by David LaPell
Someday some ammunition maker will realize that there are scores of these old guns in .32 Rimfire out there, without ammunition to shoot out of them.
USA -(Ammoland.com)- Ask most shooters what they know about the .32 rimfire and you’re bound to get more than a few confused looks as they try to grasp the fact that at one time, rimfire cartridges didn’t stop after .22 caliber. In fact, at one point in time .32 rimfire rounds were popular for both self-defense and small game hunting.
The first .32 rimfire was designed for the Smith & Wesson Number 2 revolver which was introduced in 1861 and was a larger version of their popular and sought after Number 1 in .22 Short.
The Number 1 was chambered for what was known as the .32 Long and in 1865, Smith & Wesson brought out their Number 1 ½ revolver in .32 Short.
Smith & Wesson made these revolvers until 1865 with more than two hundred thousand produced.
While Smith & Wesson began switching over to centerfire cartridges to keep up with guns from Colt and others, rifle manufacturers started adding guns chambered in both .32 Long and Short to their lineups.
Stevens had their Tip Up rifle which later led to their Ideal and then the Favorite models. Remington chambered a couple of different versions of the Rolling Block in the .32. Marlin had one of the rare repeaters with the Model 1891 lever action, Winchester their legendary 1885 Low Wall and some off-brand revolvers and other single shot rifles as well.
I remember first hearing about the .32 rimfire about twenty years ago from some older hunters, sadly many of whom aren’t with us anymore. The one thing I remember hearing from them was how great the round, both in Short and the Long version, were for small game and varmint hunting out to about 100 yards.
This makes sense because the .32 Long had a 90-grain bullet with an advertised muzzle velocity of 1,080 fps. That was similar to the .32-20 cartridge with its 100-grain bullet and velocity of 1,100 fps. Even the .32 Short with its 80-grain bullet and somewhat pedestrian speed of 945 fps was no slouch on small critters within a short distance.
Sadly the .32 rimfire began to fall out of favor in the 1930’s when the high velocity .22 Long Rifle rounds started to come out. One by one gun manufacturers stopped chambering the little .32 and when World War II began ammunition for them stopped being produced and never really caught on again once the war ended.
The last American box of .32 rimfire was made in 1972. Canuck brand imported it until the 1990’s, and Navy Arms offered Brazilian made .32 Long and Short until 2014.
Today a full box of fifty rounds will fetch over $100 or more.
The tragic part is that there are hundreds of thousands of .32 rimfire guns out there, Stevens made about one million Favorite rifles, and a good chunk of those was chambered in .32 rimfire.
Add that to all the other companies that chambered rifles and revolvers in it, and there are a lot of guns that you can’t use today without converting them to centerfire, ruining any value as a collector’s item or paying a big chunk of change for a single box of cartridges.
So have all those .32 rimfires turn to wallhangers, never to be shot again? Not so fast.
I have always held a soft spot for .32 rimfire rifles, buying my first more than fifteen years ago.
It was a Remington Number 4 Rolling Block, one of the most popular even to this day. At that time you could get the ammunition from Navy Arms, but it wasn’t very cheap then either. I can remember paying thirty or forty dollars for a single box of fifty rounds.
I hunted with the little Remington a few times, but I was never able to get a shot at either the squirrels or grouse I had hoped to take with it. I later sold that gun to an elderly gentleman who had owned one just like it in his youth, so I gave him all the ammunition with the rifle. I always hoped he had better luck with it.
Fast forward to today, and recently I encountered another Remington Number 4 Rolling Block in .32 rimfire, capable of shooting both the .32 Long or the .32 Short. It’s an earlier takedown version in very good condition, and the gun shop had a hard time selling it because of the lack of ammunition. I bought it with the determination that I was going to find a way to shoot this gun.
Enter Dixie Gun Works, who makes a way, albeit a little unique, to get .32 rimfire guns shooting again. They offer reloadable brass shells in both .32 Short and .32 Long. The key is that the casing uses .22 blanks as a primer and black powder as the propellant. Dixie recommends a .310” roundball, and since I happen to own a .32 Squirrel rifle, I happen to have plenty of those on hand. So I ordered a few .32 Long cases to try out.
There is another company that offers a way to load and shoots .32 Rimfire and that is a kit made by HLE Books in Belgium. The kit comes with a die, tools, twelve cases and twenty-five bullets, but at a cost of $215, that’s almost what some .32 rimfire guns sell for. I found the cases simple to load and prime without the need for tools.
After doing a lot of research of people who have used the cases that Dixie sells, I found that a couple of people recommended .22 Short cases with the bullet and powder removed instead of .22 blanks which with its crimp, was not as reliable for ignition. I happened to have a reasonably large supply of .22 Shorts on hand, so I decided to try them as well.
For the powder charge, I went with Hodgdon’s Triple 7 Black Powder substitute in FFG instead of real black powder. One, I have used Triple 7 for years and found it to be excellent as long as you read all the handling rules.
When you load the case, like black powder there can be no air between the projectile and the powder, but you can only compress Triple 7 at a maximum of .100”. Make sure you know what you’re doing when you use it and like anything else when handloading, safety is imperative. ( **proceed at your own risk )
For a better seal between the powder and the .310” roundball, I filed down a flat spot on them so that they would seat better. I then filled the cases, slowly tapping the case down after inserting the empty .22 Short rounds.
Fill slowly, a little at a time, tap the case until it is filled where the .310” roundball can just start to compress the powder. It might take a little getting used to, but it’s not as difficult as it sounds. After about twenty minutes I had a few cartridges ready to be used.
I set the Remington up at 25 yards from a rest and aimed. The group of five shots was not all that impressive, but this was more of a test to see if it would work, and it does. I am hoping to experiment with some smaller .32 caliber bullets to see if they will work, and I might also weigh each of the .310 roundballs to get a more consistent weight between them.
Each of the cases worked without any issues, there was no splitting or swelling, and I used the head of a small hobby paint brush to knock out the spent “primers”. The sound and smell of the little.32 rimfire rounds going off though was a treat in itself.
Considering the costly alternatives trying to find ammunition, with some work I think the little .32 can be a great shooter once more. The .32 rimfire was a cartridge that at one time enjoyed a great deal of success but was given up and left for dead decades ago.
With these cases from Dixie Gun Works and a little time and tinkering it’s not hard to see the potential in one of these old guns.
Hopefully someday one of the ammunition makers will realize that there are scores of these old rifles and handguns out there, collecting dust in a closet or a cabinet without ammunition to shoot out of it.
Even a small run would turn that ammunition company into a hero for many collectors, but until then, the reloadable cases from Dixie Gun Works offer an excellent solution for the time being to get the .32 rimfire out of the graveyard and back into the realm of the living.
About David LaPell
David LaPell has been a Corrections Officer with the local Sheriff's Department for thirteen years. A collector of antique and vintage firearms for over twenty years and an avid hunter. David has been writing articles about firearms, hunting and western history for ten years. In addition to having a passion for vintage guns, he is also a fan of old trucks and has written articles on those as well.