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.

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

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