What is the Big Deal About Proof?

By Randy Wakeman

Royal Charter of the London Company of Gunmakers was formed in 1637, which led to the formal introduction of "proof" to England. The Birmingham Proof House was established in 1813, and remains in operation to this day. The purpose is unchanged.

To quote the Birmingham Proof House:

"Proof is the compulsory and statutory testing of every new shotgun or other small arm before sale to ensure, so far as it is practicable, its safety in the hands of the user. Reproof is the similar testing of a small arm which has previously been proved. Both necessarily involve the firing through the barrel of a considerably heavier load than is customary in the shooting field, thereby setting up pressure and stress on barrel and action much in excess of the pressure generated by standard load cartridges. Such pressure should, and is intended to, disclose weakness in guns, whether new or used, for it is preferable that weakness be found at a Proof House rather than in the field, where personal injury may result."

There are two civilian bodies that govern manufacturing and proofing standards throughout the world: the C.I.P, headquartered in Liege, Belgium, and SAAMI in the United States. In the United States, SAAMI publishes the standards approved by ANSI that are voluntary in the United States for use by commercial manufacturers. Membership in SAAMI is not law, it is elective.

The CIP standards, however, are compulsory by law. They are also recognized by all member nations (U.K., Spain, Italy, Finland, France, Russia, Germany, etc.). Military standards (NATO, and so forth) can differ from these civilian regulatory bodies. SAAMI centerfire standards are MAP x 1.3. The CIP has their own standards. However, blackpowder arms languish. The current rule set is here, courtesy of the Birmingham Proof House: http://randywakeman.com/bpcip.pdf

This is where the problems have crept in regarding the guns perpetrated on the public by Traditions and CVA / Winchester Muzzleloading / New Frontier ("B.P.I."). Made in Spain, the guns are proofed by a C.I.P. proof house, but to the very lowest level allowed in order to get the barrels out of the country and into Cabela's, BassPro and Wally World. That pressure level has been the 700 kiloponds per cm2 stamped right on the barrels, an archaic term that translates to a bit less than 10,000 PSI.

A proof mark stating 700kpcm2 does not mean a firearm is guaranteed to fail at a given pressure, clearly many do not. It only means that the proof house states that is the pressure they are tested to. Applying similar standards as used in many centerfires, a 7500 PSI maximum service pressure would be consistent. There are many black powder round ball loads that fall within that parameter, but clearly not today's common 3-pellet loads.

It is my opinion that it is that substandard level of testing by Traditions and CVA, that has resulted in the severe injuries I am independently aware of. Lyman Ballistic Labs data has long proved that a typical 3 pellet Pyrodex load can produce 25,000 PSI or more in frontloaders. Yet, the CIP has no requirements for the testing of Pyrodex pellets, Triple Seven pellets--in fact, no alleged "blackpowder substitutes" at all--just blackpowder values alone as shown at the link above.

The first time the muzzleloader sees this level of pressure, 250% or more of its CIP proof, is often when the consumer pulls the trigger for the very first time. Too often, a call to 911 is the result. All completely needless, these first shot catastrophic failures could easily be avoided. This is in stark contrast to the ultrasound work as published by Pedersoli of Italia, and "over 40 inspections for dimensional changes which would indicate the slightest flaw" there is no evidence that and proper quality controls are in place.

Time and time again, Traditions and CVA have been asked if their muzzleloaders have ever been tested to 20,000 PSI? 25,000 PSI? There has been no answer. Yet, they recommend loads in their inlines that exceed 25,000 PSI in their inline owner's manuals all the time. As their victims know all too well, their guns do fail, and I sadly have been privy to a portion of the carnage. The solution is a pathetically simple one: proof their guns to MAP x 1.3, which I believe would eliminate a great deal of the needless bloodshed.

It will continue as long as the American consumer allows it. They are breaking no laws, they are legally getting their cheap guns out of Spain. Once the containers hit retail in the U.S., they owe the consumer nothing. The CPSC cannot regulate firearms and the BATF does not classify them as firearms: they are "non-GCA of 1968," non form 4473 arms. The customer's only recourse is to seek compensation for personal injuries after the grievous injuries have occurred. Someone should have a big, big problem with the timing of that. I know I do.

It is not that the Spanish are incapable of producing well-tested, properly proofed product. Spanish CF double shotguns and rifles are some of the best, but quality comes at a price. Austin & Halleck used Ardessa S.A. barreled actions; however Austin & Halleck insisted on a higher level of proof than CVA or Traditions and they immediately got it. Austin & Halleck did further testing in the USA and they should be commended for taking these actions to insure consumer safety.

Savage Arms does the industry one better in the production of their Savage 10ML-II muzzleloader. Every single Savage 10ML-II is proof-tested to SAAMI center fire levels (MAP x 1.3) before it leaves their plant. It is not a mandatory SAAMI procedure, but Savage does it with all their centerfires and their muzzleloader is built to the same high standards of quality as their CF rifles. Each one undergoes live fire factory testing before leaving the plant.


In August 1997 CVA implemented a Voluntary Recall of In-Line rifle models with serial numbers ending in -95 and -96. If you have a CVA In-Line model with such a serial number, DO NOT USE OR ALLOW ANYONE ELSE TO USE THE GUN. If you have one of these rifles, please call CVA immediately at 770-449-4687 for complete details and a free replacement gun. Example serial numbers: 61-13-XXXXXX-95 or 61-13-XXXXXX-96.

In May 1999 Blackpowder Products, Inc. purchased the assets of Connecticut Valley Arms, Inc. and now operates under the trade name of Connecticut Valley Arms and/or CVA. Any claims relating to the above described Voluntary Recall should be addressed to Connecticut Valley Arms, Inc., not Blackpowder Products, Inc. Blackpowder Products, Inc. assumes no liability for any products manufactured prior to January 1, 1998.

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Copyright 2005, 2012 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.