LOADING THE .32 ACP
Handloader|February 2021
Not Easy, but Worth the Effort
Terry Wieland

The .32 ACP has the distinction of being one of the most popular and widespread handgun cartridges ever designed and, at the same time, one of the most maligned. Probably 10 million or more have been produced in a dozen different countries by a hundred different companies, and it has been standard issue for both police forces and the military around the world. For more than a century, it has been a favorite pocket pistol on both sides of the Atlantic.

Yet W.H.B. Smith, one of the most respected handgun experts of the twentieth-century, dismissed it as a “thoroughly useless cartridge.” Even its admirers, and there are a few, tout its convenience, not its power or accuracy. In other words, John Browning’s little creation from 1900 is a bundle of contradictions.

The .32 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) or, as it’s known in Europe, the 7.65mm Browning, was designed in 1899 and put into production in 1900 by FN in Belgium. The gun was Browning’s small hammerless semiauto, and it proved so popular that by 1912, FN had produced more than a million of them. In the U.S., Colt chambered it in the Browning-designed Model 1903, and from there it was adopted and manufactured almost everywhere. Other famous guns chambered for it include the Walther PP and PPK, various Beretta models, CZ in Czechia and a dozen Spanish companies.

Ammunition has been in continuous production for 120 years, and is made by so many companies in so many countries it’s hopeless to try to list them.

The cartridge’s very ubiquity has led to some of the problems that have plagued it, and given handloaders fits since the beginning. There is disagreement over bore diameter, and hence bullet diameter, with White & Munhall (Pistol and Revolver Cartridges, 1967) listing bullet diameters ranging from .303 to .313 inch. For this reason alone, it is essential to start cautiously and work up, especially when working with an older pistol of unknown bore diameter.

The cartridge has been produced in a wide variety of bullet weights and types in a range of velocities, but factory ballistics are typically listed as a 71-grain fullmetal-jacket, round-nosed bullet at a muzzle velocity of 960 feet per second.

One area of complete agreement is that, while the cartridge may not be “thoroughly useless,” it is marginal at best for self-defense, inadequate for hunting and not accurate enough for target work. In Cartridges of the World, Frank Barnes said it was adequate for nothing larger than cottontail rabbits or birds.

Partly as a result of this, the .32 ACP has never been a handloader’s cartridge, and because of that – chicken or egg? – there has never been a wide range of bullet weights and types available for the purpose.

All of that does not mean it cannot be reloaded, or that the reloads cannot improve its performance substantially. Today, there are several bullets intended for the .32 ACP that make it a much more fearsome beast for use as a house gun, carry gun or deepconcealment backup.

To the best of my knowledge, the first company to really try to improve .32 ACP performance for defense purposes was Cor®Bon. During a visit there in 2004, I shot some rounds loaded with Cor®bon’s expanding bullets which were both accurate and powerful, if felt recoil is anything to go by. Since then, handloaders have seen the advent of tactical bullets from Speer and Hornady, as well as a lengthening list of smaller, specialty bullet companies.

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