Freedom Arms Model 97 .32 H&R Magnum Sixgun
by Paco Kelly and Jeff Quinn

photography by Boge Quinn

September 25th, 2003

 

 

 

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 Action.

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 myself...

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 care.

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.

Paco Kelly

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 to Raton.

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 it is!

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 at: www.black-hills.com.





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Click pictures for a larger version.

 

Freedom Arms' new Model 97 in.32 H&R Magnum, shown with optional .32-20 cylinder.

 

 

The Model 97 frame is perfectly sized for the .32 H&R Magnum / .32-20. Even when scoped, it is still a very handy and well-balanced package.

 

 

Like all Freedom Arms products, the Model 97 .32 exhibits flawless workmanship and perfect wood-to-metal and metal-to-metal fit.

 

 

The Freedom Arms Model 97 line features a hammer-mounted transfer-bar safety mechanism.

 

 

Whether used in the venerable .32-20 (left) or the modern .32 H&R Magnum (right), the Freedom Arms Model 97 is the perfect gun for the job. It is the finest production revolver of its type ever made.

 

 

Jeff found the Model 97 .32 very pleasant to shoot, and very easy to shoot accurately.

 

 

While Paco's first prototype exhibited some accuracy problems, Freedom Arms had sorted it all out by the time Jeff and Boge got to shoot the pre-production prototype. Both the .32-20 and .32 H&R Magnum cylinders exhibited superb accuracy with Black Hills factory ammo. Freedom Arms will not market a gun unless it is perfect, and the Model 97 .32 is certainly that!