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Ruger SP101 Magnum Review

by Patrick Sweeney   |  April 24th, 2008 0


There was a time when .32 handguns were held in good regard. The Colt SAA in .32-20 was the third-largest-selling caliber. The first revolvers the NYPD was issued were in .32 S&W Long. But somehow that respect faded. Back in the 1980s, H&R attempted to change that by developing the .32 H&R Magnum. The “upgrade” only marginally increased performance. While respectable, it suffered in comparison to the then-new loads in 9mm and .38 Special.

No more. The new .327 Federal Magnum makes no pretense to being suitable for anything but modern revolvers. The earliest .32 cartridges have an operating pressure not much more than 12,000 PSI. The .32 H&R Magnum upped that to 21,000 PSI, the same as the .38 Special +P.

In upping the performance of the .32, Federal increased the case length to preclude the use of the new round in older guns, a prudent choice when you’re upping the operating pressure to 45,000 PSI–that’s right, more than the .357 Magnum and more than a 9mm+P loading.

First out of the gate, and in conjunction with Federal, Ruger offers its SP101 in .327 Federal Magnum. At 28 ounces of high-alloy investment-cast stainless steel, the SP101 is certainly stout enough to take the new .327 in stride; you may not be, but the revolver is. The initial offering is with a 31â ow-profile adjustable rear sight.

You may be asking yourself, “Sure, high pressure is great, but it is still just a .32, right?” Give up your old ideas about the performance of a .32, for the new Federal load leaves them all behind. The lightest load is the 85-grainer, which also runs at a lower pressure. That is, if you consider chamber pressure on par with the .357 Magnum as a “low” figure. At 35,000 PSI, the 85-grain Hydra-Shok leaves the muzzle at a promised 1,330 fps. The heavier bullets are a 100-grain SP American Eagle load at 1,400 fps and the 115-grain Gold Dot Federal Premium Personal Defense load at 1,300 fps.

Speer has long had a handle on how to make Gold Dot bullets, and a .32 of 115 grains going 1,300 fps is going to perform very much like a 9mm 115-grain Gold Dot going 1,300 fps. Ballistic testing of the .327 showed it to be superior to a .38 snubbie. I got more gel penetration with the .327 (15 inches) than the .38 (12-plus inches) and greater expansion as well.

You’re saying, “Sure, Federal promises 1,300 fps, but in that short barrel you aren’t going to get it.” The boxes I have are early-run engineering samples. I shot them on a dreary winter day with a temperature out in the low 20s. The SP101 delivered the 115-grain Gold Dots at 1,316 fps over my CED chronograph. I had a bunch of 9mm ammo along as well, testing them in two pistols.
Over a dozen different 115-grain 9mm loads, only two delivered more velocity than the .327 Federal Magnum did. And in both instances, those 9mm loads did so only out of the five-inch-barreled pistol, not the compact 9mm.

Now, there will be some who will use their experience with earlier .32s and declare it “a fine round for the ladies and for new shooters.” Excuse me, but weren’t you paying attention to the “115 at 1,316″ part? The SP101 kicks, and it kicks pretty briskly. The .327 Federal Magnum, with the factory full-power loads, is not a ladies’ or beginner’s load. You want the performance, you have to pay the price. If you want more than the .327 delivers, you have to go to the .357 Magnum, and having done so you will pay mightily for it. An SP101 in .357 delivers a 125-grain JHP at more than 1,300 fps, but you get only five shots and muzzle blast and recoil that could make a brass monkey flinch. With the .327 Federal Magnum you get much more than a 9mm or .38 Special in the same gun; you get six shots instead of five, and you get it at much less recoil than the .357.

And best of all, you can still shoot all the lesser .32s in it. If you wanted to reload it, the .327 is fully capable of being throttled back to those loads for really cheap, low-recoil practice and fun.

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