Ammunition

All About .32 Caliber Pistol Cartridges

Three .32 ACP cartridges: Left to right- Fiocchi FMJ, Hornady XTP and Cor Bon PowRBall.

The .32 caliber handgun cartridge has been part of my shooting life for 50 years. As a young person, a pre-teen, I took small game with my grandfather’s Colt .32 New Police.

I was impressed by the revolver’s accuracy. It shot where the sights looked, and provided minute-of-squirrel accuracy to 10 yards or more.

I handloaded the .32 Colt New Police (identical to the .32 Smith and Wesson Long) on a Lee Loader. I suppose most of my 98-grain wadcutter loads were breaking 600 to 700 fps.

I enjoy firing the cartridge, but I used it less and less as I have been able to obtain and master larger and more useful calibers. The .32 caliber cartridges run a wide range of power and energy, from practically useless to crackerjack small-game cartridge.

With the help of Buffalo Bore ammunition, some creep into the self-defense range. Let’s look at each in turn.

.32 Smith and Wesson

Introduced in 1879, this cartridge uses an 85-grain bullet. It was available in a number of break-top, hinged-frame revolvers intended for defense at close range.

It is expensive and difficult to find. While it will chamber and fire in the .32 S&W Long and .32 H&R Magnum, there is no point.

Advertised at 700 fps, most loads break 580 to 730 fps when chronographed. They are useful for a threat and little else.

Ruby .32 Caliber pistol
This old Ruby .32 caliber pistol is well-worn but reliable.

.32 Colt

The .32 Colt is a smaller diameter than the .32 Smith and Wesson Long. Ammunition is long out of print and expensive.

Be careful if you purchase a nice old Colt in this caliber, because ammunition is not available, save on the collector market.

It IS NOT interchangeable with .32 Smith and Wesson revolver cartridges. If fired in a .32 Smith and Wesson Long chamber, the .32 Colt will split the cartridge case.

.32 Smith and Wesson Long (.32 Colt New Police)

An improvement over the .32 S&W for use in the new swing-out cylinder, hand-ejector revolvers, the 98-grain bullet breaks 680 to 780 fps depending on the loading.

Several companies offer a JHP that doesn’t expand. Velocity is simply too low. When I became a peace officer in the 1970s, there were quite a few shootings with this cartridge.

In one, a peace officer shot and hit a stick-up man in the face with a .32.  The man ran, was treated at the hospital, and seemed none the worse for his wounds.

In another case, a store keep attempted to shoot out a shoplifter’s tire. The bullet bounced off a cheap thin hubcap.

In another case, a rural mail carrier was murdered with his own gun. Two .32s in the skull did the business.

Fiocchi Ammunition has a superbly accurate 100-grain wadcutter that is ideal for small game. They also offer a 98-grain full metal jacketed bullet.

Buffalo Bore offers two loads for the .32 Smith and Wesson Long. One is a 100-grain full WC at about 800 fps. The other is a hard-cast 115-grain flat point at 750 to 825 fps, depending on barrel length.

This is easily the most powerful .32 Smith and Wesson Long loading. The . 32 Smith and Wesson Long is a good small-game cartridge, but patently unsuited to personal defense based on power and penetration.

The Buffalo Bore loads are an improvement if you have a quality .32 caliber you must use. This is a fine small-game number, much quieter than the .22 Magnum and is effective on small critters.

Buffalo Bore .32 Smith and Wesson Long
Buffalo Bore puts a bit of push into the .32 Smith and Wesson Long.

.32-20 WCF

This is the largest cartridge among the .32s with a loaded-cartridge length of 1.59 inches. Original loads jolted a 115-grain lead bullet to over 900 fps in a revolver, and 1200 fps in the rifle.

A handloader may easily break 1600 fps with the Hornady 100-grain XTP in a late-production rifle. Older double-action revolvers should never be loaded past 115-grains at 1,000 fps.

The .32-20 can be accurate and offers good penetration. If you rely on factory ammunition, the only loads are factory lead bullets. They are loaded down in respect to older revolvers, seldom breaking more than 800 fps.

These revolvers are the same size as .38 Special revolvers. The Colt SAA in .32-20 is a classic that is a joy to use and fire.

.32 ACP

The .32 ACP is a big step up from the small .32 revolver cartridges. Introduced in 1899 for the Browning 1900 self-loading pistol, the .32 ACP jolts a 71-grain FMJ bullet to 900 to 1000 fps. Penetration is decent.

A Madame Fahmy created a sensation in the news when she shot and killed her abusive husband with a Browning .32 ACP.

The .32 ACP supplied the French Army by the hundreds of thousands during World War One. Little information on their use has survived.

Despite its great numbers or production, the .32 Auto has played into little gunfire as far as my neck of the woods, save for a sad and memorable shooting.

A sheriff and his deputy were serving a warrant for murder for hire on a well-heeled brother and sister. Several women and kin people were in the house.

The incident was outlined at the academy as the way NOT to perform an arrest.

The sheriff allowed the male suspect to enter the bedroom alone to change clothes and the female suspect was left in the kitchen saying goodbye to kin. (The sheriff was also a cousin!)

The highway patrol, coroner and a judge had offered to back the sheriff up, but he declined. Another cousin, who had no charges pending but evidently was involved, showed up with a shotgun.

He fired a load of .410 birdshot at the deputy. The officers were in a dining room, the cousin with the shotgun firing from the kitchen, and the male to be arrested in the bedroom.

The load of birdshot peppered the deputy’s arm, but only tore his shirt and produced mild pecking (like a chicken peck) according to the coroner. The man in the bedroom also fired with a Colt .32 Automatic.

The deputy fired three shots at each man. The man with the shotgun went down with two hits, dying later. The man in the bedroom had emerged firing a .32 ACP pistol.

He was hit once of three shots fired at him. He took the .38 in the abdomen and recovered. The deputy turned and ran outside to reload. During the gunfight, two different .32 ACP pistols were fired at the officers.

One bullet hit the sheriff below the eye, killing him instantly. The deputy took a bullet in the abdomen. He was rushed to the hospital by passers-by, and gave a complete and accurate report to other officers.

He was lucid and awake for several hours before dying in surgery. Two officers were killed by the .32 ACP, with one shot each, one dead on the scene. One offender down from .38 Special fire and the other survived with a wound that was not very serious.

The .32 ACP has sufficient penetration to be effective. I am not certain that the expanding-bullet loads available for the .32 ACP are the best choice as they limit penetration.

The .32 ACP isn’t my choice for personal defense, but it has proven effective with good shot placement.

Buffalo Bore .32 ACP
Buffalo Bore offers a hard-cast .32 ACP loading.

7.65 French Long (.32 French Long)

Why the French passed on the Browning Hi-Power 9mm and adopted this pistol is a mystery. After deadly trench warfare during World War One, perhaps they decided a pistol just wasn’t important.

The French 1935 is a well-made handgun that, in many ways, resembles a miniature SIG P210, as they share the same designer. Ammunition is practically impossible to find, but Starline Brass offers cartridge cases for reloading.

I mention this pistol as little more than a curiosity. Two decades ago, I spent the time to work up handloads in the 1935. I am very curious, and the pursuit means more than the utility of the handgun at times.

The pistol was pleasant and accurate. I jolted a Hornady 60-grain XTP to a solid 1215 fps. Kind of a .32 H&R Magnum automatic! It was a lot of fun to fire and use.

Accuracy was outstanding, and the handgun was most impractical.

.32 H&R Magnum

If you own one of these revolvers, you may fire .32 Smith and Wesson and .32 Smith and Wesson Long in the revolver. The Ruger Single Six was once offered in this caliber, as was the Heritage Rough Rider.

I have fired each with good results. The Charter Arms Professional is the newest offering, a bit of a surprise. The .32 H&R Magnum is advertised as 85-grains at 1100 fps.

In three to four-inch barrel lengths, most loads break 1000 to 1050 fps. Hornady’s Critical Defense offers good expansion, light recoil and good accuracy.

I fired two Buffalo Bore loads in the seven-shot Charter Arms Professional. The first loading uses a 100-grain Hornady XTP. Actual chronographed velocity is 1220 fps.

The balance of expansion and penetration is excellent. A 130-grain outdoors load offers surprisingly light recoil at 1150 fps. The Buffalo Bore loads are more like Magnum performance.

These loads offer a counterpoint to the .38 Special in lightweight revolvers. The XTP load would be the choice for personal defense, and the flat-point lead load for animal defense.

.32 H&R Magnum and .38 Special Cartridges
.32 H&R Magnum (left) compared to a .38 Special (right).

.327 Federal Magnum

The .327 is a super hot number. In the Ruger SP101, we get an extra shot, making the compact SP101 a six-shooter.

This is a flat- shooting field gun. Using the lighter .32 Smith and Wesson for small game and the .32 Magnum for raccoon and similar-size animals would seem ideal.

The full-power .327 would be useful for defense against big cats and feral dogs. The .327 jolts an 85-grain bullet to over 1450 fps in the four-inch barrel SP101, and only 9 fps slower with the Federal 100-grain loading.

Muzzle blast is similar to the .357 Magnum, but recoil is less. I think the .327 Federal is as good as it gets in a full-power .32 caliber revolver.

After all, any advantages of the less powerful .32 Smith and Wesson Long may be realized simply by loading this cartridge in the accurate but lightweight Ruger SP101.

Hornady Critical Defense .32 Caliber projectiles
Hornady Critical Defense (left) compared to the Buffalo Bore 100-grain XTP loading (right). This is interesting performance.

7.62mm Tokarev

This is a powerful .32 caliber (or .30) I could not exclude. The Russians adopted this cartridge based on excellent results with the 7.62mm Mauser pistol.

A simple Browning design with some improvements, the TT-33 is above all else, a durable handgun and perhaps the most underrated military handgun of all time.

Russian and Polish TT-33s are very well made. The Chinese guns are often very rough, and are made to sell. A correspondent living in the great American Desert often dusts off coyotes with his, including hits past 100 yards.

Original ballistics are an 86-grain FMJ at 1300 to 1500 fps depending on the load and country of origin. Results in personal defense are quoted as good if the bullet hits bone.

Most surplus or currently available ammunition is loaded at 1200 to 1400 fps. Wolf/PPU offers a hollow-point loading. It expands quickly and penetrates about 10 inches.

It clocks 1214 fps from my TT-33 and functions perfectly. I wish it were a bit hotter as this seems to be a waste of potential in a fine handgun.

Handloaders may work up some very interesting variations. A 100-grain Hornady XTP at 1250 fps in a good, tight, top-quality Tokarev isn’t out of the question.

Tokarev TT-33 .32 Caliber Pistol
The TT-33 is perhaps the most underrated .32 caliber service pistols.

The .32s have been around a long, long time. At their best, they are wonderful outdoor cartridges. They offer an advantage over the .22 Long Rifle and the .22 Magnum in taking a larger class of small game.

While I am shy of the standard .32 caliber pistols for personal defense, the .32 H&R Magnum begins edging into interesting territory. The hyper-velocity .327 Federal Magnum offers advantages for many of us.

I see it as an outdoor gun for those that may be concerned with personal defense as a secondary consideration. Many of the .32 caliber pistols are quite accurate and easy to use well, and that is all we may ask.

What’s your favorite .32 caliber pistol cartridge? Why? Let us know in the comments below!

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Comments (20)

  1. Has anyone fired 380acp in the Charter Arms Professional 32 h&r revolver?. Results? Advisability of doing it? Would someone please list all cartridges (not loads) the Professional can safely shoot? Charter Arms customer service says 32 h&r, 32 sw long but not shorts. No comment on 32 acp. Help? Thanks.

  2. I like the Ruger Single Six in 32 H&R Magnum
    The federal loads shoot pretty good but I wanted to see how good I really could be at Target shooting with this great little revolver so I worked up a load to shoot a 32 cal wad- cuter !
    I have been a shooter my entire life
    And have shot hundreds of pistols in all types of calibers and with great success,
    But this gun and caliber was more fun than any gun I have ever shot!!!
    It was cheep to shoot and more accurate when reloaded than anything.
    All I can say is Fun!!!Fun!!!Fun!!!
    O yes I’ve had the Ruger 32 H&R about 35 years? Bought when they first came out.

    1. The .32 H&R Magnum is my favorite handgun round. Accurate out of a 4+ inch barrel and won’t break your wrist either.

    2. I agree. The 32 Long is quite pleasant, like shooting a .22 LR. The 32HR is much more powerful, but tolerable. The 327 Federal is LOUD and feels a 38+P or moderate 357 load.

  3. Have experienced shooting.32 SW Long , .32H&R Mag and .32Federal Magnum… all are good rounds in their own right but by far my favorite is the.32Federal Magnum from a RugerSP101 & even more so from a Henry lever gun… very fast & accurate round for a .32 pistol cartridge

  4. I have owned several different .32acp pistols. As for quality a Seacamp is tops, but has some quirks of design I decided I could do without. Mainspring retention was dependent on the magazine being present in it’s well making clearing the gun an exercise in care to not load another round in the chamber. All in all it was a neat little pistol with no sights and a heavy trigger.
    A Beretta Tomcat .32 is what I own now with Speer Gold Dot in the magazine. It’s a pocket pistol for when I can’t pack my usual EDC. As is said it’s not much but it’s better than harsh words. Also it’s what my wife’s arthritic hands can tolerate in single action mode.

  5. You would have a tough time surviving a well placed .327 Federal round. It is a great self- defense round in my opinion.

  6. I really love the 32 ACP and the 32 H&R Mag. Their performance is fine in my opinion for everyday carry and small game hunting. The advantage of most 32s is that it’s fairly small and next to nothing on the recoil. You get 6 shots in a revolver instead of 5 which is a big factor in the revolver world and almost anybody can shoot a semi auto in 32 because it has no kick. The 32 is really underrated in my opinion

  7. I own an Ruger SP 101chambered for /327 Federal Magnum. It’s a terrific revolver. Has a 4+ inch barrel and easy to acquire tru glow sights. The .327 gives you a six shot gun that’s as close to .357 stopping power as you can get in this arrangement. Beyond the extra round chambered over most .357’s is the fact that you can load a host of other .32’s and they shoot well from the revolver. I particularly like shooting the .32 H&R Magnum from this gun. It’s a great practice round because of the reduced blast and muzzle flip compared to the .327. ‘ve shot .32 longs from it. it will fire .32 shorts well too. But the H&R is, to my mind a better practice round. The others are fun and they’re accurate, but they don’t approximate the .327 experience nearly as well as the H&R does. And, that should be important when practicing.

  8. You might want to change the bit about the .32 ACP being used in the Archduke Ferdinand assassination. The assassin used an FN Model 1910 chambered in .380 ACP.

  9. A correction, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were assassinated by Gavrilo Princip using a FN M1910 SN:19074 caliber .380 ACP. The gun is on loan to the Vienna Museum of Military History. A mistake made years ago, is why the .32 story still makes it into print. Interestingly, a M1910 in .380 was also the gun which killed American Politician Huey Long.
    My wife’s Grandfather was a career Law Enforcement Officer here in Pueblo, CO. Started with the Police Department in the 20’s, retired and went to the Sheriff’s Department in the 60s. Served as Acting Sheriff for nearly two years (until the next election was held). His Service Revolver ( which at the time he started, officers were required to buy their own) was a Smith & Wesson Model 1905 Hand Ejector chambered in .32-20 Winchester or as it was also known, the .32 WCF. The gun’s still in another branch of the family.

  10. I enjoyed the article, but would like to correct one popular misconception. The pistol used to kill Archduke Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, was a FN M1910, serial number 19074, chambered in 380 ACP. For many years it was misreported as being a 32 ACP, so the mistake is understandable. Regarding the stopping power of the 32 S&W Long, an old friend of mine once used a 4” S&W revolver chambered in this caliber to protect himself and his wife from a drunken, crazed, knife-wielding intruder in their shop. Lee hit the attacker several times and settled him down, but did not kill him. Both he and Sarah received several nonfatal knife wounds in the process. After recovering, I took Lee out for a little training with his pistol, and focused on bullet placement and double taps. Because he almost never practiced, Lee was not a very good shot and he had a pronounced flinch. Though I pleaded with him to buy something bigger like a 38 Special and shoot it occasionally, he just shook his head and complained about the cost of a new gun and ammunition. Lee continued to use that Smith, loaded with those anemic round nose lead bullets (probably from the original fifty round box), until the day he died of natural causes. At least he never had to face the challenge of defending anyone’s life with it again, nor was he haunted by the grim memory of having killed a man. That’s about the most positive thing I can say about the 32.

  11. As a retired ER Nurse, I spent more than 30 years working in several busy ER’s, ranging from large suburban hospitals that catered to the more well-heeled clientele to inner city hospitals where the usual clientele was considered to be less than socially acceptable by many in the city. As such, I have seen more gun shots than I can count, (it would have to number well into triple, if not four, digit figures) and in just about every caliber imaginable.
    My first experiences with GSW’s took place in the Army, when I was a medic playing out in the field someplace overseas back in the very early 70’s. Our team was trained in SAR/Recon. My first experience with the 1911A1 took place there as that was what I was issued. When I got out, I spent most of the next 40 years in ER as an RN. When I retired from ER, I went into teaching and finished my career passing on what years of experience taught me.
    Over those years, I saw multiple patients who had been shot with .32 caliber rounds. That caliber is memorable to me because I don’t remember ONE of those patients that died from that round. Because of my previous experiences in the Army, it reinforced the thought that Colonel Cooper was right when he opined something to the effect of ‘Bring enough gun.’
    I am not saying that the .32 will not kill people, the author gave one such story, but I am saying, in my experience, I have seen NO ONE who was killed with this round (or with the .380.) I have seen patients who were killed with .22 and .25 caliber who eventually bled out from their wounds, but more than one went on to kill their shooter before they died. That just meant it was absolutely their appointed time to die.
    As far as the .32, one case in particular comes to mind; in 1979, I believe it was, we had a woman (she was a hooker, shot on a drug deal gone south) who took a round in the forehead from a .32. On the CT scan, we could see the track of the bullet as it went straight to the back of her skull and did a ricochet, making a pattern of a 4 in her brain. Think of the bottom of the 4 as the entry, the top as the rear of her cranial vault, and the slug ended up lodged against one side of the skull after bouncing off the other side. I do not remember which side it ended up on, it’s been more than 40 years, and I have slept since then.
    She was admitted to the ICU; the neurosurgeon decided against trying to remove the thing because surgery would cause more problems than leaving it alone and he did not really expect her to survive the night. Several weeks later, he was in the ER and that case came up. He surprised us all when he said that she was discharged and the only deficits that he had observed were a noticeable foot drop on one side and she had a distinct slurring of her speech. He added that since he didn’t know what her speech was like before the injury, he could not directly attribute that to the wound. But, he stated, she was still in possession of the slug in her brain.
    I have seen multiple through and through extremity wounds from a .32 that were admitted or treated and streeted to the custody of the PD. Even chest and gut wounds survived, although there were a lot of problems they were going to have to deal with later, chest tubes, colostomies, and stuff like that. Still, they survived.
    Any gunshot CAN kill someone if the stars happen to all line up in just the right order. Gun fights are not like in the movies. All the training in the world goes out the window for many people that first time the noise gets loud; ask any vet who will talk about it. It takes several times before you figure it out what you really need to be doing.
    Anyway, IF you are choosing a carry gun, it is a good idea to choose a caliber that is more likely to stop the other guy than just p!$$ him off. If the other guy is on any kind of drugs, you probably just fanned the flame of his anger and rage.
    Now, I am not a fan of the 9 mm, but that is what I would consider to be the BARE minimum to carry. In my experience, anything less is begging to be a statistic on a police blotter. As for me, I will continue to pack my 1911 when I do carry.

  12. Owned a CZ52 and handloaded 7.62×25. With STARLINE Brass, it was more of a short barreled .30 Carbine than a .32 Auto. Could use .308 – 110 gr HP Carbine bullets, as the 7.62×25 is actually a .309 caliber, in the CZ52, Never had a TT-33, so not sure of the bore size of those handguns.

    Wish that someone would design a modern 7.62×25 handgun. Think it would be a better chambering for an 8″ – 12″ barrel length “handgun” than the 5.56 or 9mm so popular now. Still a lot of surplus ammo floating around as well.

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