Compared: The .22 WMR and .32 H&R Magnum

By Chuck Hawks

Both the .22 WMR (.22 Magnum) and the .32 H&R Magnum have some valid personal defense applications in small frame or mini revolvers, but both are most at home in the field. Both offer low recoil, a relatively flat trajectory, a sharp but not booming report, and a considerably higher level of performance than the .22 LR, the traditional trail or "kit" gun caliber.

The .22 WMR is a child of the 1950's. It uses a rimfire case that is both slightly fatter that the .22 LR case and considerably longer, about 1 1/16 inches. Instead of the 40 grain inside lubricated .220 inch bullet of the .22 LR, the .22 WMR uses a modern 40 grain JHP bullet of standard .224 inch diameter.

Revolvers in .22 WMR have been produced by most of the major handgun makers. Among the most famous models are the Ruger Super Single Six Convertible, the Ruger Bearcat Convertible, the S&W Kit Gun, and the discontinued Colt Scout and New Frontier .22 Convertibles. The North American Arms Mini-Master .22 Magnum, a mini-frame revolver available with adjustable sights and a (relatively) heavy 4 inch barrel, at only 10.7 ounces, is the lightest kit gun on the market. The "convertible" revolvers come with two interchangeable cylinders, one for .22 LR cartridges, and one for .22 WMR cartridges. This added versatility makes them exceptional trail and camp guns.

The .22 WMR is also a popular rifle cartridge. Many shooters own both rifles and revolvers chambered for the .22 Magnum.

.22 WMR cartridges are marketed by all of the major rimfire ammunition makers in the U.S., including CCI, Federal, Remington, and Winchester. Bullet weights range from 34 grains to 50 grains, with 40 grains being the most popular. I have chronographed CCI Maxi-Mag 40 grain JHP bullets at a velocity of 1400 fps 10 feet from a 6 1/2 inch revolver barrel. The muzzle energy (ME) of this load is 174 ft. lbs. The mid-range trajectory is about 2 inches over 100 yards. The .22 Mag's 40 grain JHP bullet is noted for fast expansion and deadly performance on small game animals. Head shots are recommended at short to medium ranges, as the result of torso hits can be very messy.

The .32 H&R Magnum was introduced in 1984 as the result of a joint development project by Federal and Harrington & Richardson. It uses a typical centerfire, rimmed revolver case 1.075 inches in length. The bullet diameter is .312 inch.

Revolvers in .32 H&R Magnum have been offered by Harrington & Richardson, S&W, Taurus, and Ruger (a centerfire version of the Single Six also offered in .22 LR/.22 WMR). As of this writing H&R no longer manufactures revolvers, and the S&W and Taurus models offered in .32 H&R appear to be limited to "snubbies" intended for self defense. So the Ruger Single Six variations offered in .32 Mag. are the most viable field pistols. All .32 H&R Magnum revolvers can also shoot less powerful .32 S&W and .32 S&W Long cartridges.

Federal Cartridge is the sole supplier of .32 Mag. factory loads. They offer two loads, a 95 grain lead semi-wadcutter bullet at a muzzle velocity (MV) of 1030 fps and ME of 225 ft. lbs. and an 85 grain JHP bullet at a MV of 1100 fps and ME of 230 ft. lbs. The latter is the preferred load for most purposes. At 100 yards it is traveling at 930 fps and carrying 165 ft. lbs. of kinetic energy. The mid-range trajectory of the 85 grain JHP bullet is 4.3 inches over 100 yards.

A ballistic comparison of the .22 WMR and .32 H&R Mag. shows marked differences in the two cartridges. In velocity, the .22 WMR has about a 200-300 fps advantage at all ranges. This means a significantly flatter trajectory, allowing hits on small game animals at perhaps 50% greater range.

The .32 H&R Mag. has a significant (approximately 30%) advantage in kinetic energy at all ranges. This means greater killing power on larger game.

The .32 has an obvious advantage in bullet frontal area, only partially offset by the violent expansion of the .22 WMR JHP bullet. An advantage in frontal area, other factors being equal, means a bigger crush cavity and increased stopping power.

The .32 Mag. also has a slight advantage in sectional density (SD). The SD of an 85 grain JHP bullet for the .32 Mag. is .125; the SD of a 40 grain .22 WMR bullet is .114. Sectional density is a factor in bullet penetration.

The ballistics of the two cartridges suggests that the .32 Mag. is the better choice for self-defense, in the field or anywhere else, and a better choice for the largest of the smaller game animals or small predators. It is not, however, an adequate deer cartridge at any range. The .22 Magnum is probably a superior small game and varmint hunting cartridge due to its flat trajectory and the violent expansion of its 40 grain JHP bullet. It also has a considerably greater maximum point blank range, which can be a factor in the wilderness.

The selection of new .22 WMR revolvers is better, and they are more widely distributed. .32 H&R revolvers are rather thin on the ground. Ditto for used revolvers.

.22 WMR ammunition is very widely distributed, with a selection at almost all ammunition dealers. .32 H&R cartridges are available at most gun shops, but not necessarily at general sporting goods stores and departments.

Naturally, the cost of the centerfire .32 Mag. cartridges is also considerably greater than the cost of the rimfire .22 Mag. cartridges. On the other hand, .32 H&R cases can be reloaded at considerable savings in cost, and .22 WMR cases cannot.

Although both the .22 WMR and .32 H&R Magnum cartridges are excellent choices for kit, trail, camp, and general field use they are quite different, with different strengths and weaknesses. The person who does not reload is probably well advised to choose the .22 Magnum due to less expensive and more widely distributed ammunition. But for the reloader the choice is more complicated. One of each may be the best solution.

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Copyright 2003, 2013 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.