Shooting the .32 ACP
While virtually all cartridges for semi-auto pistols are rimless, the .32 ACP (known in Europe as the 7.65 Browning Short), a truly unique round, is actually semi-rimmed. What rim there is, is a puny protrusion only .021-inch larger in diameter than the case ahead of the extractor groove.
Nevertheless, the round headspaces on the case mouth, just as do other semi-auto rounds. A curious quirk is that, with its tiny rim, the .32 ACP can actually be fired in most .32 revolvers, in a pinch.
Ballistics of the .32 ACP are lackluster. The standard 71-grain FMJ bullet at a nominal 900 fps produces only 129 ft.-lbs. of energy. To put this in perspective, at handgun velocities, the 40-grain .22 LR has about 72 ft.-lbs., the 50-grain .22 WMR has 126, and the .25 ACP (ironically, introduced three years after the .32 ACP) has 64 ft.-lbs. of muzzle energy. However, remember the earlier admonition about infection? You still didn’t want to get shot with any of them—and still don’t today!
S.A.A.M.I. maximum average pressure (MAP) for the .32 ACP is only 20,500 psi, out of deference to the relatively weak blowback pistols that are more than 100 years old. The round must still see some use, as almost all the major manufacturers make factory loads, including the traditional 71-grain FMJ bullet, plus some new expanding types from Federal, Speer and Hornady. I gathered up as many of these rounds as I could and headed to the range.
The little M-1903 is really fun to shoot, mild of voice and recoil is downright pleasant. Groups were fired at 10 yards and were in the 2½- to 3-inch range. Never mind that the point of impact and point of aim didn’t exactly coincide. At this defensive distance, it was well within minute-of-bad-guy.
Velocities of the 71-grain loads are rated at 900 to 905 fps, but only the Aquila ammo (which does not list a velocity on packaging) beat this, at 920 fps. The Winchester, CCI Blazer as well as Federal American Eagle 71-grain loads were 869, 848 and 822 fps, respectively. Hornady’s 60-grain XTP-HP, rated at 1,000 fps, clocked 851 fps. This dropped muzzle energy to 96 ft.-lbs. The Federal HydraShok fared a little better at 888 fps and 114 ft.-lbs. Be aware, however, that some guns refuse to cycle with these lightweight bullets, so, if you decide to use them, be sure and check for reliability with them.
Actually, if a stalwart citizen carries a .32 ACP pistol for personal defense these days, a good argument can be made for the use of ammo with 71-grain FMJ bullets. Penetration would be considerably better than the 60- and 65-grain hollowpoints, and, at these pedestrian velocities, their expansion may be a sometimes thing. Lastly, and although this is a minor point, the muzzle energy of the FMJ loads is about 12 percent greater than with the HPs.
The .32 ACP is one of the most popular cartridges ever designed and, even today, new pistol models chambered for it are available. But the little gun still does what it was designed to do and continues to command considerable interest from shooters, collectors and historians alike.
In the M-1903 and the .32 ACP, we have a classic example from an era that had a different approach and mindset to the concepts of personal safety. Thus, as long as law-abiding citizens are allowed to defend themselves with firearms against law-breakers, the Colt M-1903 will maintain its status as One Good Gun.
This article is an excerpt from the Gun Digest 2014 Annual Book