In mid 2001 Bob Baker, honcho and
owner of Freedom Arms, makers of some of the finest
Single Action handguns (mayhaps the finest in the world),
called me. He asked me if I would run some tests on a new
chambering in their famous and popular small-frame Single
The test gun was the first .32-20 they had
put together, along with an extra cylinder in .32 H&R
Magnum. The idea for this SA had been spoken of and kicked
about between Bob and I, along with others at the factory,
for several years, but for one reason or another the idea
seemed to always wind up on the shelf. This handgun in this
chambering had always been a dream of mine, and since I met
Bob Baker in 1986 I have been bringing it up at every
opportunity. Since Freedom Arms developed and introduced
their smaller-frame guns,
I have whined and cried for one built around the .32-20 /
.32 H&R Magnum. Bob and the guys at the factory may have
realized that the .32 was a perfect fit for the smaller
frame and thus was an inevitable conclusion, but I think they
just got tired of my bellyaching.
When UPS ("The Big Brown Truck
of Happiness" according to Jeff) delivered the test
gun, it had two cylinders and two barrels of different bore
sizes. At the time, they were bored .310 and .312. Along
with testing the gun / chambering combination, I was to test
which bore size allowed for better accuracy.
I have a long-standing bitch about
commercial .32-20 ammunition: except for Black Hills
ammo, the rest is just inherently inaccurate. So, in my
testing I used Black Hills factory ammo and my very accurate
handloaded test ammo.
Elmer Keith years ago recommended 10
grains of 2400 powder (then made by Hercules, these
days it's Alliant 2400) under a moderately-hard
100-grain Lyman cast slug. Right now, I have four
handguns in .32-20 and a number of lever-action rifles; all
of them eat that old Keith load with ease and accuracy.
Keith stated that from a 7-1/2" barreled Colt,
he figured a velocity of 1500 fps or so. Rarely was the dean
of gun writers wrong, but none of my handguns give that
velocity with that load; in my experience, it is more like
1200 to 1300 fps.
Keith also said he's killed a few deer and
an elk cow with his .32-20 load and his Colt, but added
emphatically that he never should have done it. The .32-20
is much too light for deer, much less even the smallest elk.
I agree with Elmer on this limitation; even when loaded hot,
the .32-20 from a handgun for me is limited to coyote-sized
animals and smaller.
The test .32-20 / .32 H&R Magnum had
some problems, and Bob asked me if I could figure them out;
I was only too happy to help bring such a potentially fine
gun / cartridge(s) combo to fruition. At the end of the day,
though, I only figured them "half out". At 25
yards, the little gun was giving about four-inch groups, and
that was the the best of them.
Anyone who knows Freedom Arms knows they
pride themselves on the tightest accuracy with any caliber
and any handgun they produce, and I can attest that this is
not "spin" but the absolute truth. Nothing less
than perfection is acceptable to Bob Baker and Freedom Arms,
and the guns would not be released to market until that
level of perfection was achieved.
My Freedom Arms .454 on the large frame has
had tens of thousands of rounds through it over the last two
decades, but it still gives pristine groups and is as tight
as a safe. It doesn't even appear to be used that much. This
is a testament to the workmanship and materials that go into
every Freedom Arms gun.
What I am trying to point out here is that a
Freedom Arms handgun is so well built, and from the finest
and strongest materials, that it is well worth the initial
cost. As young as you may be, if you own a Freedom Arms
Single Action it can be passed down to your grandchildren's
children without any problems. The Freedom Arms guns are not
indestructible, but they are close. They are the finest
production Single Action revolvers ever made, and as such
they are a bargain.
And the beautiful .32-20 / .32 H&R
Magnum model is no exception. But I'm getting ahead of
The early test model would not settle down
into decent groups. What I found was that one chamber
single-loaded four or five times and used as a
"single-shot revolver" would give much better
groups, but still not the excellent groups that Bob Baker
requires. The other chambers would not even do that well.
Another finding was that the .32 H&R Magnum cylinder
would give better accuracy than the .32-20, but still not up
to Freedom Arms' standards.
For many years, Freedom Arms closely guarded
the secret of how they get such outstanding accuracy from
their handguns. Finally, like all secrets, eventually theirs
was found out, but most of the industry will never use the
information. Why not? Because it would raise their
production costs and require a lot of re-tooling, driving
the retail prices of their own guns through the roof. The
secret? Freedom Arms' cylinders are line bored. That means a
guide hole is bored into the cylinder, one chamber at a
time, and bored through the barrel. The barrel itself acts
as a guide so that each chamber will be absolutely perfectly
in line with the bore. Then, each guide hole is chambered
for the required caliber, one at a time and with utmost
How do the other revolver makers chamber
their cylinders? All six chambers are cut at the same time
with six different chambering reamers. They cut all the
holes at the same time to a computer-generated mathematical
matrix that will fit the bore every time the gun comes into
battery. Let's face it: while this system is pretty good,
there are just too many variables involved in the procedure
for pristine accuracy, and that just ain't good enough for
Bob Baker and Freedom Arms. Of course, the cost of a decent
production gun is half the cost of a Freedom Arms gun, but
top quality costs more to produce. If we want it, we have to
pay for it.
And so we come back to the problem of the
inaccuracy of the first prototype of the Freedom .32-20: for
some reason, the cylinder was just a tiny bit out of line
with the bore. Also, Freedom Arms was as dissatisfied as I
was with the inaccuracy of most commercially-available
.32-20 ammunition. Bob told me that he would not release a
handgun to market that would not give the customer excellent
accuracy, no matter what the reason. It is my understanding
that Freedom Arms and Black Hills have now agreed on ammo
that will take advantage of the fine accuracy potential of
the Freedom Arms guns. Black Hills has always been a
customer-oriented company, either for individual shooters or
for other companies. This means that there is finally a
.32-20 factory load that will give excellent accuracy. If
you shoot factory ammo in the .32-20, you should own nothing
but Black Hills ammo.
In June 2003 at the Shootist
organization's annual meeting held at the NRA
Whittington Center in Raton, New Mexico, Bob Baker
unveiled his new .32-20 / .32 H&R Magnum Single Action.
He had a scope on it so we could all test it and have some
fun with it, and Black Hills was kind enough to supply
enough ammo for all the Shootists to get their fill. With
Bob's blessing, Jeff and Boge did a lot of
testing of the new prototype at the Shootists Holiday, and
we are all in agreement: problem solved!
My dream has finally been answered. Do you
want the finest .32-20 handgun ever made? Save your pennies
(lots of them), then call Bob Baker in Freedom, Wyoming.
My experience with the Freedom .32 starts
where my good friend Paco’s ended; at the Shootists
Holiday in Raton, New Mexico in June of 2003. While Paco
worked with the development of the prototype revolver, I
started with the pre-production gun that Bob Baker brought
The gun that arrived at Raton had no open
sights, but wore a scope in one of the excellent mounts
available from Freedom. Using factory ammo from Black Hills,
I was able to get fine accuracy from both the .32 Magnum and
the .32-20 cylinders. It is obvious that Freedom Arms has
worked out any initial accuracy problems with the weapon, as
the .32 shot groups better than I have ever seen from a .32
revolver. As can be seen in the accompanying photos, the
little thirty-two can shoot, and what a sweet little shooter
Freedom Arms is now in production with the
.32 caliber model 97, and are taking orders at this time. We
have been sitting on this story at the request of the
factory since June. They did not want to offer a gun that
would not shoot to their standards. The problem was in large
part ammunition related, and I recommend Black Hills
ammunition in this gun, for those who do not load their own.
Black Hills is producing some accurate .32 caliber
ammunition, and will serve very well in this gun. I would
really like to see what this model 97 will do with some
carefully assembled handloads. My favorite .32 magnum
handload uses 11 grains of Hodgdon's
Lil’Gun powder behind a hard cast 118 grain lead
semi-wadcutter bullet, and has proven to be very accurate in
any gun in which it is tried. In the .32-20, I have less
experience, but the Black Hills .32-20 ammunition was also
very accurate in this revolver.
The Freedom Arms Model 97 will be offered
chambered for the .32 Magnum cartridge, with an optional
.32-20 cylinder available. The gun will be the Premier Grade
with impregnated hardwood grips, with a choice of fixed or
adjustable sights. Barrel length options with the fixed
sight gun are either 4 ¼ or 5 ½ inches. With the
adjustable sight version, barrel lengths available are 4 ¼,
5 ½, 7 ½, or 10 inches. The cylinder is chambered for six
shots, and the gun has the Freedom Arms hammer-mounted
transfer bar safety.
Options available include Micarta grips,
octagonal barrels, specially honed trigger to customer’s
specification, polish and jewel the hammer and trigger,
express sights, silhouette competition sights, trigger over
travel stop screw, and the previously mentioned extra
cylinder for the .32-20 cartridge. Freedom will also supply
your gun with a special serial number and engrave your name
on the backstrap as an option.
Accessories available for the Model 97
include TSOB and Lovell scope mounts, scopes
from Bushnell, Weaver, and Leupold, and
a variety of holsters.
With the introduction of the Model 97 in .32
caliber, Freedom Arms has once again built another sixgun
that lives up to the fine reputation of the Freedom Arms name.
It is built like a tank, on a frame size that is perfectly
suited to the .32 cartridges, by a company that knows how to
build the World’s best revolvers.
Check out the entire line of Freedom Arms
products at: www.freedomarms.com.
Check out Black Hills' line of ammunition online
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