By John Taffin
Complaints about Unique being dirty, whether it’s the “old” Unique or the “new” Unique abound, and I don’t understand what the problem is. Unique is just that — unique. It’s one of the most versatile powders we have and can be used for target loads, standard loads, even heavy loads if you’re careful. Most of us could get by very easily if we had only one powder, and that powder is Unique — as dirty as it is.
Unique goes all the way back to 1900. It first came from the New Jersey company of Laflin & Rand, however within two years it became a DuPont powder. In 1912, Hercules took over the production and it’s now produced by Alliant and I’d say we should be glad it’s still going strong!
There are a number of cartridges we can load with the same powder charge of Unique. More than 50 years ago Skeeter Skelton began pushing the .44 Special with a Keith 250-gr. hard cast bullet over 7.5 grains of Unique as just about the ideal, all-around load for the Special. It was not original with him as he got it from Elmer Keith, and then many of us got it from Skeeter. At about the same time, for a heavy-loaded self-defense and all around load for the .45 ACP, Jeff Cooper recommended the same 7.5 grains of Unique under a 200-gr. Hensley & Gibbs semi-wadcutter bullet.
When I started loading Unique for the .45 Colt, .44-40, and .38-40, I used the same charge of Unique, 10 grains for each of these cartridges, with hard cast bullets weighing 250 grains, 200 grains, and 180 grains respectively. As my hands have become more fragile I’ve dropped this charge to 8 grains of Unique for each one of these Frontier cartridges for my normal use.
The .327 Federal Magnum plays well with the “magic” 5-gr. load. The Ruger Single-Seven
.327 and the Dan Wesson custom .327 Federal Magnum both shot great groups with it.
A wide variety of cast bullets work fine with 5 grains of Unique in the .38 Special. Yet, versatility
is Unique’s middle name, and everything from the .30 Carbine to the big bores can be handled easily.
That Magical Number
I want to concentrate on the versatility of one charge of Unique that has so many applications — 5 grains. Interestingly enough, one rifle I use this 5-gr. charge with is the .32-20, especially in a pre-WWI Winchester Model 92. The Speer 100 GDHP over 5 grains of Unique gives me a very mild shooting 1,242 fps with three shots in 3/4″ at 50 yards. In a Bowen Custom Colt Single Action .32-20 with an 81/2″ barrel, an NEI 100-gr. hard cast SWC bullet sized to .312″ has a muzzle velocity of 1,215 fps with five shots in 11/2″ at 20 yards.
Using the Dan Wesson 8″ HB .32 Magnum, the 100-gr. hard cast SWC bullet and the same 5 grains of Unique, clocks out at 1,290 fps, while in the Ruger Single-Six 91/2″ .32 Magnum, the muzzle velocity is at 1,130 fps — both loads are right at one inch for five shots at 20 yards. The Ruger Single-Seven .327 Federal with a 71/2″ barrel likes the 100-gr. Speer Gold Dot Hollowpoint at 1,225 fps, for an easy shooting and very accurate load of one inch for six shots at 20 yards.
Five grains Unique has been a standard load for the .38 Special with both the Military and Police .38 and Unique powder arriving right about the same time. With the Lyman #358477 SWC hard cast bullet in a pre-War S&W 4″ M&P muzzle velocity is right at 950 fps with groups just over 1″. The same load works the same wonders in the .357 also.
Here’s 5 grains of Unique used in a .38 Special PPC Smith & Wesson at 20 yards. Any questions?
I especially use this load with several different bullets in the .38 Super. From a 5″ Kimber Stainless Steel Target II, Lyman’s #358311RN gives 1,065 fps and a 1″ group at 20 yards while the RCBS #38-150KT results in the same muzzle velocity and a 11/4″ group.
This leaves us with what is probably the most popular semi auto today, the 9 mm. Typical results are found using the Springfield Armory Range Officer 5″ and machine cast bullets from Oregon Trail. The 122FP clocks out at 1,225 fps with a 5-shot group of 7/8″ while the 125RN has the same muzzle velocity with a 13/8″ group.
Unique is an extremely versatile powder and you could easily keep one powder measure set to throw only one charge — 5 grains of Unique — and cover a large range of shooting possibilities.
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