Dangerous Muzzleloaders

By Randy Wakeman

In my opinion, far too many people have had their lives destroyed by reportedly using cheap imported muzzleloaders as directed by manufacturer's printed instructions. There are no muzzleloading standards and there is no governing body on the American muzzleloading scene to effect any semblance of quality control or reasonable safety testing.

According to one attorney, his client is an ex-marine who has been trained for about 13 years on how to clean, load and fire a muzzle loading rifle. The accident occurred three days after he received the rifle as a gift from his daughter. It was a new Traditions .50 caliber inline. The attorney believes he was using the gun as directed by the manufacturer on the date of the accident. The man has lost his right hand as a result of the explosion.

Another attorney's report details how a man purchased a new CVA .50 caliber inline, a package of .50 caliber / 50 grain Hodgdon brand Triple Seven propellant pellets, a package of Winchester brand W209 Primers and a CVA brand .50 caliber Complete Muzzleloading Accessory Outfit at a chain store, according to the receipt. A short while later, one primer was fired per the instructions and then, to sight in the muzzleloader, loaded 3 of the 50 grain pellets, a .50 caliber "PowerBelt" 295 grain hollow point bullet with plastic "sabot" snap-on base and a W209 primer.

He fired the muzzleloader and the barrel exploded. His wife was present at the scene of the accident. She transported him to the hospital ER. This man was in the emergency room within about two hours of his new purchase. Two surgeries have already been performed in an attempt to repair the damage to his hand as a result of the explosion. More are indicated.

In another incident, a different man, with approximately 20-25 years of experience hunting with muzzleloaders / black powder guns, was target shooting on a Saturday with a friend, using his CVA inline. The hospital reports that after being stabilized x-rays were taken which revealed a "large metallic FB with spring located at the angle of the mandible."

In yet another CVA incident, a man with ten years of muzzleloading under his belt was sighting in a new scope on his CVA inline. His brother and nephew were present. After a catastrophic failure, his injuries reportedly consisted of a torn right nostril from the base of the nostril to just below the right eye socket. It took 40-45 stitches to close this wound. His nose and his right cheek bone were broken.

A concerned consumer recently wrote to Mark Hendricks, Technical Manager, Connecticut Valley Arms (CVA), 5988 Peachtree Corners East Norcross, GA 30071. The letter describes how a design defect nearly caused the death of this man's son-in-law. It reads, in part:

"My opinion as a graduate engineer is that CVA has a critical design defect, which should be corrected immediately, and should require a product recall. In addition to this problem, we discussed the rationale for specifying barrel strength, and I asked you what the strength of CVA muzzleloader barrels was. You would only tell me that the "minimum specification" was 700 kp/cm2. In other words, you would not tell me at what load pressure the barrel would burst. Is this the same attitude that I heard your customer service technician express when he said that the problem I reported had never occurred, therefore it was not possible?"

Jim Bruno, VP of Traditions Firearms, e-mailed me a while back, stating in part:

"Randy, Do you think that we would make a firearm that would not support charges that we advertise and market to the public of the United States of America? I know that you are evaluating and comparing muzzleloaders of different companies in the black powder industry and have done a pretty thorough job, but understand that every time you write or speak any negative comments about our industry you provide ammunition for the people who do not believe that the 2nd amendment exists."

Well, Jim, I'll answer you here and now. First of all, you are apparently unaware of what you are selling. You manufacture no muzzleloaders; you merely import them from a company in Spain. You have no known testing facilities of your own. You have been unable to show that your imported frontloaders are tested with the charges you recommend--charges that are not recommended by powder manufacturers.

It is a "red herring" argument to attempt to turn your lack of knowledge about your own product into a 2nd Amendment issue. The 2nd Amendment is not an entitlement for you to foist substandard product, built to unknown or non-existent standards, on the American consumer.

Terry L. Eby, BPI National Sales Manager / Retail, e-mails in part:

"Randy: I don't consider my language careless and I absolutely stand by my opinion that your position has no basis in fact--but much in conjecture and assumption. If your implication that we would knowingly put our customers at risk is not defamatory, I don't know what is."

Unfortuantely, Terry, the "basis in fact" will be presented to you in court, as your injured consumers have no other recourse. Your company, "BPI," is Spanish owned and operated. The brands you peddle, CVA, Beartooth and Winchester Muzzleloading still come from the same factory that the defective CVA Apollo came from, with the same steel, don't they?

This is the CVA Apollo gun that had so many personal injury claims filed against it, is that not true? I have seen nothing to indicate that your sub-standard proofs and poor quality control is any better now than it was then.

If you don't believe the printed results from Lyman Ballistic Laboratories showing 25,000 PSI peak pressures in three pellet loads that you recommend in your manuals for use in your guns that bear a 10,000 PSI area House of Eibar definitive proof mark, you are welcome to take it up with them.

Hodgdon Powder Co. recommends that only two 50 grain equivalent Pyrodex or Triple Seven pellets MAXIMUM be used in .50 caliber inlines. You recommend three. By whose authority is this done? (NEVER exceed a powder manufacturers maximum recommended charge and always approach maximum loads with caution. -Editor.)

The pity of all this is that proven safe, quality muzzleloaders have never been more plentiful, or more affordable. Knight Rifles, NEF/H&R and Thompson/Center Arms offer or have offered exemplary inline muzzleloading rifles that you won't be betting your life on. The Savage 10ML-II is the best built frontloader of them all, using the Savage magnum centerfire barrel as a starting point.

I've heard and seen enough of this nonsense to last me several lifetimes. Cheap, extruded barreled rifles should give anyone pause. This isn't just my opinion: you won't find muzzleloading legends like Doc White, Henry Ball, or Del Ramsey dissenting. It is my considered opinion that muzzleloading rifles proofed to only 10,000 PSI are not fit to be used.

There is a body of evidence that shows the CVA branded guns recalled in 1997 can be dangerous with factory recommended loads. Firearms use, in general, is a very safe sport, with firearms related injuries falling year after year. In fact, a new report from the National Safety Council shows that accidental firearm related fatalities remained at record lows in 2004. Statistics in the council�s �Injury Facts 2005-2006� show a 48 percent decrease over a 10-year period ending in 2004 (the latest year for which data is available at the time of this writing). There are, fortunately rare, exceptions. CVA's recalled guns, deficient in design, materials and quality control (in my opinion) gave the great sport of muzzleloading a bad name.


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, 2016 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.