Throwback Thursday: .327 Federal Magnum – Good for Defense?


Like many of you, I became a .45 believer some years ago. It was a combination of things: talking with some people who had been shot with various caliber handguns and studying the charts mostly. I figured I needed all the help I could get, and bigger bullets punch bigger holes. However, lately, I’ve become more attuned to the 9mm for the same reasons everyone else has.

The 9mm’s ballistics have improved, you can put more cartridges in the gun, and the rounds are not as expensive. You know all this stuff as it has been explained ad nauseum. But sometimes, I want to carry a revolver, and my wife always prefers to carry a revolver. Together we determined the .38 Special is kind of anemic, and the .357 Magnum is way too much for her to handle. So, what does the job?

Box of .327 Federal Magnum personal defense ammunition
Just at press time, Federal announced a 104-grain JHP cartridge in .327 Federal Magnum had been added to its HST line of defensive ammo.

Finding the Right Round

For my basic handgun classes, I worked up some charts comparing various calibers. The primary comparison point was muzzle energy. Muzzle energy, or kinetic energy, is a value derived from a formula many of us learned in high school physics and promptly forgot after the exam. Fortunately, these days, all you need to do is ask Google for the formula. I did.

Kinetic energy equals one-half the mass of an object times the square of its velocity. There are calculators all over the Internet, so that’s where I got my numbers. Plus, you can find them on the box of most ammunition.

Looking at one very popular brand of defensive ammunition as an example, I compared the published muzzle energy for Speer Gold Dot in the most popular JHP grain for the various calibers and got the following values:

  • .327 Federal Magnum – 568 ft/lbs
  • .38 Special – 222 ft/lbs
  • 9mm Luger – 376 ft/lbs
  • .357 Magnum – 535 ft/lbs
  • .40 S&W – 484 ft/lbs
  • .45 ACP – 404 ft/lbs

There are those who deny these numbers have anything to do with stopping bad guys. To me, the logic is sound. It’s a measure of how hard you get hit when one of those little bullets strikes you. It’s easy for us to understand that in the boxing ring it’s the hard punches rather than the jabs that knock a guy out. Same principle.

I’ve watched hanging paper targets get hit by a .327 Federal Magnum rounds go swishing up in the air behind where they were hung. Then, I watched a 9mm round hit the same target with no resulting motion in the paper.

Three boxes of .327 Federal Magnum ammunition
Ammo makers are on board with the .327 round, and the author has found it in stock throughout the shortages of other calibers.

.327 Federal Magnum Cartridge

The .327 Federal Magnum is a powerful little cartridge. Yes, it’s small. However, because of the velocity with which it is flung from the .327 Magnum case, it packs a wallop! Especially, if you choose a cartridge such as the Speer Gold Dot with 568 ft/lbs of energy on target.

Before doing all of the muzzle energy calculations, one of the reasons I turned to the .327 Magnum when looking for a good self-defense revolver is that most of the guns built for that particular round hold six rounds of ammo, whereas the small .357 Magnums only hold five.

Another cool thing about revolvers chambered for the .327 Federal Magnum round is they allow you to shoot .32 S&W Short, .32 S&W Long, .32 H&R Magnum, or .327 Federal Magnum cartridges. Some of these are pretty soft shooting for practice, whereas the H&R magnum or Federal magnum cartridges are serious self-defense rounds.

Taurus .327 revolver
Taurus recently reintroduced the .327 Federal Magnum snub-nosed revolver after dropping it from the lineup. The author had one of the earlier ones and is glad to see .327s are back.

.327 Mag Firearms

This is a comeback round, and I’m glad to see manufacturers taking it seriously. My wife’s gun is a Taurus .327 Magnum. It fits in her purse or car’s center console quite handily. Taurus dropped that model from its lineup for several years, but it’s back.

I keep a Ruger .327 Federal Magnum SP101 with a 4-inch barrel handy as a pocket gun for a quick trip to the store or while taking our little dog for an adventure around our yard that is visited often by coyotes and bobcats. It’s just such a handy size that it presents a significant offering for defense against man or critters that may be lurking about. A revolver makes a good pocket gun for concealed carry or for backup of another concealed carry gun, and the .327 is my choice in caliber for that purpose as well.

Ruger SP101 revolver chamber in .327 Federal Magnum right profile stainless
Ruger’s SP101 is one of the seven models of Ruger revolvers chambered in .327 Federal Magnum.

In addition to the Taurus and the SP101, I have a Ruger Single Seven in .327 Federal Magnum and a Ruger Single Six in .32 H&R Magnum. The two .32 magnums are very pleasant shooters when using .32 S&W Long. They can also be used for harvesting squirrels or rabbits for a nice winter stew.

For a while, I thought I was alone in understanding the value of these cartridges. But now, Ruger is chambering seven different models in the caliber, Charter Arms has three models, and Smith & Wesson has two. And that’s not all.

Many of us have been waiting for a .327 Magnum rifle. The old Winchesters were chambered in .32-20 and the .327 Magnum is a similar, but more powerful, cartridge that is just asking for a rifle. Henry is the first rifle company (I know of) to build .327 Federal Magnum lever-action rifles. However, build them it did, and what a gorgeous rifle. There are four models of the Henry rifle available in .327 Federal Magnum.


Accuracy and Handling

The little Taurus revolver and Ruger SP101 are a bit snappy when shooting the .327 Magnum rounds, but they are primarily point-and-shoot defensive guns. In either gun, the double-action trigger pull maxes out my 12-pound trigger-pull gauge, but it doesn’t feel hard, and it is a smooth pull back to the break.

The single-action pull averages just over 6 pounds. There are holsters and off-body carry options galore for small revolvers. With the .327 Magnum round, you’re carrying something that will get the attention of any threat against you. Even the sound of the .327 Magnum is intimidating. It’s very loud, and it’s more of a boom than a crack.

Two targets showing the accuracy of the .327 Federal Magnum from a Ruger SP101 revolver
The left target was fired all single-action and the right one all double-action in the author’s .327 Federal Magnum SP101 offhand at 10 yards.

I find practicing double-action shots with S&W Long cartridges helps me develop the trigger feel without being all over the place. Like many double-action handguns, the Ruger SP101 and Taurus both stack when you’re pulling the trigger. You reach a breakpoint where it’s easy to stop and realign your sights, before pulling the last bit through the break. I do that when practicing, but if I’m fighting for my life, I doubt I’ll take time for that last alignment.

I’ve practiced without it. I can keep all six rounds in a 5-inch spread with some of them on target. With that .327 Magnum, there’s a good chance only that first one must be on target, but let’s not take any chances with our practicing.

Ammo Availability

Ammo for the .327 Federal Magnum seems to be in stock at most places you’d buy ammo online. Also, as I scan across the various manufacturers, I see a lot of the .327 revolver models marked “In Stock.” That means your gun store should be able to get one for you. It’s a good choice for self-defense if you want to carry a revolver.

The .327 Federal Magnum had lackluster acceptance in the beginning and nearly died off. However, there seems to have been a resurgence as of late with multiple manufacturers offering models chambered in .327 Federal Mag. Does a .327 Federal Magnum have a spot in your safe? Share your thoughts in the Comment section.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in March of 2022. It has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and clarity.

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