The .32 H&R Magnum
Date: Sep 01 2008
I bought the first Ruger Single Six in .32 H&R Magnum I laid eyes on. The pistol had a 5.5- inch barrel, and with the Federal factory loads, it was the most accurate handgun I had ever fired. I carried that pistol almost every day on the farm and shot a bunch of critters, including snakes, skunks, squirrels and even groundhogs with the 85-grain JHP load. For the life of me, I cannot remember why I traded it off or what I traded it for.
Learning the .32 H&R Magnum as You Go
Many years later I picked up another Single Six in .32 H&R Magnum at a pawn shop in Florida while the family was prowling Universal Studios. This one had a 45/8-inch barrel. A few months later I rounded up a Ruger Blackhawk in .32-30 Winchester with an extra cylinder in .32 H&R Magnum and a Marlin 1894 CL in .32-20. I carried them all to a local cowboy action shooting match, and after standing in line about three hours waiting to shoot, I realized the game was more about dress-up than shooting. A fellow with a thick wallet and a big hat bought all three .32s from me for enough money to make a down payment on a custom rifle. A year went by and a friend told me about a good deal on 6.5- inch Single Six at a Helena, Montana, gun shop, and I had it shipped east.
You learn as you go, and for hunting, this longer-barrel pistol was just the ticket. My hit percentage on the small game seemed to double and so did the effectiveness of the bullets. This newly acquired knowledge, along with the acquisition of a Marlin 1894 Cowboy .32 H&R Magnum, spawned an extensive handloading and bullet testing experiment.
.32 H&R Magnum Offers Faster Velocity
Because the .32 H&R Magnum is loaded to higher pressures and velocities, when compared to the .32 S&W Long, .32 H&R factory loads are impressive. Still, I’m not sure the .32 H&R qualifies as a “magnum.” The .38 Special ammunition is loaded to 17,000 psi (18,500 psi for +P loads) and the .357 Magnum is loaded to 35,000 psi. While the .32 H&R Magnum might seem like a magnum compared to the .32 S&W Long, at an operating pressure of 21,000 psi, it’s still a bit bland. One reason for this was the Harrington & Richardson handguns the .32 H&R Magnum cartridge was originally developed for. Ruger’s Single Six and SP 101 can handle hotter loads.
32 H&R Revolver
I’ve tested about every jacketed .312-caliber bullet currently available, and at .32 H&R Magnum muzzle velocities most offer at least minimal expansion. Beyond the muzzle, expansion can become iffy, especially when shooting the heavier bullets from short-barreled revolvers. For this reason, the 60-grain Gold Dot or 60-grain Hornady XTP is a perfect match to short barrels, but load data for both is practically nonexistent. Even though these bullets do not have a cannelure, they can safely be loaded to a muzzle velocity 1,200 fps in Ruger or Smith & Wesson handguns with snubby barrels, and they will still expand out to 25 yards or so. However, I’ve yet to find a maximum load that will give good accuracy out of the Marlin with this bullet.
For handguns with 4- to 5-inch barrels, the 85-grain Hornady XTP and the 90-grain Sierra JHC bullets offer deeper penetration and reasonable expansion at factory velocities. Hotter handloads improve both. At similar impact velocities, the Sierra bullet seems to expand a bit wider and offer more tissue destruction than the XTP.
The 100-grain Hornady XTP bullet cannot be safely pushed fast enough to guarantee measurable and reliable expansion at distances past several yards unless you are using the Marlin 94 Cowboy with a 20-inch barrel. With the rifle, you can get over 1,700 fps with this bullet, and it will hold together when impacting at that speed. If I were going to use the Marlin rifle in .32 H&R Magnum on anything like a javalina, hog or deer, this would be the bullet I would choose.
Based on field performance and the bullet expansion tests, I’ve pretty much settled on the 90-grain Sierra bullet. I load it for both the Marlin and my 6.5-inch Single Six ahead of 6.7 grains of Ramshot True Blue powder. Out to 100 yards, this load is deadly on groundhogs when fired from the Marlin levergun and just as deadly at ranges where I can hit them with the Single Six.
Federal, in conjunction with Ruger, recently brought out the .327 Federal Magnum. This is essentially a thicker-walled .32 H&R Magnum case lengthened by 1/8 inch. The .327 is loaded to a maximum pressure of 45,000 psi and does finally put the .32 in the “magnum” classification. (This is a higher pressure than the .44 Remington Magnum is loaded to.)
Ruger is chambering the .327 Federal cartridge in its SP 101 revolver with a 3-inch barrel. This hardly qualifies as a hunting handgun but would surely suffice as a trail gun for busting snakes and other vermin within spitting distances. This pistol can also fire .32 Short, .32 S&W Long and .32 H&R Magnum cartridges, making it a suitable handgun for personal protection and plinking for the entire family.
I started to have the chamber of the Marlin opened to accept the longer case of the .327 Federal Magnum so I could enjoy this enhanced performance and still shoot .32 H&R Magnum loads. (If you’re interested in this modification, .327 Federal Magnum ammunition will cycle through the Marlin action.) For now, I have decided against it, because .32 H&R handloads have proved entirely sufficient for my use of this rifle, and because the rifle shoots so incredibly well I’m reluctant to fiddle with it.
A variety of powders work well with the .32 H&R Magnum. IMR- 4227 fills the case nicely with maximum loads, but Ramshot’s True Blue meters so well I use it most often. Case capacity is not a real issue with the .32 H&R, but on occasion I will make up some shotshell loads by placing a tight-fitting cardboard disk over the powder charge, filling the rest of the case with shot and crimping another cardboard disk over the shot with the case mouth. With loads like this, powder capacity does matter because you want to get as much shot in the case as possible.
The 32 Magnum Is A Blast - Literally
For sneaking around small fields for groundhogs and walking the Texas brush country looking for jackrabbits, a handgun or rifle in .32 H&R Magnum is a fun companion, but I doubt we will ever see a resurgence of this cartridge. Hopefully, manufacturers will recognize the potential and versatility the .327 Federal offers and we will see new handguns and rifles chambered for it. If so, one of the best things about them will be that they will also fire .32 H&R Magnum ammunition.