November 21, 2019
By Brad Miller, PhD
In 2008 Ruger and Federal introduced the .327 Federal Magnum. This .32-caliber cartridge boasted impressive ballistics that approach .357 Magnum ballistic levels and was intended to be a powerful personal-defense cartridge and an efficient small-game hunting round.
The revolver that housed this new round was the small-frame Ruger SP101, which had a 3.06-inch barrel. The .32 caliber’s smaller size allowed small-frame .38/.357 wheelguns to add another round to their cylinder capacities. A Ruger SP101 chambered in .38 Special holds five rounds, but that same gun in .327 Federal holds six rounds. One more round might not seem like very much, but it is a very welcome addition in a gun that has limited capacity. That extra shot could be a literal lifesaver.
Even from a 3.06-inch barrel, the .327 Federal’s power is impressive. Bullets weighing 100 grains are pushed to a muzzle velocity of 1,400 fps. From a 4.0-inch barrel, they run 1,500 fps, which yields 500 ft-lbs of muzzle energy. For comparison, the .357 Magnum pushes a 125-grain bullet to 1,450 fps from a 4.0-inch barrel for 583 ft-lbs of muzzle energy.
The .327 Federal achieves its impressive performance by having a very high maximum working pressure of 45,000 psi. That’s 10,000 psi higher than the .357 Magnum.
Ruger, Smith & Wesson, Taurus, Freedom Arms, U.S. Firearms, and Charter Arms have offered wheelguns in this caliber at some time or another, but currently, only Ruger and Freedom Arms catalog handguns chambered in the .327. Bond Arms offers barrels in .327 Federal for some of its derringers, and Henry offers three lever-action rifles in the .327 Federal. The long rifle barrel means full-power .327 Federal rounds push bullets to over 2,000 fps.
Ruger is all in on the .327 Federal. The company offers an astonishing 13 guns in this caliber: two LCRs, two SP101s, six Single-Sevens, and three GP100s. Ruger made an eight-shot New Model Blackhawk in .327 Federal but, alas, no more. What jumps out from this list is that Ruger is committed to the .327 Federal and that there must be a hungry market for the guns.
Part of the appeal of this cartridge is its versatility. A gun chambered in .327 Federal can shoot three other cartridges because the .327 is essentially just a longer, higher-pressure version of other .32-caliber revolver cartridges. These include the .32 H&R Magnum, .32 S&W Long, and .32 S&W (a.k.a. .32 S&W Short). Four different cartridges that offer vastly different ballistics also means a handgun that handles all four can fill many different roles.
Revisiting the Ruger SP101 Revolver
For this report, I used the .327 Federal Magnum SP101. The SP101 is a small-frame revolver that is well suited for concealed carry and home defense, as well as a kit/trail gun. I selected the 4.2-inch-barreled version. The longer barrel combined with adjustable sights expands the potential role of the SP101 to target shooting and hunting, and I wanted to see what type of performance today’s ammunition would produce with this barrel length.
The gun is all stainless steel, and the satin finish is well executed and attractive. It has a fully adjustable rear sight and a green fiber-optic front sight. The front sight is dovetailed and can be replaced.
The grip is soft rubber and covers the backstrap to help mitigate recoil, and the grips have wood inserts with the Ruger logo and checkering. The grip is a little small for my average-size hand, both in circumference and length. My pinky finger had only partial support. This is fine for a concealed-carry gun to reduce bulk, but for a range/trail/kit/hunting gun, I prefer a larger grip for better control.
The single-action trigger pull measured 4.5 pounds. It was quite good, not a crisp break, but no obvious creep, either. I can only describe it as a soft break. The double-action trigger pull was heavy at 12.5 pounds with some stacking. It was a little rough initially but has smoothed out with use. The trigger has a fast reset, which is a necessity for folks who want to shoot fast.
Timing on this gun is superb. The cylinder rotates and locks into position while there are still several millimeters of trigger/hammer travel remaining—in both single action and double action. There’s no question that the cylinder will be locked in place before it goes bang.
The six-shot revolver weighs 29.5 ounces, and the barrel’s full-length underlug adds weight to the end of the barrel to help reduce muzzle rise.
I fired the revolver for accuracy with eight factory loads—one .32 S&W, two .32 S&W Long, two .32 H&R Magnum, and three .327 Federal Magnum—at 25 yards with the gun secured in a Ransom Rest. Several other loads were fired for velocity only.
The 4.2-inch barrel produced typical velocities with .327 Federal ammunition. Federal’s American Eagle 100-grain JSP averaged 1,551 fps, making for 534 ft-lbs of muzzle energy. The Speer 100-grain Gold Dot and DoubleTap 115-grain cast bullet also boasted high speeds and produced muzzle energies over 500 ft-lbs. The Jamison 90-grain JHC ammo measured 1,450 fps, producing 420 ft-lbs of muzzle energy. The American Eagle 85-grain JSP is a reduced-recoil loading, and it had an average velocity of 1,408 fps, providing 374 ft-lbs of muzzle energy.
The .32 H&R Magnum pushes bullets in the 80- to 95-grain range to around 1,000 fps or more and is in the same power range as the .38 Special. Muzzle energy with these loads from the 4.2-inch barrel was a little over 200 ft-lbs. The .32 S&W Long and .32 S&W are significantly less powerful. The .32 S&W Long loads produced a bit over 100 ft-lbs of muzzle energy, and the .32 S&W produced slightly less than 100 ft-lbs of muzzle energy. They are wonderful rounds for casual shooting because of their low recoil, and the .32 S&W Long with wadcutter bullets can be very accurate.
The 4.2-inch-barreled SP101 shot both of the Federal .327 loads and the Sellier & Bellot .32 S&W Long wadcutter into five-shot groups that averaged less than 2 inches. That’s good shooting by any standard. The Hornady and Federal .32 H&R Magnum and Jamison .327 Federal loads had average group sizes close to 2.5 inches. The Remington .32 S&W and the Magtech .32 S&W Long had average five-shot group sizes of 3.53 inches and 3.84 inches respectively.
Versatile and Potent
The versatility of the different cartridges allows you to choose whichever you like to fit whatever role you have in mind. The full-powered .327 Federal is a potent and flat-shooting round, so it can reach out over distances to take small game, vermin, and varmints.
The .32 H&R Magnum is much milder in recoil and lacks the sting of the .327, but it’s also a good round for self-defense. The .32 S&W Long and .32 S&W are simply delightful to shoot because of their low recoil. The excellent accuracy of the Sellier & Bellot wadcutter makes it perfect for casual, or not so casual, target shooting, and you have to love the clean, caliber-sized holes they make in paper targets.
I see the .327 Federal SP101 as an excellent range gun. It shoots a wide range of ammo (from the mild to the wild), and I am impressed with its accuracy. I’ll be doing a lot more shooting with it.
I should mention that the .32 ACP will also fit in the .327 Federal chamber, but it isn’t recommended. The .32 ACP has a thinner rim, which means the primer is effectively about 0.010 inch farther away from the firing pin, which could cause misfires. Also, the .32 ACP is semirimmed and might not be engaged by the ejector, forcing you to push them out one by one with a pencil or other tool. I tried them in the SP101 and a Ruger LCR and experienced some misfires and poor accuracy.
It’s easy to like the Ruger SP101 revolver. It’s not too big but is rock solid and has enough heft to reduce recoil compared to aluminum- or polymer-frame compact wheelguns. The real magic is the .327 Federal Magnum. It offers power that is nearly .357 Magnum level but with about 30 percent less recoil. Ammunition is available in a range of bullet types, including hollowpoint, softpoint, and hard-cast lead, and in power levels that can handle just about anything from personal defense to hunting.
The Ruger SP101 revolver and the .327 Federal are a good match. The combo provides lots of power and versatility in a small gun with six shots and excellent accuracy.
Ruger is all in on the .327 Federal Magnum and offers revolvers in just about any configuration you might want or can think of: short barrel, long barrel, single action, and double action. Whatever you choose, it’s a winning combination.
Ruger SP101 Revolver Specs
- Manufacturer: Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc.; ruger.com
- Type: Double-action revolver
- Caliber: .327 Federal Magnum
- Cylinder Capacity: 6 rounds
- Barrel: 4.2 in.
- Overall Length: 9.12 in.
- Width: 1.35 in.
- Height: 5.0 in.
- Weight, Empty: 29.5 oz.
- Grips: Black rubber with wood inserts
- Finish: Satin stainless
- Sights: Fully adjustable rear, fiber-optic front
- Trigger: 4.5-lb. SA pull, 12.5-lb. DA pull (as tested)
- Safety: Transfer bar firing mechanism
- MSRP: $769