When it comes to the .32 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) cartridge, most American gun experts will nostalgically associate it with James Bond in the movies and bestselling novels but dismiss it as a “mouse gun” that’s marginal at best for real-world self-defense.
But then again, the first rule of a gunfight is “Have a gun.” Even old-school large-bore caliber aficionados like Chuck Taylor concede “I would rather have a woman carry a .32 auto in her purse than leave her .45 at home. Case/point?”
Hard to believe as it may seem, the .32 ACP has actually been around as long as the more-respected .38 Special, i.e. 1899. As Alice Jones of AmmoToGo.com notes: “A century ago, .32 ACP ammo was the most popular semi-automatic pistol cartridge in use. During the first half of the 20th century, .32 ACP was even widely used by military and law enforcement personnel. It was also popular in the civilian world, where pocket pistols were considered stylish, particularly during the prohibition era … The .32 ACP was definitely the cool kid on the block for much of the early 1900s. However, its popularity slowly withered once its cousin, .380 ACP, busted onto the ammunition scene.”
That said, the .32 ACP hasn’t totally faded from the scene, and it’s here to stay, so let’s take a look at the best defensive loads for this venerable caliber.
Winchester Silvertip 60-Grain Hollowpoint (STHP)
This was the round that helped establish some modicum of credibility and respectability for the .32 ACP as a viable law enforcement and private citizen self-defense round. In fact, the controversial “one-shot stop” statistical compilations by retired Detroit PD Sgt. Evan Marshall and then-Cpl. (now Lt.) Ed Sanow of the Benton County, Indiana Sheriff’s Department show the .32 Silvertip to have a success rate shockingly close to .45 ACP 230-grain full metal jacket (FMJ) “hardball.”
As noted by the MidwayUSA Product Description, “Winchester Silvertip has been trusted for decades when it matters most. Silvertip Defense ammunition offers the time-proven design with the Power to Defend. The jacketed hollow point design provides maximum stopping power for personal defense scenarios. The jacket profile of the Silvertip bullet ensures reliable functioning, precise accuracy and consistent expansion …” The Silvertip delivers a muzzle velocity of 970 feet per second and a muzzle energy of 125 foot-pounds.
What’s more, the 60-grain Silvertip established such a good reputation that a particular gun was actually designed entirely from scratch specifically for that round! The gun in question is the highly coveted Seecamp LWS.
Fiocchi 73-Grain FMJ
As is the case with other pocket pistol calibers like .380 ACP and 9x18mm Makarov, there’s the concern that if you manage to get expansion of a .32 caliber hollowpoint, it won’t penetrate deeply enough to reach a bad guy’s vital organs, ergo better safe than sorry with the non-expanding “hardball” rounds.
Out of all FMJ offerings in .32 ACP, Fiocchi seems to consistently rate the highest in the reviews I read whilst conducting the research for this article. In fact, the Ammo.Com website tabbed it as the “Best 32 ACP Ammo Overall!” Here’s their rationale:
“This one might come as a bit of a surprise, as typically it is not advisable to recommend FMJ ammo for concealed carry. However, for the 32 ACP, Fiocchi 73 grain FMJ ammo provided adequate penetration and offers the lowest cost per round on our top 4 list … Based on our testing, Fiocchi 73 grain FMJ averages around 16” of penetration when fired from a mouse gun, which is right in the sweet spot based on FBI standards. Although you won’t get amazing wound channels, the Fiocchi ammo will give you the penetration you need from these smaller pistols.”
Chris Baker of LuckyGunner, LLC’s analysis of “The Best 32 ACP Ammo for Self-Defense” corroborates Ammo.Com’s findings on the Fiocchi round. I myself have fired a fair number of Fiocchi hardball rounds out of my personally-owned Walther PPK and have been quite pleased with its accuracy, reliability, and controllability for fast follow-up shots.
Speer Gold Dot 60-Grain Jacketed Hollowpoint (JHP)
Gold Dot has proven itself to be an excellent product line across multiple handgun calibers for law enforcement and armed private citizen self-defense usage. I myself carried the 9mm Gold Dot in the Glock 26 that was my backup sidearm as an ICE Special Agent, and it’s still my preferred load for that caliber. From reading that Ammo.Com article, those same qualities carry over to the .32 ACP iteration of the Gold Dot:
“With amazing terminal ballistics, Speer Gold Dots are always extremely reliable and a perfect home defense option for your larger 32 ACP handguns.”
Hornady Custom 60-Grain XTP JHP
Hornady’s XTP (as in eXtreme Terminal Performance) JHP product line made its debut back in 1990. Ammo.Com bestows upon their 60-grain offering the title of “Best 32 ACP Ammo for Self-Defense,” because it “utilizes a flat nose design which creates a wider wound channel than the Fiocchi FMJ bullet, which is excellent for self-defense … In pocket pistols, we found that the Hornady 60 gr XTP met minimum penetration standards with an average of approximately 12” of penetration. However, when paired with a larger handgun with a longer barrel like the Beretta Cheeta [sic] or Sig Sauer P230, penetration increased to around 17” on average.”
Federal 65-Grain Hydra-Shok
Hydra-Shok is known for excellent performance in real-world gunfights in larger calibers such as 9mm Parabellum and especially .45 ACP. I’ve been quite pleased with Hydra-Shoks’ performance in my own firearms.
Ammo.Com rates this as the “Best 32 ACP Ammo for Expansion”: “If you want extremely reliable hollow point expansion in your 32 ACP mouse gun, then look no further than the Federal 65 grain Hydra-Shok JHP. We found this ammo to be very consistent in terms of expansion for all varieties of 32 ACP pistols, both large and small.”
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.
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