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Reloading the .32 Magnum — What to Know

While the .32 H&R Magnum doesn't get the attention it deserves, plenty of handloading components are currently available.

Reloading the .32 Magnum — What to Know
This centerfire revolver cartridge, the .32 H&R Magnum, is one of the author’s favorites because it’s good for self-defense, the trail, and small-game hunting. 

The .32 H&R Magnum (introduced in 1984) is a straight-walled handgun cartridge. It’s a longer version of the 142-year-old .32 Smith & Wesson and the 124-year-old .32 Smith & Wesson Long cartridges. It has a maximum average pressure of 21,000 psi (almost twice that of its parent cartridges).

With modern, no-lube-required reloading dies, cranking out perfectly safe and reliable .32 Magnum handloads is easily accomplished. Tumble clean, inspect, resize, decap, trim and flare the case mouths, prime, charge, seat, and crimp—you’re done. I use an RCBS carbide die set, which will accommodate .32 S&W, .32 S&W Long, and the .32 H&R Magnum.

While .357, .41, .44, and other “real” magnum (35,000+ CUP) handgun rounds typically require a case full charge of propellant with a relatively slow burn rate, load densities encountered for the .32 Magnum are often less than 50 percent. That means you must carefully inspect each charged case after weighing a reasonable sample to make certain you haven’t double-charged any.

Starline has all the new brass you might need for reloading. Hornady and Speer offer one or more jacketed bullets. Cast bullets weighing up to 115 grains are suitable, although 98- to 100-grain SWCs are likely the best choice. Several medium burn rate propellants are available, and you only need standard Small Pistol primers to ignite the relatively light charges.

Lane fired a trio of Smith & Wesson revolvers for this report, including a Model 16 (top), a Model 631 (center), and a Model 331 (bottom).

The Guns for this Report

I quickly fell in love with the .32 H&R Magnum cartridge when it was introduced 36 years ago. Over the decades I’ve acquired a lot of handguns chambered for it (the current count is 11!), including Rugers, Dan Wessons, and Smith & Wessons. For this review, I chose a trio of S&W revolvers that represent a broad range of user applications. The 6.0-inch-barreled K-Frame Model 16 is the modern version of the original K32 Masterpiece target model. The 4.0-inch-barreled, stainless-steel J-Frame Model 631 Kit Gun is an excellent choice for a backpack or a tackle box. And the 1.88-inch-barreled J-Frame Model 331 AirLite is best suited for personal defense.

I loaded 50 rounds of each test load and fired three, five-shot groups with the Model 631 and the Model 331 revolvers and four, five-shot groups with the Model 16 revolver from a sandbag benchrest. Because the Model 16 and Model 631 have adjustable sights and significantly longer sight radii, I targeted them at 25 yards. I fired the short-barreled, fixed-sighted Model 331 at 12 yards. By the time I finished, I’d shot up about 300 rounds.

Although overall accuracy for all three revolvers was just so-so, the Model 16 recorded several sub-2-inch groups. The 4.0-inch-barreled revolver averaged 2.68 inches overall. The lightweight snubnose Model 331 is an easily concealed carry gun, and its six-shot cylinder provides more than adequate stopping power, but as the chart shows, it’s strictly suited for close-up personal defense.

My favorite load of 9.0 grains of W296 behind a 98-grain cast SWC bullet was developed in a 5.5-inch-barreled Ruger Single-Six. It shines in that revolver, but it did just okay in the S&W Model 16. I did not achieve the accuracy level I expected.

One trend I noticed in the results is that the heavier bullets seemed to be more accurate. The Model 16 especially favored the Hornady 100-grain XTP.

The .32 Magnum doesn’t get the attention it deserves. If you haven’t tried reloading and shooting the .32 H&R Magnum, you’re missing a lot of fun. There’s myriad reloading component selection and several excellent handguns. In addition to Federal factory ammo, Black Hills, Buffalo Arms, and HSM also offer several choices. Just like the .38 Special and .357 Magnum are interchangeable in magnum revolvers, you can fire .32 S&W and .32 S&W Long in a .32 H&R Magnum revolver.

The original H&R, Smith & Wesson, and Dan Wesson revolvers have long since been discontinued. Ruger, however, still offers single- and double-action revolvers chambered for the longer .327 Federal Magnum, and you can fire .32 H&R Magnum cartridges in revolvers chambered for it. The .327 Federal is a “real” .32 Magnum cartridge with a maximum average pressure equal to or exceeding the other magnum revolver cartridges. But that’s another story.

.32 H&R Magnum Accuracy & Velocity

NOTES: Accuracy is the average of at least three, five-shot groups fired from a sandbag benchrest. Velocity is the average of 10 rounds measured eight feet from the guns’ muzzles. All load data should be used with caution. Always start with reduced loads first and make sure they are safe in each of your guns before proceeding to the high test loads listed. Since Shooting Times has no control over your choice of components, guns, or actual loadings, neither Shooting Times nor the various firearms and components manufacturers assume any responsibility for the use of this data.

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