My Foray Into .32 H&R
Let me start by stating that this article is not a review, per se, of any particular firearm or particular brand of ammunition. It is simply an expression of my experiences with finding, purchasing, and using a .32 H&R magnum firearm.
Every so often I have the urge to buy a new type or caliber of gun; and a while back I caught the .32 H&R Magnum bug. The more I read about it, the more interested I became in this little cartridge. Advertised as having nearly the same energy as a standard pressure .38 Special with half the recoil sounded pretty good, so I began my search for a SA/DA revolver appropriate to this cartridge.
There were none available in my local area, or in the surrounding towns, so I turned to the internet to continue the search. As it turns out, that search yielded exactly one result; the Charter Arms Undercoverette.
Oh, there were a few single action cowboy models, and some used .32 Smith & Wesson Longs, but they weren’t what I was looking for. The Charter was not too expensive, and I was hot to buy, so I ordered one and had it shipped to my FFL.
What I hadn’t considered was the cost and availability of ammunition. I figured that since .32 H&R revolvers could also chamber and shoot .32 Smith and Wesson Long and Short, I could find plenty to shoot locally; but that wasn’t exactly the case. While I was waiting for my new purchase to arrive, I started checking gun stores for ammo. Locally, I found one box of .32 H&R 90 gr Black Hills lead flat points, and a couple boxes of 100 gr Fiocchi in .32 Smith & Wesson Long wadcutters. Widening my search to neighboring towns, I found a couple boxes of .32 H&R Federal 85 gr jacketed hollow points, a box of .32 H&R Critical Defense, and some other varieties of .32 SWL. I must admit, I wasn’t prepared for both the lack of availability and the cost of the .32 H&R magnum ammunition. It ranged from $.75 to over $1.00 per round when I could find it. Anyway, I wound up buying 4 boxes (all I could find) of .32 H&R. The .32 Smith & Wesson Long ammo was much cheaper (and more abundant) at about $.30 - $.50 per round, so I bought a couple boxes to have on hand. I didn’t see any .32 Short ammo anywhere, but I wasn’t really that interested in that particular cartridge anyway.
After I picked up my revolver from my FFL, I went home to try it out. I tried some of all different types of ammo I had purchased, and was quite pleased. The magnum rounds were light recoiling, and grouped well from the Undercoverette (about as well as I can shoot from my .38 Specials), but the thing that surprised me was the loudness of the report. I would rate it somewhat more than the .38 Special, but less than .357 magnum; not what you would expect to go along with that relatively light recoil. The .32 SWL, on the other hand, was very accurate, had a mild report, and had almost no recoil at all; but you get those nasty little carbon rings in the chambers like shooting .38 Special in a .357 Magnum.
The lack of variety in commercial self defense ammo really limits the 2 inch .32 H&R revolver, though. The Hornady 80 gr FTX and Federal 85 gr hollow points are really the only SD ammo available at most stores; not that they are bad choices. The 85 gr Federal has a velocity of around 900 FPS from a 2 inch barrel, and the 80 gr FTX runs just under 1000 FPS. Energy-wise, that’s just about the same as standard pressure .38 Special rounds from the same size barrel. But the little round starts to shine when using hand loads.
When paired with the correct powder, 100 gr hollow points can be pushed upwards of 1000 FPS; putting the .32 H&R in the energy range of commercial .38 Special +P; and a pound of powder goes a long way on these little rounds. Of course Buffalo Bore also offers a 100 gr .32 H&R heavy hollow point round advertised at 1054 FPS from a 2-inch Taurus revolver, but at close to $2.00 per round after shipping, they are a bit pricey.
After a while, I started to realize that this was not a practical everyday gun for me. Regardless of how much I like the idea of a .32 H&R Magnum, as a self defense or concealed carry gun, for me at least, a .38 Special +P is just more practical. My Taurus 85 in .38 Special +P and my Charter Undercoverette are virtually identical in size, weight, and capacity, but practice ammo for .38 Special is much cheaper and easier to find, and there is a much larger selection of standard pressure and +P self defense ammo. Even when I reload, there is a much greater selection of bullets available for .38 Special, and a ton more reloading data. On the other hand, .32 SWL has quite a few ammunition offerings that are affordable and available, but they lack the power, velocity, and ability to expand that the H&R Magnum has.
Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not saying the .32 Magnum is an unacceptable choice for a handgun. For the recoil sensitive shooter that desires a revolver, it makes perfect sense. It offers good penetration, high velocity, and decent energy without the kick of larger calibers. Also, the lighter recoil makes follow up shots easier and quicker than harder recoiling options. If only the .32 H&R magnum had more public interest, and commanded the same industry support as some other cartridges such as the .38 Special, it would make a more viable option to a wide variety of shooters; but, alas, in today’s market with the lack of available guns and ammunition, and the high cost of available options, the .32 caliber line of revolvers and cartridges seems to be pretty much a niche market.