By John Taffin, GUNS Magazine
When the .44 Magnum first arrived in my area the local range, Shell’s Gun & Archery Farm, rented it out to all who were brave enough to shoot it. It was a 4-inch Smith & Wesson pre-Model 29, which in those days was simply known as the .44 Magnum. We were then teenagers who always shot together, and we each paid our fee—I think it was 50¢ for six rounds—and proceeded to go where no man had gone before.
Up to this time we mostly shot .45 ACP and .45 Colt for big-bore guns as well as an assortment of .357 Magnums mostly using .38 Special brass with the Keith bullet and the Keith load. After we all shot our six rounds out of the new .44 Magnum in that beautiful S&W sixgun, we all tried to hide our discomfort, all lied and said it wasn’t bad. Actually we didn’t lie—it wasn’t bad, it was horrible.
Later on I would read Elmer Keith saying it was not as bad as shooting a .38 Chiefs Special, while at the same time General Hatcher at the NRA said it felt like getting hit in the palm of the hand with a baseball bat. At the time I definitely leaned more to General Hatcher’s thinking; however, as I progressed I found the truth was more in between what these two fine gentlemen had to say.
After those six rounds I knew I did not want a S&W .44 Magnum. However, when a Ruger .44 Magnum Flat-Top Blackhawk showed up at the same gun shop I bought it. I had read, I believe it was in an article by Lucian Cary, the Ruger had the same grip frame as the Colt Single Action Army, which everyone knew was very user-friendly. Upon firing, it would simply slip in the hand and minimize recoil. I actually bought into that until I fired my first round.
Perhaps the grip frame did work with standard .45 Colt loads, however, when I touched off that first .44 Magnum in the Ruger the barrel rotated 90 degrees (probably more) and the hammer dug into the back of my hand drawing blood. I hung that gun on a couple of pegs in my bedroom where it stayed for quite a while.
No one likes to admit defeat and I wasn’t about to be conquered by the .44 Magnum. I bought a 6-1/2-inch S&W and found the answer was different grips. Herrett’s was marketing their smooth Jordan Trooper stocks and that proved to be the answer. I added thicker stocks to the Ruger Flat-Top, and subsequently purchased a Ruger Super Blackhawk and a 4-inch S&W .44 Magnum. These four sixguns were the subject of the first article I ever wrote entitled “4 x 44 =Fun” way back in 1967.
Being a teenager I was not in on the ground floor of load development for the .44 Magnum, however I do believe I was the one of the first, if not the first, to publish load data for the .44 Magnum using 300-grain bullets. That was just the beginning and I went on to work with virtually every big-bore cartridge offered over the next three decades working out extensive loading data for each one of them.
John’s growing battery of .32’s now includes (left to right) an S&W K-32 .32 S&W, a Gary Reeder custom Ruger .32 H&R Single-Six and Bisley Model, and an S&W .32 H&R Kit Gun.
Although I had great pleasure doing all of this, and definitely earned my spurs, I paid a high price for all this “fun.” My hands, fingers, and wrists would be in much better shape today had I not shot so many of these loads. If you are working with any of these, just as with about everything else, the key is moderation. Elmer Keith tried to tell us, however we just didn’t pay attention. After waiting nearly 30 years he wrote an article one year after the introduction of the .44 Magnum saying he had fired his first gun a total of 600 rounds the first year, meaning he fired 12 rounds per week.
After Roy Huntington at American Handgunner talked of his .32’s, I started doing an inventory of my own. My first introduction to the .32 was the Ruger Single-Six .32 H&R Magnum. My friend Joe had purchased one with a 9-1/2-inch barrel and I immediately thought of it as a toy. However, I decided to go along with him and searched the cupboard for some suitable targets for his JHP handloads. One of the targets I found was a can of split pea soup (way down the list of things I find edible).
The can was set up at 25 yards with me shooting and Joe photographing. That first shot changed any thoughts I had about the .32 being a toy. That JHP dead-centered the soup can and seemed like the whole world turned green. I was splattered with little blobs of green as well as was my red Bronco. A whole new world opened up to me.
About the same time Elgin Gates, who was then the president of IHMSA (International Handgun Metallic Silhouette Association), sent me a new sixgun designed for an offshoot of long-range silhouettes, namely Field Pistol using smaller targets, at shorter ranges and shot standing only. That first dedicated Field Pistol was an 8-inch Heavy Barreled Dan Wesson .32 Magnum. It was extremely accurate with virtually no recoil. That was my first .32 but definitely not my last. I bought two Ruger .32 Magnum Single-Sixes and they were sent off to gunsmith Andy Horvath to be converted into Perfect Packin’ Pistols. Andy shortened the barrels to 4 inches, round-butted both grip frames, one of which was the Bisley-style, tuned, tightened and refinished both of them. They remain favorites to this day. S&W made a .32 Magnum Kit Gun for only one year and for some reason never cataloged it. It also has a 4-inch barrel and makes a PPP.
Lately, I am more drawn to used guns, especially smallbores. I found a Ruger .32 Magnum Single-Six while a friend in Texas found two .32 Bisley Models for me. All three were sent to Gary Reeder for full customization. The Single-Six now wears a 9-1/2-inch barrel, the two Bisleys, (one fixed-sight and the other adjustable), are both now 7-1/2-inch sixguns. Gary reblued them as only he can and they are all excellent shooters. At the same time I had him rechamber of the cylinder of a second Dan Wesson .32 H&R to .327 Magnum.
John’s rare Dan Wesson .32-20 shoots superbly.
Today’s .32 cartridges include (left to right) the .32 S&W, .32 S&W Long, .32 H&R Magnum and .327 Federal Magnum.
The New .32’s
Today it is difficult to find new .32 sixguns. Ruger offers the SP101 and GP100 in .327 Magnum, while Freedom Arms has the best .32 ever offered with their little Model 97 which can be ordered with at least three cylinders in .327 Federal, .32 H&R and .32-20. The .32-20 is an old Winchester rifle cartridge first chambered in the Colt SAA. For a very short time Colt offered their 3rd Generation SAA in .32-20 and I feel very fortunate to have been able to come up with a 5-1/2-inch version. Uberti has offered replicas in .32-20 for some time and I’ve found all to be quite accurate. I have also had both Hamilton Bowen and John Gallagher build me custom .32-20’s on Colt and Ruger Single Actions respectively. Both are excellent small-game pistols.
Lately I’ve been looking for older double action .32’s. One of the hardest .32’s to come up with, at least at any kind of a reasonable price, is the Smith & Wesson K-32 Target Masterpiece. Thanks to a reader I now have one at an almost unbelievable purchase price. In the past couple of months, as I have been recuperating from knee surgery, I have hobbled into a couple of local gunshops and come up with several .32’s from the beginning of the 20th century. One is a very small Colt Pocket Positive .32 S&W and two of them are Colt Army Specials, which were the forerunners of the Official Police. They are both chambered in .32-20, one with a 4- and the other a 6-inch barrel. Both are in excellent shape and were very reasonably priced.
Big-bore sixguns are a grand choice for various serious situations, however they can also be loaded down to a more pleasant level. The .32’s, even in their heaviest versions, are always pleasant to shoot without a kick in a carload and they do very well for punching holes in paper, tin cans, varmints. Should the need arise, they could certainly be used for self-defense.
Elmer Keith’s first sixgun was a 7-1/2-inch Colt Single Action .32-20, which he used to take several mule deer. This was his start and he then went on to big bores. I did it backwards and now find myself with a small, magnificent obsession.