Used as a military cartridge and firing the shot that began World War I, the .32 ACP is a giant of a cartridge in popularity worldwide. Designed for use in the 1900 Browning self-loader, FN of Belgium manufactured the cartridge.

And at 71 grains at 1000 fps, it is considerably hotter than the various .32-caliber revolver cartridges chambered in light revolver. I jumped at the opportunity to begin a series on cartridges, with an in-depth look into each one.

Why the .32 ACP?

(left to right) Fiocchi FMJ, Hornady XTP and COR®BON PowRBall .32-caliber cartridges.

It may seem strange to begin with the .32 ACP because I demand a lot of smash from defensive cartridges. The .32 ACP is too important historically to ignore, and it is one great recreational cartridge.

  • The Walther PP and Walther PPK are well made and accurate.
  • The Colt 1903 .32 ACP is a great pistol that has seen a lot of action worldwide.
  • The tip-up barrel Beretta Tomcat is a well-made handgun and among the most desirable of small defense handguns.

That is the bottom line with the .32 ACP—reliability and accuracy. Some are very reliable and quite accurate. Although my old Colt will not feed most hollow-point bullets, it has never stumbled with FMJ loads and is very accurate. In this report, I cover not only factory ammunition but also handloads for the .32 ACP. And here is the trick, even if you do not handload when you study this report, you will gain an excellent understanding of the ballistics, accuracy and wound potential of the .32 ACP.

The wound potential is not impressive, but the accuracy and reliability are. I have used the .32 ACP extensively as a game and recreational cartridge. It is a fun cartridge with many useful applications.

What is Available

The .32 ACP is plenty accurate.

The first thing to notice is that the .32 ACP is a bit odd compared to most centerfire cartridges. It was John Moses Browning’s first attempt at an auto-loading cartridge; he thought he needed a semi-rim for head spacing. The rim is 0.021 inches wider than the case. That design works just fine, without the accuracy problems often associated with a similar design, the .38 ACP.

The case feeds just fine, and the cartridge is more accurate than I would have thought. As for bullet selection, there is no room for heavier bullets. Factory standard or lighter weight bullets are the rule. If you handload, bullet selection is not terribly broad.

  • The Sierra 71-grain full-metal-jacketed bullet is a fine feed-reliable ammunition for general use, but good luck finding those. I had a few put up for a rainy day; in early 2014, you could not find any in the supply system.
  • The Hornady 60-grain XTP offers a hollow-point option.
  • The Gold Dot hollow point sometimes is available.

As for reed reliability, all hollow-point bullets feed in the Europeans, and none feed in the Colt unless seated further out than I am comfortable. There is little case adhesion when the short bullet seats so far out. Powder selection is critical. You must use only the fastest burning powder. Your scale absolutely must be properly maintained and accurate.

Remember, a tenth of a grain is a vast variation in this tiny cartridge case. Two tenths of a grain variation makes for as much as 100/feet per second variation. This is not a cartridge with much leeway for experimentation. Always exercise care; always exercise special care with such a small case. This is not a high-pressure number with maximum pressure on the order of 20,000 pounds per square inch.

What Happened During Testing

A big plus is that the .32 ACP is controllable and easy to use well.

During the test program, I used primarily Fiocchi cartridge cases. I have fired a good bit of Fiocchi ammunition in .32 ACP with excellent results. That ammunition is loaded a tad hotter on average than our domestic product, gives good results and often actuates the action in the tighter European handguns. The cartridge cases are high quality.

I worked up a number of loads that produced well more than 1000 fps in the Walther PP, the primary test piece. They would be as adequate for small game and personal defense as any factory load—and this is a recreational shooter in my household. Having taken rabbit and squirrel with more sedate .32 Smith and Wesson long loadings, I am certain the .32 ACP will drop a bunny with a head shot.

As the tables show, the .32 ACP operates on a very narrow band of powder charges with minuscule powder weight. Slight variations may result in greater pressure. Small they are, yet there is a lot cooking in those little cartridge cases. Increments of 1/10th of a grain make a large difference in velocity as you near the maximum charge. You must exercise care and discipline in loading it. You must check and maintain the overall cartridge length carefully. You will experience a failure to cycle due to light loading, and the next step up works fine, then the next increment produces snappy ejection.

As for bullet selection, probably the best all-around performer as far as expansion and accuracy is the Hornady XTP. In some test media, the XTP was the only bullet that showed any expansion at all.

The author has even used the .32 ACP in a sub-caliber adapter for firing in .30-06 rifles.

Due to the long for the caliber bearing surfaces, the XTP gave good accuracy. The .32s do not open much; there is a great difference between an FMJ bullet that slips through tissue without cutting and a JHP with a flattened nose that tears through tissue. I do not spend a lot of time with the .32, and I tested only a handful of loads. Once I obtained good results as far as accuracy and function, there was little point in continuing because the handguns are unlikely to produce great accuracy.

The loads I worked with are good ones—as accurate, reliable and capable as any .32 ACP loading. Incidentally, the Colt functions with loads considerably lighter than the norm, although the others demand full-power loadings. The Walthers have that air of quality, and the Beretta is a neat piece with good performance for its size.

All in all, you get good performance from squeaky little mouse guns. If you have a .good .32 ACP, I guarantee you will find it fun to fire and perhaps even more accurate and useful than you may think. And you may get better factory ballistics with the Gold Dot and XTP bullet by more than 100 fps.

If you are bored with other projects, this is a challenging caliber for any handloader.

Handload Ammunition Results

  • 15 yards
  • 5-shot groups measured in inches
  • OAL .978
Walther PP and Walther PPK

Colt 1903

Beretta Tomcat

Factory Ammunition Results

  • 15 yards
  • 5-shot groups measured in inches
Walther PP and PPK

Beretta Tomcat

Astra Constable

Ballistics Testing Results

Firing Walther PP into wet newsprint

What are your thoughts on the .32 ACP? What gun do you use it with? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

[bob]

The .32 ACP is Still Kicking! Used as a military cartridge and firing the shot that began World War I, the .32 ACP…

anonymous said:

Do you know if it'd be possible to chamber an SMG or PDW for .44 or .357 Magnum? If so, would it be combat effective?

They have been built. There is little gained. The purpose of the Sub Machine Gun is to give a controllable stream of bullets on targets. The 45 ACP round has been long considered the max load for such work. In sub guns, the 9x19 is very effective, and the 32ACP is about the minimum. 

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