Hamilton Bowen's .327 Federals

Originally published at: Hamilton Bowen’s .327 Federals – Sixguns Firearm Fraternity

Bowen Classic Arms .327 Federal Magnum

Custom Sixguns

By John Taffin

Looking back over
my 50 plus years of shooting sixguns I see a long list of heavy-duty cartridges
being introduced; the .44 Magnum, .41 Magnum, .454 Casull, .475 Linebaugh, .500
Linebaugh, .480 Ruger, .500 S&W Magnum, .460 S&W Magnum, .500 Wyoming
Express, and various other wildcat cartridges of the same type. All of these have
been designed basically with the handgun hunter in mind and virtually any
animal can be taken cleanly with these cartridges properly loaded in the proper
sixgun. But how often do we really need the power these cartridges provide?

When I first started reloading for the .44 Magnum in the late 1950s I
thought it would be some kind of blasphemy if I used anything except the Keith
Load consisting of a hard cast 250-260 Keith bullet over the Keith recommended
charge of 22 grains of #2400. I did the same thing when the .454 arrived;
everything had to be loaded fullbore. As I grew older, and perhaps wiser, I
finally realized I was missing a lot of sixgunning pleasure by loading
everything pedal to the metal. How often do we really need the ultimate power
each one of these cartridges is capable of? I still have boxes of full house
ammunition on hand for every one of these cartridges, however I have much more
loaded to more pleasant duty. A 260 grain cast bullet at 850-1,000 fps loaded
in an easy to carry .44 Special, .44 Magnum, .45 Colt or .454 is likely to do
anything I really need done the rest of my life.

Just recently we had one of the most truly useful cartridges arrive when
Federal Ammunition teamed up with Ruger to introduce what is really a superb
smallbore cartridge. No it is not for big game hunting, however a very small,
actually less than 1% of my shooting is ever used in this manner. Every year I
fire thousands upon thousands of rounds but at the most take two to three big
game animals. Most of us shoot a lot a paper, roll a lot of tin cans, bust many
rocks, and if we live in the right area take many varmints with our sixguns.
For these duties the new .327 Federal Magnum is about as good as a cartridge
can be.

Originally introduced as a self-defense cartridge chambered in the Ruger
SP101, the .327, at least in my mind, takes the place of the .32-20, .30 Carbine,
and .32 H&R Magnum. The .32-20 was first chambered in sixguns in the last
quarter of the 19th century, the .30 Carbine became a standard offering from
Ruger in the last quarter of the 20th century, and the .32 H&R Magnum
arrived in the 1980s. The .327 Federal Magnum is what the .32 H&R Magnum
should’ve been originally; the latter is still an excellent cartridge, however
the .327 is simply better. It combines the power of the .32-20 and .30 Carbine with
the straight-walled, rimmed case of the .32 Magnum; it is in fact nothing more
than a longer .32 Magnum with slightly thicker brass at the base of the inner
walls.

The .327 may have been introduced as a self-defense cartridge, however
it is certainly useful, perhaps more so, as a varmint and small game cartridge
or even chambered in a relatively light, adjustable-sighted sixgun for use as a
trail gun. In the right sixguns it will drive a 100-115 grain bullet at 1,500
to 1,600 fps. Hamilton Bowen also says it will do so while shooting as flat as
a banjo string. As most of you know Hamilton Bowen is one of the premier
sixgunsmiths of this or any other time. He has built some of the biggest and
baddest sixguns imaginable, however his heart belongs to the more pleasant
shooting sixguns and cartridges with the .32-20 being one of his favorites.
With the coming of the .327 the .32-20 has been pushed into second place; and
in fact Hamilton says the .327 is the best thing to come along since the .44
Magnum.

Hamilton is now building custom sixguns chambered in .327 Federal Magnum
and I have had the good fortune of testing and evaluating four of his
sixgunning works of art for the past couple weeks. All four of these have been
made for customers of Bowen Classic Arms and all of them allowed me the pure
pleasure of shooting them first. Normally when testing a newly manufactured
sixgun I push it with both factory and reloaded cartridges; in this instance,
since these sixguns actually belong to other shooters I did not see how much I
could get from the .327 Federal Magnum by reloading but rather just going with
loads slightly under the Federal factory ammunition level. Even so, these
handloads are definitely in the useful category. Let’s take a look at
Hamilton’s creations; four of the most useful and most beautiful .327 Federal
Magnum sixguns one is likely to find anywhere.

Years ago Hamilton did a beautiful .32-20 on a Ruger Old Model .357
Blackawk. In this case he removed the adjustable sights, welded and
re-contoured the top strap to come up with an easy handling sixgun which
basically looked and felt like a Colt Single Action. Now Hamilton has the Ruger
50th Anniversary New Model .357 Blackhawk to use as a platform for custom
sixguns.

The first gun up is one of these with two cylinders, one in the always useful and desired .32-20 and the other in perhaps the even better .327 Federal Magnum.

The 50th Anniversary Ruger .357 is the same size as the original Ruger
.357 Blackhawk, has the same Colt Single Action-sized XR3 grip frame, and,
unlike the original, is all steel. It is the perfect platform for building a
.44 Special or .45 Colt, or even a five-shot .44 Magnum all of which Hamilton
has done, however this time he has gone smallbore. To easily distinguish
between the two chamberings the .32-20 is fluted while the .327 cylinder is not,
and both are expertly fitted to the frame which has a 5-1/2” Douglas barrel.
The front sight is a tapered post on a ramp and is matched up with one of
Hamilton’s heavy-duty field rear sights. The hammer and frame are case colored
by Turnbull, a locking large knurled head base pin is fitted, the action is
tightened and tuned, and the trigger pull set at 2-1/2 pounds. At 46 ounces
this is a relatively heavy sixgun which makes it even more pleasant when
shooting either cartridge. Since this is basically a .327 project I mainly
concentrated my shooting with the .327 Federal. I did run two factory .32-20
loads both in the 800+ feet per second range from Black Hills and Winchester
and they shot as easily and accurately as a .22.

Hamilton’s double action .327 Federal Magnum is built on a medium-framed
Smith & Wesson with the result being a most aesthetically pleasing, and
superbly shooting double action sixgun. This conversion starts with a
stainless steel .357 Magnum Model 66. For the barrel Hamilton uses a stainless
steel four-inch Model 617 .22 barrel which is re-bored and marked “.327 FED.
MAG. CTG.” on the right side of the barrel. The full under-lug is maintained
on this barrel and it is fitted to a Model 66 frame which then receives a Model
617 cylinder chambered to .327 Federal Magnum. The action is tightened and
tuned, the single action trigger pull set at 3 pounds, and an undercut front
post of the proper height fitted to the ramp on the Model 617 barrel.

The Model 66 is the stainless steel version of the .357 Combat Magnum which became the Model 19 in 1958.

The Combat Magnum came with K-framed
diamond checkered stocks which are extremely difficult to find today and if
they are found demand very high prices. To finish off this package Hamilton
used a pair of exquisite “diamond” Smith & Wesson Target stocks which are
in fact perfect recreations of original S&W .357 Combat Magnum stocks
carried out in fancy walnut by stock maker Keith Brown who not only duplicates
early Smith & Wesson Target and Magna stocks but classic Roper and
Kearsarge pre-War stocks as well. This certainly must be one of the most
exquisite double action smallbore sixgun in existence.

The final two in this .327 Quartet is a pair of custom Single-Sixes.
Hamilton starts with the New Model Ruger Single-Six chambered in .32 Magnum.
Hamilton considers this the natural home for the .327 in a single-action as the
original cylinder diameter is adequate for six-shots and only has to be
replaced by one which is longer to accept the .327 cartridge. The new cylinder
fills out the cylinder window without any modification to the frame.

The two .327 Single-Sixes are basically the same except for the barrels.

First comes the long barreled version at 7-1/2”;

for me single actions balance the best and are the easiest to shoot with this barrel length.

A new cylinder
chambered in .327 is line-bored, fluted, and black powder chamfered. The action
is totally tuned, trigger pull set at just a hair over 3 pounds, Bisley hammer
and frame color cased by Turnbull, steel ejector rod housing installed,
oversized locking base pin fitted, and a BCA heavy-duty rear field sight
matched up with a serrated front ramp sight. The second .327 Single-Six has a
barrel which started life as Smith & Wesson ribbed K22 barrel. Hamilton
machined off the underlug, re-bored it to .327, cut it to proper length of
4-5/8”, and installed it along with a steel ejector rod housing.

The ribbed barrel matches up beautifully with the Single-Six frame.

A Bisley hammer is
installed, the front sight is an undercut post, and the frame and hammer are
also case colored by Turnbull. Hamilton not only likes smallbore cartridges he
also is a promoter of lanyard rings one of which has been the installed on this
little sixgun. A lanyard ring properly used can prevent the damage or even the loss
of a beautiful sixgun while traveling by horseback, boat, or simply hiking in
rough country.

Hamilton
is at the top of the list when it comes to premiere sixgunsmiths and the .327 Federal
is at the top of the list of truly useful cartridges; combining the two only
seems natural. Contact Hamilton directly for custom sixgun work or for a copy
of his book The Custom Revolver; it is also a masterpiece.

 

Test-Fire Bowen Classic Arms .327 Federal Magnums.

Factory Ammo Performance .327 Federal Magnum

7-1/2”
Single-Six 4-5/8” Single-Six

Load Velocity Group
Size Velocity Group Size

Federal Low Recoil 85 JHP 1,617 fps 1-3/8” 1,514
fps 1-3/4”

Federal 115 Gold Dot HP 1,508 fps 1-3/8” 1,437
fps 1”

American Eagle 100 JFP 1,681 fps 1-3/8” 1,584
fps 1”

5-1/2”
Blackhawk* 4” Smith & Wesson

Load Velocity Group
Size Velocity Group Size

Federal Low Recoil 85 JHP 1,591 fps 1-3/8” 1,474
fps 1-1/4”

Federal 115 Gold Dot HP 1,412 fps 1” 1,391
fps 3/4”

American Eagle 100 JFP 1,669 fps 1-3/8” 1,485
fps 1-3/4”

 

 

 

Handloaded Ammo Performance .327 Federal Magnum

7-1/2”
Single-Six 4-5/8” Single-Six

Bullet Charge Powder Velocity Group
Velocity Group

Hornady 100 XTP 12.5 gr. L’il Gun 1,401 fps
1-1/8” 1,351 fps 1”

Hornady 100 XTP 12.5 gr. H110 1,363 fps 1”
1,257 fps 1-1/2”

Speer 100 JHP 12.5 gr. L’il Gun 1,382
fps 7/8” 1,312 fps 1-5/8”

Speer 100 JHP 12.5 gr. H110 1,342
fps 7/8” 1,222 fps 1”

5-1/2”
Blackhawk* 4” Smith & Wesson

Bullet Charge Powder Velocity Group
Velocity Group

Hornady 100 XTP 12.5 gr. L’il Gun 1,410 fps 1-1/4” 1,352
fps 1-3/8”

Hornady 100 XTP 12.5 gr. H110 1,352 fps 1-1/2” 1,160
fps 1-1/4”

Speer 100 JHP 12.5 gr. L’il Gun 1,412 fps 1-5/8” 1,326
fps 1-5/8”

Speer 100 JHP 12.5 gr. H110 1,307 fps 7/8” 1,161
fps 1-3/8”

Notes: Groups the product of 5 of 6 Shots at 20 yards.
Chronograph screens set at 10’ from muzzle. CCI #500 primers used in Starline
brass.

 

Contacts: Hamilton Bowen, Bowen Classic Arms, PO Box 67, Louisville TN 37777; phone:865-984-3583. www.bowenclassicarms.com.

Federal Cartridge Co., 900 Ehlen Dr., Anoka MN 55303 phone: 763-323-2300. www.federalcartridge.com.

Keith Brown, Classic Carved Grips, 3586 Crab Orchard Avenue,
Beavercreek OH 45430; phone: 937-426-4147. www.classiccarvedgrips.com.

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