Reloading the .32's

By Mike Venturino

Right now we have four .32 caliber handguns cartridges that are fairly commonly encountered and reloaded. They are .32 Auto, .32 S&W Long, .32 H&R Magnum, and .32-20. In the pat 20 years I've loaded and fired several thousand rounds through a Walther Model PP in .32 Auto, several Ruger SSMs in .32 H&R Magnum, a nice S&W K-32 .32 S&W Long, a new S&W Model 16 .32 Mag, and many Colt SAA .3-20s.

Of the four .32's now in use the .32 Auto is the smallest with a case length of only .600 inch. Although an autoloading case it actually does have a very small bit of rim. The .32 S&W Long's case is .920 inch and is a standard rimmed revolver case. The only difference between the .32 S&W Long and .32 H&R Magnum is that the latter is slightly longer at 1.075 inch. Lastly, the .32-20 is the giant of the bunch with a length of 1.315 inch. All take standard small pistol primers.

One of the most convenient things about reloading .32's is that one set of dies can handle three of the four cartridges. The .32-20 is left out, but my RCBS carbide die set happily takes care of the other three. It comes with two expander balls; one for the .311 inch bullets of the .32 auto and another for the .314 inch bullets of the .32 Long/Magnum. However, in practice I'd like to point out that I only used the .311 inch expander for all three .32 cases. The larger expander gave loose bullets with the .313 inch ones I favor.

Nominally the correct size bullets for .32's are .310 to .312 inch for .32 Auto, and .313/.314 inch for the others. At least 99% of all my .32 reloading has been with .310 inch cast bullets for the auto round, and .313 inch ones for the .32 revolvers.

Although one might expect that the very best powders for such tiny cases would be only the fastest ones, I have not found that to be totally true. In fact some of my most accurate loads for the .32 Mag, and the .32-20 use slower burning 2400. Charges are 8.0 and 9.0 grains respectively. Velocities run in excess of 1,100 fps from 5-1/2 to 6.0 inch barrels with bullets of about 100 to 115 grains in both cartridges. I want to stress at this point that these .32-20 handloads should only be fired in smokeless powder era handguns of good condition. NEVER put them in any black powder era gun.

For the two smaller cases, .32 Auto and .32 Long, Bullseye and Unique have been my choices. Unique has seen the most use in my .32 Auto reloading with the charge being fairly standard at 2.5 grains. For the .32 Long which was never used for other than bullseye paper shooting my load was always 2.5 grains of Bullseye.

Accuracy with the .32's is usually very good. My machine rest testing has given many 12 shot groups with any of the new .32 Mag revolvers in the two inch range give or take an eight of an inch. With all of the .32's sometimes, an occasional group is much tighter if the handload is specially tailored to the sixgun. For instance when some effort was put into ammo for that old K-32 it would just cut ragged little holes at 25 yards, and I have seen groups from 7-1/2 inch .32-20s which would rival a rifle in that caliber. My testing of the Walther Model PP has only been over sandbags at 50 feet. There five shot groups of about 1-1/2 inches are the norm.

All the little .32's are accurate, given quality guns and ammo. Also they are mild and stress free in shooting which makes them fine for recreation in my book. And lastly they are economical of lead and powder. If for some reason .22 rimfires don't suit you, then a good .32 might fill its niche.

This article originally appeared in the summer 1999 issue of Shooter's Journal, a quarterly newsletter published by The Oregon Trail® Bullet Company. You can visit their web page by clicking here.