February 02, 2024
There is no cartridge more fun to hand-load than the underappreciated .32 H&R Magnum. It is an accurate, moderately powerful cartridge designed for revolvers that can be handloaded for a broad range of applications. It was introduced in 1984 when Harrington and Richardson joined with Federal Cartridge Co. to create this high-performance .32-caliber cartridge for the company’s revolvers.
Based on the .32 S&W Long round, the .32 H&R Magnum’s case length was increased from 0.920 inch to 1.075 inches. The extra case capacity and an increased pressure limit (21,000 CUP) means the .32 H&R produces roughly twice the power of the .32 S&W Long. As a result, the cartridge is equal in power to the .38 Special.
Nominal .32 H&R ballistics are an 85-grain bullet at 1,120 fps and a 95-grain bullet at 1,020 fps from a 5.0-inch non-vented barrel. These velocities produce muzzle energies of 237 ft-lbs and 219 ft-lbs respectively.
The round has been chambered in H&R revolvers as well as guns made by Ruger, Charter Arms, Smith & Wesson, Dan Wesson, Freedom Arms, Taurus, and New England Firearms. It’s also been chambered in derringers by several companies and in lever-action rifles by Marlin. And any firearm chambered in .327 Federal Magnum also can shoot the .32 H&R.
SAAMI (Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute) specifications for the .32 H&R Magnum show a maximum average pressure limit of 21,000 CUP, up from the .32 S&W Long’s limit of 12,000 CUP and a little higher than the .38 Special +P’s limit of 20,000 CUP. As of the 2015 edition of SAAMI’s standards booklet, the .32 H&R does not have pressure standards measured in pounds per square inch (psi) with a piezoelectric transducer; instead, it relies on the older Copper Units of Pressure (CUP) copper crusher method.
Cartridge maximum overall length is 1.350 inches. SAAMI barrel groove diameter is 0.312 inch to 0.316 inch. SAAMI bullet size is 0.315 inch with a minimum of 0.309 inch. Generally, jacketed bullets for the .32 H&R are 0.312 inch and lead bullets are 0.313 to 0.314 inch. As you can see, there is some leeway on bullet diameter. Bullets for the .32 Auto can also be used, and they are generally 0.311 to 0.312 inch. Keep in mind you might run into weak case neck tension when reloading with smaller-diameter bullets since most cases and reloading dies are generally made according to common bullet diameters. Plus, .32 Auto bullets normally don’t have a cannelure for the crimp, so they might need a heavy roll crimp to keep them in place.
Handloading the .32 H&R Magnum is easy, and the relatively long case length helps you get hold of them. The range of usable bullet weights is wide, and for this report, I used bullets as light as 60 grains and as heavy as 115 grains, which speaks to the cartridge’s versatility. In addition, the range of power levels you can achieve with this round is equally broad—from powder-puff rounds the same as the .32 S&W Long at 100 ft-lbs of energy all the way up to over 300 ft-lbs of energy that rival the 9mm Luger.
A couple of shortcomings confront those who handload the .32 H&R Magnum. There isn’t a wide selection of available bullets, and there isn’t a lot of handload data. For example, Hodgdon lists six bullets in its online .32 H&R data (for comparison, it lists 29 bullets in the .38 Special section). That said, Hodgdon lists nearly every handgun powder the company has (from moderately fast to really slow) in the .32 H&R data.
Hornady and Starline sell .32 H&R Magnum brass, and Magnum primers are not required. In fact, none of the loading manuals I resourced (Hodgdon, Hornady, Lyman, Sierra, and Speer) used Mag-num primers.
My test gun is a Ruger SP101 chambered in .327 Federal Magnum with a 4.2-inch barrel. Accuracy testing was conducted with the revolver mounted in a Ransom Rest, and all handloads, except those for the 60-grain and the 115-grain bullets, used published load data that did not exceed the SAAMI maximum limit of 21,000 CUP. I could not find pressure-tested data for those two bullet weights, so I used 71-grain-bullet data for the 60-grain-bullet loads and other data and QuickLoad software for safe estimates for the 115-grain-bullet loads.
Some consideration to specific bullet types is in order. The 64-grain T&B SWC lead bullets produced reasonable accuracy, and when loaded light, they had very low recoil. They make a good general-purpose light target round. I was very pleased with Speer and Missouri Bullet Co. (MBC) 98-grain lead wadcutters. They produced excellent accuracy in the SP101. In fact, at just 0.88 inch for 10 shots, the MBC produced the smallest group of all the handloads. The Speer HBWC came close to that at 1.10 inches for 10 shots.
The Speer HBWC, being soft, swaged lead, must be kept at low speed and pressure to avoid deforming the bullet base, and the loads shown should be considered near or at maximum. The Speer handloading manual is a good source for load data for this bullet. The MBC cast WC bullet is not very hard (Brinell 12) and is designed for target work.
Interestingly, light and heavy loads with Acme’s 100-grain RNFP polymer-coated lead bullet showed that the heavy bullet weight makes for a more gradual recoil impulse. It feels especially nice with light, slow-moving loads. Pushed hard, it can exceed 300 ft-lbs. of energy, which is a real heavy-hitter. Accuracy was fair, though groups opened up quite a bit with the higher-velocity loads.
As for the SNS 115-grain RNFP (the heaviest bullet I tried), Lil’Gun pushed it to a velocity of 1,000 fps. A light charge of Bullseye produced 776 fps, and it produced with mild recoil. If I wanted a deep-penetrating bullet for a woods load, I would choose the 100-grain or 115-grain bullets powered by Lil’Gun.
Jacketed- & Plated-Bullet Results
Speer’s 60-grain Gold Dot HP bullet was the lightest bullet I used, and being lightweight, it can be pushed fast. It would do well for pest control and exploding water jugs. That said, my SP101’s 10-shot groups were large, restricting it to use at short range.
Hornady’s 85-grain XTP HP shot well in my revolver, producing sub-2.0-inch groups with most powders. It can be pushed fast with powders like Power Pistol and Lil’Gun, reaching speeds over 1,200 fps and muzzle energies close to 300 ft-lbs from the 4.2-inch barrel. This is at or above what most .38 Special +P rounds will do. As such, it would do well for self-defense in addition to being a flat-shooting target and small-game round. Sierra’s 90-grain JHC round shot well, too.
Hornady’s 100-grain XTP bullet was another accurate bullet—driven slow or fast in my gun. Propelled by Lil’Gun, it ran at 1,215 fps and produced 328 ft-lbs of energy, which is equal to some 9mm Luger rounds from a 4.0-inch barrel. It produced a nice 1.59-inch group; this was for only five shots because even writers have difficulty getting bullets, and I ran out of this one before being able to shoot a 10-shot group.
As you can see, the .32 H&R Magnum really shines with handloads. You can exploit its potential with light bullets and light loads and wadcutters that deliver excellent accuracy and low recoil. On the other hand, you also can make high-velocity ammo that far exceeds typical factory ammo. Powders like Power Pistol, Vihta Vuori 3N37, Blue Dot, Lil’Gun, and W296 really bring out the “Magnum” capability of this fine little round. However you load it, the .32 H&R Magnum is well suited for target shooting, small-game hunting, and self-defense.