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32-20 Winchester

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Introduced as an original chambering for the Winchester 1873 rifle, the 32-20 WCF also became one of the most common chamberings for the Colt Single-Action revolver.

Loaded with a 115-grain bullet with 20-grains of blackpowder, original ballistics in a rifle were substantial, with velocity near 1200 fps. Revolver velocity was significantly less but many folks found it adequate for the purpose.

A surprising number of gunfighters of the Old West preferred the 32-20. Evidently, they understood the value of well-placed shots, as did many other folks in that era.

As my friend, Terry Brewer, correctly observed: “There is no replacement for shot placement.”

Today, the 32-20 is most important in the Cowboy Action games and remains a favorite chambering for those applications. It is amenable for loading to reduced velocity with relatively light bullets and easily does what those folks need it to do.

Even with the best modern components and top-end loads, performance of the 32-20 is limited because of the relatively low SAAMI pressure standard reflecting the history of this round and the many older guns designed for use with blackpowder. In a modern, stronger gun, safe loads at higher pressure are entirely feasible.

A handloader creating such ammunition must be extremely cautious to assure any such loads are never used in an older, potentially weaker, gun. And, the handloader must realize the simple limitations of case volume and caliber.

As with all cartridges used in guns with a tubular magazine, a properly applied crimp can smooth and ease chambering and a crimp is critical to lock the case mouth into the cannelure and thereby prevent recoil and chambering forces from driving the bullet into the case. In some instances, a roll crimp might be the best option but the Lee Factory Crimp Die usually does a better job and the crimp it applies will not damage a cast bullet as chamber pressure drives that from the case. I cannot too-strongly recommend getting a second seating-and-crimping die so you can have one adjusted to seat the bullet and the second adjusted to only crimp the case mouth. I can attest that attempting to do both operations in one step is a recipe for damaged and destroyed cases.

The text associated with the cartridge description reflects opinions and conclusions of the author, M.L. (Mic) McPherson. Lee Precision and its employees do not necessarily either agree or disagree with any of his comments. We present these with due deference to his recognized expertise in the firearms field. His acumen extends to handloading and all aspects of ballistics - internal, external, and terminal.
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