Freedom Arms Model 1997 .224-32 FA Revolver


by Jeff Quinn

photography by Jeff Quinn & Boge Quinn

May 6th, 2009




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Freedom Arms of Freedom, Wyoming makes what are arguably the best revolvers in the world. Most full-blown custom revolvers cannot approach the quality craftsmanship and tight tolerances that are built into the Freedom Models 1983 and 1997. The ‘83 is their large frame revolver that is chambered for such powerful cartridges as the .454 Casull, .475 Linebaugh, and Freedom’s own .500 Wyoming Express. The Model ‘97 is a smaller, handier size, and is chambered for such cartridges as the .45 Colt, .44 Special, .32 H&R Magnum, .327 Federal Magnum, .22 rimfire, and .17 HMR. Now, Freedom Arms has a brand new cartridge, based upon the .327 Federal case necked down into a bottleneck configuration to accept a .224 diameter bullet, making the Model ‘97 into a dandy little dedicated varmint sixgun. As I have reviewed the Model ‘97 before, I won’t go into great detail about the revolvers itself, but refer the reader to those previous reviews, and will concentrate more on the new cartridge here.

Forming the cases for the .224-32 FA is a very simple operation. RCBS makes the dies, and Freedom Arms has them in stock. The .224-32 is a bottleneck case that headspaces on the rim, so the sizing die is adjusted to touch the shell holder or shell plate, depending upon the loading press that you are using. I loaded all of my .224-32 FA cartridges on a Dillon 550B loading press, using it like a single-stage press. Simply lubricate a .327 Federal case and run it into the sizer/form die. After that, trim to length and load like any other bottleneck cartridge. Depending upon the bullet weight chosen, the velocities are very respectable, beating those of the .218 Bee from a barrel of similar length, without the problems of case setback often encountered when chambering a revolver for the Bee cartridge. The .224-32 FA uses a small pistol primer, and has a maximum overall loaded length of 1.6 inches. The case trim length is between 1.115 and 1.12 inches, and I set my Lyman trimmer towards the minimum end of those specs. Case life proved to be very good, and I lost only one case during all of my shooting sessions. It was not lost due to wear or damage, I just lost it somewhere between the loading room and the shooting shack. I had no split cases, nor loose primer pockets to develop on any of the cases, and all were loaded at least a dozen times. As mentioned above, the cartridge overall length is 1.6 inches maximum, and I loaded to maximum length, so as to fully use the available case capacity for powder. The seating die has a crimp ring, but I did not use a crimp on any loads tested. The .224-32 FA is a very efficient cartridge, using powder charges in the 9 to 14 grain range. Powder charges used in newly-formed cases are reduced, as powder capacity increases after the cartridges are fired. According to the tests done at Freedom Arms, Accurate 1680 and IMR 4227 are the best powders to use, so I stayed with those two, only substituting H4227 for some of my loads. Bullets in the 30 to 40 grain weight range are ideal in this .224-32 FA revolver. The rifling rate of twist is one turn in nine inches, which will stabilize a heavier bullet, but with the very efficient case size, those lighter bullets seem like the best choice to me, and therefore all of my shooting has been with those bullets. Powder charge weights are low, so even a very small increase in powder weight makes a big difference in pressure, so increase charges only one-tenth of a grain at a time. As an example, with the 30 grain Varmint Grenade, 13.3 grains of H4227 gave very good velocity and fine accuracy, but an increase to just 13.4 grains proved to be too hot in the test gun. Freedom Arms offers the .224-32 FA in various barrel lengths, but the test gun wore a ten inch barrel, which is my favorite length for a varmint revolver. As expected, tolerances were very tight on this Model 97, as they are on all Freedom Arms products. The barrel/cylinder gap measured two one-thousandths (.002) of an inch, which is just perfect for a sixgun of this type. At least one of our major revolver manufacturers in the US allows a barrel/cylinder gap of up to ten one-thousandths (.01) on their double-action revolvers to be within specs, which is deplorable, and way too large for decent performance. Freedom Arms holds tolerances to a minimum, and it pays off in performance. The trigger pull measured a crisp two pounds, six ounces on the test gun, which greatly enhanced the practical accuracy achieved from the bench during accuracy testing. Accuracy from the Model 97 was superb, and it got better as the barrel got seasoned a bit from shooting. I tried many different bullet and powder charge combinations in the Model 97, and will list my favorites here. In addition to these, Freedom Arms has data on their website. All loads listed below proved to be accurate from the barrel of the test gun, and exhibited no signs of excessive pressure. However, I have no ballistics lab, and individual revolvers vary in tolerances, so start at least two tenths of a grain below the charges listed, and work up incrementally, looking for the best accuracy, as well as heeding excessive pressure signs. You are not going to get .220 Swift rifle velocities from a ten-inch revolver, so there is no need to try. The little .224-32 FA is extremely efficient, and will deliver fine accuracy and velocity, with low noise and recoil. Velocities were recorded at a distance of twelve feet from the muzzle, and are listed in feet-per-second. Velocities were recorded with an air temperature in the sixty degree Fahrenheit range, at an elevation of approximately 400 feet above sea level. Bullet weights are listed in grains. This is by no means all of the combinations that were tried, and there are many good bullets available to suit the performance of this cartridge, but these are the loads that worked the best for me, in this test gun. Some loads tested proved too hot, and others lacked the accuracy that I expected from this revolver. All loads were assembled using Winchester standard small pistol primers. VG is the Barnes Varmint Grenade bullet. The Varminator is another Barnes bullet of conventional construction.

Bullet Powder Charge Weight Velocity
40 Varminator AA1680 14.1 2238
30 Barnes VG AA1680 14.1 2337
30 Barnes VG AA1680 14.9 2488
30 Barnes VG H4227 13.3 2609
40 GS Custom H4227 12.1 2233
36 Barnes VG H4227 12.1 2366

Note that I used two different weights of the Barnes Varmint Grenade bullet. I had high hopes for the 30 grain VG, but the 36 grain VG proved more accurate in the test gun, shooting consistent sub-one-inch groups at 100 yards from the bench with a Leupold scope mounted upon the Model ‘97 is a Lovell scope mount. The 30 grain Varmint Grenades performed very well, grouping into under two inches, but the 36 turned out to be my favorite of all the bullets tested in this revolver. I also tried some Hornady and Speer varmint bullets, and they performed well, but did not show the potential of the Barnes VG bullets, so I stuck with those mostly, as they have been proven performers in the past. The Varmint Grenade bullets are not of conventional design, but have a core of compressed powdered metal within the bullet jacket, and contain no lead. They open up quickly, and exhibit devastating performance on flesh. There were no misfires encountered. Ignition was positive, and cases extracted easily. Loading powder into the cases, I found it really helped by swirling the powder into the case with a funnel, as dumping directly from the powder measure into the case mouth greatly reduced the amount of powder that I could get into the case. Slowly swirling the powder in settled the charge uniformly, and also improved accuracy.

I really like this new cartridge from Freedom Arms. This brief review here is by no means meant to be comprehensive, but merely an introduction to the new .224-32 FA. The folks at Freedom Arms, along with other writers like John Taffin, are still working on developing loads for the efficient little jewel, and I look forward to reading of their experiences with this cartridge. Like its big brother the .500 Wyoming Express, the little .224-32 FA should prove to be an efficient, reliable, and accurate cartridge ideally suited for the purpose for which it was designed.

Check out the .224-32 FA and other Freedom Arms products online at

To order the Barnes Varmint Grenade bullets, go to

Jeff Quinn

NOTE: All load data posted on this web site are for educational purposes only. Neither the author nor assume any responsibility for the use or misuse of this data. The data indicated were arrived at using specialized equipment under conditions not necessarily comparable to those encountered by the potential user of this data.  Always use data from respected loading manuals and begin working up loads at least 10% below the loads indicated in the source manual.



Freedom Arms' Model 97 has a frame-mounted firing pin (top) and hammer-mounted transfer bar safety (bottom).







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Freedom Arms' Model 1997 .224-32 FA revolver.



Grips are perfectly fitted to grip frame.





Ejector rod is plenty long enough to fully eject fired cases.





Cases are easily formed from .327 Federal brass.





Barnes' Varmint Grenade bullets proved to be a fine choice, producing 5/8" 100-yard groups.