Sunday, June 17, 2007

Sunday Smith #5: .32-20 Hand Ejector Model of 1905 - 4th Change, 1921

Got a thirty-eight special, boys, it do very well
I Got a 32-20 now, and it’s a burnin’ --Robert Johnson, "32-20 Blues"

Revolvers in rifle chamberings have always been popular in America, and after Smith & Wesson had introduced their .38 Hand Ejector in the 1890s, they saw an open market niche. The .32 Winchester Center Fire cartridge, or ".32-20", was a very popular cartridge in the Eastern US. It was chambered in plenty of lever action rifles, was more than potent enough for taking small game for the pot, and (while not ideal) many folks pressed it into service as a deer cartridge because it was cheap to buy when compared to the other primary carbine cartridges of the day, such as .38-40 and .44-40.

Smith chambered their medium-frame "Military & Police" revolver for the .32 WCF in 1899 and continued production through the start of US involvement in WWII. It was an especially popular chambering in the southeast, a region hit hard by the Great Depression, and was immortalized in blues song and legend.

These days even a wretched late 1930s .32-20 Hand Ejector that looks like it's been dragged behind a truck will command a price above a C-note, while a nice example of a pre-1902 .32-20 1st Model can fetch more than $3,000 if it has all the proper accoutrement. The revolver in the picture is factory nickeled, dates to 1921, and has a 5" barrel; it was purchased at a gun show in April of '07 for $250, and is in probably 75% condition, with all matching serial numbers and a bore that showed signs of some pitting. Ammunition is still loaded by Winchester, Georgia Arms, and some of the smaller specialty houses; the Georgia Arms offering launches a 115gr unjacketed roundnose flat point bullet at a sedate 850 feet per second, and is plenty safe to shoot in an old Hand Ejector. The .32-20 K-frame is a joy to shoot, and I can't recommend one highly enough, but if you're looking for one, be prepared to spend money and caveat emptor when it comes to condition.


Matt G said...

Years and years ago, a friend got it in his head that he wanted to use an old family gun in .32-20 to kill a deer. It was a Winchester octagonal barrel, and was in good condition, likely 90 years old. He set up with Dad in a deer stand, with Dad along to back him up with a scoped '06 should it come to that.

Our friend changed plans at the last second, and grabbed Dad's .30-'06 and shot the first deer he saw, out the back door of the stand. When the deer fell in the tall grass, our friend ran at high speed toward where he thought it was, passing the fallen animal in the tall grass.

Dad came along behind, clutching the old Winchester, and when the deer lifted its head and bawled, Dad levered a round of .32-20 in and popped it neatly in the head to end its suffering.

So it was that the old .32-20 did kill a deer that day, sometime in the 1990's and probably 50 years after the last time it had been leveled at one.

The .32-20 is a dandy small-game woods cartridge, but generally one can get more thump from a .38 Special these days, say, out of a .357 M92 (rifle) or an Officer's Model Match (revolver). Still, the .32-20 is such a nostalgic cartridge, who wouldn't want to tote the old companion along? In its day, as the song suggests, the .32-20 was considered a pretty hot pistol cartridge.

Cybrludite said...

"cut her half in two..." as Mr. Johnson put it. Actually, I've been tempted to get one of Cimmaron Arm's "Dual Lightnings" with the swappable cylinders (.32-20 & .32 H&R Mag) with the 3 1/2" barrel. Just the piece to go with my white linen suit...

Carteach0 said...

Just wanted to say... thanks for the time invested in this blog! I read the profile and the blog.... worth every minute. I'll be back!

Tam said...

Thank you. I hope everyone likes reading it as much as I like writing it. :)

Gun Monkey said...

I've seen several of these first hand while working at the NCBC Armory in gulfport after the hurricane. We got them when the museum that they were in was destroyed. As they were Captured pieces several had the Mum still and there was even one with the dual circle design.

John said...

I just bought a clone of a Smith & Wesson .32-20, made in Eibar, Spain. I couldn't find a smith that I could afford, but the spanish clone shoots fine. It's a pity the .32-20 has not become more popular, it's a great round. Flat trajectory with reasonable recoil. BTW - I was looking through your profile, and I thought you might like to take a look at some of the books written by my favorite author, Keith Laumer. Especially "Worlds of the Imperium", "The Time Bender", or "The Breaking Earth".