The Harrington and Richardson Model 732 Guardsman

This post describes the design and shooting characteristics of a Harrington & Richardson Model 732, .32 S&W Long revolver.

I formed an early relationship with the Harrington and Richardson company.  In my boyhood, H & R was an old firm most active in the production of  economical, utilitarian firearms.  Since my farmer father was a very economical, utilitarian guy, H&R was always a good candidate whenever we needed a gun.  My first .22 was a bolt action H&R and it was a great day when I carried it out of the hardware store in our small Illinois town.

After putting on a little more growth I felt I needed a revolver, and an H&R Model 999 Sportsman came my way.  This top break arm with six-inch barrel was well made and accurate, and I practiced for anticipated bullseye matches using NRA targets pinned to a bale of hay behind the barn.  I got so I could occasionally shoot a “90,” but match entry never came about because education and other life necessities got in the way.

After using the 999 for a while I thought it would be good to try a centerfire revolver, maybe one that fired the .32 S&W cartridge.  The best were made by Smith and Wesson, but I knew I couldn’t afford one of those.  My old friends Harrington and Richardson had been in the .32 business for years, and their best offering at the time was the low-priced Model 732, also called the “Guardsman.”  It was kind of clunky looking but appeared to be robust, and I felt that if it were as good as my Model 999, it would do quite well.

Alas, other life necessities got in the way and a 732 never came my way.  Years passed, and, as family economics eased, I got other revolvers from time to time, including several by Smith and Wesson, but the image of the little 732 never completely left my mind.

Fast forward to fall, 2013.  What should appear in a case at my favorite gun shop but an H&R Model 732 Guardsman?  Its finish was freckled with light rust, the result of poor storage, but it seemed to have had little use, had a good bore, and functioned perfectly.  It had to go home with me and that was not painful, because economical, utilitarian arms like this H&R have never attained much in the way of collector status.

Two 20th Century H&Rs:  Top, Model 999, .22 rimfire, circa 1953;  Bottom, Model 732, .32 Centerfire, circa 1963

Two 20th Century H&Rs: Top, Model 999, .22 rimfire, circa 1953; Bottom, Model 732, .32 Centerfire, circa 1963

Design of the Model 732

Earlier .32s, by H&R, S&W, and others, were of the top-break variety.  Smith and Wesson developed the side-swing action, which they called a “hand ejector”, in the 1890s.  Having

H&R Model 732, cylinder open, showing safety rim around cylinder face

H&R Model 732, cylinder open, showing safety rim around cylinder face

a solid frame, the Hand Ejectors were much stronger than the top breaks.  Smith and Wesson soon abandoned the top breaks and they have never looked back.  H & R, on the other hand, stayed in the top break game until well into the twentieth century.  Eventually, however, they realized that progress required them to adopt the stronger, solid-frame design for centerfire guns.

The H&R Model 732 revolver is a double-action weapon with a capacity of six cartridges.  It has a solid frame with a swing-out cylinder and a 4-inch barrel.  The cylinder is unlocked by pulling forward on the cylinder rod, which functions as the ejector rod when the cylinder is open.  The entire face of the cylinder is counter bored, a feature meant to protect the shooter from injury in the event of a case failure.  The front sight is a large blade.  The rear sight is a blade with a generous notch and it is adjustable for windage.  The gun has a square butt and comes with black plastic grips.  The barrel, frame and cylinder are fairly heavy, so, DSCF0970even though small, the gun has a substantial feel and conveys an impression of strength.

Mr. Wesson’s Thirty-twos

Attention is often not given to the fact that Smith and Wesson, in addition to making great progress in revolver design, also introduced a whole bunch of centerfire cartridges to fuel their revolver inventions.  Colonel Wesson played an important part in the development of these rounds.  They include the .32 S&W, .32 S&W Long, .38  S&W, .38 S&W Special,  .44 S&W Russian, and the .44 S&W Special, all in the Nineteenth Century.  Amazingly, new factory cartridges in all of these calibers can still be purchased today, when you are lucky to find them on a dealer shelf.

The .32 Smith and Wesson was introduced in 1878 to accompany the new Model 1-1/2 single action revolver.  The .32 Smith and Wesson Long was introduced to accompany the .32 Hand Ejector, S & W’s first side-swing (a double action) revolver, that appeared in 1896 and that was updated  periodically for many years following.  Yes, the Long is simply a lengthened version of the earlier .32 S&W, which may also be fired in any revolver chambered for the Long.

.32 S&W Longs, L to R:   Remington round nose, 98-grain;  MagTech jacketed hollow point, Sellier & Bellot 100-gr flat nose;  Handload with flush seated 98 grain wadcutter

.32 S&W Longs, L to R: Remington round nose, 98-grain; MagTech jacketed hollow point, Sellier & Bellot 100-gr flat nose; Handload with flush seated 98 grain wadcutter

The two original .32 cartridges appeared near the end of the black powder era, but today’s factory .32s use smokeless, of course.   Factory ballistic performance is in accord with SAAMI pressure specifications for the cartridges.  Factory data says that the .32 S&W fires an 88-grain bullet  from a 3-inch barrel at a muzzle velocity of 680 feet per second (Energy 90 foot-pounds).  The .32 S&W Long spits out a 98-grain bullet from a 4-inch barrel at 705 fps (Energy 115 foot-pounds).  These velocities and energies are far below the performance potential of either the short or long round.  The industry maintains the low pressure loadings to insure safety in view of all of the old and weak revolvers that still exist and are capable for firing a round.   While a lead bullet carrying 115 ft-lbs of kinetic energy is easily capable of inflicting a mortal wound, most gun experts consider the factory .32s practically useless for self-defense or hunting.

Shooting the Model 732 Guardsman

I testfired the revolver by shooting on an indoor range at a distance of 7 yards.  Firing outdoors was prevented by serious winter weather.  That will come later this year.  Even indoors, however, I was able to measure velocities and get a good indication of potential accuracy.

I fired four different factory loads in the Guardsman:  First, some Remington .32 S&W Long 98-gr “Target” ammo that has been recently marketed by Remington;  Second, some Wichester 98-gr round noses;  Third, some Sellier & Bellot 100-gr flat noses, similar to the old load called the .32 Colt New Police;  Last, some Fiocchi 100-gr hollow base wadcutters, a target load.  For comparison, I tried the Remington ammo in an old H&R Second Model double-action, top break revolver from the early 1900s, with 3.5-inch barrel.  I also tried one handoad using 1.7 grains of Bullseye and a Mag Tech 98-grain hollow-base wadcutter bullet in a Winchester Long case.

Velocity

1) Model 732 with Remington Target 98-grain round nose:

Ave, 632 fps;  Spread, 61 fps;  Std deviation, 20 fps

2) Model 732 with Winchester 98-gr round nose:

Ave, 640 fps;  Spread, 65 fps;  SD, 18 fps

3) Model 732 with Sellier & Bellot 100-gr flat nose:

Ave, 702 fps;  Spread, 96 fps;  SD, 33 fps

4) Model 732 with Fiocchi 100-gr hollow base wadcutters:

Ave,  587;  Spread, 164 fps;  SD 49 fps

5) H&R DA Top Break with Remington Target 98-grain round nose:

Ave, 563 fps;  Spread, 89 fps;  Std deviation, 27 fps

6) Model 732 with handload, 1.7 gr Bullseye and Mag Tech 98-gr HBWC:

Ave, 697 fps;  Spread, 47 fps;  Std deviation 14 fps

As noted earlier for .32 factory ammo, I found these factory loads to be low in pressure with mediocre velocity performance.  As such, the new Remington ammo is about on a par with other factory brands.  The Winchester was the most consistent (smallest standard deviation), but the Remington was not far behind.  The Fiocchi, with a spread of 164 fps, was very poor in this regard.  This was caused by a couple of squibs in the 10-shot string.  The tenth shot sounded like a cap gun and registered 485 fps.

Note that I equaled factory ballistics with a handload using only 1.7 grains of Bullseye.  This load is still extremely mild.  For strong revolvers, safe loads approaching 1000 fps can be assembled with appropriate powder charges in the .32 S&W Long case.

Accuracy

Results of firing 18, five-shot groups at the seven-yard distance showed that the H&R Model 732 is capable of good, perhaps very good, accuracy.  The smallest group I fired with the Remington Target ammo was only 0.76,” but, fact is, most groups with this ammo were at least 1.5” and larger.  The group performance was not very consistent.  The old H&R top break was not quite as good, but not far off.

The Winchester gave me a smallest group of 0.72.”  The Sellier and Bellot gave two groups that averaged 1.04.”  The Fiocchi, in spite of its poor consistency, fired two groups that averaged 0.92.”  This seems to me to be very good accuracy, certainly better than is given by most small semi-autos that are used for self defense.  It seems entirely possible that a good handload for short range small game hunting could be found for the H&R.

Five-Shot Groups:  Left, Remington 98-grain .32 Long Target;  Right Handload, 1.7 grains Bullseye with Mag Tech 98-grain hollow-base wadcutter

Five-Shot Groups: Left, Remington 98-grain .32 Long Target; Right Handload, 1.7 grains Bullseye with Mag Tech 98-grain hollow-base wadcutter

The hand loaded cartridges with the 98-grain wadcutter bullet were much more consistent.  The group shown in the picture is typical.  The smallest group with this ammo measured 0.66.”  Measurements of the smallest groups translate to a bit over 2” at 25 yards, and that is good enough to keep me quite interested in further work with target bullets in this capable little wheel gun.

Bottom Line:  I am as happy as a pig in a mud hole.  Finally got my 732 and it is fun to shoot and shows promise.  Further shooting will investigate more handloads.  Factory ammo is just too pricey these days for frequent fun plinking, shooting at cans and targets.  Besides, the search for a good, accurate load is the challenge.  You will hear more about this as time goes on.

A very capable thirty-two

A very capable thirty-two

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