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IHMSA News Feature Article
Published in The IHMSA News, the Official Publication of The International Handgun Metallic Silhouette Association
Published monthly except November/December - January/February
IHMSA on the web at http://www.ihmsa.org
 
Dan Wesson's Littlest Magnum - 32 H&R Magnum
  By Todd Spotti Load Data & Range Test
 

     Over the years, Dan Wesson has developed a well deserved reputation for the strength and accuracy of its guns as well as the many unique cartridges that they are chambered in, i.e. the 357 Super Mag, 414 Super Mag, 375 Super Mag, and the 445 Super Mag. Of course this is in addition to the conventional heavy weights that they also offer such as the 357, 41, and 44 Mag. At the tail end of this very impressive list of hard hitting heavyweights is the little 32 H & R Magnum.

     The 32 H&R was introduced to the Shooting World in 1983 by Federal Cartridge Corp. and the now defunct firm of Harrington & Richardson. H&R was known mainly as a maker of inexpensive 22 revolvers and rifles, and toward the end of its life, a very nice, modern version of the trap door Springfield rifle.

     This new 32 was really a magnum version of the classic 32 Smith and Wesson Long cartridge. While the 32 H&R is only slightly longer than the Smith cartridge (.155Ē), it operates at nearly twice the pressure (21,000 CUP versus 12,000 CUP).

     Interestingly, the H&R was first promoted as a self defense cartridge. Factory figures of the time showed it to have twice the energy of the S&W Long, and 13% more energy than the standard 38 Special. The higher pressures for the new cartridge actually gave some merit for its claim as a new self defense cartridge. In fact, the H&Rís pressures are similar to some 38 Special +P loads. Indeed, the H&R is even enjoying some new found popularity in some light weight, short barreled self defense revolvers where the recoil from larger cartridges might be difficult for many people to handle.

     However from a practical point of view, it quickly became apparent that this claim of being more effective than the 38 Special was overstating things a bit too much. Never the less, it was soon found that the new 32 was a fun little cartridge to shoot, had mild recoil, a relatively flat trajectory, and good accuracy. Consequently, it was a natural for target shooting, popping jack rabbits, and for getting rid of pests. The new magnum cases are also stronger than the other 32ís floating around making them easier to reload with a much longer life span.

     Not surprisingly itís also proven itself to be a very flexible cartridge for silhouette shooting. The 32 H&R has been used in Field Pistol silhouette almost from the very beginning thanks to the qualities just mentioned above. It also has a place in long range silhouette as well. Thanks to Jim Rock and his genius, the 32 has also been loaded up with 190 grain Hornady 30 caliber bullets which then made it a dandy straight wall version of the 300 Whisper. When teamed up with an XL or a TC, it works like a champ, pole axing rams at subsonic velocities. If I had to choose between the Whisper and the H&R, the H&R would be the clear winner because the straight wall case is so much easier to reload.

     It was only natural then that the new Dan Wesson company would chamber one of its revolvers for this pleasant little cartridge. As mentioned before, the 32 H&R is a very nice Field Pistol cartridge, and when coupled with the Dan Wesson small frame revolver, it becomes very effective indeed.

     Thereís always been a pretty fair group of silhouette shooters out there that have favored the revolver for Field Pistol versus the single shots. Primarily, this stems from the fact that generally speaking, revolvers are often better balanced, are lighter in weight, and many times will have grips better suited to standing shooting. When shooting on your hind legs, these attributes can worth their weight in gold.

     The new Dan Wesson small frame guns are real sweethearts. While DW large frame guns are massive and business like, the small frame is elegant, almost like a Russian ballerina. The dimensions are linear and the beauty is there but subtle. You can also sense its considerable strength, but itís hidden beneath the surface in the steel. 

     To illustrate just how strong these guns are, Seth Wesson once told me how, as an experiment, he took a small frame 357 Mag model, replaced the barrel with a solid steel rod, and loaded it with a proof cartridge (100,000 psi +). The gun was then fired remotely in a test chamber. Not only did the gun survive, but functioned normally afterwards with no damage what so ever. Now thatís what I call tough.

     My evaluation gun was the 8Ē stainless version equipped with the standard shroud i.e. not the one with the heavy rib underneath. If you shoot Field Pistol with open sights you might consider using the heavy shroud instead as many shooters feel the additional weight dampens front sight movement. On the other hand, if you shoot Field Pistol with a scope, the weight of the scope will accomplish the same purpose, and the extra weight of the heavy shroud could become a liability then. 

     Unlike many of the Wesson sight ribs which are ventilated across the top, the sight rib on my gun was solid and is an integral part of the barrel shroud. The theory behind ventilated ribs is that the vents aid heat dissipation from the barrel and supposedly contribute to accuracy.

     However, Iíve been shooting revolvers for a long time now, and have never found a gun equipped with a vented sight rib to be inherently more or less accurate than one without. Itís strictly a cosmetic feature. I happen to like the way a vented rib looks, but I have no illusions about them from a practical point of view.

     At any rate, the solid stainless sight rib on my gun was bead blasted to a dull gray to reduce reflection and glare. As it happens, the contrast between the brushed stainless of the shroud below and the dull gray of the sight rib on top made a very handsome contrast.

     One of the unique features of the DW 32 is that it was equipped with one of the new Lothar Walther barrels from Germany. The barrel is a ten land and groove design which is also used on other Dan Wesson models. DW is the only manufacturer that I know that uses this type of barrel. It should be understood that this is not a micro groove type barrel. The grooves are the same depth as they are on standard 6 land and groove barrels found on other guns. The lands, while being the same height as in other barrels, are naturally more narrow.

     The theory behind this feature is that the additional lands provide a better grip on the bullet as it enters the bore with less likelihood of rotational stripping. This is especially true when using cast lead bullets. The result is said to be improved accuracy and velocity. Barrel twist on the Wesson is the standard 1 in 18.75Ē for this caliber.

     The gun was also factory drilled and tapped for the optional Dan Wesson Weaver sight base. The base fit the gun perfectly and had the Dan Wesson logo engraved in gold lettering on the rear. I like the Weaver base simply because I own mostly Weaver style rings and the fact that scope and rings can be easily removed. If you prefer, Wesson also offers the massive steel Burris mount for Leupold style rings for an even stronger set up. However for the 32, the lighter Weaver base is a better choice.

     For iron sights, the gun came equipped with a standard partridge front sight and a Millet rear sight. The sight picture for this combination was good in that the size of the light bars on either side of the front sight was neither too small nor too large. The Millet sight provided 12 clicks per rotation. I was happy to find that the clicks on the Millet were positive, although somewhat uneven in feel. However, they worked just fine returning the point of impact on target with no problems. If you prefer, a variety of other front sight blades are available and you can upgrade to an optional Bomar rear sight. Sight radius with this 8Ē barrel was a nice 9.25Ē.

     The trigger is the standard Wesson style i.e. smooth and stainless with rounded surfaces. Trigger pull was very clean and crisp with no creep what so ever.

     The gun was also equipped with Wessonís rubber Hogue grips. These are very nice, but are more similar in style to some combat type grips. The Field Pistol silhouette shooter might prefer one of Wesson's larger, better hand filling, wood, target style grips instead for better control.

     Since the 32 H&R is a fairly small case, small differences in the amount of powder used can produce significant changes in pressures and velocity. Consequently, go slow when developing loads. During the evaluation, I used Reddingís titanium carbide dies for the first time. I canít say enough good things about them. They are absolutely the smoothest dies I have ever used and the workmanship is just superb. They are an absolute pleasure to use. Simply the best. 

     I also used Reddingís profile crimp die as well. The profile is a combination crimp which uses both a standard roll crimp in the cannelure and a taper crimp around the bullet. Itís the strongest there is. However, it is probably overkill for the light recoiling H&R.

     When reloading for this little cartridge, youíll find that there aren't a lot of choices as far as bullets are concerned. For jacketed types, youíre basically limited to 85, 90, and 100 grain bullets and thatís it. I used only the Speer 85 grainers and the Sierra 90's this time around. Although I did get a supply of the Speer 100 grain bullets, I was unable to test them in time for this story. The Hornady 86 grain bullets have a good reputation in the H&R but unfortunately I didn't have any on hand. If possible, I'll try to provide load info on those two bullets later on. There is also a small selection of cast bullets floating around but I wasnít able to include any in my evaluation.

     Starline cases were used exclusively during my evaluation. For primers, both Federal and CCI small pistol mag primers seemed to work better than standard pistol primers, even with fast powders. Consequently only mag. primers were used in the evaluation.

     Although most of the powders tried could be made to work decently, I'd have to say that VihtaVuori 350 probably was the best of all in this application, having a burning rate similar to Blue Dot. For some reason groups with this powder seemed to be more uniform in this gun.

     In conclusion, I found the Dan Wesson 32 H&R to be one of the most pleasant and fun guns I have ever shot. The ease of reloading and its mild mannered competence should make it a favorite for many Field Pistol shooters.

Good luck and good shooting, Todd

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Loads Used Testing DW's 32 H&R Magnum

All Groups Fired At 100 Meters

 BULLET  POWDER  PRIMER  GROUP  VELOCITY
Standard
Deviation
           
 85 gr. Speer  4.9 gr. V350  Fed  2"  1121  18
 85 gr. Speer  7.5 gr. H108  Fed  2"  1238  15
 85 gr. Speer  4.6 gr. AA #5  Fed  1.5"  916  19
 90 gr. Sierra  8.2 gr. H108  Fed  1.5"  1367  24
 90 gr. Sierra  9.0 gr. H110   Fed  1.5"  1096  38
 90 gr. Sierra  8.6 gr. 4227  Fed  1.7"  988  25
 90 gr. Sierra  5.1 gr. V350    Fed  1.5"  1135  39
 90 gr. Sierra  5.0 gr. V350  CCI  1.55"  1127  26
 90 gr. Sierra  5.6 gr. Blue Dot  CCI   2"  1034  31
 90 gr. Sierra   3.0 gr. Bullseye  CCI  1.89"  953  5
       

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Warning: All technical data mentioned, especially handloading, reflect the limited experience of individuals using specific tools, products, equipment and components under specific conditions and circumstances not necessarily reported in the article or on this web site and over which IHMSA, The Los Angeles Silhouette Club (LASC), this web site or the author has no control. The above has no control over the condition of your firearms or your methods, components, tools, techniques or circumstances and disclaims all and any responsibility for any person using any data mentioned. Always consult recognized reloading manuals.