Freedom Arms Model 97 .32 Magnum/.32-20

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The 71/2" Freedom Arms .32 Magnum Model 97 is likely the finest of the genre made today.

The .32-20 has always been an excellent varmint and small game cartridge and the Freedom Arms Model 97 makes a perfect .32-20.

Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz. Oh what a relief it is!” Anyone over the age of 40 will probably remember the catchy little tune sung by Speedy Alka Seltzer way back in the middle ages, those old days of black and white television. This little song runs through my head anytime I go from the farthest end of the big bore sixgun spectrum and all the heavy recoil it entails — all the way to the pleasant shooting area of the little .32’s.

This little sixgun is Freedom Arms’ Model 97 chambered in .32 Magnum, with an extra cylinder available in .32 Winchester Centerfire (.32 WCF), or as it’s more commonly known, the .32-20. The .32 Magnum is about 100 years newer than the .32-20 arriving on the scene in the early 1980s, first in Harrington and Richardson revolvers, quickly followed by Ruger’s Single-Six, S&Ws J- and K-Frames and Dan Wesson’s Medium Frame sixguns. It’s proven to be an exceptionally accurate little cartridge especially in the heavy-barreled Dan Wessons. Thompson/Center added the chambering in their Contender and both the Dan Wesson and the T/C .32 were quite popular in IHMSA Field Pistol.

The .32-20 had long been a favorite cartridge of mine and when the stubby looking little .32 Magnum arrived I made the mistake of considering it a toy. This attitude changed quickly. My friend Joe Penner had one of the early 91/2" Ruger Single-Sixes for which we proceeded to build some loads. The first shot using an 85-gr. JHP over a heavy charge of #2400 was a real eye opener. For targets we had set up cans of outdated split pea soup at 25 yards. The first shot resulted in Joe, myself, and my red Bronco, all being covered with flecks and splatters of green pea soup. This was definitely no toy!

The .32 Magnum from Freedom Arms is typical of their precision workmanship, delivering stunning accuracy.

Rifle First

The .32-20 goes back to the early 1880s when it was first chambered as a rifle cartridge in the Winchester Model 1873 levergun. Colt soon chambered their Single Action Army in .32 WCF, and by the early 1900s it was one of the most popular chamberings in Winchester’s Model 1892 levergun as well as Colt’s Bisley Model along with Smith & Wesson’s relatively new Military & Police. It was one of the premier varmint and small game cartridges of the time period.

Freedom Arms’ Model 97 is named for the year it arrived, 1997. Freedom Arms had been building their large-framed Model 83 since 1983, chambered in big bore cartridges like the .454 and .44 Magnum. In 1997, after several years of testing and research, the Model 97 arrived as a 6-shot .357 Magnum being slightly smaller than a Colt Single Action. Over the ensuing five years it has also been chambered in .22 LR, as well as 5-shot versions in .45 Colt, .44 Special and .41 Magnum. These latter three, especially with adjustable sights and 51/2" barrels are excellent candidates for the coveted title of Perfect Packin’ Pistol. The .357 Magnum and .22 versions with 71/2" barrels are excellent for small game and varmints as well as being totally capable of handling the meanest tin cans that ever roamed the West.

With the coming of the Model 97 in the .32 version I opted for the same 71/2" barrel I have enjoyed so much in .357 Magnum and .22 LR. All the chamberings of the Model 97 are offered with adjustable sights and both 51/2" and 71/2" barrels. Some are also available with a shorter barrel length, to the end of the ejector rod housing, at 41/4". A popular Custom Shop offering is the octagon barrel option, and the larger calibers, .357 Magnum and up, are also available in a fixed-sighted version.

The Freedom Arms Model 97 chambered in .32 Magnum with an auxiliary cylinder in .32-20 makes an excellent varmint and small game sixgun. Current models come in .327 Federal.

Manufacturing Excellence

The Model 97 may be smaller than the Model 83, however it’s built with the same exacting care, the same high-quality materials and the same line-boring of cylinders found in the full-sized Freedom Arms sixguns. They are virtually built one at a time in the Freedom Arms factory in the Star Valley area of Wyoming.

Freedom Arms did not just decide one morning to chamber the Model 97 in .32. This was a long, involved process studying barrel twists and different loads in both the .32 Magnum and the .32-20. I personally supplied some loads for testing and also spent time with Bob Baker of Freedom Arms shooting the prototype model both on paper for accuracy and over Oehler’s Model 35P chronograph for velocity. Some loads we held high hopes for performed dismally while others were surprising in giving much better results than had been anticipated.

Groups shot with Model 97 with the extra .32-20 cylinder in place showed 1" to be a “big” group size!

Shoots Great!

As expected from Freedom Arms, this little gun is superbly accurate. All testing was done with a 2X Leupold in place to remove as much human error as possible. Five-shot groups with either the .32 Magnum or .32-20 cylinder in place were exceptionally small, with groups of well under 1" at 25 yards being very common.

The most accurate load in .32 Magnum proved to be Sierra’s 90-gr. JHC over 10 grains of H110 for five shots in 0.5" and a muzzle velocity of 1,260 fps. The .32-20 shot best with Speer’s 100-gr. JHP over 10.0 grains of #2400 for slightly under 1,200 fps and five shots in 5/8". There’s no practical difference between 0.5" and 5/8", nor between all the other groups coming in at about the 0.75" range. When groups of 1" are considered “large,” you get some idea of what an excellent shooting sixgun this offering from Freedom Arms really is. It’s a precision machine, which happens to look like a sixgun!

A side note: Bob Baker told us they have changed the line-up since this article was done and this model now comes with the .327 Federal as the main cylinder, and the .32 Magnum and .32-20 are still available as additional cylinders. Even better if you ask me!

For more info: www.freedomarms.com, Ph: (307) 883-2468

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