.32 S&W Ammo

.32 Smith & Wesson Ammo: In Depth

The .32 S&W (Smith & Wesson) is a classic American handgun cartridge that has stood the test of time since its introduction in the late 19th century. While not as popular as some modern calibers, the .32 S&W maintains a dedicated following among collectors, target shooters, and those who appreciate its low recoil and manageable power. This compact round has found its niche in small-frame revolvers and has been a staple in the world of firearms for over a century.

History and Development

The .32 S&W cartridge was developed by Smith & Wesson in 1878 to meet the growing demand for a small, reliable self-defense round. It was designed specifically for use in S&W's new line of small-frame, top-break revolvers, which were becoming increasingly popular for personal protection.

Key milestones in the .32 S&W's history include:

  • 1878: Introduction by Smith & Wesson
  • 1880s-1890s: Rapid adoption by other firearms manufacturers
  • Early 1900s: Widely used by police forces and for civilian self-defense
  • 1930s-1940s: Gradual decline in popularity as more powerful cartridges emerged
  • 1960s-present: Continued production for collectors and niche markets

Originally loaded with black powder, the .32 S&W transitioned to smokeless powder in the early 20th century, which improved its performance and reliability. Despite being overshadowed by more powerful cartridges like the .38 Special, the .32 S&W has maintained a consistent presence in the firearms market due to its low recoil, accuracy at short ranges, and suitability for small-frame revolvers.


The .32 S&W is a low-velocity, low-pressure cartridge designed for short-range effectiveness. Its performance characteristics include:

  • Muzzle Velocity: Typically ranges from 680 to 800 fps (feet per second), depending on load and barrel length
  • Muzzle Energy: Usually between 80 to 120 ft-lbs (foot-pounds)
  • Effective Range: Generally considered effective up to 25-30 yards for self-defense
  • Trajectory: Relatively flat at short ranges, but significant drop at distances beyond 50 yards
  • Recoil: Very low, making it manageable for shooters of all skill levels

The .32 S&W's moderate ballistic performance makes it an excellent choice for new shooters, those sensitive to recoil, or for practice and training purposes.


While not as versatile as some modern cartridges, the .32 S&W still finds use in several applications:

  1. Target Shooting: Low recoil makes it ideal for casual target practice and plinking.
  2. Training: Excellent for introducing new shooters to handgun fundamentals.
  3. Self-Defense: While not optimal, it can be effective at close ranges, especially for those who cannot handle larger calibers.
  4. Collecting: Popular among firearms enthusiasts and collectors of vintage revolvers.
  5. Small Game Hunting: Suitable for small pests and varmints at close range.

Its mild report also makes it a good choice for indoor shooting ranges where noise reduction is a concern.

Available Firearms

The .32 S&W is primarily chambered in revolvers, both modern and antique. Some notable firearms include:

  1. Smith & Wesson Model 31: A classic .32-caliber revolver
  2. Harrington & Richardson Model 632: A budget-friendly .32 S&W revolver
  3. Iver Johnson Safety Automatic Hammer: A popular vintage top-break revolver
  4. Colt New Police: A collectible revolver from the early 20th century
  5. Charter Arms Undercoverette: A modern, lightweight .32 S&W revolver

Some semi-automatic pistols have also been chambered in .32 S&W, but these are relatively rare and often collectible items rather than commonly available firearms.

Available Ammunition

Several manufacturers produce .32 S&W ammunition, offering a variety of options:

  1. Lead Round Nose (LRN): The most common bullet type, typically 85-100 grains
  2. Full Metal Jacket (FMJ): Less common, but available for practice and target shooting
  3. Wadcutter: Flat-nosed bullets designed for target shooting, usually 88-98 grains
  4. Jacketed Hollow Point (JHP): Limited offerings for self-defense use

Popular brands and loads include:

  • Remington 88-grain LRN (680 fps)
  • Fiocchi 97-grain FMJ (780 fps)
  • Magtech 85-grain LRN (765 fps)
  • Winchester 85-grain LRN (750 fps)

It's important to note that .32 S&W ammunition is not interchangeable with .32 S&W Long or .32 H&R Magnum, despite the similar nomenclature.


When compared to other popular handgun calibers, the .32 S&W has some distinct characteristics:

  • vs. .22 LR:
    • Similar recoil
    • Slightly more powerful
    • Less commonly available
  • vs. .38 Special:
    • Significantly less powerful
    • Lower recoil
    • Smaller frame revolvers
  • vs. 9mm Luger:
    • Much less powerful
    • Lower capacity in most firearms
    • Generally limited to revolvers
  • vs. .32 ACP:
    • Similar power levels
    • .32 S&W is primarily for revolvers, while .32 ACP is for semi-autos
    • .32 S&W has slightly lower pressures

While the .32 S&W lacks the power of many modern defensive cartridges, its mild recoil and accuracy at close ranges keep it relevant for specific use cases.

.32 Smith and Wesson Ammo: FAQs:

While not ideal, it can be effective at close ranges. Shot placement is crucial due to its limited power.

Yes, .32 S&W can be safely fired in .32 S&W Long chambers, but not vice versa.

.32 S&W is primarily a revolver cartridge, while .32 ACP is designed for semi-automatic pistols. They are not interchangeable.

Yes, major ammunition manufacturers continue to produce .32 S&W, though it's less common than more popular calibers.

For self-defense purposes, it's generally considered effective up to 25-30 yards. For target shooting, it can be accurate at longer ranges, but bullet drop becomes significant.

Yes, but care must be taken due to the cartridge's low pressure requirements and small size.

Its low recoil makes it an excellent choice for beginners learning proper shooting techniques.