Ammunition

The .32 ACP is Still Kicking!

Black Walther, barrel pointed to the left, a black combat pen and a black knife.

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

Load

Powder

Velocity

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

Load

Powder

Velocity

Group

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

Beretta Tomcat

Load

Powder

Velocity

Group

 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

Load

Velocity

Walther
PP

Walther
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

Load

Velocity

Group

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

Load

Velocity

Group

Fiocchi 71-Grain FMJ 889 fps 1.8

Ballistics Testing Results

Firing Walther PP into wet newsprint

Load

Penetration

Expansion

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

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

[bob]

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (24)

  1. 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.

  2. where did you get those cartridge adapters? I don’t like the ones I’ve found, and want one like what you have, with the bullet at the front

    1. I’m only seeing adapters for shotguns, and no 32ACP. I’m wanting exactly what he has pictured.

      .30-06 to .32ACP with the bullet sticking out the front of the adapter

    2. @ Josh.

      Sorry about that. There’s MCA Sports: Chamber Adapters, Inserts and Bullet Castings of Anchorage, Alaska @ www. mcace. com. And the other is a “Plausible Deniability” Company, I have my Doubt’s with them. Simply, because they don’t have a website that I can find and they neither “Affirm or Deny” responsibility of their product. There called Hammon Game Getter Calibers. And the One I already gave you. Of the Three, MCA Sports has the Greater Selection and Caliber’s to Choose From…

  3. I carry an NAA Guardian .32 ACP most everywhere I go. Great size, great construction, however, a bit heavy since it is all stainless steel. I love the gun but the downside for me is the trigger slap which is brutal. Firing a box of 50 rounds will enevitably reward you with a blister on your trigger finger. If that could be fixed, the Guardian would be perfect.

  4. My 32 ACP is what I call my “war trophy” gun. I found it going through my father-in-law’s things after his passing. He served in WWII in Europe and this piece was in the original holster in great condition buried under a mountain of loose change inside a pirates treasure chest under his bed. The gun still works perfectly. I plan on keeping this ‘war trophy’ for many years to come.

  5. My first handgun was a German Walther PP that I purchased @ a Dept. Store sporting goods counter in 1968. Later than sooner I bought 25 bxs. of WW Western .32 acp Silvertips @ a Police supply house (Backup gun I suppose). Still have most of the ammo left; haven’t shot it in years, but what a sweet little pistol. Packs anywhere on your person un-obtrusive. Made in Germany @ the Ulm dou factory on the Rhine river & still like new. Those silvertips shoot great and accurate as I remember.

  6. Question for the Author:

    Have you ever had a problem with bullets getting stuck part way down the bore when firing the .3125 bullet down a long .300 – .308 bore with that small of a power charge. (when you fire it in the 30-06)

    1. @ Lou.

      The problem is you ammunition, and not your rifle. While on the surface, both the .308Winchester and the .30.06Springfield (7.62x63mm) are in theory technically the same caliber, there actually not. While you can chamber, a .30.06-round into a .308 rifle, the opposite is not true. The .308Winchester round has a bore pressure of 62,000-psi, sadly the .30-06Springfield (7.62x63mm) round, only has a bore pressure of 50,000-psi. I hope this information helps you out. PS. Over extended use of 308Win. in your .30.06Sprnfld. might eventually burst your .30.06-barrel.

    2. What are you talking about, the 30-06 and .308 are not interchangeable ammo and you should never try to chamber and fire either in the other

  7. I absolutely love my Seecamp .32 acp for it’s ease of concealment ,reliability,and accuracy.I would have liked to have seen it included in this test.

  8. The .32 ACP is one of my favorite cartridges and I carry it often in my Beretta Model 1935. The 1935 is an all steel pistol with a 7+1 capacity. The weight of the pistol make shooting a real hoot, with follow up shot ability (which you will need) among the best. Other than small last century sights the pistol points like a bird dog and the little .32 cartridge puts the lead in the center of where I am aiming. I had a KelTec .32 that I did not like, the .32 ACP was a little whippy in that gun. Not enough weight, not enough fingers on the grip, not enough sight radius. Seems like old style cartridges work better in old style pistols.

    1. Hi Coastdog,

      The Kel-Tec P32 has a different purpose than your Beretta. It only weighs 6.6 oz and is so small that is will conceal almost anywhere. With it being so small and light it is a little snappy on recoil.

      My son has one and it has been very reliable and accurate.

      I am sure your Beretta is more fun to shoot, but much bigger and heavier.

  9. Try either The Sportsman’s Guide, which (4) brands of .32ACP ammunition (http//www.sportsmanguide,com) or Natchez, which has (5) brands of .32ACP ammunition (http//www.natchez.com). The only thing both outfitters have them boxes of 50-rounds/box, maximum. Nothing in bulk quantities.

  10. I have a .32 ACP S&W I just purchased and it was on the recall list, I sent it to S&W for upgrade before I fired it. I was amazed the first two shots were in the 10 ring and cut the same hole, the third was a missfire (Remington Ammo) and I fired again quickly and the third shot was 3/4″ away. I love the gun and it is very accurat at 21 feet. I search the web for ammo and it is hard to come by. I also use it as a carry gun occasionaly, but my main carry is a H&K P30.

  11. I’ve never’d fired the .32ACP (7.65x17mm) Browning. How does it compare with the .380ACP (9x17mm) Parabellum-Short.

    1. Over the years I’ve loaded for a variety of 32acp pocket pistols, including 1907 Dreyse, various Savages, Colt 1903’s Llama, Browning 1922and Beretta. Various bullets were and are still being used, to include a variety of 71 gr FMJ, 78 gr RNL and 60gr JHP. Almost forgot Speer’s 100 gr Plinker. Great success was had across the board except for the Plinker which was very reliable in a friends Beretta but in none of the other pistols.Red Dot and Bulls Eye are my most used powders. The Plinker load was from an article by Frank Barnes in an old Gun Digest. I may try it again in my Ruger Single Seven. Remember it’s a semi rimmed case. Adios

    2. I have 2 Llama pistols identical save caliber 32acp and 380acp. There is little noticeable difference when firing standard FMJ ammo if your question relates to recoil. Noticeable differences will show up with pistols of different types of slide or grip frames. These days there are a greater variety of manufacture 380’s than 32’s which might make that a better choice for you.

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