Special with 148-grain wadcutter target loads is more desirable as a defensive handgun than a .32 H&R Magnum revolver with the JHP load. The .32 Magnum JHP does not reach 0.357 inches in expansion by any means, while the .38 Special begins at 0.357 inches.

This is an example of the sometimes absurd idea that we must have expansion over a solid bullet—even if it is a small-diameter bullet.

.32 H&R Magnum Test Results

Firearm: 4-inch-barrel .32 H&R
Accuracy Test: 7 yards

Load Velocity Group
Federal 85-Grain Lead SWC 880 fps 2 inches
Federal 85-Grain JHP 1,040 fps  1.8 inches

.327 Federal

Expanded silver bullet showing how the Gold Dot makes the most of a small caliber on a white background

An advantage of the .327 Federal is the use of the Gold Dot bullet—it makes the most of a small caliber.

The .327 Federal roundly outdistances the .32 H&R Magnum. The .327 is chambered in the frames normally used for .357 Magnum revolvers, often with a 7-shot cylinder. Having 8.357 Magnums in a .44-size revolver makes some sense because the .357 is a proven defensive cartridge, and the large-frame revolvers are controllable.

Giving up a proven stopper, the .357 Magnum, for a .32-caliber revolver does not make horse sense at all. Penetration is adequate, and expansion is far better than the .32 H&R Magnum, which may also be used in that revolver, along with the .32 Smith & Wesson Long and .32 Smith & Wesson.

I suppose that would make a fine target and small-game cartridge, although there is nothing it does that a 7.62mm Tokarev cannot do much cheaper as far as personal defense goes. If a shooter cannot handle a .357 Magnum, then the .38 Special is a more viable choice than a supercharged .32, in my opinion.

I could be wrong, then again, the cartridge is very interesting for its own merits.

.327 Federal Test Results

Firearm: Ruger GP 100 4-inch barrel
Accuracy Test: 25 yards

Load Velocity Group
Speer 115-Grain Gold Dot 1,351 fps 0.9 inches
Federal 85-Grain JHP 1,322 fps  1.0 inches

What is your favorite .32 loading? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

SLRule

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 (10)

  • bill

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    i would like to know if i can use a 30 cal cylender in a 32 h&r mag frame both are ruger

    Reply

  • Piper

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    I recently purchased a Ruger Single Seven chambered in the .327 Federal, but actually bought it to use as a small game revolver, such as rabbits with the .32 Smith & Wesson Long. I am looking for accuracy loads, for a 98 grain lead bullet. So far I am impressed with the accuracy I am getting, using 2.5 grains Red Dot. Other powders I have yet to try are Bullseye, and HP-38.

    Reply

  • REM1875

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    Hey wait, I train people to shoot with most of these but their hands down favorite is the 32-20 or 32 wcf. From young shooters to ancient the 32-20 revolver wows them, all at some pretty modest loads. I like it a lot too but am currently comparing my 327 mag against my 30 cal carb revolver. Would love Marlin to bring out a 327 fed if they wont re-introduce the 32-20.

    Reply

    • REM1875

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      Holy cow you telling my story word for word. The 32-20 is loved by everyone I allow to try it men and women alike, young and old.
      Like you I am testing 30 carb against 327 and seriously wish Marlin would chamber a lever for 327 (and 357 Max).

      Reply

    • REM1875

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      I wonder why? You idiot! I replied to my own post lol. Good thing to know I still agree with me.

      Reply

  • REM1875

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    The people who I take shooting with the 327 federal mag usually come to the same working relationship most 357 mag shooters do. They use the very accurate 32 s&w long or even the semi scarce 32 h&r for target and fun and save the 327 fed mag for work.

    Reply

  • REM1875

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    The 32 acp is a semi-rimless round and so I can fire it in my 327 Federal mag. I often load a mixed cylinder of 32 acp, 32 s&w (long usually) 32 h&r mag and 327 federal mag and let the rounds speak for themselves.
    No one has yet decided to run out and buy a 32 acp carry gun after that. Friends don’t let friends (or friendly famly members) carry 25 acp or 32 acp.Although I sure as hell would not want to be on the recieving end of either!

    Reply

  • Oakspar

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    I have an old .32SWL revolver and a .32SWS topbreak. Both belonged to a relative who was a police officer around the turn of the century in a suburb of Philly.

    Can you imagine a Philly cop today armed with either of those (and not as a sidearm and backup, but as a sidearm and a spare sidearm that usually stayed at home)!

    The top break is still barely shootable if you want to hit anything, but the .32SWL revolver is a great gun for accuracy in single action.

    Reply

  • Steve

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    As a plinking round I like the .32ACP, but then I only own two 1903 Colt hammerless pistols. I’ve never owned a .32 S&W long revolver. Neither would be my choice for a personal defense weapon, but in a pinch you could make do with 9 rounds of .32ACP.

    Reply

  • tampa five-o

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    Great article. I have the .32 h&r ruger revolver and its very easy to shoot.Great for 1st time shooters

    Reply

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