Compromise Part 11: Ruger .32s

Big Performance In A Smaller Caliber
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These stainless steel, full-sized Blackhawks with 5 ½" barrels are
a 6-shot .357 Magnum and an 8-shot .327 Magnum.

Let us take a look at the Ruger .32s — namely the .32-20, .32 Magnum and .327 Magnum.

.32 Winchester Centerfire

CF is now mostly known as the .32-20 as it originally was loaded with 20 grains of black powder. Originally designed for the Winchester Model 1873, it was also chambered in the later Model 1892. Around 1890 Colt began chambering this magnificent little cartridge in the Single Action Army and it was the fourth most-popular chambering.

When Ruger brought out the full-sized Bisley Model in the mid-1980s, the original plans called for it to be chambered in .44-40, .38-40 and .32-20. However, none of this happened. Instead, they went with .45 Colt and the three Magnums, .44, .41 and .357. The only .32-20 to ever come from Ruger was the Buckeye Sports Convertible Blackhawk chambered in .32 Magnum with an extra cylinder in .32-20. What Ruger did not do was corrected by the late great John Gallagher.

John Gallagher has now gone home. However, over the years he made several very special sixguns for me chambered in .41 Special, .41 Magnum, .44 Special and .45 Colt. They are all superb examples of custom craftsmanship by a master gunsmith. The first sixgun John ever built for me was what I call my “Big Little Sixgun.” This is actually a big sixgun shooting a small cartridge.

To craft a premier custom .32-20, Gallagher started with a Ruger New Model Blackhawk and the cylinder is a custom-built 8-shot, which is made oversized to completely fill the frame window. It locks up tightly with no wiggle front-to-back or side-to-side and when the hammer is cocked, the smoothness is something that has to be experienced to be believed.

The Gallagher/Ruger can handle some pretty potent loads. Hornady’s 100 XTP-JHP over 11.0 grains of #2400 clocks out at 1,405 fps. Speer’s 100 JHP over the same load has a muzzle velocity of 1,372 fps, and the same Speer bullet over 13.0 grains of H110 hits 1,300 fps. All three place eight shots in less than 1″ at 25 yards. I use these loads sparingly, and not at all in the Colt Single Action. My normal load is 10.0 grains of #2400.

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.32 sixguns compared: .327 Bisley Model and .32 Magnum custom Single-Six .32 Magnum.

.32 Magnum

The first factory loads from Federal were very mild as the .32 Magnum arrived in Harrington & Richardson revolvers and this is why it is known officially as the .32 H&R Magnum. The old H&Rs were not what you would call especially strong. However, handloads for use in the Ruger Single-Six can be loaded much hotter.

The .32 Magnum is nothing more than an elongated .32 Long, a most pleasant-shooting and accurate cartridge especially when chambered in the Smith & Wesson K-32. My stable of Ruger .32 Magnums does not include a single factory version, but rather customized sixguns by Andy Horvath, Gary Reeder and Milt Morrison. I turned a 5 ½” Single-Six over to Milt for some personal touches. To get a little weight out front, I had him install a full-length ejector and steel ejector rod housing and he also re-blued the entire sixgun.

Custom stocks from Tony Kojis were added and I have a one-of-a-kind Compromise Ruger .32 Magnum. My most-used loads for this revolver are assembled with cast bullets, the RCBS 100-grain SWC or the NEI Keith 100-grain over 8.5 grains of #2400 for over 1,200 fps. It makes it a great companion when traveling off the beaten path and able to handle anything I am likely to encounter.

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Targets fired at 20 yards with the 5 ½" Bisley Model .327 Magnum.

These .32 cartridges include (L-R) the .32 S&W, the .32 S&W Long,
the .32 Magnum and the .327 Federal Magnum.

.327 Magnum

If the .32-20 has one drawback, it is found at the reloading press. Case necks buckle easily and different brands of .32-20 brass cases can vary significantly in length. Both of these problems have been addressed and solved by .32-20 brass from Starline — it is significantly stronger than other brands and I have never lost a Starline .32-20 brass case when reloading.

In the 1980s we came very close to modernizing the .32-20. The .32 H&R Magnum took us to the brink but then drew back significantly. The .32-20 and the .32 H&R Magnum are both excellent cartridges but, at least in the mind of manufacturers, they have basically now been replaced by the .327 Federal Magnum.

Reloading the .327 is as easy as any straight-walled cartridge can be. I use RCBS .32 Magnum carbide dies and the powders normally used with sixgun cartridges work with the .327 with my preference for heavy loads leaning to AA #9, #2400 and H110. As far as .32 bullets, any of those previously designed for the .32 Magnum work just fine with my choices being for Hornady’s 85- and 100-grain JHPs, Sierra’s 90-grain JHC and Speer’s 100-grain JHP. Speer introduced a 115-grain Gold Dot Hollow Point specifically for the .327 Federal. The .327 Federal can be somewhat quirky sometimes with extreme spreads in muzzle velocity. However, I have found the best combination to be AA#9 powder and Magnum primers to overcome this.

Ruger chambered the Single-Six and .327 Magnum in both stainless steel and blued versions, with my 5 ½” Ruger being a blued Bisley Model. The recoil of the .327 can be somewhat heavy in the Single-Six, at least for my age-tendered hands but the Bisley Model grip frame helps to lessen felt recoil.

My favorite Ruger .327 for firing long strings or for packing is a rather rare sixgun. Ruger not only chambered the Single-Six in .327, they issued a small number of full-sized Blackhawks in stainless steel with 5 ½” barrels and an 8-shot cylinder. I do not mind the extra weight when this sixgun is carried in a proper holster and the extra weight certainly lessens felt recoil. It’s definitely in the running for the title of Perfect Packin’ Pistol.

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