The .44 Special and Unique
Date: Jul 14 2017
The Smith & Wesson Model 29 .44 Remington Magnum has always been a favorite revolver for sport and pleasure. Filled with .44 Magnum cartridges, it is ready for target practice or hunting. After a while, however, even the most recoil-tough shooter looks forward to toning things down a bit. Having always been a fan of moderate loads using lead bullets suitable for casual paper punching, the .44 Special naturally comes to mind for use in .44 Magnum revolvers. It is easy to load and shoot while being easy on the budget.
Granted, with modern revolvers the .44 Special can be loaded close to magnum standards for serious hunting duties when needed. Though to me the .44 Special is not that special, and I don’t need oodles of powder choices behind it for a particular use in the field. The fun is in the fact that I can use one powder, Unique. I like to load the .44 Special using moderate amounts of powder thus providing a very economical cartridge to use any time in any .44 Magnum.
For this assignment, a Smith & Wesson Model 629 with a 4-inch barrel was used, because it is modern, hefty and well-made. I have revolvers with longer barrels, but the shorter barrel makes more sense when carried on the hip, and a slight velocity loss is unimportant. Besides, a carry revolver can always be charged with four .44 Specials and a pair of .44 Magnums.
With a satin stainless finish, this Model 629 is built on the traditional N-frame and weighs 41½ ounces unloaded. Overall fit and finish is good, the front cylinder edges are rounded for easy entry into a holster, belt or backpack. This revolver is equipped with the usual target trigger, target hammer, and adjustable target sights complete with a red insert on the front blade and a white outline on the rear notch. While in the past fancy Goncalo Alves grips were standard, now weather-resistant neoprene panels are standard. Trigger pull on the test sample was set at 4 pounds. With the grips removed, it was an easy task to install the model in a Ransom Rest for testing using an insert for the N-frame, round-butt gun.
The .44 Special was formally introduced by Smith & Wesson in 1907. Though the .44 Magnum is an offshoot of this cartridge, the Special was based on the older black powder .44 Russian. The Special’s case was lengthened to accommodate the use of emerging smokeless propellants. While the original intent of the .44 Special may have been as a target round, savvy handgunners have long since used the cartridge for informal shooting and the taking of small to medium game at moderate ranges.
Factory loads are readily available and range into the dozens, but reloading is the way to go. Phil Sharpe, in his book Complete Guide to Handloading, used Unique for 38 of 160 .44 Special loads to include bullets weighing from 145 to 260 grains. When considering an all-purpose .44 Special powder, Ken Waters, in Pet Loads noted, “I’m pretty sure my choices would be Unique and Blue Dot.”
Unique is a great powder to use and have on your bench. If economics are important, a one-pound can of Unique (7,000 grains) will fetch you 1,000 loads using a 7.0-grain powder charge. Introduced in 1900 by Laflin & Rand of Haskell, New Jersey, later to be absorbed by DuPont, Unique was the “Johnny on the spot” powder to help the .44 Special move right along the popularity scale in subsequent years. Unique is still one of the most versatile powders on the market today.
Looking at the accompanying data table, it is obvious I made the choice to use the .44 Special at lower velocities and work toward loads with jacketed and lead bullets that would be fun to shoot. Rounded up was a selection of bullets from Hornady, Remington, Sierra, Speer and Winchester. Bullet weights ranged from 180 to 240 grains. As to the heavier, 240-grain lead bullets, samples from Hornady and Speer were included.