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The Ultimate Reloading Manual
Wolfe Publishing Group
  • alliant reloading data
  • reloading brass
  • shotshell reloading
The Ultimate Reloading Manual
hodgdon load data

.32 Winchester Special (using Hornady bullets)

Author: Brian Pearce / Wolfe Publishing Co.
Date: Mar 20 2013

The first .32 Winchester Special was shipped in October, 1901 (first catalogued in 1902) in the Winchester Model 1894 lever-action rifle. The gun press has often confused the purpose and specifics of the cartridge; however, according to Winchester, it was designed as a smokeless powder cartridge to offer a larger caliber and greater power than the .30-30 WCF that could be handloaded with black powder. Bullet diameter has been standardized today at .321 inch while some early loads contained bullets as small as .318 inch. The case was created by necking up the .30-30 Winchester.

The .32 Winchester Special performance advantage is not large when compared to current .30-30 WCF factory loads and thus many have questioned why the cartridge even existed. That question is easily understood when we consider that for the first several decades of its existence the .30-30 was loaded to notably lower velocities than it is today. The .32 Winchester Special’s ballistic advantage was indeed significant. It was certainly enough to help it become popular and enjoy brisk sales for more than half a century.

Today’s advertised velocities from Federal, Winchester and Remington push a 170-grain bullet to 2,250 fps, but actually produce between 2,100 to 2,150 fps from the 20-inch barrel of the Winchester carbine. These velocities were easily duplicated (and sometimes exceeded) using Hornady 170-grain FP’s pushed with 8208 XBR, IMR-3031, IMR-4064, Leverevolution and IMR-4320 powders. Accuracy was outstanding.

Hornady offers a .32 Winchester Special factory load with a 165-grain FTX bullet at an advertised 2,410 fps. Due to a tremendous industry backorder on ammunition at this time, this load was unavailable for comparison purposes.

When firing handloads in a single-shot rifle, no crimp will be necessary; however, a heavy roll crimp will be important when loaded in repeating rifles with tubular magazines to prevent bullets from being deep seated when subjected to magazine tube pressure and recoil.