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Freedom Arms Model 97 in .327 Federal Magnum

For any that may be interested. :p



"Freedom Arms Model 97 & Single Action Service Custom Ruger Revolvers Chambered for the New .327 Federal Magnum

by Jeff Quinn

January 28th, 2008

It has been almost two months since I reviewed the new Ruger SP101 chambered for the .327 Federal Magnum cartridge. The little Ruger revolver was the first handgun to chamber the new cartridge, and it is intended and marketed as a defensive cartridge for those who want deep penetration and expansion, without the recoil and muzzle blast of the .357 Magnum cartridge. In that role, the little SP101 performs admirably.

Like many shooters, I have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of hunting revolvers chambered for the new cartridge. Freedom Arms in Freedom, Wyoming got on the project right away, and they are now offering their .32 H&R Magnum Model 97 with an optional .327 Federal Magnum cylinder, and Freedom will also fit a .327 Federal cylinder to existing .32 H&R Freedom revolvers.

The Freedom revolver tested here wears a five and one-half inch barrel, and I was anxious to see what that extra barrel length and tighter barrel/cylinder gap of just .002 inch would do for velocities, compared to the smaller Ruger with its three and one-sixteenth inch barrel. The quality of materials and workmanship on Freedom Arms revolvers is legendary, so coupled with the longer barrel and target style rear sight, I also expected better accuracy. The cylinder length of the Model 97 .327 Federal Magnum measures 1.628, and the cartridge case heads are recessed into the cylinder, allowing the use of cartridges loaded to just under the total cylinder length. The cylinder diameter measures 1.575 inches, and contains six chambers. The Model 97 weighs 41.4 ounces unloaded, and has an excellent trigger pull, measuring just two and three-quarters pounds. This Model 97 wears the exceptional Freedom Arms fully adjustable rear sight, and has a black ramped front. The majority of the sixgun is made of stainless steel, and wears Freedom’s Premier Grade finish, and their perfectly fitted wood grips.

About two weeks into shooting the new Model 97, I received a custom Ruger Single Six from Alan Harton’s Single Action Service, so I decided to review them both in one article, as they are both intended to be used as hunting and target shooting guns. The custom Ruger wears a six and one-half inch barrel, and also has a tight barrel/cylinder gap of just .003 inch. The standard .32 H&R Single Six cylinder is too short for the .327 Federal, so a longer cylinder was fitted, which required slightly shortening the part of the barrel that protrudes into the cylinder window of the Single Six. Mr. Harton fitted a new barrel to the frame, and installed a free-spin pawl that allows the cylinder to freely spin in either direction when the loading gate is open. The cylinder length on the custom Ruger is 1.538 inches, and the case heads are not recessed, allowing for a total overall cartridge length of 1.581 inches. The cylinder diameter measures 1.462 inches, and the custom Ruger is also chambered to hold six rounds of .327 Federal Magnum ammunition. The custom Ruger weighs 38 ounces unloaded. The trigger pull measured a clean, crisp one pound, fifteen ounces. The Harton custom wears an excellent adjustable rear sight, and a ramped front. Being a custom sixgun, barrel lengths, finishes, sights, and grips are all done to the customer’s specifications.

This review is in no way intended to compare the Freedom Arms revolver with the Harton custom Ruger. They are each just two different approaches to achieve the same result. That is, a high quality hunting and target sixgun chambered for the .327 Federal Cartridge. The .327 Federal is all that we hoped that the .32 H&R would be when introduced many years ago. The pressures on the H&R cartridge were limited by what the .32 Harrington & Richardson guns could handle. For years, shooters have been loading the .32 H&R in Ruger revolvers to true magnum pressures, but with the introduction of the .327 Federal, the case length is increased, increasing powder capacity and allowing higher velocities. As far as I know, there is yet no published pressure tested load data available, so when loading for the two single action revolvers reviewed here, I was on my own. Benefiting from my handloading notes from the review of the SP101, I had a good place to start. I made a couple of mistakes loading the little Ruger, so I did not try to push the velocities over safe limits here, but carefully watch for fired primer condition, ease of extraction, and measured case head expansion in developing handloads for these two sixguns. The loads listed here have not been pressure tested, but proved safe in the two revolvers. If loading the .327, start with lower powder charges, and pay careful attention to pressure signs. If extraction gets sticky, back off a bit. Hopefully, we will soon have good load data from a reliable source available. The handloads listed here were all loaded on a Dillon 550B machine using Lee .32 H&R dies, and all used CCI 550 Magnum Small Pistol primers. Unless otherwise noted, all bullets were roll-crimped at their crimp groove or cannelure. The sixty grain XTP has no cannelure, and was roll-crimped at the start of the ogive. The loads using the Mt. Baldy bullets that are noted as “ long” were crimped into the upper grease groove to increase case capacity. I found no advantage to seating the bullets long, as I achieved higher velocities using less powder crimping those bullets in the crimp groove, but it was worth trying. You can achieve roughly the same velocities with less pressure by seating them long, but with the powders chosen here, I prefer to seat the bullets normally. During velocity testing, the air temperature was between 42 and 47 degrees Fahrenheit, at an elevation of approximately 400 feet above sea level. All loads were fired over the electronic eyes of a PACT Professional chronograph, and thankfully, it worked well throughout the velocity tests. I believe that the chronograph was invented mostly to add aggravation to the lives of gunwriters, but it does come in handy for load development. Again, the loads listed below worked well in the two revolvers tested here, but should be reduced for any other firearm. I started low and worked up from there. You can too."
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