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making useable reloads for my 32 - 20 WCF model 1873.
Posts: 235
July 13, 2015 - 3:06 am


Can anyone out there tell me exactly what and how to make reloads for my 32-20 Model 1873 rifle. I have hundreds of 100gr and 115gr lead bullet heads in 32-20 caliber. I’m new at reloading using an original 32/20 Winchester loading tool, which I’d like to use to make these reloads for my ’73. Can I use “smokeless” powder instead of Pyrodex FFG? If I can, what kind (ie. 4198), how many grains, minimum loads, maximum loads etc. What size primers? This once again to be fired out of my 1873, not an 1892. Would Pyrodex FFG be better suited for the ’73? This using the original specs. of 100gr bullet with 20gr of black powder? (Pyrodex Supreme FFG) I would be most thankful for any help given me.

Apache, Larry N.ConfusedConfusedConfusedConfused

Posts: 850
July 13, 2015 - 4:15 pm


For reference, the original 32-20 (32 W.C.F.) cartridge sent a 115 grain pure lead bullet out the barrel at 1,177 fps, measured 50 feet downrange, so the muzzle velocity was approximately 1,220 fps. The 32-20 is my favourite small game cartridge and I have experimented with a variety of powders and loads. I like to keep the velocity down to around the original velocity, somewhere between 1,177 to 1,220 fps. It is plenty for Woodchucks and Raccoons, and not as hard on the ears as later, higher velocity loads.

I have chronographed the current Winchester 32-20 ammo and got a velocity of 1,127 fps with a 36 fps extreme spread in velocities for five shots. Obviously, it is safe to use in an original ’73.

When reloading for an original Model 1873, it is helpful to know the different burn rates of powders. Here is a very helpful website showing the different burn rates of different smokeless powders . All other things being equal (same bullet weight, case and muzzle velocity), faster burn rates give a higher peak pressure spike and slower burn rates give a lower peak pressure spike. The smokeless powder that has a very similar peak pressure spike to FFg is 2400, so for original guns, if you use smokeless powders with burn rates equal to or slower than 2400, you will get peak pressures equal to or lower than FFg, all other things being equal. You might think that if you use really slow powders, you will be in good shape, but if you get too slow, there can be a lot of unburnt powder, and you simply can’t get enough powder in the case to give you original FFg velocities. For this reason, I use powders in the range of 2400, IMR 4227, 5744, IMR SR4759. For the 32-20 you can go as slow as RL-7 and IMR 4198. All these powders are used in enough quantity to give me somewhere around original black powder velocities. None of them, all other things being equal, will give you a pressure higher than FFg.

Reloading for the 32-20 can be a bit of a custom challenge for different rifles. I like to find a load that will give me a five shot group of less than 3″ at 100 yards. Of course, my real life shooting for Woodchucks and Raccoons is usually at less than 50 yards. Even rifles with excellent bores can be a challenge. Some like soft cast, others work best with hard cast. Commercially purchased cast bullets are usually hard cast. In general, I find soft cast bullets to be better at the velocities that are around original black powder velocities. You may also have to experiment between plain base bullets and gas check bullets if you are experiencing leading just forward of the chamber. If you can put 15 shots out the barrel at 100 yards and get no deterioration in group size, then chances are you are not getting any leading. If your group starts to go to pieces after a few shots, after a good start, chance are you are getting significant leading just forward of the chamber.

Here are some of my own loads. All are completely safe in an original Model 1873 and all of them use the Winchester small pistol primer. Some of them are a little faster than I like, but you can scale down your powder accordingly.

22″ barrel

10.5 grains of IMR 4198 under a 115 grain soft cast bullet (pure clip-on wheel weights, air cooled) for 1,257 fps, E.S. = 32 fps.

9 grains of 5744 under a 115 grain soft cast bullet for 1,223 fps, E.S. = 22 fps (favourite load, 9 shots into 2 & 3/8″ at 100 yards)

7.2 grains of 2400 under a 115 soft cast bullet for 1,215 fps, E.S. 63 fps

9 grains of IMR 4227 under a 115 hard cast bullet for 1,160 fps, E.S. 182 fps

Your ’73 probably has a 24″ barrel so velocities may be very slightly higher, maybe 25 fps due to the longer time pressure is applied to the back of the bullet.

I do not like loads that give me a high E.S., such as the IMR 4227 load and the 2400 load above. In general, IMR 4227 is horribly position sensitive so I no longer use it. Something else to be aware of is that the burn rate will increase with temperature. All the above loads were shot at around 73 degrees plus or minus about 5 degrees. I use a variety of cases, Winchester and Remington mostly, although I have now started using Starline as well. 

Posts: 235
July 13, 2015 - 7:10 pm



   I really want to thank you for the quick reply to my request for information on reloading the 32-20 cartridge. The rifle I plan to shoot it from is a 1873 model with a 26″ barrel. I’ll let you know how it works out for me. Once again, thank you.

Larry N. (apache)SmileSmileSmile

Posts: 532
July 14, 2015 - 2:33 am



Below is information and loads I have gleaned from the internet.  Before you use any load from internet forums, you would do well to confirm the load in a manual. 

Your ’73 should not be hot-rodded.  Some loads listed for 1892 .32-20’s are not safe to shoot in an 1873.

You state that you are new to reloading.  I suggest you read as much as you can–the do’s and the do not’s–about loading with smokeless powders prior to reloading for your ’73.  Another suggestion–find someone who safely reloads, and learn what you can from them, and have them help in getting you started.  There is quite a bit more to safe reloading than putting together a case, primer, powder, and bullet.

Good luck to you.  The ’73 is a great old rifle to shoot. 



Edit:  I just tried the first two castpics addresses and they do not work properly on my computer.  So if you copy and paste this “” it will get you to the website.  Good information in the “Reloaders’ Reference” section.)    (Here you can find free reloading manuals and loads for specific calibers.)   (If this works, it will take you directly to .32-20 info.)

115 gr
6.0 to 6.3 gr 2400
fouronesix Boolit Master
To minimize the chance for a high pressure spike in an older BP gun, I’d go with Rel7. 2400 is just fast and dense enough to spike pressures with a slight over load- even in the small capacity 32-20 case.
In my 73 rifle, I get 1250 fps with 11.5 gr Rel 7 under a 115 gr GC bullet. Lyman lists a pressure of 6500 CUP with 12.4 gr of Rel 7 under a 115 gr plain base cast bullet. 6500 CUP seems like a comfortable, safe pressure for an older Win 73.

Outpost75 Boolit Master
In the 1873 it is impossible to get enough RL7 or 4198 in the case to get into any trouble. You can load a compressed caseful as if loading black powder, and get good base support for the traditional bullets like Ideal #3118, which do not haveca crimp groove. Cast bullets 1:40 tin lead and use modern solid-head cases with Remington 6-1/2 or Federal 200 primers. You can do the same thing in .38-40 and. 44-40 with standard Ideal bullets for the caliber.
Paco Kelly’s Leverguns
+1 with Kirk’s recommendation. Regarding RL7, a capacity load in the .32-20 (13 grs.) under a 120 gr. cast bullet clocked an average of 1,369 f.p.s. with a 1 1/2″ Rem pistol primer, 1,427 f.p.s. with a WSPM primer and 1,406 f.p.s. with a Rem 6 1/2 small rifle primer.
Alliant is adamant one NOT use mag primers with 2400 — no mag primers for 2400. even sierra manual now says this
9.5gr 2400 under a Sierra 90gr JHP
7 or 8 gr. 2400 and Lymans 311008 115gr. bullet sized to .312 are just super accurate in my 53
Load was BTB 115g FN/11.0g #2400/WSRP/Rem Brass –Marlin 1894
2400, try 9.0 grains– ’73 in .32/20– 115 grain Lyman
116 Lyman 311008 FN 7.3/2400/1251fps
I shoot 8.0 grains 2400 in mine with a 115 PB bullet and it shoots well in my antique 1892 Winchester.
9.0 grains of 2400 and a Lyman 118 grn 311316 GC at .311 clocked the highest velocity. The average of ten shots was 1625 fps
new lyman cast book starts with 6.6 grains of 2400 with a 115 gr boolit.

the load I am working with is 14/1680 in the ’73
From the sounds of what little I’ve heard about the powder, it probably is, but I don’t know enough about that powder to make that sort of call….my AA loading stuff (admittedly older data) doesn’t mention 1680 in 32WCF at all….I noted DoubleJK mentioned 13.5/1680 as a start load with a velocity of 1280fps approx., and with no more pressure signs than some factory loads,….going by velocity alone, I’d say that load was pretty much tops for a 16,000cup gun….I also see how fast things go up, taking the Pearce data and running with it, as with 15.5/1680 he got 1779fps, and with 17.3/1680, it was really humming at 1984fps….
Paco Kelly’s Leverguns–
Accur 1680/14.5grns
Hguns 111o fps
Rifles 1275 fps
cast 100/110
13,100 cup very accurate

Posts: 31
July 20, 2015 - 5:32 am


I have a low-wall that was originally a 32 rimfire. The guy I got it from had the block converted to centerfire, and the gun rechambered to the 32 WCF. It shoots Remington factory ammo very nicely, with a 1 3/4 inch 5-shot group at 50 yards. I have also been shooting some reloads using 100 grain lead bullets on top of 4 1/2 grains of Unique with similar results. 

I tried shooting several rounds loaded with 20 grains of 3F black powder, but did not get nearly as good accuracy. In addition, the recoil and muzzle blast from the black powder rounds was significantly greater.

Posts: 235
July 27, 2015 - 11:26 pm


To All of You;

    I want to take this time to thank you all for the information on making 32/20 reloads for my 1973 Winchester. I want to use the original Winchester reloading tools and see just what this tool makes for me. I bought a box of Remington 32/20, 100gr. lead cartridges at Cabela’s The box is marked, 32/20, 100 gr lead, “Express”. Dare I use these in my 1873? I also have a 32/20 WCF model 1885 “Low Wall” short rifle. The barrel was “Re-Rifled” and cut down to its present length by Pope when he worked for Stevens Tool in Chickapee Falls, Mass. This rifle, even with its short barrel is a real “Tack Driver”. So if I can’t use the Remington Express 32/20’s in the ’73, I’ll try them in the Low Wall. Once again Thank You All, Apache, Larry N.SmileSmileSmileSmileSmileSmileSmile

Posts: 532
August 1, 2015 - 7:10 am


I’ve read many sources that state to NEVER use “High Velocity” cartridges in your .32 WCF.

As for the “Express” round–someone else will have to answer your question.  At more than $1.00 per shot, your reloading idea seems to be the best path. The ’73’s have little kick, but at $1+ per round, each time I pulled the trigger I’d wince!

Posts: 850
August 4, 2015 - 2:24 pm


I am currently on a ‘reloading 32-20’ binge. As usual, I went through all my old field test targets and noticed that 9 grains of 5744 under a 115 soft cast plain base bullet gave even better accuracy out of my original Model 53 than 9.5 grains. The target showed a 1 & 1/2″,  7-shot group at 100 yards using a tang peep sight. Average velocity was 1,223 fps with an E.S. of only 22 fps. I have tried a wide range in loads in my Model 53, but the sweet spot seems to be around 1,200 to 1,280 fps, which is plenty for small game in my experience. Obviously, this load is completely safe in an original Model 73, however, the bore condition can have a large effect on accuracy, particularly leading. If your bore is slightly textured, you may find a gas check better than a plain base bullet.

Posts: 235
October 24, 2015 - 3:59 pm



    I want once again to thank you all for the information on making reloads for my 1873 rifle in 32-20 WCF. As it turned out I was able to buy a box of cartridges made for “Action Shooters” or whatever they’re called and got the chance to shoot my “Old Timer”. At 50 yards in the off-hand position I fired off 8 rounds at a target the size of a human outline at 100 yards. The old ’73 is still pretty accurate in spite of a badly pitted bore. Of the 8 rounds fired, 2 missed the target altogether, 1 clipped the top of the target page, 1 hit the outer edge of the target’s arm, 1 hit the 7 ring, 1 hit the 8 ring, 2 hit the 10 ring. Not too bad I think considering this rifle probably hasn’t been used in 100 years, and I’ve never shot it before. The 2 hits in the 10 ring were the last 2 rounds fired by me. I also think that the “New” ammo’s bullets were a little smaller in diameter than the original Winchester 32-20’s as the bullets “tumbled” through the target instead of making a clean hole. However being lead and 115 grains these bullets still performed fairly well and were accurate considering the “Old Geezer” that was shooting the rifle.

Thanks again, Apache.EmbarassedEmbarassedLaughLaughLaughLaughLaughLaugh

Posts: 532
October 29, 2015 - 4:14 am


Since your first post, I have found an excellent–extremely accurate–load for my son’s ’73 .32 WCF, DOM 1886.  Like yours, his has a 24″ barrel, and it has a crude bore–keyholes regular lead bullets.  It shoots jacketed slugs accurately.  The load below is even more accurate than his jacketed ones–surprised him!

.32 WCF  —  .32-20

.313 115 gr lead gas-checked bullets:  from The Bull Shop, Dell, Montana.

Reloder 7:  12.65 gr.

CCI 400:  Small Rifle Primer

COL:  1.572

RCBS Cowboy Dies

This is the type of load we’ve been chasing for quite some time–good for the rifle, and accurate.  No more experimenting!

I’m happy to hear you found cartridges and enjoyed shooting your old rifle.  Don’t settle for tumblers and misses.  If you can hit the 10 ring with those bullets, I don’t see why you can’t expect most of your shots to hit it, once you’ve found a good load.

New Mexico
Posts: 1167
October 29, 2015 - 2:18 pm


I have and old 1873 in 32-20 that used to be my favorite shooting antique.  It was made in 1887, has a 24″ round barrel and the bore is very good, about an 8.  For years I was able to get 3″ groups from a benchrest at 100 yards (haven’t shot it in over a decade now).

My best load for this old rifle was 4.0 grains of Unique behind a 115 grain lead bullet with a gas check from a Lyman mold.  The bullet was sized to .313 and I used Ideal bullet lube. 

FWIW:  This same load is not nearly as accurate in an 1892 Winchester with the same barrel length, 24″, and a similarly good bore.


"This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." 

Richard Warrington
September 18, 2022 - 2:09 pm


I’d like to hear a lot more from the guys who shoot an 1885 low-wall Winchester.  My barrel has been relined so it’s as clean as new.  I don’t have any specs on the liner and probably have to start from scratch.  I bought 400 rounds of new ammo in 100 and 115 grain, and might consider casting my own bullets considering the crazy prices they’re getting for the factory loaded stuff today when and if you can even find it.

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