.327 Federal: the little cartridge that should have made it

Ruger Single Seven 7.5 inch barrel

Very briefly in yesterday’s post on the Ruger SP101, I mentioned the .327 Federal, what is now a boutique revolver cartridge. I loved the idea of the .327 Federal when it was introduced as a joint venture between Ruger and Federal, and I’ve always nursed a bit of disappointment that it never really caught on.

327Federal

These days, the only company still making .327 is Federal/ATK, and you can have it in whatever flavor you like, so long as you like either Speer JHP, Hydra-Shok JHPs, or American Eagle soft points. New manufactured guns are almost all Rugers, on their small frame single action package with a seventh shot thrown in. The Single Seven, as it’s called, is available as a distributor exclusive through Lipseys and comes with either a 4.63 inch barrel, a 5.5 inch barrel, or a 7.5 inch barrel.

Ruger Single Seven 7.5 inch barrel

It seems that the .327 has settled down into a niche as a solid small game cartridge, even through the preponderance of available loads are catered towards self-defense. Today I want to look at why the .327 never really caught on – in many ways it’s the .357 Sig of revolver rounds. A modern invention with a lot of potential that never really went anywhere. To understand the .327 Federal, you have to look at its parent cartridge, the .32 H&R Magnum, which was itself a stretched and upgraded version of .32 S&W Long. In fact, you can shoot any of those cartridges in a .327 Federal revolver, although with the .32 S&W you’re going to be jumping so much freebore your rounds will think they’re Tony Hawk.

Back to the cartridge itself, it was originally launched with a Ruger SP101 that held six shots, and a GP100 that held seven. The .327 Federal actually did offer a ballistic upgrade over .38 Special as well; while my memory of 8 years ago is a little hazy, I seem to recall ballistic tests showing that it outperformed most .38 Special loads out of the SP101, but not quite up to the snuff of a full house .357 Magnum. It was easy to shoot as well, it was accurate, and as I’ve mentioned repeatedly you could hold one more round in the gun. More ammo is better, right? So why didn’t it catch on?

We actually have a long history with .32 caliber cartridges that don’t quite get there. The .32-20, the .32 Magnum itself, and then the .327 Federal are all great examples. The Federal, in my opinion, suffered from being an answer to a question people didn’t know they should be asking. Like the .32 Magnum before it, most people who carried revolvers looked at the .327 and said “what does this do that my .38 doesn’t?” Because the cost of getting into a new cartridge, buying expensive new ammo/reloading supplies, and searching for important defensive accessories like speedloaders or speed strips wasn’t really worth it just to get one more round in the gun. And really, that makes economic sense. A 10 or 15% increase in terminal performance doesn’t really justify getting into a boutique cartridge.

So the .327 quietly became a small-market round mostly used for hunting. It’s legal for deer in some states, and Buffalo Bore produces pretty hot ammo for it. I do think that if Ruger wanted to try for a comeback on the little round, they should chamber an LCR for it. The .327 Federal and the super-light, super compact LCR would be a pretty good match. It would also be pretty neat to be packaged with a rotary magazine and the Ruger American rifle, but that crosses into the land of “things Caleb likes to imagine.”

25 thoughts on “.327 Federal: the little cartridge that should have made it”

  1. Own a 632-1 J-frame S&W Pro Series. The first time I took it out, I had countless people asking me if I were shooting a 357 and some some thought it was even a 44. This was due to the amount of percussion blast being felt and heard at the indoor range I was at. This was my first revolver and one I don’t see myself ever selling.

  2. As someone that often carries a snub-nose .38 for concealed carry, I was very interested in the .327 when it was introduced because of its better performance versus the .38 Special, and the possibility of having 6 rounds in the cylinder. But Smith & Wesson never added it to its line of concealed carry revolvers at all, as far as I remember, let alone their Airweight line of revolvers. If S&W had a .327 Airweight sporting 6 rounds, I would have snapped it up. As you say, it would probably help if Ruger chambered the LCR in .327. If Ruger could squeeze 8 rounds into the cylinder of a GP100, it would also make a fine defensive/combat/small game hunting revolver.

    1. The 632 was a pretty neat little gun that S&W offered for .327 Federal. Also, Ruger did the GP100 in .327, they could only squeeze seven rounds into the cylinder. Honestly, I think the other thing that helped kill it was the minimum caliber requirements in competition shooting. I’d totally shoot a 6 shot, 3 inch SP101 in IDPA if I could, but because it’s a .32 I couldn’t.

  3. One might well ask why the .32-20 and .32H&R didn’t become more pervasive in the market – or why the .40S&W did (for the most part).

    I would have thought that whoever proposed the .327 would have done their homework on this gnarly question.

    The .327 at least {initially} avoided one of the obvious pitfalls, which is trying to be both a handgun and rifle round, as rifle rounds tend to be either over-pressure (the .32-20’s problem) or use too-slow powders (my impression of why the .30 Carbine also failed as a handgun round). With slow powder, you end up losing velocity and gaining blast and night muzzle flash in a CC-size weapon.

    New rifle rounds (e.g. 300BLK, 6.8SPC) seem to have a lot less trouble getting established. Interesting.

    1. I honestly think it’s because “.32” is seen as a mousegun cartridge, regardless of the terminal ballistics. The .40 is a triumph of marketing, it was sold to the American gun buying populace as “all the knockdown power of a .45 with the capacity of a 9mm” – and by and large the mostly ignorant gun buyers bought it up.

      1. I don’t know I’d lump the .32-20 in with .32 H&R and .327 Federal. I mean, .32 WCF had a solid sixty year run as a reasonably popular levergun and revolver cartridge but was one of those chamberings that just never really recovered after WWII.

        Further, I guarantee no Delta bluesman ever records a song titled “.327 Federal Blues”. πŸ˜€

  4. Count me as a .327 Federal fan as well. I’ve got the little SP-101 and have found it to be an exceptional little carry gun. I have been most impressed with its accuracy from the first shots I fired. Hunting may indeed be its niche going forward. I’ve already asked Ruger to consider clambering their 77/357 bolt gun in .327. I think it would make a great varmint rifle and it has potential for whitetail deer as well!

  5. The .327 might have been an interesting round but for a defensive revolver it suffered from the “mouse gun” moniker. And I’m not sure we really need a new cartridge. What I would really like to see is a 9mm “J Frame” with the frame shortened to the size of the cartridge (not just a longer forcing cone). Oh and one that comes from a first line manufacturer.

  6. Another .327 fan here. I have the Smith 632-1 like one of the previous posters, it’s definitely on my do-not-sell list. After putting a Apex J-frame trigger kit in it, it will also reliably fire .32 ACP, giving another choice for plinking/emergency ammo. The .327 just screams to be chambered in a lightweight rifle, either a bolt or lever action.

  7. re: I honestly think it’s because β€œ.32β€³ is seen as a mousegun cartridge, regardless of the terminal ballistics.

    Let’s not forget another factor (which I did forget in my earlier reply), which is that being rimmed, the .327 Fed is basically a wheelgun-only cartridge, and was introduced at perhaps what was the bottom of the valley of wheelgun market enthusiasm.

    Also, the “extra round” value proposition is valid, but has a problem – people who care about round count are probably looking at semi-autos to begin with.

    re: The .40 is a triumph of marketing, …

    Well, marketing is mainly what’s on the table here. .327 Fed was launched because somebody thought there was a broad civil market for it.

    I was in the market for a small handgun when the .327 launched, and paid attention to that launch. If I had wanted a wheelgun, I would have definitely bought an SP101 chambered for it. That “if” might be a big part of the problem.

    1. I’ve thought on occasion that a Beretta 3032-sized pistol with a double-stack magazine shooting some kind of .32 magnum would be interesting.

  8. I’ve always thought that S&W should do a modern version of the old M-Frame. Set up the cylinder window so it was big enough for 7-shots of .22 LR, 6-shots of .22 Magnum, or 5-shots of .327 Magnum.

    Likewise, Ruger could tweak the Bearcat for a 5-shot .327 Magnum cylinder.

  9. I wonder if the competition market had an effect. If it wasn’t a legal cartridge for IDPA, for example, could that have held it back?

  10. Out of curiousity, what is the felt-recoil of the .327 Federal like, compared to a .38 Special?

    The reason I’m asking is that there has been a lot of bandwidth spent over the years discussing how the felt-recoil of the .38 in snub-revolvers has done more to discourage women from getting into shooting than the efforts of Obama, Bloomberg, Brady, and Feinstein combined. And I was just wondering if the .327 would have solved, or at least mitigated, a common complaint with .38 snubs.

    1. I wish I could answer your question, but I cannot make the comparison, because I don’t know of a snubbie chambered for .327 Federal. I can tell you that with the heavy, long-barrelled GP100 and Single-Seven I perceive no felt-recoil shooting .327 Federal. Sure wish Ruger would chamber an LCR in .327 Federal so that I could answer your question.

      1. I know both Taurus and Charter Arms had pistols in the 2-2.5″ barrel range. Taurus was 6 rounds and I think CA had both 5 and 6 shot versions.

    2. The S&W 632 J frame running the 100gr American Eagle ammo delivers a message, a snub nose 38 is not even close to this. Unless you’ve shot a LCR 357 (I own one) I wouldn’t expect an LCR in 327 to be much friendlier; the 327 magnum pressure runs around 45000 vs 35000 for the 357 magnum. Of course bullet weight adds to the equation as well, but the 327 is not the feel good round they made it appear it was going to be; it is fun though. It is also nice to be able to shoot the 32S&W and 32H&R out of the same firearm; you can bring a beginner up to higher power rounds in multiple steps.

  11. Man that Tony Hawk comment surprised the hell out of me; still laughing about it. Dig your humor.

  12. I would love to pick up a 327 LCR. Ideally it would have the same light frame as the 38 except with 6 shots.

    Looks pretty unlikely at this point though.

  13. Put that in an alloy framed N frame, and you’d have a great 9 shot revolver. Light enough to carry afield, and fun beyond words. A bit bulky? But a lot of fun!

    Jim
    Sunk New Dawn
    Galveston, TX

  14. It never caught on because ammo was too expensive and unavailable just anywhere. Just like many other new cartridges.
    It didn’t offer that much of a performance improvement for shooters to retool/spend for it.
    What ammo makers need to do when they bring out a new caliber is have CHEAP practice ammo BY THE TRAINLOADS as well as high performance hunting/SD rounds.

  15. I like the 32 auto or ACP because it is easy to carry and shoots accurately in most guns chambered for it. however in the Keltec P-32 the recoil made it difficult to control untill they came out with the ten round mag that gave you more purchase on the gun. And though I prefer a large caliber in most cases mouse guns are very handy when consealment is a problem. However I believe that in a short barreled auto suitable for concealed carry the 327 Federal would have both too much recoil and report for most folks to shoot accurately and comfortably. For hunting I used a 44 mag or 10 mm, but for a carry gun I have a 4013 S&W, or the P-32 Keltech which will stop a man at close range and are easy to conceal. The 327 Federal would definately make a good hunting round in either a revolver or long barreled automatic, or for that matter in a good single shot with a six or seven inch barrel

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