Rifle / Handgun
.3125 in (7.94 mm)
Place of origin
Winchester Repeating Arms Company
The .32-20 Winchester, also known as the .32 WCF (Winchester center fire), was the first small-game lever-action 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 revolver chambered for this cartridge a few years later.
The name .32-20 refers to the .32-inch-diameter (8.1 mm) bullet and standard black-powder charge of 20 grains (1.3 g).
Although the .32-20 cartridge was occasionally used for deer hunting in the past, many now consider it too light and low-powered for deer; it is much better suited to small game. It has a good reputation for accuracy in rifles as well as the few handguns that have been chambered for it. Because of its low power, it destroys very little meat, making it a good hunting round for appropriately sized game, up to about 100 yards (91 m). The cartridge is now approaching obsolescence, as shooters turn to other similar but more powerful and flexible loads. The power level of more modern .32s, such as the .32 H&R Magnum and the .327 Federal, equal or surpass the .32-20 in modern firearms.
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 handloading are determined based on the strength and condition 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 as well as older Colt and Smith & Wesson revolvers) factory ammunition usually has reduced pressures from what can be achieved through handloading. 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 (6.5 g) bullet from an 18 to 20 inch rifle barrel. The performance characteristics of the cartridge listed in the sidebar should be considered maximum performance parameters obtainable, and even then only with a modern weapon designed for higher pressure loads. 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. Few if any companies still manufacture hunting weapons in this caliber.
The .25-20 Winchester cartridge is simply a necked-down version of the .32-20. In addition, the .218 Bee was created using the .32-20 as its parent cartridge.
The .32-20 has been used to create usable ammunition for the Nagant M1895. This is accomplished by removing .01" from the rim thickness and sizing the case in a specific reloading die (Lee Nagant 3 die set). the ammunition produced is functional and easy to reload; however, .32-20 brass does not provide a gas seal as it is not long enough to protrude past the Nagant cylinder. It can also be used to create 8mm French Ordnance ammunition for use in the Modèle 1892 revolver.
Currently, the .32-20 is used and modified by shooters in the UK and Australia for the .310 Cadet cartridge, which is no longer produced and very hard to come across. Modifications involve length resizing, reducing the neck thickness, and in most cases reducing the rim thickness. Due to the .310 using a heeled projectile, the neck thickness of the .32-20 has to be reamed down from 0.007" to 0.005" (0.13 mm to 0.18 mm), after first being case length resized to 1.075" (27.3 mm). Most .310 cadet chambered rifles need to have the rim of the .32-20 case reduced from 0.065" to 0.038" (1.7 mm to 0.97 mm), to allow proper head spacing and operation of rifle. However, in the instance of a lever action .32-20 fitted with a .310 barrel, the rifle will cycle better without the case rim thickness being reduced. As home reloading is the main option for the .310, many shooters play with different case length reduction of the .32-20, anywhere from 0.875'' to 1.185'' (22.23 mm to 30.10 mm).