The .32-40 Winchester (.32-40 Ballard)

By Chuck Hawks

The .32-40 Winchester was introduced in 1884 for the Ballard single shot match rifle. It was designed as a black powder target cartridge, but it was quickly adapted to both the Winchester and Marlin lever action hunting rifles. In its day the .32-40 was reasonably popular as it was considered an excellent match cartridge and a fair deer cartridge. It was superseded as a hunting cartridge by the introduction of the .32 Winchester Special in 1895, and is now obsolete.

The .32-40 case is an old fashioned looking rimmed design with a lot of body taper. The rim diameter is .506". The case diameter at the head is .4175" and at the mouth it measures .3388". Case length is 2.13" and maximum cartridge overall length is 2.5". Actual bullet diameter is .321".

The original .32-40 load called for a 165 grain, .32 caliber lead bullet in front of 40 grains of black powder, which gave the cartridge its name. Later the black powder was replaced by a smaller quantity of smokeless powder. Either way, the caliber's primary virtues were excellent accuracy and mild recoil.

At one time Winchester loaded standard and high velocity loads for the .32-40, both with 165 grain bullets. The former drove its lead bullet at a muzzle velocity (MV) of 1440 fps and muzzle energy (ME) of 760 ft. lbs. This essentially duplicated the ballistics of the old black powder load. The latter featured a jacketed bullet at a MV of 1752 fps and ME of 1125 ft. lbs. This was the deer hunting load.

The major manufacturers no longer offer factory loaded .32-40 ammunition. However, in the 1980's Winchester offered a John Wayne commemorative rifle in caliber .32-40, and loaded a run of .32-40 ammunition for these rifles.

.32-40 cases can be formed from .38-55, .30-30 or .32 Special brass. According to the 26th Edition of the Hodgdon Data Manual a 170 grain .32 Special bullet can be driven to a MV of 1409 fps by 16.0 grains of H4895 powder.

The maximum load is 22.0 grains of H4895, for a MV of 1864 fps and ME of 1311 ft. lbs. At 150 yards the figures would be 1525 fps and 878 ft. lbs. Using the Speer 170 grain bullet, the trajectory of that load would look like this from a rifle with iron sights: +2.5" at 50 yards, +2.9" at 100 yards, 0 at 150 yards, -6.6" at 200 yards, -17.5" at 250 yards. The .32-40 is about a 150 yard deer cartridge with such a load.

Its hard to see where the .32-40 fits in the modern scheme of things, which no doubt explains its obsolescence. However, for the owner of a .32-40 rifle in good condition, assuming that he or she can find a supply of ammunition or brass, it remains an accurate, mild, fun cartridge to shoot.

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Copyright 2004, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.