April 2008

.32-Caliber Wheelguns: Ruger’s SP101s Excel at Self-Defense

Whether in .32 H&R Magnum or the new .327 Federal Magnum, these small six-shooters produce power in comfortable-to-shoot packages. But we’d pass on the Heritage gun in .32 H&R.

Reader mail tells us that Gun Tests readers are still interested in smaller-caliber handguns, and a new trend in wheelguns may be on the horizon. In our August 1999 test of .32 H&R Magnum revolvers, we learned that six rounds of thirty-two can be machined nicely into the same small cylinder that typically houses five rounds of .38 Special. We also saw that modern defense loads such as frangible ammunition can produce a lot of damage without harsh recoil. In this evaluation, we will examine a pair of .32 H&R Magnum revolvers and a third gun that may jump-start fresh interest in the snubnosed revolver.

Because so few handguns are chambered for the .32 rounds, we had to mix single-action and double-action products, or else never test the category. Our first revolver is a single-action Western-style replica from Heritage Manufacturing. The No. SRR32MBS3BH Rough Rider is a 3.6-inch-barreled six-shot revolver with a bird’s head grip frame. It has a manual safety, but otherwise fits the profile of a period piece. The other two revolvers are both Ruger SP101s, and they are nearly identical. Our SP101 SP-3231X was chambered for .32 H&R Magnum. However, the six chambers of our SP101 KSP-32731X provides about one-eighth inch of additional space to accommodate .327 Federal Magnum ammunition. This is a new cartridge developed by Federal and Ruger that seats a 0.312-inch diameter bullet atop a taller, stronger case that we measured to be just less than 1.2 inches long.

Accuracy tests were performed from a sandbag rest from a distance of 15 yards. Two different loads in each caliber were fired single action only. Our .32 H&R Magnum ammunition was Federal Champion 95-grain lead semi-wadcutters and Federal Personal Defense 85-grain jacketed hollowpoints. We had difficulty locating any .327 Magnum ammunition. Fortunately, we were able to locate American Eagle 100-grain jacketed soft points and Federal Premium 85-grain Hydra-Shok JHP rounds at Tomball Pawn in Tomball, Texas, (tomballpawn.com). Retail price was $23.95 for a box of 50 rounds of the American Eagle and $18.95 for the Hydra-Shok ammunition. The Hydra-Shok was packaged in plastic 20-round display boxes. The Hydra-Shok packaging looked great, but as usual we found each box difficult to open.

We wanted to know if the creation of a new cartridge was worth the trouble. Was it more accurate? Did it offer a desirable increase in power yet still avoid the loud noise and harsh recoil of .357 Magnum ammunition. Was the .32 H&R Magnum still viable, or would the .327 Magnum make it obsolete?

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