Alliant's Cleaner-Burning Unique Powder
by Jeff Quinn

photography by Jeff Quinn

 

Alliant Powder Company produces some of the all-time favorite powders for handloading shotgun, rifle, pistol,  and revolver cartridges and shells.

Alliant Techsystems is the parent  corporation that owns Alliant Powder, which was derived from the old Hercules Powder Company. Hercules was developed after the government- mandated breakup of DuPont in the early 1900s. 

One of the oldest and most beloved Hercules powders, particularly to sixgun handloaders, was called Unique. The reason that I say "was", is that Alliant has recently made a slight change to the formula to make Unique cleaner burning than its older namesake. 

Originally developed as a powder for reloaders of shotgun shells, Unique quickly became favored by revolver shooters as a good, all-around powder for moderate loads. Unique, being somewhat slower than Bullseye and  faster than Blue Dot, is in the burning range that makes it just right for so many of the loads that sixgunners use the most.

In years past, Unique was one of the standard powders to which I turned to develop new loads for my handguns. As time passed, I more often than not used another powder of similar burning rate instead of Unique, due to the messy condition in which Unique left the gun. it was still a good powder, but others would achieve the same results without the powder fouling.

At the 2001 SHOT Show in New Orleans (see article at SHOT Show 2001), Alliant announced the change to the old powder, and assured me and everyone else that the new powder would still possess the same qualities that reloaders have grown to love, without the dirty characteristics of before. I was very anxious to give the new formula a try.

After receiving a batch of the new Unique from Alliant, I decided to do a side-by-side comparison of the old and the new. I loaded a quantity of rounds of each of the powders into new .44 magnum Starline cases (see article at  Starline Brass), the only difference being that half were loaded with the old powder and half with the new. Beginning with a clean Ruger Super Blackhawk, I first fired the loads with the old powder, which was old enough to still bear the Hercules brand on the container. I also fired these over my Pact chronograph to compare velocities with the new powder. As expected, when I cleaned the revolver, I removed a great deal of powder fouling from the outside of the cylinder and sides of the topstrap, along with the residue left in the bore and chambers. 

After firing the cartridges loaded with the new Unique, it was immediately apparent that the gun was cleaner than after firing the first batch. Not only was the outside of the gun cleaner, but the  bore and chambers were also. While it must be considered that some of the residue from both loads can be attributed to the bullet lube, there was a noticeable difference between the fouling from the old and new powders. 

After firing both loads over the chronograph, there was no detectable  difference in the performance of the powders. The average velocity variations of the two loads were less than twenty feet per second. This is very good work by Alliant, being that the two powders were manufactured over 18 years apart. 

Statistically, the old and new powders are the same. There is no more need to worry over velocity variation than between different lots of any other powder. The same loading data for Unique in the past can still be used. Alliant has loading data for this and their other powders available on their  website.

If you, like me, had stopped using Unique in the past in favor of cleaner  burning powders, give this powder another try. Unique has always been one of the most versatile handgun powders available, and it now burns much cleaner than before. You can buy Unique at any well-stocked gun store or mail order reloading supply company. For reloading data or more information  you can call Alliant toll free at: 1-800-276-9337 or find them online at: www.alliantpowder.com

Jeff Quinn 

 

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Alliant Powder Company is manufacturing a cleaner-burning version of the old Hercules Powder Company's Unique powder. The new powder is shown here (on the left) alongside some of the last of the author's stash of the old Hercules Unique.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alliant's new Unique (shown at left) exhibits burning rate exactly like the old Unique (shown at right). The new cleaner-burning Unique is slightly darker in color.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cleaning patch after firing and cleaning using the old Unique shows why this beloved powder was replaced by cleaner-burning propellants at the author's reloading table.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cleaning patch after firing and cleaning using the new Alliant Unique proves that Alliant has accomplished its objective: a new propellant that duplicates Unique's performance with significantly less fouling.