CVA Optima Muzzle Loading “Hand Cannon” Pistol

    [ 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.

    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!

    Steve Johnson

    I founded TFB in 2007 and over 10 years worked tirelessly, with the help of my team, to build it up into the largest gun blog online. I retired as Editor in Chief in 2017. During my decade at TFB I was fortunate to work with the most amazing talented writers and genuinely good people!