The .32 S & W Long (.32 Colt New Police)

By Chuck Hawks

The .32 S&W Long is a 100 year old revolver cartridge that would be obsolete except for its excellent accuracy and the fact that it can serve as an understudy to the .32 H&R Magnum.

The .32 S&W Long became quite popular in the first third of the 20th Century. Smith and Wesson introduced their Long cartridge in the First Model Hand Ejector. The small revolver frame that Smith & Wesson now calls their "J" frame was originally designed for a .32 caliber cylinder. Colt chambered revolvers for what they called the .32 Colt New Police, which was the same as the S&W Long, only the Colt version used a flat point bullet instead of the round nose slug loaded in the S&W version of the cartridge. Both were widely used by civilians and even saw some use by American police departments, particularly in the Eastern US.

A good .32 revolver was and is accurate and easy to shoot. Muzzle blast and recoil are low. .32's were much favored by shooters who found the recoil of the larger .38 caliber revolvers objectionable. Women of that era found that a compact .32 revolver could be carried in a purse, and men carried them in coat pockets. Because of its excellent accuracy and low recoil, the .32 S&W Long became popular with target shooters.

The cartridge also became popular in Europe, where it is still used for formal target shooting. Many thousands of .32 S&W Long revolvers were turned out for the civilian and police markets. The 2002 Shooter's Bible shows that the very expensive Walther GSP Expert target pistol, a semi-automatic, is chambered for the .32 S&W.

A wide variety of revolvers have been produced in .32 Long, some (like S&W and Colt target models) were excellent guns of high quality, most were of ordinary quality, and a few (particularly the cheap imports) were pretty sad. Both top break and swing out cylinder revolvers have been chambered for the cartridge. The top break models are generally not as strong as the solid frame guns.

The .32 S&W Long is supposed to use .312 inch diameter bullets, but the groove diameters of old .32 revolvers has been known to vary widely. It is a good idea to slug the barrel of any old .32 revolver to verify that it is safe with modern bullets. Groove diameters between .310-.313 inch should prove satisfactory. Also check the cylinder gap, it should not be greater than .008 inch on any old revolver that is to be fired.

Stopping power is not the selling point of the .32 S&W Long, despite the thousands of snub-nose revolvers that were sold for protection. The industry standard maximum average pressure for the cartridge is only 12,000 cup.

Factory loads are available from Federal, Remington, and Winchester. They are all similar. Winchester figures show a 98 grain lead round nose bullet at a muzzle velocity (MV) of 705 fps from a 4 inch revolver barrel. This relatively feeble load delivers 115 ft. lbs. of muzzle energy (ME). Of course, at this velocity there is ordinarily no bullet expansion. That load has a 2.3 inch mid-range trajectory over 50 yards. This is the general purpose load.

Federal offers a .32 S&W Long factory load with a 98 grain lead wadcutter bullet for target shooting. This has a MV of 780 fps and delivers 130 ft. lbs. of ME, also from a 4 inch revolver barrel.

Anyone who chooses to can reload .32 Long cartridges. It is a straight forward process, just like any other standard revolver caliber. One can use either .32 S&W Long dies or .32 H&R Magnum dies, since the rim size and body diameter of the cases are identical. (The .32 Magnum case is merely longer.) There are not a lot of modern .312 inch bullets, but there are some. Speer offers both a 98 grain hollow base wadcutter for target shooting and a 100 grain JHP (developed for the .32 Magnum).

The target loads shown for the 98 grain wadcutter bullet in the Speer Reloading Manual No. 13 delivered a MV of 674 fps on top of 1.6 grains of Bullseye powder, and 1.8 grains of Bullseye gave a MV of 777 fps. These loads used Remington brass and CCI 500 primers, and were chronographed in a 4" barrel. Such loads would be my choice for general purpose use if I owned a good .32 S&W Long revolver. At 750+ fps the 98 grain wadcutter bullet ought to make a pretty good small game cartridge out to about 50 yards.

Back to the Handgun Cartridge Page

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