How Obsolete? .32 S&W Long

Factory loads in .32 S&W Long are anemic, and while fine for taking small game they are perhaps not very suitable to self-defense. I mean, sure, it’s going to beat a .22, and for folks that are particularly recoil-sensitive it’s arguably a better option. But it has to be considered a bit marginal by most standards. Even factory hollow points might as well be solids; they simply will not expand at the low velocity of these loads.

But if we go to handloads the outlook is less grim. Sharp’s 1937 ‘Complete book of Handloading’ lists some pretty hot loads that are within SAAMI pressures. My own testing using a 96gr. LRNFP over 4.3gr. of Unique with a Federal #100 small pistol primer developed 1089 fps. and 253 ft.lbs of energy from a 4″ barrel. In a 2″ barrel it did 984 fps. for 206 ft.lbs of energy. That’s respectable, and would definitely penetrate adequately for self defense. It’s not going to produce much of a wound cavity, but it will at least reach the important stuff.

Traditionally small bullets moving slowly offer a choice. You can have an expanding bullet, you can get enough penetration, but you cannot have both. But 1000-1100 fps. isn’t slow. How do .32 hollow points do in this range? We actually have an example in hand. There have been FBI-standard gel-tests using Fiocchi’s .32 ACP load with the 60gr. XTP hollow point. Tested against 4 layers of denim over Clear ballistics gel these bullets, at around 1050 fps., exhibited modest expansion (to approximately .400″) and reliably penetrated 11-12″. Not going to set the world on fire, but it’s not too bad.

.32 S&W Long loaded with the Hornady 85gr. XTP hollow point

I picked up some Hornady 85gr. XTP hollow points for my experiment. After looking at load data for both .32 S&W Long and .32 H&R Magnum I settled on a test load- 85gr. XTP, 4.0gr. of Unique, CCI 500 small pistol primer. Loading it in my 2″ Colt Detective Special I fired five rounds through the chronograph. Here’s what I got:

1044 fps., 206 ft.lbs., SD: 40 with an extreme spread of 101 fps.

I have to conclude that these bullets, like their 60gr. counterparts, will expand at least modestly, and with 1/3 more weight they will certainly penetrate deeper. We’ll put that to the test later this spring.

How are they to shoot? Recoil is mild. The report is sharp but not excessively loud or unpleasant, and at 7 yards they made a nice, tight group. There was slight, intermittent flattening of the primers; not worse than the 96gr. load referenced above. Cases extracted quite easily. I suspect that these loads are near SAAMI maximum pressure, and may even exceed it slightly. I have no way of measuring this of course.

That being the case I am reluctant to recommend this load, but consider this: SAAMI maximum pressure for .32 S&W Long is 15,000 CUP, but .32 S&W Long wadcutters are routinely loaded to 17,000 CUP. This is necessary so that they can operate the mechanism of semi-automatic pistols used in rapid-fire competition. neither I nor anyone I know has reported difficulty firing these in their revolvers, so take this for what it’s worth.

Walther GSP in .32 S&W Long Wadcutter

My Detective Special is designed for .38 Special, so when chambered in .32 S&W Long (which Colt calls .32 New Police- heaven forefend they should mark S&W on one of their guns!) it’s plenty ‘beefy’ enough for the XTP load. I have no doubt this load, used judiciously, would probably be alright in any good quality handgun. Nevertheless this is a high-pressure load, and such should always be approached with caution.

So, this antiquated cartridge might be more viable for self-defense than I had previously thought. I suppose the gel tests will tell the tale.

As always you use this load data at your own risk; I assume no risk or liability for the use or misuse of this data.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 11 March 2020


2 thoughts on “How Obsolete? .32 S&W Long

  1. konan hosick

    tinker i have 14 diffrent 32 cal revolvers i carry ccw they have plenty of power to stop and i can shoot bullseyes with all . i think its all in the persons love for the gun. i think there a great cal but i reload my own bullets the 32 mags shoot great half mine shoot mags . i have a 32 five shot young american i call cricket love this gun its no bigger than a tic tac sweet revolver. love your talks keep it up .tell the younger kids history of the older guns . you need to see the matched pare of 32 nickel plated 5 shots revolvers i have .beautiful guns if you want ill send you some picks of them . i have a set of 38 short lemon squeeze that belonged to theodore roosevelt rough riders.


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