CVA Optima Muzzle Loading “Hand Cannon” Pistol

When we first saw this pistol at the 2012 SHOT Show, we decided that we had to have one for testing. Unlike other blackpowder pistols, such as the Traditions Vortek, the Optima does not have a 70 grain maximum load limit. The Traditions has a maximum recommended charge of one IMR White Hots or one Hodgdon Triple 7 pellet and a maximum load of 70 grains of loose powder, with 50-60 being the recommended charge. These numbers come from the Traditions Vortek In-Line Pistol Addendum Warranty & Shooting instructions pdf. These loads produce velocities in the range of 800 – 1,000 fps and severely limit your range for hunting.
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As such, the Vortek is not a gun that a serious blackpowder hunter should consider. These limitations probably explain why the Vortek has never caught on. The Optima will safely handle loads up to 120 grains of loose powder (as reported to me by another field tester); however, with loads beyond 95 grains, the recoil becomes quite excessive and the accuracy begins to suffer. The latter is a function of the short barrel and the fact that powder is still burning as the bullet exits the barrel.
CVA engineers spent several years developing this gun. The action is the same as found on the Optima Rifle, except the angle of the stock bolt has been changed to accommodate the pistol grip. The 14″ stainless steel barrel is drilled from bar stock and button rifled at the Bergara factory with a Rockwell hardness of Rc17. It is fitted with the patented CVA breech plug (QRBP). The 3/4″ threaded breech plug eliminates blowback.
As one should expect, when the gun is cocked, you cannot open the breech… the breeching lever is “locked”. If the breech is open and the hammer is cocked, you cannot close the breech. This safety feature goes a long way in preventing an accidental discharge, should someone put their finger on the breeching lever, instead of the trigger, or perish the thought, attempt to close the breech on a loaded & primed weapon with the hammer cocked.
I know, the latter sounds crazy; BUT, most muzzle loader accidents occur as a result of user error; i.e., not seating the bullet all the way down, which creates a plug in the barrel causing the gun to blow. OR, the shooter has mixed different powders or used smokeless powder. While the powder issue seems like a no-brainer, there are a lot of uninformed folks who still believe that you can mix blackpowder subs or use “light” smokeless powder loads in a “Black
Powder Only” muzzleloader. And finally, the user has exceeded the manufacturers recommendation for safe loads. I hunted with a guy who was using 180 grains of blackpowder in his 50 caliber muzzleloader…. claimed he had been doing it for years. Ok, but don’t do it anywhere near me, because sooner or later……………..enough said! Follow common sense safety procedures and manufacturers recommendations when loading, firing or hunting with your muzzleloader.
Jim installed a Harris Ultralight Bipod, BR-1A2 to shoot from, rather than sandbags, as few hunters take sandbags with them into the field, but a lot of folks use bipods. We spent two days at the Zia Rifle and Pistol Club in Albuquerque, NM to calculate the chronograph values for the loads that we would be testing and another three days punching holes in targets to determine the accuracy of our “new toy”.
For the first round of shooting, we used the BSA Huntsman Red Dot sight. Although not made for high power firearms, it held true throughout all of our tests, despite recoil equivalent to a .44 magnum. The Huntsman worked fine at 25 yards; but, Jim had a difficult time seeing the dot at 50 yards. As such, although the Huntsman was well made and fine for close range, we determined that a scope was the best option for the Optima if you plan on using it for hunting at distances greater than 25 yards.
We had a Konus pistol scope on order for two months, but due to backorders, it never arrived. So, Jim mounted a Bushnell 3-9×40 Sportsman scope on the Optima. We already knew the Bushnell would hold up to the recoil, as it was used on our tests of the CVA Accura V2 in 2011. Of course, there was one problem: The Bushnell was a rifle scope, with a short eye relief. Hence, in the photo, you see it mounted as far back as possible. But, it worked, but Jim hopes that the Konus scope arrives before our fall hunting season. Unlike conventional pistols, you do not want to hold the Optima at arm’s length. It is, as one would expect, a bit “muzzle heavy”. It is better to use the bipod for stability and keep it far enough away from your face to avoid a scope cut when it recoils……… and it does recoil with the heavier loads.
Our velocities were measured on the Chrony Alpha Master, at an elevation of 5,232 with air temps averaging 75F. They are provided for comparison purposes to give one an idea of how these bullets and load combinations perform. We used the 260 grain Harvester Scorpion PT Gold with CRS sabots and the 250 grain CVA Aerolite bullets. We chose these two because of hunter’s preferences and state regulations. We fired five rounds with each bullet/load combination for chronograph values. We threw out the highest and lowest value and averaged the three in the middle.
The muzzle velocities will be lower than what you find in any current tables as most of them are based on a 28″ barrel, and you lose between 10 and 20 fps of M.V. for each inch of barrel below that. Hence, a 250 grain Aerolite with two White Hots pellet load out of a 28″ barrel will yield a M.V. of ~1,819 fps, but out of the Optima’s 14″ barrel, we recorded a muzzle velocity of 1,610 fps (~12.2% reduction).


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