In the world of self-defensive handgun calibers, certain old-school calibers tend to rule the roost.
With autopistol cartridges, the 9mm Parabellum, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP are undoubtedly the big three of the bunch for cops and armed private citizens alike – though the 10mm Auto maintains a cult-like following. With revolver cartridges, .357 Magnum, and .38 Special are the co-kings for defensive usage.
But every now and then, you’ll have an upstart new handgun caliber that attempts to challenge the dominance of the “establishment” cartridges – or at least offer a viable alternative – with varying degrees of success. Autopistol calibers such as the .45 GAP and .357 SIG. And more recently, revolver cartridges like our current subject, the .327 Federal Magnum (“Fed. Mag.” for brevity).
.327 Federal Magnum Cartridge History and Specifications
The .327 Fed Mag debuted back in 2008. As noted by B. Gil Horman in a January 2019 article for NRA American Rifleman, “It was specifically designed to provide performance levels in the .38 Sp.l +P to light .357 Mag. range when fired from compact and standard size revolvers. At the same time, its smaller external dimensions allow additional chambers to be bored into cylinders. Snub-nose revolvers that usually hold five rounds of .38-cal. ammunition can hold six rounds of .327 Fed. Mag., while typical six-shot wheel guns can be loaded with seven or eight rounds.”
Defensive loads for the caliber include Federal Premium Ammunition’s American Eagle 85-grain jacketed soft point (JSP) and 100-grain JSP along with its 85-grain Hydra-Shok jacketed hollowpoint (JHP); respectively, these rounds generate muzzle velocities of 1,500, 1,400, and 1,400 feet per second and muzzle energies of 500, 370, and 370 foot-pounds. There’s also the Speer Gold Dot 100-grain JHP, which generates 1,500 f.p.s./500 ft.-lbs, and DoubleTap Ammunition’s “75gr. Barnes TAC-XP Lead-Free at 1,550fps/400 ft/lbs.
But Why, Really?
Some gun aficionados scoff at the notion of applying the “Magnum” to any cartridge smaller than the original Magnum, that being the .357. Heck, for that matter, several highly respected old-school gun experts like Chuck Taylor and Rev. Hal Swiggett were hesitant to ever consider the .357 to be truly powerful. So then, is there even truly a point to the .327 Fed. Mag’s existence, i.e., is it legit?
I’ll let Mr. David Freeman answer that question for you, from a July 2023 article for Cheaper Than Dirt’s Shooter’s Log titled “.327 Federal Magnum: My ‘Second Most’ Favorite”:
“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 would do the job? … I’ve watched hanging paper targets get hit by .327 Federal Magnum rounds go swishing up in the air behind where they’re hung. Then, I watched a 9mm round hit the same target with no resulting motion in the paper. The .327 Federal Magnum is a powerful little cartridge. Yes, it’s small, but because of the velocity with which it is flung from the .327 Magnum case, it packs a wallop!”
Gun Options for the Cartridge
Unfortunately, none of my local shooting ranges have any guns chambered for the .327 Federal Magnum round available for rental, so I’ll have to go with secondhand sources for the gun’s performance. That said the .327 Fed. Mag. is one of the caliber options for two revolvers that I have not only fired but indeed either currently own or previously owned and hold in very high regard, albeit in their original .357 Magnum offerings: the Ruger GP-100 and Ruger SP-101.
I’ve owned a 6” bbl. GP-100 since 2003 – and have been a fan of it since 1990 – and as I said in my standalone review of the GP-100 for 19FortyFive: “Bottom line, the Ruger GP-100 is my favorite revolver, bar none, and I wholeheartedly recommend it for self-defense, handgun hunting (I myself have never hunted, but the .357 Magnum can indeed be used to take deer and wild boar), competition, and just plain range fun alike.” As for the SP-101, I owned one for a few years after buying one in 2002, making it the only snubnose revolver I’ve ever owned, and although I’m NOT a fan of snubbies at all, I consider the SP-101 to be the best and least miserable-to-shoot snubby out there, as I indicated in my separate review: “Still not fun to shoot, but at least … it was still more comfortable to shoot – relatively speaking – than a J-frame Smith with wood grips.”
The point is, you can count on the .327 Fed. Mag. version of these two fine revolvers to give you the same excellent accuracy, reliability, durability, and shooting comfort as their .357 originals. The manufacturer lists an MSRP of $979.00 for the Fed. Mag. SP-101. They indicate “Limited Availability” in lieu of an actual MSRP number for the GP-100. Still, for frame of reference, the Ruger Firearms Shop page currently advertises a 6” stainless steel Fed Mag at $679.99, whilst V1 Tactical has an asking price of (egad!) $945.79 for a blue steel 5-incher.
For good measure, Ruger has a Fed Mag option for their highly popular LCR (Lightweight Compact Revolver) series, carrying an MSRP of $859.00. The aforementioned B. Gil Horman conducted accuracy tests consisting of five consecutive five-shot groups from a bench rest at 7 yards, obtaining an average extreme spread of 1.53 inches.
Besides Ruger, there’s also the Taurus 327 – the aforementioned Mr. Freeman’s wife uses this as her carry gun – the Charter Arms Patriot, and the Smith & Wesson Model 632. The first two carry an MSRP of $389.99 and $420.00 respectively; the Smith has been discontinued but the GunsForSale.Com website currently has one for $715.00.
Christian D. Orr is a Senior Defense Editor for 19FortyFive. He has 34 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011.