Shooting the . 32-20
Handloader|February - March 2022
Handloads for Modern Revolvers
Mike Venturino

If logic is applied to the .32-20 (.32 WCF), then one must wonder why it was developed in the first place. That happened in 1882 with the Winchester Model 1873 rifles and carbines. As intended in its previous .44-40 (.44 WCF) and .38-40 (.38 WCF) cartridge options, Model 1873s were meant for hunting game up to the size of deer, or for fighting. Those two ’73 rounds made their debut in 1879 and 1873, respectively. The first handgun chambered for .32-20 was the Colt SAA. According to THE 36 CALIBERS OF THE COLT SINGLE ACTION ARMY by David M. Brown, the .32-20 was added to that revolver in 1885. (Other sources say the year was 1884.)

As introduced, bullet weights and diameters for the .38-40 and .44-40 in that order were 180 grains/.400 inch and 200 grains/.425 inch (lead RN/FP bullets). Then consider the .32-20. It was introduced with a .312-inch bullet of 115 grains (lead RN/FP). Most certainly, .32-20 rifles have been used on deer-size game, but by today’s standards, it actually should be considered for animals no larger than coyotes. If there is record of some Old West outlaw or lawman using a .32-20 revolver, never have I encountered such during my lifetime of study. Model 1873 Winchester rifles chambered for .32-20 weighed at least 9 pounds and Colt SAAs were over 3 pounds. A small cartridge chambered in man-size firearms; regardless the .32-20 gained popularity all out of proportion to its power.

With focus here on revolvers, it must be noted that by the time the Colt SAA ceased 1st Generation production circa 1940/1941, the total made as .32-20s was more than 43,000. That put it in fourth place in regard to cartridge popularity. None were made in 2nd Generation SAA production, but in 2004, Colt added .32-20 as a caliber option once more in its 3rd Generation. They lasted in Colt’s catalogs until about 2014 as best I can determine, with numbers produced an unknown fact so far. In the early twentieth-century, Colt and Smith & Wesson offered double action, midsize .32-20 revolvers and there is no telling how many Italian-made .32-20 SAA replicas have been imported. Ruger also made a special run of its Blackhawk Convertible single actions with cylinders for both .32 H&R Magnum and .32-20.

At this point, it must be stressed that the accompanying load data should only be used in revolvers made post 1900 and in excellent condition.

Personally speaking, my first .32-20 SAA revolver was acquired in 1979. According to its serial number, it had been made about 1910 and had a 4¾-inch barrel. I must say my experience with that revolver was less than stellar. Firing it from a Lee Pistol Machine Rest, groups mostly ran several inches at 25 yards. Finally, I slugged all six chambers and the barrel. The chamber mouths were uniformly .310 inch but barrel measurement was .314 inch across the grooves. In frustration, that .32-20 was traded or sold, I don’t even remember which.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine