CVA Apex .45-70 Single Shot Rifle
By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
CVA (Connecticut Valley Arms), a BPI brand ultimately owned by Dikar of Spain, is best known for their line of muzzle loading rifles, which are the top selling muzzleloaders in the USA. The Apex rifle that is the subject of this review is, however, not a muzzleloader. It is a break-open action, interchangeable barrel, centerfire rifle along the lines of the familiar T/C Encore. Unlike that rifle, the Apex is not adapted from a single shot handgun design. The Apex was designed from the beginning as a rifle, so its stock design is conventional (note photo above), with no need to accommodate a tang requiring a full, handgun style, pistol grip. This results in a better looking, better handling rifle.
Our test Apex came with a black synthetic stock and a stainless steel barreled action. We are not fans of black synthetic stocks, but if you must endure one, they look better on a stainless barreled action than on a blued barreled action. The two-piece stock has a pleasant, slightly rubberized feel quite different from the usual injection molded plastic. The buttstock features a modest Monte Carlo comb and thin cheek pieces on both sides, making it truly ambidextrous. The conventional pistol grip has a graceful, moderate curve. The butt terminates in an effective, black, "Crush-Zone" recoil pad. The forend is a beavertail type with a Schnabel tip. Instead of molded, four panel checkering, there are rubber inserts for a secure grip. Studs for detachable sling swivels and a CLAW sling are included. Overall, it is a well-designed stock that minimizes the effect of recoil. There is also a Realtree APG camo-dipped stock option available for the Apex. Unfortunately, CVA does not offer a walnut or laminated wood stock option.
The silver 416 stainless steel barreled action has the dull matte finish characteristic of most rifles these days. In natural stainless color, it is not unattractive. The exposed hammer action is opened by pulling up and back on a tang protruding from the trigger guard in a manner somewhat reminiscent of the T/C Encore, but it is smoother and requires less effort to operate. The action is locked closed by a wedge shaped under-bolt that engages the vertical rear surface of the barrel lump. This system eliminates the need for a top lever that could be driven back into the web of the shooter's hand under severe recoil. Locking seems positive and, since the Apex is offered in .300 Win. Magnum, presumably it is adequately strong. A reversible hammer spur is supplied for use with telescopic sights.
The action of our test rifle opened and closed smoothly and locked-up tight. The external hammer is, well, conventional. The "neutral center of gravity" trigger is adjustable for pull weights between 3 and 4.5 pounds. We adjusted ours for the minimum pull weight. The result was a clean trigger pull close to ideal for a big game hunting rifle and generally superior to most of today's lawyer inspired triggers.
The 25", full contour, Bergara (a brand name also owned by Dikar) barrel is drilled from bar stock and button rifled. Externally, the barrel is fluted to reduce weight and aid cooling. A DuraSight (Weaver-type) scope base is factory installed on the barrel, a nice touch. Barrels are supplied in two contours (Standard and Full), depending on caliber. No differentiation in rifle weight between the two barrel contours is noted in the CVI specifications for Apex rifles, but obviously a heavier barrel makes for a heavier rifle.
Apex calibers include .22 LR, .222 Remington, .223 Remington, .22-250, .243 Winchester, .270 Winchester, 7mm-08, .308 Winchester, .30-06, .300 Winchester Magnum, .35 Whelen and .45-70. (Why is 7mm Rem. Mag. not on the list?) There are also .45 and .50 caliber muzzle loading (27") barrel options. Barrels of different calibers may be interchanged by removing the hinge pin, in the manner of a T/C Encore.
We have never had much use for the interchangeable barrel feature. Long experience has taught us that, while interchangeable barrels may sound good in advertising copy, it is generally better to purchase another rifle if a different caliber is desired. Two complete rifles are usually better than a "one size fits all" receiver and two barrels. However, if special circumstances dictate the need for interchangeable barrels, the Apex system is a good one.
We selected .45-70 caliber for our test rifle, which is supplied with a Full contour barrel. Here are the catalog specifications for our test rifle.
BPI has a marketing agreement with Konus and Konus riflescopes are supplied with CVA "package guns." We happened to have a silver KonusPro 2-7x32mm scope on hand from a previous review, so we mounted it on the Apex. The scope is not the same color of silver as the rifle, but it is similar enough to make an attractive combo. This scope was recently on a 9.3x62 caliber rifle, so we did not anticipate any problem with the lesser recoil of the Apex .45-70 and there was none.
Dudley McGarity, BPI's CEO, advised us that the Hornady LeverEvolution .45-70 factory load using a 325 grain Flex-Tip bullet had proved the most accurate in Apex rifles. Unfortunately, .45-70 factory loaded ammunition is currently unavailable in our rural Oregon area due to the Obamanation ammo shortage. We ordered some FTX component bullets for reloading, but they did not arrive in time for this review, so we were forced to rely on reloads using the .45-70 bullets we had on hand. These included the Hornady InterLock 300 grain HP, Remington 405 grain RN-SP and Speer 400 grain FP-SP.
In the course of reloading for the Apex we discovered that the chamber's throat is very short and cartridge overall length (COL) is critical. At the SAAMI specified COL of 2.550" the blunt nose of the 400 grain Speer bullet would jam in the rifling lands and prevent the action from closing. This bullet is a flat-point design and we seated it to the forward crimping groove, but the action still would not quite close. We think it unlikely that bullets heavier than 405 grains can be used in this rifle without being seated unacceptably deep in the case. At the same 2.55" COL the Remington 405 grain round nose bullet functioned correctly, so we used the Remington bullet in our testing.
We handloaded 300 grain Hornady InterLock HP and 405 grain Remington soft point bullets to approximate standard factory load velocities, using IMR 3031 powder behind both bullets. These loads were well within the SAAMI maximum average pressure (MAP) limit of 28,000 CUP. The muzzle velocities were 1810 fps for the 300 grain bullet and 1350 fps for the 405 grain bullet.
According to an e-mail from Dudley McGarity, the Apex is safe for use with mid-level .45-70 +P loads of the type suitable for Marlin lever action rifles. These are usually defined as not exceeding 40,000 CUP MAP. (Note: It is not intended for use with the top level of .45-70 loads, which generate MAP's in the 50,000 CUP range and are for use in single shot Ruger No. 1 and Browning/Winchester High Wall falling block rifles ONLY.) However, in our experience, SAAMI standardized loads are entirely sufficient in the .45-70 and +P loads are simply not necessary. A 300 grain bullet at 1810 fps is beyond deadly on all CXP2 game and a 405 grain bullet at 1350 fps will take all CXP3 game. This is essentially the load that decimated the bison in North America in the latter half of the 19th Century, so it is unlikely that you will need more power than that. If you want an elephant rifle, we suggest you buy a .458 Magnum, not a .45-70.
As usual, we did our test shooting at the Izaak Walton outdoor gun range south of Eugene, Oregon. The summer weather was sunny, about 70 degrees, with a gusty, swirling breeze that was hard to anticipate. Guns and Shooting Online staff members Chuck Hawks, Gordon Landers and Rocky Hays were the shootists. All groups for record consisted of three shots fired at 100 yards from a bench rest using a Lead Sled FTP rest weighted with one 25 pound bag of shot. We did not allow time for the barrel to cool between shots, but the barrel was allowed to cool between shooters. (Question: In the field, do you let your hunting rifle's barrel cool between shots?) Here are the shooting results.
AVERAGE GROUP SIZE FOR BOTH LOADS = 1.89"
As can be seen from the above results, this rifle preferred the 405 grain bullet. However, either load was accurate enough to be deadly on big game animals out to the 166 yard MPBR (+/- 3") of the .45-70/300 cartridge. We have no doubt that with more load development time and still air range conditions we could shrink the group sizes recorded above, but the point is that they are fine right out of the box.
Recoil is always a question with any big bore rifle. In the case of the Apex, according to the "Expanded Rifle Recoil Table" on the Tables, Charts and Lists page, in an 8.5 pound rifle the recoil energy should be about 21.5 ft. lbs. shooting the 300 grain bullet and 18 ft. lbs. shooting the 405 grain bullet. Subjectively, the well shaped stock and soft recoil pad did its job and no one complained about the rifle's kick.
We all appreciated the Apex's good trigger and smooth opening action. Its relatively short overall length should make it well suited for use from a blind, tree stand or as a deep woods stalking rifle. Firearms safety is the shooter's responsibility, but a break-open hammer gun is, mechanically, about as safe as a rifle can be. The Apex would make an excellent beginner's rifle, as well as being suitable for the most experienced single shot rifle aficionado.
In conclusion, we could not find much about which to complain. We like single shot hunting rifles, use them a lot and the Apex seems to be a good design. We would like to see a laminated wood stock version, which would be more attractive as well as functionally superior. Perhaps if enough readers suggest such an addition to the Apex line, CVI will respond, making a good rifle even better.
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