32-20 A Short History

The .32-20 Winchester, also known as the .32 WCF, was the first small-game lever cartridge that Winchester produced. It was initially introduced as a black powder cartridge in 1882 for small-game, varmint hunting, and deer. Colt produced a single-action pistol chambered for this cartridge a few years later.

.32-20 indicating a .32 bullet diameter (hundredths of an inch) and the 20 indicating a standard black powder charge in grains.

Although it is an inexpensive cartridge to reload, care must be taken by the reloader because of the extremely thin walls of the cartridge case. Energy and pressure levels for hand loading are determined based on the strength of the firearm action to be used. Because most firearms chambered for this cartridge are older (e.g. early model Winchester model 73 and 92 rifles, factory ammunition usually has reduced pressures from what can be achieved through hand loading. Most factory ammunition exhibits ballistics of about 1,200 ft/s (370 m/s) and 325 ft·lbf (441 J) of energy at the muzzle with a 100-grain bullet from an eighteen- to twenty-inch rifle barrel. Factory-type loads - and reloads mimicking factory type loads - are the safe maximum loads for use in older weapons chambered for this cartridge, as most of the weapons the cartridge is chambered for are.

Load Data

This cartridge was one of my "always wanted" list of cartridges, and after a long time looking I was rewarded with a spanking new Marlin CL. To make things even better, this rifle goes toward completing my classic set 25-20, 32-20 with just the 218 Bee left to get.



There is always a little nervousness with a calibre that you have always wanted, what happens if it's complete pants, and really horrible to shoot?


I was not disappointed, a nice light-weight lever action rifle, good looking and flexible enough to take a scope.

For this test, I thought that I would test a jacketed, lead and singly loaded lead wad cutter, shot from a rest reasonably briskly at 25m.

The Hornady XTP/HP 100 GR was used as my higher velocity varmint bullet. The Hunters Supply cast bullet, FP 115 GR would be my low "Cowboy" to medium velocity load. The WC/GC 98 GR was more an experiment, loaded very lightly. I had also heard that the Hornady Jacketed 85 & 60 GR bullet had given good result but were unavailable at the time of the test. I do intend to try these bullets in the coming weeks and may add the results later

From left to right, 32-20, .38 Special & .357 Mag.


Higher Velocity Jacketed

Powder: Reloader 7 14 GR approximate FPS, 1450

Powder IMR 4198 11 GR approximate FPS, 1120. This was a nice round to shoot, little recoil, and with a surprisingly low level report. This powder is listed as one that can offer a compressed load, and I am sure that with continued testing could improve accuracy.

Powder XMP 5744 9 GR approximate FPS, 900. Very light recoil, the XTP bullet still expanded nicely, and once again the report was low.

Lead RNFP 115 GR

Powder IMR 4198 10 GR approximate FPS, 1075.


Powder Bullseye 2.2 GR approximate FPS, 910. The load was so light that it felt like an air rifle, very low level report, an excellent choice where sound pollution could be a problem.

Powder Bullseye 2.2 GR approximate FPS, 980. The experimental light target load did not really work, but I think is worth pursuing a little further. I feel that gas checks on the wad cutter is not really necessary, and I shall be considering a hollow base bullet, and a recipe that can reduce the FPS still further.

Powder Trail Boss 2.2 GR approximate FPS, 650. I think this target speaks for itself. The recoil was again hardly noticeable, with that reduced "bang" characteristic.

The one flyer does spoil it a little. I am quite amazed that this cartridge is not sort after more in the UK, especially in the rapid shooting competitions that continue to gain popularity. With the almost zero recoil, second shot acquisition could be improved. Marlin only made a limited run of the classic, and I only know of two new ones at the time of writing this review. One I intend to keep in my collection, and the other I shall sell.

I think that the target potential for this cartridge is clear, I would have to conduct more tests over greater distances before I could say that it would suit UK pest control. At this stage I would be looking at pest control at short ranges, not because I am concerned about the hitting power, after all, though not recommended, deer in the USA have been taken for years using this cartridge, with good shot placement and bullet choice. It would just be the accuracy factor, and until I can find a harder hitting accurate recipe, I would limit pest control to within 60m, and nothing bigger than Mr Fox.