CVA Optima Muzzleloading Pistol
When we first saw this pistol at the 2012 SHOT Show, we decided that we had to have one for testing. Unlike some other blackpowder pistols, such as the Traditions Vortek, the Optima does not have a 70 grain maximum load limit. The Traditions Vortek has a maximum recommended charge of one IMR White Hots or one Hodgdon Triple 7 pellet or a maximum load of 70 grains of loose powder, with 50-60 grains 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 consequently 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 heavier loads, up to 95 grains in our testing. Beyond 95 grains, the recoil becomes quite excessive and the Optima's accuracy begins to suffer; it is clearly time to back off. Because of its short barrel, the 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 and primed weapon with the hammer cocked.
I know, the latter sounds crazy, but most muzzle loader accidents occur as a result of operator 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. Often, the user has exceeded the manufacturer's recommendation for safe loads. I once hunted with a guy who was using 180 grains of blackpowder in his 50 caliber muzzleloader. He claimed he had been doing it for years. Ok, but don't do it anywhere near me, because sooner or later . . .. Always follow the manufacturers recommendations when loading, firing or hunting with your muzzleloader.
Jim installed a Harris Ultralight Bipod, BR-1A2 to shoot from, rather than using sandbags. 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 our tests, despite recoil equivalent to a .44 magnum. The Huntsman worked fine at 25 yards. However, Jim had a difficult time seeing the dot at 50 yards. As such, although the Huntsman was fine for close range use, we decided that a scope was the best option for the Optima if you plan on using it for hunting.
We had a Konus pistol scope on order for two months, but due to backorders, it never arrived. So, Jim mounted a Bushnell 3-9x40 Sportsman scope on the Optima. We already knew the Bushnell would hold up to the recoil, as it was used on our review 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, we mounted it as far back as possible. It worked for this review, but Jim hopes that the Konus handgun 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 from its 14" barrel, 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. It does recoil with 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 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 projectiles, because of hunter's preferences and state regulations. We fired five rounds with each bullet/load combination over the chronograph. We threw out the highest and lowest value and averaged the three in the middle.
The muzzle velocities are considerably lower than what you find in current tables, as most of those are based on a 28" barrel and you lose between 10 and 20 fps of M.V. for each inch of barrel removed. 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).
Although the 95 grain loads were just about as accurate as the lighter loads, the recoil was quite stiff and unpleasant to shoot. Therefore, we did shoot this load at 100 yards.
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.
We wouldn't recommend a single pellet load for deer. However, it would be more than adequate for small 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 a 250 grain AeroLite bullet. However, the recoil was so excessive, reminiscent of when we used to shoot a Herter's .401magnum, that Jim passed on shooting for accuracy. We would not recommend this load for the Optima pistol; it was clearly beyond the gun's comfort zone.
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 a lot of practice at that distance with a pistol. The MSRP of $314.95 is very reasonable. We're keeping this one!
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