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The Hand Ejector-Winchester
Smith & Wesson 1905 Series in .32WCF

by A K Church and Miles Fortis
for the Leverguns.Com media conglomerate 

18 AUGUST 2004 

3220HANDEJECTORA.JPG (27443 bytes) Winchester introduced their .32-20-110 cartridge for the 1873 series rifle in 1882. Intended as a small game and varmint cartridge, it was rapidly popular. By the end of the 19th Century, it saw use in a variety of of lever and slide action rifles, single shots, and revolvers. This cartridge appears to have retained great popularity up to WWII. Huge numbers of farm guns have prevented the round from completely dying out, and the current sport of Cowboy Action Shooting appears to be generating a minor comeback. It is possible in 2004 to buy a new .32-20 single action revolver.

Smith and Wesson rapidly adapted their 1898 born Hand Ejector series of revolvers to this cartridge. Deriving from the Colt .38 Army revolvers of the 1890s in details of swing out cylinders, and double action lockwork, the Hand Ejector was considerably more durable than the swing out Colts of the period. This is recognizably a direct ancestor of what is now called the K frame. 

This series is likely best known for giving birth, in 1902, to the legendary .38 Special, by then current standards a +P stretched case version of the .38 Long Colt. 

But logistics demanded adaptation of the very common and popular .32-20. The combination seems to have been very popular. Author Church has seen many well used .32-20 Hand Ejectors for sale in Ozarks pawnshops. A recent issue of "Gun World" has an inquiry from an owner in Namibia, and a friend of Church spotted one for sale in Costa Rica.

The majority of these guns appear much used. Occasionally cleaner tighter guns show up, and Church recently bought one of these. Blued, 4 inch barrel, and a round butt. These do not in general fetch much money, although this might change with the growing interest in old cowboy guns-and this certainly was a gun much used in the west well past WWI.

A number of variants exist during the long production of this gun, this one designated a 1905 series. Manufactured in 1906, the same year as the San Francisco earthquake, this one came from the Pacific Northwest. Its history is unknown. Retaining perhaps 80% of its original bluing over a brownish patina, the remaining metal has taken on a smokey cast that variously appears brown or grey. Composition grips are virtually unscathed. 98 years have been kind to it.

It is also notably light in feel compared to author Church's 70s era 5" skinny barrel Model 10. 4" vs. 5", .32 vs. .38, roundbutt vs. square, not sure how it all fits together, but the .32-20 feels more like a Model 12 airweight than a .38 cop gun. The appeal of packing this one as opposed to a New Service or Single Action Army seems clear in that respect.

This one has been shot very little in the last 98 years. The forcing cone is still somewhat sharp, lockup enviably tight. The bore shows no ravaging from either chlorate priming or black powder. Whoever shot it during its life cleaned it.

Miles took this gun to the range recently. Shooting was done at 25 yards for two handed resting position, and period-correct offhand one handed single action work. One handed double action firing was tried at 7 yards.


SW3220HE1905SArested.JPG (27580 bytes)

Offhand - from a rest





SW3220HE1905OffhandSA.JPG (28216 bytes)
Offhand - Single Action

SW3220HE1905DA1handed.JPG (28943 bytes)
Offhand Double Action

This gun uses the old long action. While relatively heavy in cocking effort both single and double action, it's smooth as old cognac. The single action trigger release is slightly heavy, but breaks very cleanly. Recoil is laughable, and the report is not, contrary to folklore, especially sharp. Note well, the base is not that bottlenecked, nor, as we shall see, are ballistics all that hot.

Accuracy is serviceable with the one load (Black Hills 115 grain lead Cowboy) available at the time of the test. 

Black Hills 115gr lswc
Avg 755 
Standard Deviation 17.6 
Extreme Spread 37.3

The velocity is lower than some expectations. Email with gunwriter Mike Cumpston suggests these mid 700 readings are likely consistent with 19th real world short barreled handgun ballistics. From packing sized belt guns, it seemingly functioned as a .32 S&W Long with a slightly heavier bullet. From a 7 1/2" Single Action Army, things would have sped up. From a Winchester Low Wall, it gets into the rifle class speeds, stated as 1200 foot seconds.

Note well, there were at one time factory 80 grain hi-speed loads for strong rifles like '92 Winchesters or '94 Marlins. Avoid these carefully, and also stay away from the many 20th Century handloads developed for Ruger Blackhawks which shade in on .30 Carbine ballistics. Handloaders should bear in mind these are old guns with old metallurgy, and only guns known to be in sound mechanical order should be shot at all.

Smooth, light, adequately accurate and producing useful ballistics, it's not hard to see why these3220HANDEJECTORB.JPG (29249 bytes) revolvers were successful around much of the world. They can be useful today. Pending acquisition of packing leather, it will likely accompany me in the deer woods this fall. It's not a deer gun, but as a defense piece against feral dog packs, and a coup-de-grace piece on whitetail, I would be thrilled to start this one on its second century.






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