The Practical .32 H & R Magnum

By Chuck Hawks

The .32 H & R Magnum was introduced in 1984. It was a joint development of the Federal Cartridge Company and Harrington & Richardson. Any firearm chambered for the .32 Magnum can also use the earlier .32 S&W and .32 S&W Long cartridges.

H & R introduced the first revolver for the cartridge, a 5-shot DA with a 4" barrel. This was primarily a personal defense weapon. H & R saw the .32 Mag. as an alternative to the standard .38 Special, since both produce about the same energy level. The .32's advantage is that it kicks less and can be chambered in a revolver with a smaller diameter cylinder. Soon afterward Ruger chambered their popular Single Six SA revolver for the cartridge, which put it into the hunting fields. T/C chambered their Contender single shot hunting pistol for the .32 Magnum, and S&W and Taurus chamber revolvers for the cartridge.

The .32 Magnum case is a typical rimmed revolver case with straight sides. It has a rim diameter of .375" and a case length of 1.075". The overall cartridge length is 1.35" and the nominal bullet diameter is .312". The SAAMI maximum average pressure is 21,000 cup.

The .32 H&R Mag. is a good cartridge to reload. Its rimmed case is modern and durable, and the Federal brass is of high quality. Starline offers new unprimed brass for the reloader. The Federal factory loads and all revolvers use .312" bullets, but the Contender .32 Mag. barrel has a .308" groove diameter and will give best accuracy with .308" bullets.

Although the .32 Mag. is a satisfactory defense cartridge, much better than the .32 ACP, I see it as most useful as a field cartridge. Its low report makes it pleasant to shoot and its relatively flat trajectory and good striking power make it an excellent cartridge for a trail gun.

Federal offers two factory loads for the .32 H&R Magnum, a 95 grain lead semi-wadcutter bullet at 1030 fps and 225 ft. lbs. of energy, and an 85 grain JHP bullet (SD .125) at 1100 fps with 230 ft. lbs. of energy, measured in a 4" revolver barrel. The latter load is the one to use for hunting or defense. Unfortunately, the other major loading companies do not load for the .32 Mag.

The downrange energy figures for the 85 grain JHP bullet read like this: 210 ft. lbs. at 25 yards, 195 ft. lbs. at 50 yards, 175 ft. lbs. at 75 yards, and 165 ft. lbs. at 100 yards. At 100 yards the 85 grain bullet is still traveling at 930 fps. The Federal 85 grain JHP bullet has a mid range rise of 1" when zeroed at 50 yards, 2.3" when zeroed at 75 yards, and 4.3" when zeroed at 100 yards.

For general field use I would zero a .32 Mag. revolver at 75 yards, as I would a .22 LR hunting pistol. This will allow hits out to 100 yards by holding about 3-4" above the desired point of impact.

According to the Speer Reloading Manual Number 13 their 100 grain JHP bullet (SD .147) can be driven to a MV of 1039 fps by 9.5 grains of H110 powder, and 1140 fps by 10.5 grains of H110. The latter load carries almost 290 ft. lbs. of ME. These loads were developed using Federal cases and CCI 500 primers, and tested in the 5.5" barrel of a Ruger Single Six revolver.

Ballistically, as applied to revolvers, the .32 Mag. is much like the earlier .32-20, which was originally designed for black powder. Being a modern smokeless powder cartridge, the .32 H&R Mag. packs similar power in a smaller case. It is a fine small game, varmint, and predator cartridge that makes a lot of sense.

For 2008, Federal Cartridge introduced a new .32 caliber revolver cartridge, the .327 Federal Magnum. Due to its longer case and the fact that it is loaded to higher pressure, this new cartridge claims a MV of 1500 fps with a 100 grain bullet.

I mention it here because the .327 Federal is based on a lengthened .32 H&R case and looks for all the world like a miniature .357 Magnum. Despite its odd nomenclature, the .327 Federal takes the same diameter bullets as the .32 H&R Mag. and the .32 Long. Any revolver chambered for .327 Federal Mag. can also fire .32 H&R Mag., .32 Long and even .32 Short cartridges. This lets the shooter with a .327 Federal revolver who is not a reloader use .32 H&R Mag. cartridges as medium velocity ammunition and .32 Long cartridges for target shooting. Perhaps the .327 Federal will help some shooters discover the joys of the .32 H&R Mag.

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Copyright 2002, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.