Date: Mar 01 2010
After years of shooting different rifle and handgun cartridges and shotshells, I finally burned up the last of an 8-pound keg of Alliant’s Unique. All that shooting shows Unique truly is the most versatile propellant on the market and has been since it was introduced back in about 1898. Unique is a circular, flake-type, double-base powder that contains nitrocellulose and nitroglycerin. Nitroglycerin plasticizes powder kernels somewhat, and this coating makes the powder impervious to moisture in the air and also keeps it from drying out. That gives the powder more consistent velocity and pressure, and in the end, better accuracy. A jar of Unique powder sits on the shelf at the Alliant Powder plant in Radford, Virginia. The Unique in the jar was made in 1899 and still performs to original specifications.
Old Unique supposedly left a few partially burned flakes in a bore. That was the only residue Unique left in the bore, but shooters thought that meant Unique was a dirty burning powder. So a few years ago, Alliant made Unique powder flakes more uniform, so the powder burned more completely. Alliant also did a few other things to make Unique burn more completely, but that’s its secret.
Unique’s flake shape helps it meter precisely from a powder measure, which is a big plus while loading hundreds of cartridges. However, because only a light amount of Unique is normally loaded in handgun and rifle cases, care must be taken to make sure only one charge of the powder is dispensed into a case. I load a block of 50 handgun cases with the powder and then put the block under a light to make sure the proper amount of powder is in each case. To check rifle cases, I shine a light in each case to make sure a charge, and only one charge, of powder is in the cases. Here’s how Unique works in various rifle, handgun and shotshell cases.
Unique makes a good target load in the 12 gauge with 11/8 ounces of shot at 1,200 fps. Over the years, though, it has lost out to Red Dot powder, because Red Dot burns about three grains less powder for the same 1,200 fps of velocity. Pressures with Unique, however, depending on what case, wad and primer are used, run from 1,400 to 2,700 psi less than Red Dot.
Unique can also fire 11/8-ounce loads up to 1,310 fps, where as Red Dot tops out at 1,250 fps with 11/8 ounces of shot. Unique can also fire heavier 11⁄4 ounces of shot up to 1,220 fps. To go faster and heavier than that requires an additional 15 grains of slower-burning powders like Blue Dot.
Unique is one of the best all around powders in the 16 gauge. It works great for mild recoiling target loads with one ounce of shot at 1,165 fps. A few more grains of Unique increase the velocity to 1,275 fps for upland birds. It also provides good velocity with 11/8- and 11⁄4-ounce loads when pheasants are on the menu.
Unique is the only powder I load in the 20 gauge. For a target load, 13.8 grains with 7/8 ounce of shot is easy on the shoulder. Adding a couple of more grains of Unique bumps that velocity up to 1,200 fps for quail and ruffed grouse. With 16.0 grains of Unique in Winchester AA cases, one ounce of Nos. 71⁄2 or 6 shot at 1,165 fps handles even the largest grouse.
Handgun cartridge reloaders can get along just fine with only a can of Unique on their bench. With smaller cartridges, like the .32 H&R Magnum, Unique shoots 100-grain swaged lead or cast lead alloy bullets at a leisurely 600 to 800 fps. That light powder charge will load 2,800 cartridges from one pound of powder. Up that powder charge by 1.5 grains and velocity increases to nearly 1,000 fps from a 4-inch barrel of a Ruger SP101 revolver. You’d need nearly twice as much of a slower-burning powder to increase that speed 100 fps.