Customized CVA Muzzleloading Rifle Kit

By Lt. Col. Bill Finley, USAF (Ret) and Dr. Jim Clary

Customized CVA muzzleloader kit
Photo courtesy of Bill Finley.

I have known Col. Bill for several years, shooting next to him at the Zia Rifle and Pistol Club in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Besides being a better pistol shot than I will ever be, he is a master craftsman.

One day this past spring we got to talking about muzzleloaders. He told me about a kit-gun that he bought and modified several years ago. This caught my attention. The following is a description of what Col. Bill went through to turn a generic CVA kit rifle into a true work of art.

The rifle in the title picture underwent major modifications. It went from being just a kit to a rifle that folks would ask, "Where did you get that?" Bill built this rifle using only the kit's rifled barrel, drum, nipple, breech plug, tang, butt plate, stock and the front half of the trigger guard.

The kit was purchased from the New Mexico Territorial Gun Shop in Albuquerque in 1979. Bill decided to buy that particular kit due to its far better than normal quality figured maple stock. Life is too short to work with poor quality wood.

Bill gave serious thought to what could be done before work was started. He decided that the kit could be modified to reasonably represent a Golden Age, late flintlock era, Virginia full stock rifle that had gone west in the early mountain man and fur trade era. A rifle of that initial pedigree might have been modified in St. Louis to better suit it for service on horseback.

Thus, it would need a new percussion lock, a shortened barrel and suitable replacement parts, such as a nose cap and under rib to make it more robust as a half stock rifle. The 32 inch barrel length in the CVA kit was suitable for such a plan.

Step one was to throw away the Spanish made lock. The same was done with the nose cap, under rib, thimbles, wedges, under lugs, wedge plates, triggers, ramrod and sights.

The most critical new part made from scratch was a lock that would fit in the existing wood recess with a lock plate just enough larger in size to assure a clean, tight interface of the lock plate-to-wood inlet. A new iron side plate opposite the lock was made, along with new lock retention screws. Other new parts included an under rib, new thimbles, under lugs, barrel retention pins, a nose cap, toe plate, trigger, trigger plate, ramrod and new sights.

Matching hard maple was used to fill the four wedge escutcheon inlets, so that pins could be used instead of wedges. This was to give the look (at first glance) of earlier flintlock architecture.

The stock CVA ramrod channel in the fore-stock was filled with a block of maple and a new ramrod hole was drilled in the fore-stock for the new ramrod, which is larger than the one provided in the kit. This assured a stiffer, more durable stock.

Matching maple was also used to fill the hugely oversized lock inlet in the kit, so the new lock could be properly inlet to conform to the shape of the internal lock parts. The missing wood at the top of the lock recess needed to accommodate the original Spanish lock's poor hammer architecture was filled and shaped to show a continuous lock boss, as it should be, at the top of the lock plate. A block of maple was fitted and epoxied into the trigger inlet area, adding strength in that part of the stock.

The bow and front part of the CVA trigger guard was retained and a new rear portion was fabricated and welded to the front trigger guard portion. Major filing reshaped the trigger guard, putting flats on the bow. The trigger guard, entry thimble and tang were given some minor engraving.

The new trigger was made in a style that would conform to a look of a flintlock era origin. The trigger pull was worked down to a three pound pull.

The CVA iron butt plate was given filed flats and a flintlock era wedding ring decoration at the front of the heel extension. The new iron thimbles were given a raised ring appearance at each end, as well as flats on each one. An iron toe plate was made. It was given a flower blossom and scroll inlay of brass, which was engraved.

The stock was raised carved in a rococo pattern style. It is an original pattern; not a copy of any old rifle. Carving was deemed suitable to the intended flintlock era of the rifle, if it had been a high quality flintlock. That origin concept was carried forward to include carving behind the tang, in keeping with the style of stock carving done in Virginia; also around the lock boss, as well as at the entry thimble.

The completed rifle has been used during two elk hunts and several deer hunts. It is very accurate with round balls. The best hunting load is 120 grains of FFg DuPont powder, .530 inch round balls and bed ticking patches lubricated with a mixture of mutton tallow and pine tar.

This lube is one I have used since 1965. The recipe was given to me by Bill Large, the well known Ohio barrel maker. It is a recipe that never gets rancid or fails to perform. At a range of 75 yards, the rifle will put five shots into a single, ragged hole, if the shooter does his part.

Bill has had a lot of fun answering questions about where he got the gun. "I got it from CVA," he says, "but I did a bit of extra work on it."

Looking at the picture one has to agree. Bill Finley is a master craftsman of the old school sort. Incidentally, he won't sell the rifle to me, no way, no how!

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Copyright 2016 by Jim Clary and/or All rights reserved.