The .327 Federal Magnum Revolver Cartridge

By Chuck Hawks

.327 Federal Mag.
Illustration courtesy of Federal Cartridge / ATK.

Federal Cartridge's big news for 2008 was the introduction of a new revolver cartridge, the .327 Magnum. Despite its name, nothing about the.327 Magnum's bullet or bore diameter measures even close to .327". This new magnum cartridge uses a standard ".32" caliber bullet. That is, the actual bullet diameter is .312", the same as the .32 H&R Magnum and .32 S&W Long. These should properly be called .303 cartridges based on their approximate bore diameter, or .312 cartridges based on their bullet diameter. ".312 Magnum" would have been an honest name for Federal's new cartridge, but that would not have invoked the image and romance of the famous .357 Magnum, which the marketing spin-doctors clearly hoped to do. Actually, with its long nickel-plated case, the new cartridge does look like a smaller version of the .357 Magnum.

The .327 Magnum case is based on the earlier .32 H&R Magnum case lengthened about 1/8th inch. The .32 H&R was itself based on a lengthened version of the .32 S&W Long case, which was based on a lengthened .32 S&W case. The result of all this case lengthening is that a revolver chambered for the .327 Magnum can also safely fire all of these previous cartridges.

A good thing, as shooting full power .327 Magnum loads in a Ruger SP101 revolver with a 3" barrel (the first firearm chambered for the new cartridge) is not fun. A "ladies" gun in a lightweight, personal defense revolver the .327 Magnum is not. Those shooters looking for moderate recoil and muzzle blast would be well advised to stick with .32 H&R Mag. ammunition, buy a .38 Special revolver or invest in a much larger and heavier Ruger Blackhawk .327 Mag. revolver.

ATK, through their various ammunition brands (including Federal, American Eagle and Speer), offers five factory loads for the new caliber. These include one Federal Premium, two in the Federal "American Eagle" brand and two from Speer.

In the Federal Premium Personal Defense Low Recoil line we have an 85 grain Hydra-Shok jacketed hollow point (JHP) bullet at a muzzle velocity (MV) of 1400 fps with muzzle energy (ME) of 370 ft. lbs. Then there are a pair of more economical American Eagle brand loads. One of these drives a 100 grain jacketed soft point (JSP) bullet at a MV of 1500 fps with ME of 500 ft. lbs. The other mimicks the Federal Premiun Low Recoil load, driving an 85 grain JSP bullet at a MV of 1400 fps and ME of 370 ft. lbs.

The last two ATK .327 Mag. factory loads are sold under the Speer Personal Protection brand. The first of these uses a 115 grain Gold Dot JHP bullet at a MV of 1380 fps and ME of 486 ft. lbs. The second launches a 100 grain Gold Dot JHP at a MV of 1500 fps with ME of 500 fps. All of these ballistics were achieved in a SAAMI standard 4" vented test barrel.

The .327's impressive performance is based on the use of the latest powder technology at high pressure. It is being marketed as a personal defense cartridge that hits harder than the .38 Special +P and kicks less than a .357 Magnum. It also hits about twice as hard as the .32 H&R Magnum, but kicks correspondingly harder.

In a lightweight revolver, the .327's recoil is sharp and its muzzle blast considerable. The Guns and Shooting Online staff reviewed a Ruger SP101 revolver in .327 Magnum caliber in the spring of 2008 and everyone found the recoil and muzzle blast unpleasant, particularly with the full power loads. The .327 SP101's recoil with the full power loads stings the hand, even with a Pachmayr Compac grip on the SP101. We recommend these loads for experienced shooters only. Even the reduced recoil loads kick noticeably harder than a .38 Special revolver or a 9x19mm pistol of similar weight.

Although considerably louder than a .38 Special +P, the muzzle blast of the .327 Mag. in the SP101 is less distracting than the blast from a .357 Magnum. It is a loud, sharp bang, not the violent "blam" of the larger magnums. Even so, you do not want to forget your ear protection when you shoot a .327 Magnum.

Just how the .327 Magnum is supposed to fit into the personal defense picture is unclear. Despite Federal's claims that it was developed for short barreled revolvers like the SP101, it is not well adapted to such guns. There are suitable and far more popular cartridges already on the market for that application. This is not to say that the .327 Magnum is not an effective defense cartridge; a bad guy hit solidly would be unlikely to cause further problems.

A magnum revolver cartridge's downrange performance is much more important to the handgun hunter and outdoorsman than to the shooter interested only in personal protection, and in this area the .327 Magnum shines. In fact, as factory loaded, it shoots flatter than equivalent .357, .41 and .44 Magnum factory loads.

While there are many short range, self-defense handgun cartridges, there are relatively few high velocity revolver cartridges for the recreational shooter. Below .357 caliber, the comparatively anemic .32 H&R Magnum (an 85 grain bullet at a MV of 1120 fps), introduced in 1984, is the most recent centerfire effort and it delivers almost identical muzzle energy to the .22 Rimfire Magnum, which shoots much flatter. For many years recreational shooters and hunters have recognized the need for a modern, flat shooting revolver cartridge between the .22 WMR and the .357 Magnum.

This is exactly what we have in the .327 Federal Magnum, although Federal is not promoting it as such. Ruger has come to the rescue by offering the .327 in their excellent Blackhawk single-action revolver with a 5.5" barrel and fully adjustable sights, which are basic requirements for any hunting handgun. (A 7.5" barrel option would be even better.) The big Blackhawk cylinder holds eight .327 cartridges. We reviewed this revolver in 2010. (See the Product Reviews page.)

The Federal and Speer trajectory charts do not make any effort to take advantage of the new cartridge's high velocity; they are all based on a 25 yard zero. A 25 yard zero is fine for a personal protection pistol, but pretty much worthless to the handgun hunter.

Even so, the Federal ballistic charts reveal something of the .327 Mag's potential. Here is the published trajectory for the American Eagle 100 grain bullet as factory loaded: +/- 0" at 25 yards, -0.2" at 50 yards, -1.6" at 75 yards, -4.5" at 100 yards. The remaining kinetic energy of that load is 310 ft. lbs. at 100 yards. (For comparison, Federal's .32 H&R 95 grain load delivers 155 ft. lbs. and .357 Magnum hunting loads deliver around 400 ft. lbs. of energy at 100 yards.)

Using iron sights, let's zero a 100 grain bullet (BC .167, MV 1500 fps) at 100 yards. The trajectory would then look like this: +1.2" at 25 yards, +2.1" at 50 yards, +1.7" at 75 yards, +/- 0" at 100 yards, -3.3" at 125 yards and -8.2" at 150 yards. Suddenly, you have a viable 125 yard varmint and small predator cartridge! The bullet doesn't fall 4.5" below the line of sight until it is 132 yards from the muzzle.

Now that the .327 Federal Magnum cartridge is offered in the Ruger Blackhawk, recreational shooters and handgun hunters can exploit its inherent capabilities. Smith & Wesson's K-frame Masterpiece revolver would be a natural home for the .327 Magnum, as would equivalent Taurus models and the Colt SAA New Frontier. Revolvers such as these would expand the .327's appeal to hunters and recreational shooters.

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Copyright 2008, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.