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Ammo

Federal’s Overachiever

by Patrick Sweeney   |  September 24th, 2010 1

The .327 Magnum is the little cartridge that could.


Performance aside, the .327 Federal Magnum gives you more rounds than the same-size gun in .38 Special.

Anyone who has ever owned a “big little dog” knows what that means. Some breeds were bred to do jobs we don’t need or want anymore, and so some people overlook where their dog came from. That amusing little “wiener dog” down the block? Dachshunds were bred to go down into holes, and once down there to find and kill vermin, specifically badgers. You do not survive such a job and get to pass on your genes by being the shy, retiring type.

Similarly, the .32 family of cartridges were once held in what comes close to high regard. The third-most common chambering for the first generation Colt Single Action Armys was .32-20. When Theodore Roosevelt armed the NYPD with a common sidearm, it was a Colt in .32.

Today, many see the .32 as an anachronism and a weak reed indeed on which to bet your life. That has changed. The .327 Federal Magnum is not just another warmed-up .32 cartridge; it is perhaps the hottest cartridge going.

As with other magnum cartridges, it is the same diameter, and uses the same-diameter bullets, as the earlier, non-magnum iterations of that caliber. That is, you can fire a .32 Short, Long or H&R Magnum in a firearm chambered for the .327 because it is simply longer.

It also operates at a higher pressure. The Short and Long versions ran at about a 12,000 psi level. The H&R Magnum, to keep it within the limits of the H&R revolvers, topped out at 21,000 psi. That was hardly enough to gain many converts back in the 1980s, and it died a slow death (although it is still chambered in a few guns).

The .327 Federal Magnum makes no pretense of being suitable for elderly revolvers, and thus the engineers were able to run it right up to the modern limits of chamber pressure: 45,000 psi. You read that correctly; it has a higher chamber pressure than the 9mm or .357, .41 and .44 magnums.

The result is a cartridge that–even out of a snubbie–performs like a 9mm+P round or even some 9mm+P+ rounds I’ve tested.

Currently available only in the Ruger SP-101 (in which it was introduced) and the brand new Smith & Wesson Model 632 Carry Comp Pro, the .327 Federal Magnum delivers the promised goods.

In a lot of instances, we find that a cartridge delivers most, but not all, of the promised velocity. It is not unusual to find, especially in short-barreled revolvers, that the “book” specs and the range specs differ–sometimes by more than a trivial amount.

Federal sent me a spec sheet with the ammo, and the velocities are eye-popping. I have fired both pre-production samples and production ammo, and I can assure you that what you read on the box is what you get.

My initial testing was in bitter cold weather, 20 degrees and snow blowing sideways. From the three-inch barrel of an SP-101 the 115-grain Gold Dot bullets clocked 1,316 fps. Later testing in warm weather produced a bit more velocity, and when I whacked ballistic gelatin with the Gold Dots, I received between 13 and 14 inches of penetration, with complete expansion.

Extraction was easy, and the brass does not appear to be over-worked at all.


Left to right: .32 Long, .32 H&R Magnum, .327 Federal Magnum, .38 Special. The newest .32 beats them all by a country mile in velocity and energy.

So what is this cartridge for? Easy: defense. Get over your earlier assumptions of the .32. Do not think, as I heard one wag remark, “Finally, a .32 that your wife can shoot, that will actually do something.” What part of “9mm+P performance” did you not hear?

This is not a cartridge to give someone who is recoil shy. It is not some sedate little number you can teach a new shooter on. This is real-deal self-defense ammo. Fortunately, Federal is smart enough make a reduced-recoil practice load, so you can shoot without having to put up with all the effort. And I’m sure some will elect to use that lesser load. (if you can call an 85-grain bullet at 1,400 fps a “lesser” load).

No, the .327 Federal Magnum is a cartridge that delivers all out of proportion to its size. And it gives you an extra shot in your SP-101. Where you might have five shots of .38 Special, you can have six shots of .327. (Hmm, perhaps a medium-size wheelgun with seven or eight shots of .327? Wouldn’t that be fun?)

Some diehards will exclaim that getting six .32s instead of their usual five .38s is not a big improvement. Let’s look at what you’re getting in each case. With the .38 Special, out of a two- or three-inch barrel you’re getting a 125-grain bullet (the closest weight) trundling along at perhaps 750 to 850 fps. Hardly the Hammer of Thor. Hardly enough to ensure expansion. If you don’t get expansion, you might as well be using some of the old military load, a 130-grain FMJ at 750 to 800 fps. And you get only five rounds.

With the .327, you get six 115-grain Gold Dots, at more than 1,300 fps, with lots of speed to ensure expansion. Expansion that does not come at the cost of penetration, as the 13 to 14 inches of penetration in ballistic gel I shot demonstrates.

And as I’ve said, that comes with a price: noise and recoil. Now, some will still resist the allure of the .327 and point out that you can match the ballistics of the .327 by packing a .357. Yes, you can. However, you need a bigger gun to get six rounds (so you’ve gone from, for example, an SP-101 to a GP-100), and you also have a lot more blast and recoil.

Now, there will be some downsides with the .327, at least predictable ones. Handloaders will figure, correctly, that at 45,000 psi, the case will be work to resize. Not a lot, as it is only a .32, but more work than mild-load .38 Special, for instance.

Also, my experience with long, high-pressure revolver cases is that they tend to not have as long a life as the low-pressure ones. So instead of the 40 to 60 reloads you get from a .38 Special, you might get “only” 30 from a .327. Only experience will tell us that.

Me, I’ve got my reloading dies on hand and have sent letters to the revolver makers out there asking for versions of their products in .327 Federal Magnum. Until the others
come through, I’ll be working with the SP-101 to see what I can come up with that Federal hasn’t thought of yet. The .327 is a pit bull in dachshund disguise.

  • Tom Bridges

    Little Grand Ma
    Don't mess with Grand Ma, she's not old,
    Hear that story about a stranger bold,
    He laughed and said, "One foot in Heaven",
    Till she turned and fired her .327…

    Thomas Arthur Bridges III

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