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The new H&R .32 Magnum.

While .32 caliber handguns and cartridges have always enjoyed considerable popularity in Europe, they've never been the rage in the United States. If any .32 could be termed popular, it's the .32 ACP, a cartridge well suited to pocket-size semi-automatic pistols intended for self defense. The best of the .32 revolver cartridges, the .32 Smith & Wesson Long, has been used by law enforcement officers in small revolvers as off-duty and backup guns. However, the most frequent use of the .32 S&W Long in this country has been for small-game hunting and target shooting. It has a reputation for fine accuracy and hunters have always found it suitable for taking rabbits and birds at relatively close range.

The other .32 cartridge of consequence to American handgunners is the .32-20, originally a black powder rifle cartridge introduced by Winchester in 1882. Well received by riflemen, it was soon put into handguns by Colt and Smith & Wesson to accommodate shooters who wanted one round they could shoot in both their rifle and sidearm. However, the popularity of the .32-20 has waned over the years and today the cartridge is nearly obsolete.

There were other .32s, of course, but despite some of the attractive attributes of the caliber in general, Americans have never warmed up to it.

In January of 1984, Harrington & Richardson and the Federal Cartridge Corporation dumbfounded American handgunners by jointly announcing the introduction of the .32 H&R Magnum. Federal would produce the ammunition, H&R the revolvers to shoot it in. Needless to say, I wanted to try both.

The ammo arrived from Federal in early spring, but it was late in May before I got the H&R revolvers--a Model 504 with a four-inch barrel, a 504 with a six-inch barrel and a Model 586 western-style revolver with a 7-1/2-inch barrel.

The 504 is a swing-out cylinder double-action revolver that in .32 H&R Magnum is virtually identical in size to the 504 in .22 Long Rifle. The only differences between the two guns is the .32's five-shot cylinder and a rebounding firing pin that in the .32 is positioned in the frame to strike the primer of a centerfire cartridge. The revolver is a right-wheeler--the cylinder rotates to the right--and all cases in the chambers are ejected by a single stroke of the ejector rod.

Of all steel construction, the H&R Model 504 is available in blue only with the hammer left unblued. The hammer spur, .300-inch wide, is serrated to afford a non-slip surface for your thumb when you are cocking the hammer manually for single-action firing.

The 504's trigger is .314-inch wide and the front face is smooth. Both of my test guns have less than satisfactory triggers when it comes to pull weight. The single and double-action pull weights on the four-inch Model 504 are 5-1/2 and 14 pounds respectively, while on the six-inch gun the pull weights are 6-1/4 and 15 pounds. Some creep is present in the mechanisms of both revolvers.

The heavy round barrel on all Model 504 revolvers is topped with a solid rib, .310-inch wide, that runs from the front of the top strap to the muzzle. The top of the rib is serrated and matte-finished, creating a non-glare surface along the entire sight plane. The front sight, a .090-inch wide blade, is set in a dovetail cut in the rib at the muzzle. The rear sight is located at the back of the top strap. Its blade features a square notch .090-inch wide and .080-inch deep. Provisions for making both elevation and windage adjustments are built into the rear sight unit.

By going with a five-shot cylinder in the Model 504 .32 H&R Magnum, Harrington & Richardson has managed to achieve a strong design. The cylinder is 1.374 inches long and 1.340 inches in diameter. Between chambers the cylinder walls are .180-inch thick while the outside walls measure .080-inch at the thinnest point. The cartridge rims are not recessed flush with the rear surface of the cylinder. However, the entire rear face is counterbored, creating a rim around the outside of the cylinder. The cylinder is locked at the rear when the center pin engages a recess in the standing breech. The cylinder stop notches cut in the cylinder are placed exactly between each chamber and do not create a weak point.

Two butt styles are available in the new H&R Model 504 .32 Magnum. My four-inch gun sports a round butt while the six-inch has a square butt. The grip panels are uncheckered hardwood.

The H&R Model 586 is a western-style revolver of solid frame design, yet it's a double-action gun using the same lockworks as the Model 504. As it came from the box, my 586 had a single-action trigger pull of 5-1/2 pounds and a double-action pull of 15 pounds. The cylinder dimensions are the same as on the Model 504 revolvers, but the cylinder is held in place by a centerpin and empty cases are ejected by opening the loading gate, then pushing each case out with a thrust of the ejector rod. The sights used on the Model 586 are like those on the 504 with the rear unit adjustable for windage and elevation. Because there is no barrel rib on the 586, the front blade is set in a ramp screwed to the barrel.

All in all, the new revolvers chambered for the .32 H&R Magnum cartridge are just what you'd expect from Harrington & Richardson--sturdy handguns made of good steel, but lacking in polish where the trigger and lockworks are concerned. Like all H&R guns, they'll give years of trouble-free service at a price that's quite easy on the budget.

So much for the guns. Now let's get down to the .32 H&R Magnum cartridge. Physically it's nothing more than an elongated .32 S&W Long. The rim diameter is .375 inch and body diameter is .337 inch. However, where the maximum case length of the older .32 S&W Long is .93 inch, the new Magnum has a maximum case length of 1.075 inch. The added length not only allows for the use of more powder, but it prohibits chambering of the Magnum round in a revolver intended only for the .32 S&W Long cartridge. However, the .32 S&W and .32 S&W Long can both be fired safely in a .32 Magnum revolver.

Federal's original loading for the .32 H&R Magnum uses a 95-grain lead hollow base semi-wadcutter bullet at a claimed muzzle velocity of 1,030 feet per second (fps) from a 4-5/8-inch barrel. The company recently introduced a second round which uses an 85-grain jacketed hollow point bullet at a muzzle velocity of 1,100 fps.

I decided to test the four-inch barreled Model 504 and the Model 586 with the factory open sights, but chose to scope the six-inch gun in order to better assess the true accuracy of the revolver and the cartridge. This posed a problem because I had no scope mount designed for the Model 504. I solved this by modifying a B-Square mount for a Dan Wesson revolver, milling the grooves in the bases larger so they'd clamp over the Model 504 rib. When the crossbolts are tightened down, the bases squeeze around the top surface of the rib. I topped the revolver with a Leupold M8-2X scope and headed for the range.

The accuracy I recorded with Federal JHP ammunition in both the four-inch Model 504 and the 7-1/2-inch Model 586 at 25 yards was good, but the Federal 95-grain SWC loads gave poor accuracy from the four-inch gun and only fair accuracy from the 7-1/2. I was shooting from a sandbag rest off my bench and was certain that my sighting error was minimal, but just to be sure I repeated my accuracy tests with both the four-inch and 7-1/2-inch guns. The results were the same.

Setting the four-inch Model 504 and the Model 586 aside, I turned my attention to the scoped six-inch gun. When attempts to sight it in met with failure, I noticed that the bases, even though securely tightened, were sliding forward on the rib. Okay, I could accept that because I had no way of milling the grooves in the bases to the exact contour of the rib. To stop the sliding, I moved the entire mount unit forward until the front base was against the rear of the front sight. This placed the objective of the scope out well beyond the muzzle where it would be subjected to muzzle blast, but I had no other choice.

My groups immediately improved, but then suddenly became erratic. Thinking the scope was damaged, I changed to another. Initially it looked like the problem was solved, but suddenly my shots started hitting all over. Again I switched scopes, this time to a Redfield 2-1/2X. Four shots later the rib came loose. It seems that the rib is held in place by a stud in the rear which slips into a hole in the front of the frame and a screw located under the front sight that anchors in the barrel. Even though the recoil of the .32 H&R Magnum is mild, it's enough that the weight of the scope sheared off the front rib screw.

Back in the shop I drilled out and extracted the broken screw, found a new one and anchored the rib back in place. Then I moved the mount rearward and positioned it where the scope did not extend to the muzzle. Each base has two 8-32 leveling screws in it, so I removed these, drilled into the rib and set these screws down into each hole. With four screws anchored in the rib, there was no way that the bases could slide forward.

At the range, though, my problems continued--large, erratic groups with no explanation for them. Then it dawned on me. The rib is supported only front and back, leaving the entire area in between free to flex up and down, side to side, under recoil. This flexing was causing my accuracy problem. It was back to the shop again where I set four 6-48 screws in the rib, anchoring them in holes I carefully drilled and tapped in the barrel to the same depth as the front hole drilled by the factory. For all practical purposes, the rib was now solid and the bases securely anchored.

This time I was able to sight in and shoot for accuracy. As with the open sighted guns, the accuracy of the Federal 85-grain jacketed hollow point ammunition was good in the scoped pistol, but my groups with the 95-grain lead bullet factory ammo were disappointing.

I was a bit disappointed in the velocity of the jacketed bullet ammo in my guns, but I suspect the difference between the velocities I recorded and those published by Federal involves pressure barrel versus revolver as well as the barrel/cylinder gap on my revolvers.

Handloading presented a number of problems, not the least of which concerned which powders to use and how much to use. At the time of my work no reloading data for the .32 H&R Magnum had been released, so I had nothing to go by.

I chose to work with four bullets, two I cast from linotype metal in Lyman molds, one a swaged lead semi-wadcutter from Hornady and one a jacketed hollow point from Hornady. The case and swaged bullets were .314-inch diameter, the jacketed bullet .312 inch. Lyman's #311252, a round nose, cast out at 76 grains while #311316, a semi-wadcutter with a gas check, finished out at 113 grains. Hornady's swaged lead SWC weighs 90 grains, their jacketed hollow point 85 grains.

The accompanying table lists the loads that performed best in my revolvers. All load development was done in the six-inch Model 504, but the loads were fired in the other two revolvers to be certain there were no pressure signs. Case head diameter was carefully monitored during my loading operations and no expansion was evidenced with any of the loads shown. Still, these loads must be considered experimental, safe only in my particular H&R revolvers. Not until the labs release some loads and pressure data can we be sure that my loads are all operating within the safe pressure limits the industry has established for the new .32 H&R Magnum cartridge.

A point of significance about my loads is that all of them shown in the table are reasonably accurate. Most of my lead bullet loads averaged 2 to 2-1/2 inches for five-shot groups while those with the Hornady jacketed hollow point averaged from 1-1/4 to 2 inches. By the time I'd finished my load development work, there was no doubt in my mind that the jacketed bullet is the best bet for accuracy--in factory ammo as well as handloads.

If I had to choose a single powder that produced the best results for me overall--best combination of accuracy, velocity and clean-burning characteristics--it would be Winchester 231. Bullseye ran it a close second while Unique produced the largest groups with all bullets.

Having completed my range tests, I had to ask myself just what are the potential uses for the .32 H&R Magnum? It's obviously an economical cartridge to handload, it has possibilities for good accuracy and it's more powerful than the .32 S&W Long. But, does the cartridge have any practical application? Not being involved in the law enforcement field, I don't feel especially qualified to evaluate the .32 H&R Magnum for this market. However, it appears to me that it would be adequate for off-duty or backup use when loaded with a jacketed hollow point or with a jacketed soft point bullet.

How about its use for hunting? Now there's something I can speak on intelligently, mainly because I took my H&R 504 revolvers into the field and used a number of my handloads on prairie dogs and rock chucks. After two days of terrorizing the local rodents, here's how I see the .32 H&R Magnum's future in the hunting field. Any good, accurate swaged or cast lead bullet load should work great for taking cottontails, squirrels, etc. for the table. These bullets exhibit no tendency toward expansion on small animals, but expansion is of no consequence when you head-shoot small game. The .32 caliber bullet will in itself create a quick-killing wound. Even if you let your shot slip back into the shoulder area you won't ruin a lot of meat, yet the wound will be sufficient for a quick kill. But, based on the accuracy I managed from my revolvers, I'll have to say that the usefulness of the cartridge on small game is limited to 25 or 30 yards.

For small varmints the .32 H&R Magnum does very well when the Hornady JHP bullet is used. I took a good number of prairie dogs and chucks at distances from 20 to 50 yards with my JHP loads and the kills were always quick and clean. The Hornady bullet expands very well on small animals, doing a lot of tissue damage and leaving a gaping exit hole. Set the maximum range for your shots at 50 yards and you'll never get into trouble. I think jacketed bullet loads would also work very well on coyote, fox and bobcat at close range. Because pelt damage would be minimal, this should be of interest to varmint callers who bring their quarry right up close before shooting.

In conclusion, it can be said that with the .32 H&R Magnum we've done little more than reinvent the .32-20 cartridge. Nevertheless, while the .32-20 is nearly obsolete, the .32 H&R Magnum is a modern, strong cartridge. Acceptably accurate at close range, the .32 H&R generates very moderate recoil and the cartridge is economical to reload. These things combine to create a very interesting cartridge that I believe will enjoy at least moderate popularity with American shooters. As of this writing, all of the H&R revolvers for it are on the market. Ruger has just announced that they'll offer their popular Single-Six revolver in .32 H&R Magnum chambering, and Charter Arms is chambering their two-inch Police Undercover revolver for this new cartridge.
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Title Annotation:revolver evaluation
Author:Milek, Bob
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Date:Nov 1, 1984
Previous Article:The Bighorn rifle.
Next Article:Mountain Meadow Gun Cradle.

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