By Chuck Hawks
Illustration courtesy of Federal Cartridge / ATK.
In November 2007 Federal Cartridge, a division of ATK, announced a new revolver cartridge, the .327 Federal Magnum. Ruger will be marketing the first revolver for the new cartridge, a 6-shot version of their double action SP101. .327 Magnum ammunition from Federal, Speer and American Eagle (all of which are ATK brands) should be available from dealers in January 2008.
The .327 Federal Magnum actually uses the same bullets as the earlier .32 H&R Magnum, .32 S&W Long and .32-20 Winchester. In fact, the .327 can be viewed as a re-invention of the .32-20, since its case is only slightly smaller and its performance is very similar to the older cartridge. All of these cartridges should properly be called .303 caliber and shoot .312" diameter bullets.
Why they are called ".32 caliber" is anybody's guess. Presumably, in Federal's case, the ".327" designation was chosen because it sounds and looks like ".357," as in .357 Magnum, the most popular of all magnum revolver cartridges. The fact that the new cartridge's name is both inaccurate and misleading is obviously irrelevant to parent company ATK's marketing people. (Okay, so misnamed cartridges are one of my pet peeves, but it is gun writers like me--not the marketing people at the Company--who have to answer all the letters from readers wondering how these cartridges got their names.)
What we have here is, in essence, a .32 H&R Magnum case lengthened by 1/8" (for a nominal case length of 1.2" with a head diameter of 0.337") and manufactured with thicker walls for greater strength. The greater strength is required to handle pressures of up to 45,000 piezo psi, considerably greater than the 21,000 cup MAP of the .32 H&R Mag. The .32 H&R Mag., based on a lengthened .32 Long case, has always been a fine, although largely unappreciated, cartridge. So is the old .32-20 Winchester. The latter has set the performance standard for ".32" caliber revolver and carbine cartridges since 1882 and performance-wise the new .327 Mag. is right in the .32-20's ballpark.
Any .327 Mag. revolver can also fire .32 H&R Mag. and .32 S&W Long cartridges, much as any .22 Long Rifle revolver can also fire .22 Long and .22 Short cartridges. The reverse, of course, is not true. A .327 Mag. revolver could also safely fire .32 S&W (short) cartridges, although why one would want to do so is another matter.
According to lead design engineer Larry Head, “The 327 Federal Magnum is ideal for personal defense and has the potential for future application in field use. Using a slightly longer .32 H&R Magnum case and our advanced powder and bullet technology, we’re able to offer more performance out of a smaller platform. And its recoil is milder than the 357 Magnum. We’re excited to partner with Ruger and bring this product to market in the SP101 firearm.”
What "advanced bullet technology" means is unclear, as ATK's .327 factory loads will come with Federal Hydra-Shok, Speer Gold Dot and American Eagle soft point bullets, all of which have been around for a long time and offer well documented performance. The advanced powder technology is evident in the claimed velocities (chronographed in a 3-1/16" barrel) for the three new .327 Magnum factory loads:
Federal Premium 85 grain Hydra-Shot JHP - MV 1330 fps, ME 334 ft. lbs.
American Eagle 100 grain SP - MV 1400 fps, ME 435 ft. lbs.
Speer 115 grain Gold Dot JHP - MV 1300 fps, ME 431 ft. lbs.
These are quite respectable numbers, although (despite the exaggerated ad claims) not equivalent to .357 Magnum performance or stopping power. They are, however, about equivalent to 9mm Luger energies with bullets of equivalent weight, which is certainly nothing to sneeze at.
The Federal brand 85 grain offering is being marketed as a low recoil load and is probably the best choice for use in a lightweight, snub-nose revolver. Even so, it greatly exceeds the power of the .32 Auto and .32 S&W Long cartridges and beats the .32 H&R Mag. as well.
Naturally, the recoil energy of all of these .327 Federal factory loads is well below .357 Magnum levels, an important consideration. There is no doubt that, for most shooters, the .357 Mag. produces uncomfortable recoil and muzzle blast. ATK recoil figures for the .327 Mag. show free recoil energies of 3.08 ft. lbs. for the 85 grain JHP factory load, 5.62 ft. lbs. for the 115 grain JHP load and 5.58 ft. lbs. for the 100 grain SP load. For comparison, ATK figures are 1.46 ft. lbs. for the 85 grain .32 H&R Mag. load and 7.22 ft. lbs. for the 125 grain .357 Mag. load. It seems that the .327 Mag. is inbetween the .32 H&R Mag. and .357 Mag. at both ends of the gun.
Federal is promoting the new .327 Mag. as a self-defense cartridge and the Ruger SP101 is usually seen as a concealed carry revolver, particularly with the 3" barrel option. No problem, that's certainly a legitimate application. However, the world is lousy with good self-defense cartridges and pistols that are more widely distributed than the .327 Magnum is likely to be. While it will be a good choice for that purpose, I doubt that it will set the world on fire.
To me, a far more interesting application for the new cartridge will be in hunting rifles and revolvers. Marlin, for example, should offer the .327 in the Model 1894 lever action carbine. This would seem to be a natural, as the Model 1894CL is already available in .32-20. Along the same lines, how hard would it be for Henry to chamber their excellent Big Boy lever action carbine in .327 Mag.? These would make excellent, fun to shoot centerfire rifles for hunting javelina, jackrabbit and coyote.
ATK has already tested the .327 Mag. in an 18.5" carbine barrel with excellent results. The 85 grain factory load reportedly gave velocities of about 1830 fps, while the 100 grain bullet achieved a MV of 2010 fps and the 115 grain Gold Dot a MV of 1750 fps. These velocities are similar to those achieved by the old .32-20 High Velocity rifle loads.
Other excellent platforms for the .327 cartridge would be the Ruger Blackhawk single action, S&W "K" frame double action and Colt SAA replica revolvers. With fully adjustable sights and barrels between 6" and 8", these would be excellent hunting handguns for varmints and small predators, as well as offering flat shooting protection from two-legged predators in the field.
The fine old .32-20 Winchester is not yet obsolete, but it is certainly no longer as popular as it once was. Perhaps this new .327 Federal Magnum cartridge offering similar performance will catch the imagination of a new generation of shooters. I hope so. Guns and Shooting Online will be reviewing .327 Mag. revolvers and rifles as they become generally available, so stay tuned.