The 32-20 Winchester is worth paying attention to.
While the 32-20 is essentially the largest varmint round to ever come down the pipe, but it’s not quite as big as it sounds.
It’s not really .32 caliber and was never meant to be. Bullets that will deliver good accuracy from the 32-20 run from .308 diameter up to .312, but never all the way up to .32.
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The 20 at the end of the cartridge’s moniker denotes an original load of 20 grains of black powder, which is correct, but the 32 was probably just Winchester’s attempt to make the cartridge sound bigger than it really was.
In terms of longevity, the 32-20 has had a heck of a run. It’s been around since 1882 and at some time or another every major arms firm has chambered a firearm for it.
In terms of performance, the 32-20 tends to bite on the heels of most 357 Magnum loads, making up for its lack of bullet weight with added velocity to make the overall muzzle energy about the same. For all intents and purposes, the 32-20 is really the original American varmint round.
It shoots flat enough and offers good enough accuracy, even in its old black powder form, to hit small targets out to 125 yards.
When the cartridge was first introduced many of these varmints made up part of the pot and the 32-20’s ability to preserve edible meat was highly valued.
Today the only new guns you’re likely to encounter chambered for 32-20 are custom jobs that some gunsmith drummed up to get more use out of the odd .311 caliber barrel.
Fortunately, there are many thousands of older guns on the market chambered for 32-20. Most of these guns require only a little careful handloading and some TLC to provide fine accuracy. Bullet weights range from roughly 85gr up to 110gr with a round-nosed or flat-nose design being the preferable configuration in most instances.
Tiny loads of smokeless powder usually move these slugs somewhere in the neighborhood of 1500-2000 fps, making for effective and very low recoil varmint fun.
My 32-20, which is a Winchester 1892, is capable of minute of angle accuracy and the only problem I’ve ever suffered with it is finding the brass I’ve flicked off into the grass when I work the action too quickly.
Along with gopher hunting, I also get a lot of use out of my 32-20 as a small game gun. The 32-20 is ideal for cottontails and I’ve even used it to bump off the occasional ruffed grouse.
The 32-20 will probably never enjoy the popularity it had for the first fifty years of its career, but it is still a fine choice. If you’re the kind of person who enjoys a classic rifle that is both accurate and cheap to shoot, a 32-20 is just right for you.
Chances are the 32-20 you buy won’t be new, but it’s hard to tell the difference with such an agreeable cartridge.