Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The .327 Federal Magnum

The folks at Federal Cartridge reinvented the .32-20 Winchester a while back. They call it the .327 Federal Magnum and, like the .32 H&R Magnum and the .32 S&W Long it is just another lengthened .32 S&W. So, this new cartridge goes back to among the very first of the American centerfire cartridges.

I would submit that the .327 Fed is only a cartridge because the ammomakers are afraid of all those very old .32-20 revolvers and even the old '73 Winchester rifles and carbines. Some pretty savvy gunnies have had some of the limited production Ruger Single Action .32-20 revolvers loaded to hotter ballistics than the .327. Still, knowing about all those old Colt Police Positive Specials in .32-20 and today's refusing to read the label consumers, I can understand the new cartridge.

The main gun this newish cartridge is loaded in is Ruger's SP101, a small framed "hideout gun." I own one in .357 Magnum. In that guise it is a five shot revolver that, in spite of it's small size, is tough enough to take any load I have ever stuffed in it. I, however, am not that tough, so I keep it loaded with various midrange loads. Most often a handload with a 158 grain soft lead semiwadcutter hollowpoint at a measured velocity of 1000 fps. This recoils a lot less than the full charge loads yet is stout enough for any serious use. If I were going somewhere I did not wish to carry hand loads I'd use one of the +P or +P+ .38 loads.

The SP101 in .327 Federal Magnum, though, is a six shot revolver and even with the very stoutest loads, a 100 grain bullet at 1500 fps from a three inch tube, does not kick as much as the big loads from a .357. It is almost as LOUD, though. The muzzle blast from a three inch .357 or .327 is impressive, another reason for a somewhat downloaded round.

The handloader, of course, can load whatever (s)he wishes, from loads that barely get a single buckshot out going fast enough to pierce a tin can at seven yards to a load that strains the brass shell case. The person shooting factory loads has a lot of choices, too. The old .32 S&W is really hard to find and is kind of useless, although still good for very small game at close range or, perhaps, good for teaching someone who has never held a shootin' iron before how not to be afraid of the gun.

The next two choices are useful, though. The .32 S&W Long is wonderfully accurate. With it's light recoil and low report it is a great load for target shooting, plinking and small game hunting. If I were going out in the woods someplace I would feel quite comfortable with a cylinder full of those. The factory ballistics are a bullet of 98-100 grains at about 800 fps. This is plenty for snakes and small game, it's loud enough to discourage feral dogs and will put one away if it's put in the right spot. It's not the exact load I'd choose if I were going up against feral humans but I would not feel exactly naked, either. After all, when Teddy Roosevelt was New York City's Commissioner of Police, that is the cartridge he chose to arm police officers. This load is very close to the .32-20 black powder load and a lot of folks considered themselves well armed with one of those irons, back in the day.

Someday I shall write something about the myths of everyone in the old west carrying shootin' irons with bores the size of sewer pipes, along with a few other myths.

The next step up is the .32 H&R Magnum. This load is right up with the loads for the good revolvers in .32-20, say back before 1920 or so. A 100 grain bullet at around 12-1300 fps out of a six inch barrel. A stronger gun than those H&Rs could give a bit more, the term "Magnum " in this case is sort of false advertising. The .32 H&R could have been loaded in the .32 S&W Long case except for fear of the weak old guns in .32 Long. Not all those old .32s were weak. The old literature is full of handloaders loading it up to power past the .32 H&R levels in the stronger guns.

Notice a pattern? Each time the gun industry puts out a stronger gun, the cartridge companies make a longer cartridge case so the consumer cannot blow himself up. Meanwhile, the grand old .32-20 sits in the back corner, unloved except by those of us with long memories. When the grand old man of the shooting game, the late Elmer Keith bought his very first centerfire revolver, he bought a Colt Single Action Army in .32-20. That seven and a half inch Colt brought a lot of game down, although Saint Elmer of Keith thought it was too light for Elk.

A generation later than Elmer's first CF revolver, a guy named Skeeter Skelton got out of the Service and. with his saved money, bought a personal sidearm, a seven and a half inch Colt Single Action Army in, you guessed it, .32-20. This famous old southwestern lawman became a gun writer himself, the whole shooting world mourned his (too early) death. Something else about these too men who bought the .32-20s early in their careers, both went on to be recognized in the yearly "Greatest American Handgunner" award. Now I cannot promise that you, the reader, will ever win high honors by choosing this, or any other, .32 but, it can't hurt.

This leads us to the latest .32, the .327 Federal Magnum. This is the first of the new cartridges loaded to true magnum handgun pressures. The .32-20 was, for a while, loaded to nearly the same pressures, the "High Velocity" shells were only supposed to go into the 92 Winchester and a very few handguns like the SAA. This round was discontinued for WW2 and never picked back up.

The .327 shoots the same .311-313 bullets as the other .32s. It's a long and old story why they are called .32s and not .31s, short version, the earliest of the .32s used outside lubricated heel type bullets of the same diameter as the ca'tridge case. This is the same kind of bullet now used in the .22 rimfires. Now this was back when all bullet lubes were soft and sticky, if you carried a gunfull or two of those cartridges in a pocket they got all kinds of crud on them, this was carried into the gun and didn't do much for the barrel. Plus, as anyone who has ever carried a mess of .22s in a pants pocket knows, they are easily bent, playing hob with reliability and accuracy. So, they soon went to bullets that fit the lube grooves inside the cases, the bullets were very slightly smaller so they would fit. Being soft lead, the black powder charge slugged the bullet up enough to fit in the larger barrels. Then, the new guns barrels eventually went from .32 to .31 but they never changed the name. Now you know more than you ever wanted about why .32s shoot .31 bullets, .38s shoot .357 bullets, .44s shoot .429 bullets. Oddly, .45s shoot .45 bullets, the same caliber as the muzzle loading .44 revolvers from the Civil War era. Try not to think on it too much. Every time I try I need a nap until the headache goes away.

At any rate, I mentioned that the first gun this new cartridge was chambered in was the Ruger SP101. This is a pure D defense and carry gun. While there are many who scoff at a .32 as a combat round I do not see many of the scoffers volunteering to sand in front of one.

The sights on the .327 Ruger are different than the sights on my .357 SP101. My sights are fixed. I did a little file work on mine and it puts my favored handload right where it looks. If I wanted to drastically change the load I'd have to order a new front sight blade and redo the work. The .327 has a rear sight adjustable for windage and you adjust elevation by changing out the front sight blade, an easy task.

Ruger also makes the two other revolvers to fit this cartridge, although they are hard to find. Their fine GP100 and their Single Action. Both of these carry more than six shots, one seven and the other eight. Both of these guns are, in my opinion, 'way too heavy for a carry gun. I'm not much on tellin' folks what to do but if you want either one of these guns, do carry it in some kind of shoulder holster. Either one, in a belt holster will lead to back trouble. Kind of like what happens to uniformed Police Officers with all the crap they now carry on their gunbelts.

There are some other gunmakers loading this round, unfortunately no carbines or rifles yet. This round would be just the huckleberries in a Marlin 1894, unfortunately they are going out of business. Winchester no longer makes guns. The only hope is the various foreign companies making 92 Winchester clones.

There are, so far, three loads for this ca'tridge. Federal has a load made as a combat load, the excellent Hydrashok hollow point at 1330 fps. All these velocities are clocked from that 3 and one sixteenth inch barrel. At any rate, the Hydrashok weighs 85 grains and it is somewhat downloaded from what it could be. This for lower recoil and muzzle blast. Although a lifetime of saying "huh, what?" is better than being killed, deafness is a pain best avoided. If I didn't already have the five shooter .357 I would look long and hard at this gun and load to defend my home and family.

The next load is the Federal American Eagle 100 grain soft point at 1400 fps. This load will shoot flatter than the 158 grain .357. A gun with about the same frame size as the SP101 but a six or seven and a half inch barrel would be a fine gun for the sports(wo)man.

The load I like best is Speer's 115 grain Gold Dot Hollowpoint at 1300 fps. This is a near copy of Elmer's fine old load with that weight bullet only hard cast lead alloy.This load and the same weight bullet, only cast, would be a great all around load for both carbine and handgun. The hollow point will, of course, penetrate less than a hard cast lead will. This load would be fine for anything up to and including deer. I would not choose this cartridge for deer hunting if I were a city feller, with only a short time to go a long way to land I didn't know. It's a cartridge, like the .32-20 for the folks who live where the deer live, who know where, and how, to get close and wait for the right shot.

So, this is an updated copy of an 1889 Winchester development. Unlike the .32-20, though, the .327 Federal is a straight case, not tapered. This does not mean anything to the folks shooting factory loads but is a boon to the handloader. A straight case needs no lube when sized in a carbide sizing die, the somewhat bottlenecked v=case of the .32-20 does need lube. The hand loader knows this, the factory shooter doesn't care.

If I were loading this cartridge I would shoot cast bullets in the 115 grain range and also size some double aught buckshot down from .33 caliber to .313 and seat it over just a tad of Bullseye or Titegroup. I'd seat that buckshot down far enough to slip a tad of bullet lube down over it,I would only seat the shot down far enough to where I could get the lube around the curved part. This would be a cheap plinking load, not much more expensive than a .22.

Anyhow, that's the newest .32. There is some controversy. Was it named after Chevrolet's finest engine ever, the .327 or was it called the .327 because it beminds people of the .357? While it doesn't have the power of the .357, it doesn't kick as much either. It does easily match the 9mm Luger. That makes it a pretty fair round.

1 comment:

Marty Kavanagh said...

Hi Pete from New Zealand,

You know your 32s. - A well researched article. I'm very happy with my RUGER SP101 (4 inch).

I have loaded some duplex loads that are good at close in ranges.

I blog at

& my new email address is :

- I think we may be of similar vintage.
Well done mate,

Marty K.