Random Thoughts in Defense of the .327 Federal Magnum
by Greg Ritchie
The 327 Federal Magnum. Like Rodney Dangerfield. It gets no respect. Something I have never understood. I don't think there is a better field cartridge for the outdoorsman and it makes a wonderful round for self defense. Let's take a look at it, what are it's pros? Cons? And a comparison to its greatest rival, the 357 Magnum.
First a bit of history. The great granddaddy of the 327 Federal is the 32 S&W. Introduced in the late 1870's as a personal defense cartridge, it launched a 85 grain bullet at around 700 feet per second. Anemic at best, it still was a very popular cartridge. Today's loading data finds that a 100 grain cast bullet can be pushed to velocities of 500 to 600 feet per second.
The 32 S&W sired the 32 S&W Long. Introduced in the late 1890's, it would propel a 98 grain bullet at just over 700 feet per second. A marked improvement over the 32 S&W. The 32 S&W Long did see some police use. Today's load data shows that a 100 grain bullet can be pushed to 700 fps.
[.32 Smith & Wesson Long]
In 1984 Harrington & Richardson and Federal Cartridge Company teamed up to create the 32 H&R Magnum. Here was a cartridge that pushed the 100 grain bullet to velocities of 1200 feet per second. The 32 caliber cartridge was now equal to the 38 special in energy levels. Today the 32 H&R Magnum is still chambered by Charter Arms.
[.32 H&R Magnum (Harrington & Richardson)]
[.32 S&W Long beside .32 H&R Magnum]
In 2007, Federal Cartridge Company again teamed up with a firearms company, Ruger, and introduced the 327 Federal Magnum. Pushing the 100 grain bullet to 1400 feet per second. This is a hot little number. Energy levels are approaching the 357 Magnum.
Ruger chambered this round in 6 shot SP101, 7 shot GP100, and 8 shot Blackhawk. In 2013 Ruger discontinued these firearms. In 2014 Ruger reintroduced the 327 Federal in the Single Seven revolver, based on the 22 caliber Single Six single action revolver. In 2015 Ruger added the SP101 and the LCR to the 327 Federal lineup.
As a personal defense cartridge, the 327 Federal Magnum, in my opinion, would be hard to beat for three individual that prefers a revolver. A look at the 357 magnum is in order. The 357 magnum firing a 125 grain bullet out of a 4 inch barrel is the great man stopper, with a 98% one shot stop rate. How does the 327 Federal compare? When fired out of a 3 inch barrel, the 100 grain bullet produces 100 feet per second more velocity and only 35 foot pounds less energy then the afore mentioned 357 magnum load! Not too shabby! Plus the 327 Federal chambered guns give you one more round of ammunition than comparably sized 357 magnums. That's never a bad thing.
As a field and trail gun, the 327 excels. It's big enough for defense against most 4 legged, no legged, and 2 legged varmints, I would want something a bit bigger for bears, but if bears are an issue I would want at least a 44 magnum. A 454 Casull, 480 Ruger, or a 500 S&W would make me feel even better. For filling the stew pot at camp, the 32 S&W Long slipped into the chamber of the 327 revolver is just the ticket.
Let's look at the 357 magnum. There is no doubting the 357 magnums popularity. It's obvious that the inventors of the 327 Magnum used this to their advantage when choosing a name for their creation. By the way, the nominal diameter of the 327 Magnum bullet is .312, but the 312 Magnum moniker is just missing something. But back to the 357 magnum. As a personal defense gun, is it better than the 327? We have already discussed the negligible difference in energy. The concealed carry gun or every day carry gun will likely have the additional round if chambered in 327. The round count will likely be the same in a nightstand gun. In the end, it's personal preference. The 327 will likely have the advantage of being the more trim and easier to shoot option though.
How about as a field and trail gun? Again, the 357 is a fine choice. Some will say the 357 excels because it can use the heavier 158, 180, even 200 grain bullets. It makes a better defense round against bears, plus you can hunt deer and pigs with the 357. I'll give you that, the 357 does take heavier bullets, but is it really a good large game caliber? Surely, hundreds of deer are taken each year with the 357 magnum, as are a few hogs, and maybe a black bear or two. But there is a problem. The heavier bullets in the typical 357 magnums can suffer failures to expand. Below 1200 feet per second or so most handgun bullets will suffer this unless they are thin jacketed, then penetration suffers. Sure, penetration trumps expansion, but I personally want the best of best world's. I believe true big game handguns start with the 44 caliber. Everything else is handled as well or better with the 32 caliber. Pot a squirrel for supper with the 38 special? Sure, but a shot through the rib cage will usually destroy some shoulder or hip meat, the 32 Long won't. And again, the typical 6 shot 327 revolver will be as much as 1/2 pounds or more lighter than the 6 shot 367 magnum revolver to boot.
How about disadvantages if the 327 Magnum? There are some. It's just not as popular as its performance dictates that it should be, therefore the cost of ammunition is high. It's not so hard to find, just expensive. Expect to pay nearly $1.00 every time you touch off a round.
Next, because of the cost of factory rounds, it is a reloaders delight, but the cartridge gains it's performance from high pressures. There is no room for mistakes in reloading any cartridge, but even less room for mistakes reloading high pressure cartridges. Recoil can be quite snappy, especially in a lightweight firearm. Not as bad as a 357 magnum in a like firearm, but worse than the 38's, 9mm's, and the 380's that so many are carrying today.
So how about my experiences with the 327 Federal Magnum as a EDC, nightstand gun, and trail gun? Alas, I don't have any. My preferred revolver is the Ruger LCRX. As the LCRX is not chambered in 327 Federal, I chose the 38 Special by default, both the 1.9 inch and 3 inch barrelled versions, recently augmented by the 22 Long Rifle version. Should Ruger release the LCRX in both barrel lengths chambered in 327 Federal, and I think Ruger is missing the boat by not, I will have both versions and it I'll become my preferred nightstand, EDC, and trail cartridge!
I do however have experience with both the 327 Federal and the 32 S&W Long, having shot the 8 shot Blackhawk extensively, the LCR a bit less so, and carried an H&R 733 32 Long in both 2 inch for carry and 4 inch as a trail gun and nightstand gun. The 32 and 327 are good cartridges suited to both the outdoors and defense.