The 32 Smith & Wesson Long

Tales from the Back Creek Diary


“The sweetest shooting revolver…I have ever handled…” Julian S. Hatcher, Textbook of Pistols and Revolvers, (1935)


© 2014 -Ed Harris


Smith & Wesson 32 Hand Ejector...


The black powder version of .32 Smith & Wesson Long was introduced in 1896 and was followed by a smokeless version in 1903 for the Model I, Hand Ejector revolver, adopted by the New York City Police Department. The Regulation Police, as it was also known, was the first service revolver standardized by the NYPD. Until the 1930s when law enforcement officers were faced with heavily armed criminals driving metal automobiles, the .32 S&W Long was the smallest revolver then deemed adequate for police use.    


Old references give differing accounts as to its ballistics, due to use of various barrel lengths, and listed catalog velocities being obtained from solid test barrels, rather than revolvers, or vented test barrels, as are used today. Hatcher’s Textbook of Pistols and Revolvers (1935) stated the original charge as 13 grains of black powder for 790 f.p.s. from a 4-1/4 inch barrel.  Hatcher said that the .32 Hand Ejector was “the sweetest shooting revolver at fifty yards I have ever handled,” and that it was the “ideal home defense gun for women.” Which … “should be used when possible with the flat-point .32 Colt New Police, which nearly doubles its stopping power.” 


A Western Cartridge Company catalog table in Sixguns by Keith (1955) shows the smokeless powder 98-grain. Lubaloy round nose at 820 from a 4” barrel, the 100 grain flat nosed .32 Colt New Police at 795 f.p.s. and a wadcutter at 770 f.p.s. from a 6” barrel.   Keith said, “of the .32s only the Smith & Wesson Long and the .32-20 are worthy of mention.” Of the S&W Long Keith said, “The #313445 with 4 grains of Unique is a wonderful small game cartridge… it works nicely with solid bullets on small game, but lacks killing power on anything larger.”


The Ideal Handbook No. 34 (1943)  recommended either the standard round nosed  bullet #313226 or the flat-nosed 100-grain Colt Special bullet #31357 with 2.5 grains of Bullseye for 707 f.p.s. from the 3” pocket gun.   The 1964 Gun Digest describes the .32 Long as the “most popular of .32s for revolvers… a good small game cartridge… as accurate as the .38 Special, but less versatile.”


Smith & Wesson K-32 Scaled to Rabbit Size PPC Gun” created by salvaging worn-out .38 Special Model 15, fitting gunshow-find K32 cylinder, and slab-siding  muzzle end of a pull-off, slow-twist .308 rifle barrel, with crane ball lockup...


Today’s factory ammunition for the .32 S&W Long is listed as 705 f.p.s. with a 98-gr. lead bullet, round-nosed.  SAAMI pressures today are kept under 12,000 cup in deference to the many old Colt Pocket Positive and S&W Eye-frame revolvers in which cylinders weren’t heat-treated, and which are still around.  Stronger post-war revolvers such as the Smith & Wesson Models 30 and 31, and steel Colt D frames (the same size as used for the .38 Special) can safely handle pressures approximating the .38 Special +P enabling velocities of around 900 f.p.s. with 85 grain jacketed or 100 grain lead bullets.


I reload for several .32 S&W Long revolvers, enjoy shooting them, and use them for the same purposes that “normal people” would use a .22 rim fire for.  If you buy your powder and primers in quantity at discount and enjoy bullet casting and reloading for their own sake, shooting these center-fire popguns costs no more than a .22.  That can of Bullseye powder which now costs $20, will load 2800 rounds at 2.5 grains per pop.



Ruger Single Six in .32 H&R Magnum




The Ruger Single Six .32 H&R Magnum is still my favorite trail gun, but since I wrote a  Gun Digest article about it some years ago, I have obtained several small frame S&W .32 revolvers, which seem ideal for the recreational “kit gun” role.  I shoot mostly .32 S&W Longs in my Ruger Single Six to simplify ammunition supply.  In about 30 years of playing with the .32s I feel it is a much more effective small game load than the .22 LR, especially since I now have a handy single shot rifle too.


Ed_Hr32_2.jpg (33358 bytes)

Ed’s Single Shot 32 Rifle & Ruger Single Six Combo…


In fixed sight guns zero is affected more by bullet weight than velocity. Lighter bullets shoot low, and heavier bullets shoot high.  Most fixed sight .32 Long revolvers shoot close to point of aim at practical small game ranges from 50 feet to about 25 yards with 85 to 100 grain bullets.  The heavier 115-120 grain .32-20 slugs shoot about 3” high at 25 yards, enable a 6 o’clock hold at fifty yards and shoot “on” to point of aim at 100 yards.


In the pre-1957 S&W revolvers which don’t have the model number stamped in the yoke cut, don’t attempt to load over 850 f.p.s. with a 98-grain lead bullet.  This provides a useful, but modest improvement in performance over the factory loads, and has ample penetration for small game.  I prefer the Saeco #325 98-gr. SWC for hunting because it has the largest meplat to best let the air out of bunny rabbits.  But for pure recreation the Meister 94-grain .312" LFNs are so cheap, that it hardly pays to cast just for practice.


The Meister is a dead ringer in shape for the factory flat-nosed bullets once loaded in the .32 Colt New Police.  It has a long ogival nose compared to the Saeco #325’s short SWC and leaves more airspace in the case, when crimped in the crimp groove. Therefore, it takes about ½ grain more Bullseye powder with the Meister to reach the same velocity obtained with the Saeco #325 seated deeper in its crimp groove.  For older S&W I frames  good loads are 2 grains of Bullseye with the Saeco #325 and 2.4 grains with the Meister.


For longer range plinking I use the heavier 120-gr. Saeco #322 LFN .32-20 bullet.  I do not use this bullet in the older S&W Eye frames. In the Ruger Single Six and modern post-war .32s,  I load 2 grains of Bullseye and seat the bullet out, crimping it in the lubricating groove.  Its 1.35” cartridge length protrudes out the front of older Eye frame cylinders, preventing you from doing something stupid.  It gives about 720 f.p.s. from a 4-inch revolver and is nearly silent at 850 f.p.s. from my 26” H&R custom rook rifle.   This overall cartridge length, the same as .32 H&R Magnum ammunition, works fine in  S&W J and K frames, as well as the Ruger Single Six.  It also feeds from the Marlin 1894 Cowboy, which steadfastly refuses to feed factory .32 Longs.      


Somewhat heavier field loads are useable in the stronger S&W Models 30 or 31, postwar Colt D-frames.  A charge of 2.5 grains of Bullseye with the Saeco #325 or 3 grains with either the Meister 94-grain LFN, or Hornady 85-gr. XTP provide about 900 f.p.s. and shoot flatter to 50 yards or more.   This is my standard working load in my Ruger Single Six, being just below .32 H&R Magnum levels. 


H&R Bulldog 32…


Cylinder gaps vary in old revolvers and have a dramatic effect upon velocities obtained.  The data in the accompanying table compare results from a pre-war 4-1/2 inch barrel S&W I-frame .32 Hand Ejector with 0.010” cylinder gap barrel, compared to a 1970s production four-inch barrel J-frame Model 31 with 0.006” cylinder gap and a Ruger Single-Six 4-5/8” .32 H&R Magnum.


How the .32s Did


Average of five hand-held 6-shot groups off sandbags at 25 yards













Factory Loads

HL 2.5.Bullseye


Row Mean-Gun






Fiocchi WC










S&W M31-3"

















S&W M31-4"

















Colt Police-Pos-4"

















S&W HandEjector-4-1/4"

















Colt Officers Target - 6"
















Col. Mean - Ammo
















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