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.
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.
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.”