CVA Optima Muzzle Loading “Hand Cannon” Pistol

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[ This post was written by Dr. Jim and Mary Clary. ]

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. 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”.

CVA Optima with BSA Huntsman Red Dot

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.

CVA Optima with Bushnell scope

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).

80 gr. of Alliant Black MZ

** Mean muzzle velocity**: 1,291 fps with 260 gr. Harvester Scorpion
50 yard accuracy : average group size – 1 1/8″
100 yard accuracy: average group size – 2 1/2″

80 gr. of Alliant Black MZ

Mean muzzle velocity: 1,310 fps with 250 gr. CVA AeroLite
50 yard accuracy : average group size – 1 1/4″
100 yard accuracy: average group size – 2 3/8″

50 yard target with 80 grains of Black MZ powder & 260 gr. Scorpion PT Gold bullet

90 gr. of Alliant Black MZ

Mean muzzle velocity : 1,374 fps with 260 gr. Harvester Scorpion
50 yard accuracy : average group size – 1 1/2″
100 yard accuracy : average group size – 2 1/4″

90 gr. of Alliant Black MZ

Mean muzzle velocity: 1,392 fps with 250 gr. CVA AeroLite
50 yard accuracy : average group size – 1 3/8″
100 yard accuracy: average group size – 2 1/8″

95 gr. of Alliant Black MZ

Mean muzzle velocity: 1,425 fps with 260 gr. Harvester Scorpion
50 yard accuracy : average group size – 1 5/8″

95 gr. of Alliant Black MZ

Mean muzzle velocity: 1,451 fps with 250 gr. CVA AeroLite
50 yard accuracy : average group size – 1 1/2″

We also ran tests with a single IMR White Hots pellet. Both the Harvester Scorpion and the CVA Aerolite shot exceptionally well with one White Hots pellet and they were fun to shoot.

1 IMR White Hots pellet

Average muzzle velocity: 870 fps with 260 gr. Harvester Scorpion
25 yard accuracy : average group size – 1″

1 IMR White Hots pellet

Average muzzle velocity: 890 fps with 250 gr. CVA AeroLite
25 yard accuracy : average group size – 1″

25 yard target with 1 White Hots pellet & 250 gr. Aerolite bullet

We wouldn’t recommend a single pellet load for deer; however, it would be more than adequate for wild pigs here in the Southwest where they breed like rabbits on speed.

We also tried the Optima with 2 IMR White Hots pellets. The average muzzle velocity was 1,610 fps with the 250 grain AeroLite. However, the recoil was so excessive, reminiscent of when we used to shoot the Herter’s .401 magnum, Jim passed on shooting for accuracy. As such, we would not recommend this load for the Optima pistol.

Specifications
Caliber .50 caliber
Capacity Single Shot
Finish Stainless
Grip Black composite pistol stock
Barrel 14″ 416 Stainless Steel 14″ Fluted
Twist 1:28″ Twist
Overall Length 17.5″
Weight 4 lbs
Sights Durasight base scope mount installed, Drilled and tapped for front and rear sights
Other Features Bullet Guiding Muzzle with QRBP – Quick Release Breech Plug
Miscellaneous Aluminum Extendable Loading Rod

The Optima Pistol is a great little gun and very accurate at ranges out to 50 yards. In a pinch, you can stretch it to 100 yards, IF you have a good rest and some practice at that distance with a pistol. The MSRP of $314.95 is very reasonable. We’re keeping this one!

Related

Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


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  • Nathan B

    If the angle of the stock screw wasn’t changed, this would be stupidly fun to strap a stock on and have a little stubby cannon, as muzzle-loading guns aren’t considered firearms, and thus aren’t governed by the 1934 NFA.

    • Nathan B

      In follow up to my rambling (I’m awful about making multiple short comments like this), Can the barrel be removed from the rest of the receiver without too much trouble? Because if so, I could foresee buying a full-size Optima, and then replacing the barrel on it with the short barrel from this gun to complete a shorty muzzle-loading rifle.

    • noob

      Does this weapon eat pyrodex pellets? how fast can you reload?

      • http://home.earthlink.net/~manzanovalph/ Jim C

        Hi Nathan,
        Yep, the barrel can be removed by taking out one screw on the forend. In fact, the sling lug replaces that screw… however, because of US ATF Regs, CVA cannot make a shotgun or centerfire cartridge barrel without more red tape than a NY ticker-tape parade. But, I sure like the idea of a short barreled shotgun. What a pig and gator gun that would make? Might even be fun for turkeys!

        You can use Triple 7 and/or pyrodex pellets in the gun. I know the CVA field test guy and he found that a combination of 1-50 grain T7 and 1-30 grain T7 pellet (for a total of 80 grains) shot very well. I was going to run tests of them also for the article, but couldn’t find any 30 grain T7 pellets in the stores around me at this time of year.

        I shot the H#ll out of this gun without swabbing … at least 24 rounds on my last day at the range… and only with the last few rounds did I have to “pound” the bullet down.

  • Nathan B

    Also, excellent review! I hope to see more from you two.

  • http://www.cva.com Thomas

    This a great post! I’ll be sharing this will as many as I can.
    Take a look at blog I posted the other day!
    Let me know if you need any help from CVA.
    http://blog.cva.com/a-day-at-the-range-with-thomas-macaulay/

  • http://cva.com Ken

    I used the Optima Pistol exclusively last fall. I loaded it with two White Hots pellets and 300 grain Aerolite. I knew I wasn’t getting a complete burn, but I figured I was getting about 90 grains worth of velocity. With this bullet and powder charge I was getting 2″ at 60 yards.

    The first half of the season I used a Holosight optic. When I went to hunting in the late afternoons I changed to a 2-8×28 Konus Pro. The Holosight worked good, but in deep shadows or dark woods I could see the Holosight image okay I just couldn’t see what it was placed on. The animals blended in too well. The scope gave me better light gathering.

    The Konus Pro has a small bridge length and it will not match up to the factory slots in the DuraSight base. Our gunsmiths cut a new groove into the base between the middle rear scope mount screw hole and the front rear scope mount screw hole. I was able to get it mount properly then.

    I am going to work up a Blackhorn 209 load with the 300 grain Aerolite bullet and then try it on some hogs. Once I get the results I’ll give you an update.

  • Komrad

    2 MOA at 100 yards is pretty damn good for a pistol. Articles like this make me want to get into BP, but I think I’ll stick to my cheap surplus.

  • Will

    “The 14″ stainless steel barrel is drilled from bar stock and button rifled at the Bergara factory with a Rockwell hardness of Rc17.”

    This must be wrong. First of all it is very uncommon to rate any steel on the (H)RC scale that is under 23 you must go to the (H)RB scale for metals that soft. Secondly a (H)RC rating of 17 is ridiculous to even consider using for gun barrel steel. The pressures and abrasion a blackpowder chamber and barrel must endure require tensile strength and impact strength.

    The average heat treated carbon steel barrels run in the 25-35 RC mark and stainless is a whole other story.

    • http://home.earthlink.net/~manzanovalph/ Jim C

      The hardness information comes from the Bergara factory in Spain and Ed. Shilen. For a comparison of the Bergara SS barrels with the blued steel barrels, see our CVA Accura V2 post.
      Also, I found an independent metalurgist who verified the information, as he was testing all of the Spanish barrels coming out of Spain for various US firms. And, as I recall, folks did refer to the US made Springfield military actions as having a Rc17.

  • calool

    looks like a true 21st century dueling pistol! anyone up for handcannons at dawn?

  • Mark Neckameyer

    I wonder if I can use the Optima a a “muzzleloader shotgun”? I know, hard on the rifling but the price is so much lower than similar size dedicated BP shotguns. I can buy a new one for $250. Anhyone ever fir shot n this gun?

  • John

    reciently purchased this pistol….what a blast to shoot…shooting a 200 gr SST over 80 grs of blk horn 209….1/2 ” grp at 50 yds working on 100 yd grps..but looks very good.
    Good vel. abt 1510 – 1600 fps What a cannongetting ready for deer season….Recommend: YES..!!!!!!!!!

  • Link Smith

    Purchased this gun last fall after deer season. In TX around the DFW area ,public land hunting is limited to Bow, Shotgun or Muzzleload. I have been using an Encore 50 cal rifle but really prefer handgun hunting. So I bought the optima and love it. This season I have taken and 8pt on opening day at 100yds and a spike buck 2 weeks later with an 80yd shot. Both one shot kills using Federal 209A primer 80 grains of Blackhorn 209 with a 250 grain Hornady SST sabot. This thing shoots awesome and is pretty darn accurate with these loads for me.

  • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/blog/2012/06/01/cva-optima-muzzle-loading-hand-cannon-pistol/ nick shaffer

    i have a traditions buckhorn pro,inline that im trying to convert to a bolt action pistol.should i have any problem? long barrel had a misshap wanted a pistol any way,any help would be welcome,othere than buy a pistol,im totaly disabled in a wheelchaid,and like everyone money’s short,even in chair the pleasure i get from gun is unreal. if you can help thank’s if not i understand.

  • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/blog/2012/06/01/cva-optima-muzzle-loading-hand-cannon-pistol/ nick shaffer

    i have a traditions buckhorn pro,inline that im trying to convert to a bolt action pistol.should i have any problem? long barrel had a misshap wanted a pistol any way,any help would be welcome,othere than buy a pistol,im totaly disabled in a wheelchaid,and like everyone money’s short,even in chair the pleasure i get from gun is unreal. if you can help thank’s if not i understand.i hope by not getting a responce is because it cant be done? any help one way or the othere is welcome,thank’s for your time. Nick

  • David L. Salter

    Being new to the Blog, this is my short experience. Being in Colorado, I use the replacement peep sight and fiber optic to the front. I used a 295 grain Power belt and loose grain, triple 7 with 70 grains. This was my first time with the pistol. WOW, the recoil was intense. I was a little shocked at it but, the accuracy was amazing. Three holes touching at 50 yards. I shot three, three shot groups at 50 yards, Very nice. At 100 yards, well, a good foot plus grouping. Need a little practice at that distance but the front post nearly takes up the whole peep aperture. LOLOLOLBottom line, it is fun, accurate and am looking forward to a good deer hunt.