The CVA Optima Pro Rifle

By Randy Wakeman

CVA Optima Pro Rifle
Illustration courtesy of Blackpowder Products, Inc.

The CVA Optima Pro 209 camo synthetic .45 caliber weighs 9-1/2 pounds and is surprisingly well balanced. This break open hammer gun has a trigger that breaks at about 4.5 lbs. on the Lyman electronic trigger gauge, with very little take-up and no grit. The already good balance turned out to be even better after adding Warne QR rings and a Nikon Monarch 2 x 7 x 32 scope. A word to the wise, you may want to use the Warne "high" rings if you are mounting a larger scope, as the 32mm tube / medium Warne Ring combination offers enough clearance for Weaver "Polar" caps, but not much more.

The Optima exhibits no blowback at all. Cleaning is a cinch, as you back out the breech plug with the supplied tool (or a common socket set), stick the muzzle in a pail of water, and you are done in a few minutes.

The comparison made by CVA's ad-copy is versus one of my very favorite in-lines, the Thompson /Center Encore. Surprisingly, the Optima's synthetic camo stock set is far superior to the T/C camo "instant collapse" stock, which was quickly replaced by a solid T/C walnut set. Additionally, the ramrod on the CVA is big step up from the Encore's painful factory rod. However, this gun is in no way related to the Encore. The action is virtually identical to the Harrington and Richardson "Topper" shotgun, and is better described as an H&R "Huntsman" with an Encore style stock. Take the forearm off, and the barrel falls to the ground. Even the telescoping ramrod is "borrowed" from the H &R Huntsman.

Aesthetically, the Optima's cheap looking roll engraving is a small distraction, as is the unappealing (but perfectly functional) trigger guard mounted barrel release (the Topper / Huntsman is an upper tang lever barrel break). I was impressed with the solid synthetic stock of the Winchester X-150, and am equally impressed with the job they have done with the Optima.

The best 100-yard accuracy was 3-1/2" through several shooting sessions, with better groups from the 225-grain Powerbelts and 100 grains of Triple Seven than most anything else. Not awe-inspiring compared the much more accurate Austin & Halleck, Knight Elite, and White rifles tested recently, but adequate hunting accuracy nevertheless. The Optima is also priced far less than these other rifles, starting at well under $200 and has a different intended audience.

I'll offer a two part theory for this wonderfully adequate accuracy, aside from the normal loose nut behind the trigger dogma, and the fact that this is only one gun of thousands already sold. With the exception of the White Elite .451, most .45s I have shot are much more finicky in specific loadings than .50 caliber counterparts. To cite one gun, the Austin & Halleck 420 .50 calibers seemingly shoot 1" groups with whatever you care to stuff down the barrel. I've not shot one .45 caliber gun that gives outstanding repeatability with a wide variety of projectile / powder combinations. If nothing else, call it a mildly suspicious trend.

Secondly, few in-lines I have shot give superb accuracy without substantial barrel to stock rigidity. There are different ways individual rifles approach this. The White 98 Elite Hunter has this due to its dual recoil lug system, the Austin & Halleck achieves this via its heavy half-octagonal barrel section, and the Knight Elite finally makes it with its new elongated, forked recoil lug that floats the barrel while offering a bigger footprint. The Thompson Encore gets there due to its sheer over-built action, as one might expect in a muzzleloading firearm that accepts a .375 H & H cartridge barrel.

While adcopy and anecdotal musings might regale you of the "one ratty hole," "three holes touching," and other colloquial terms, the reality is that no manufacturer except Weatherby backs their claims with a written guarantee if your mainstream rifle shoots 3-1/2" on its best day. This should not stun anyone. Ruger, for example, has an accuracy standard of their popular Mini-14 and Mini-30 semi-auto rifles of 2" at 50 yards.

Ian McMurchy, in one of the most extensive independent series of scoped inline blackpowder rifle testing in print, awarded an "A" accuracy level to any rifle that could muster a sub 3" group. Mr. McMurchy's "B" rating was for any rifle that could manage a group from 3-6 inches at 100 yards. McMurchy and his test-shooters discovered their fair share of "B" accuracy grade rifles. That should tell us something.

The H&R Huntsman (upon which the Optima is based) has been available for some time now, but has suffered from sheer ugliness, reputation spillover from the old Topper and the fact that it is a form 4473 firearm, precluding its marketability in the same fashion as a black powder arm. The new H&R 1871, has yet to find its niche. Though in the same price category as the CVA, its lack of visibility in the market place and anemic one year warranty apparently have held it back from universal acceptance.

I have no trouble saying that this is the most user friendly gun CVA has produced to date, and the combination of bargain pricing, easy maintenance, decent trigger, no blowback, and one of the best synthetic break action stock sets I have seen gives this gun great appeal to the price conscious buyer. It comes with CVA's limited lifetime warranty. With the formidable sales skills of BPI, the only problem CVA is going to have with this gun is keeping them in stock.

The dangers of "one incident, one gun" testing have crept in. The first test gun sent to me for testing was a super-heavy triggered model, with a dancing trigger from 10 - 14 lbs. break. I was assured that this was the "exception" by CVA, not the rule. The second gun supplied had a far better trigger, as detailed above. The 3-1/2" group was the best group--not an average. I worked like a dog to get it there, shooting that gun every day for over a week straight, including a few scope changes to be sure the results were gun-based, not scope-based. For the money, for a 50 yard shot, the supplied Optima will certainly kill a deer.

One gun, one testing sequence--though hundreds of rounds were fired. My examples were tested before the CVA Optimas were available for sale to the general public. Later, in comparing notes with other reviewers, I discovered that my initial heavy-triggered monster was the rule, not the exception. Though I believe it has since been corrected, several thousand heavy triggered CVA Optimas are rumored to have been sold.

The gentleman who was sent this same gun after I finished testing it was able to get nothing better than 5" groups, and he is a very competent, very experienced muzzleloader. A replacement barrel was sent to him by CVA. However, it did not fit the action and popped open with the slightest bump. The gun went back to CVA again, and was replaced yet again--apparently a new gun, updated action, with only the original sights remaining. This gun showed far more promise with limited test-firing. There appears to have been widespread initial CVA Optima quality control problems that the savvy shopper should guard against. Due to continuing quality control and safety issues with current "CVA" branded imported product, this rifle absolutely cannot be recommended.

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Copyright 2003, 2006 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.