.32 Winchester Special

By William LaBounty

Not to be confused with the .32 ACP or .32 S&W Long pistol cartridges, the .32 WS was developed in 1901 by Winchester, specifically for the classic Model 94 lever-action rifle. The .32 Special is kin to its parent cartridge, the renowned 30-30 Winchester Centerfire Cartridge (7.62mm).


Differences in these bullets begin with the necked-up case of the 30-30 (which the .32 originates from), as well as the larger 8mm cartridge it utilizes. Besides boasting a larger bullet and case, the .32 is also adept to holding more powder than the 30-30, without being over pressurized, allowing for more muzzle velocity and energy per foot at the cost of an increase in felt recoil. At the time of its inception, the .32 Special met the demand for a more powerful round than the 30-30, but with less recoil than the .30 Army (.30-40 Krag). This bullet also has a flatter trajectory and accuracy than its parent cartridge. The .32 Special has remained as one of America’s top-selling centerfire rifle calibers most of its life.

Employing only 165 and 170 grain bullets, this round is capable of taking down any thin-skinned animal with ease. In its more than 100 years of service, the .32 Winchester Special has been commonly used on Deer, Black Bear, and Moose, as well as Elk at reasonable ranges. With correct shot placement up to 300 yards, this round is an exceptional Deer and Black Bear slayer. This old blast from the past proves that you can still get the job done without a surgical precision rifle cartridge.

Over the years, the .32 has slowly become an obsolescent rifle cartridge. The round never fully took off due to the notoriety and availability of its, at the time, “high velocity” counterpart. Due to its unfortunate disregard, there are slim bullet offerings for the cartridge. Winchester, Federal, and Remington offer the round in varying 170 grain configurations of their own soft-point hunting rounds. Choose from Winchester Power-Point, Federal HI-SHOK, or Remington Core-Lokt series. In recent years, Hornady has released the LeveRevolution series of bullets for the .32 SPCL, this time using a 165 grain (low recoil) spitzer (pointed) Flex Tip bullet. Pushing 2410 fps at the muzzle, reducing recoil, deploying a pointed bullet, and improving accuracy, Hornady leaves a smidge of hope for the receding popularity of this nostalgic lever action American hunting classic.

Although the production of firearms chambered in .32 Special have ceased, you are still able to find some of these old relics in pawn shops and attics across the country. Lever actions made by both Marlin and Winchester are the most common rifles available. Pick one up the next time one crosses your path; take it along for your next hunt if you’re looking for a little nostalgia with one of these lever action classics.