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Can You Stand the Recoil?

Can you stand the recoil? If you can, I have the muzzleloader pistol for you.

I recently had the opportunity to enjoy a day of shooting the most powerful muzzleloader handgun I have ever shot – the CVA Optima Muzzle Loading “Hand Cannon.” This single-shot pistol can push a 250-grain .50 caliber sabot at speeds exceeding 2,000 fps – if you can stand the recoil.

If you keep your loads under 1,800 fps, the recoil is manageable (for those of you who are used to shooting large caliber handguns) and very accurate out to a range of 100 yards.

If I had spent more time (and endured more punishment to my hand), I probably could have worked up a 150-yard load, but to me 150 yards with a handgun is a very long way, and my hand had had enough after the 100-plus rounds I put through it.

A few years ago, another company came out with a pistol similar to the CVA Optima, but the recommended maximum load for the Traditions Vortek pistol is 70 grains of powder, and the recommended load of 50 is 60 grains.

The Vortek’s wimpy maximum load – less than 50% of the recommended load for the CVA Optima – limits the range and size of game you would be able to hunt, with the bullet only traveling at 800-1,000 fps.

The Optima comes with a Weaver-style scope rail, but you can order a set of front and rear open sights for under $30. I really wanted to mount some sort of red dot or scope, as I would be trying to hit the dot in the “i.” With my tired eyes, I needed a sight that was easier for me to dial in, so I decided on the TruGlo Red Dot.

This sight has a 5 MOA dot, which is easy to see in bright daylight or at dusk and has adjustable rheostat controls that allow you to turn the intensity from bright to dim with both red dot and green. The only flaw I found with this sight was the included flip-up lens covers did not fit snugly enough and kept falling off. To remedy this, I wrapped two layers of electrical tape on the scope, and that fixed the problem. The lens covers hid the tape, so you couldn’t even tell it was there.

I also applied a small amount of Never Seize to the threads on the breech plug. You can find several types of other lubricants for this, but I have been using Never Seize for many years with great success.

At the range, I set up my first target at 15 yards to sight-in the scope, even though I had bore-sighted it in at the house using the BSA Bore Sighting tool. After a few rounds at the 15-yard distance, I moved the target out to the 25-yard range and started to have some fun. I only shot a few loads at the 25-yard range before moving out to 50 yards, where most of my work was done.

Powders used were: Blackhorn 209 (my favorite), Triple 7 loose powder, White Hot Pellets and Alliant Black MZ. Bullets used were: Power Belt 285-grain hollow point, Power Belt 295-grain hollow point, Hornady 350-grain FPB’s, Hornady 250-grain SST and Harvester Scorpion 260-grain.

Primers used were: CCI 209 shotgun.

After about 100 shots at the 50-yard range I moved on out to the 100-yard target. This is where this pistol really performed. On that same day, I had my Ruger Old Army that is darn accurate at 25 yards, but failed to impress me at distances past 50 yards. At the 50-yard mark, I had a hard time trying to find the small, one-inch target dot with iron sights.

At the 100-yard range, I shot all of the same loads as at the 50-yard target, with no variation in powder measurements. For the most part, the loads that were most accurate at 50 yards held true out to 100 yards with a few exceptions. The 260-grain Harvester Scorpion in front of 70 grains of Blackhorn 209 shot 1-inch groups at 50 yards, but 1.2-inch groups at 100 yards. And, the Hornady 250-grain SST pushed by 70 grains of Triple 7 shot the same at both distances.

At the 100-yard range I also loaded a few rounds with 150 grains (the maximum load for this pistol) of powder. Boy, that was way too much recoil for me! The accuracy dropped way off with the 150-grain load, to the point that my groups had opened up to 3 to 4 inches.

Some of this might have been from my flinching in anticipation of the stout “thump,” but the first few shots I am pretty sure I held the pistol steady. I do not recommend loading more than 100 grains, due to the recoil, not to mention that when the bullet exited the barrel, there was still a big bunch of powder that had not burned, which was noticeable from the flames exiting the barrel.

At 100 grains, you still get about 1,400 fps and about 1,700 foot pounds of energy with the Hornady 350-grain bullet and enough knock-down power for anything I will be hunting. This load is a little more powerful than a .44 Magnum and almost right there with a .454 Casull. I bet Daniel Boone would have liked one of these. This handgun is one of the nicest black powder guns I have ever shot. With a maximum load of 150 grains – with 100 or less grains doing the job as well as we could want – this pistol should last about forever.

I was also impressed with the quick release breech plug. It is very easy to remove, thanks to the large textured end being easy to grip – even with sweaty hands. The trigger was set at around 3 lbs. (and not user-adjustable), which is just about right for hunting. The metal is all coated, non-reflective stainless steel, and both the forearm and pistol grip are textured with a non-slip surface for easy handling.

The CVA Optima pistol is a breeze to take apart and clean. Using Black Horn 209, it is not much more messy than a smokeless powder gun. If I could change anything about this pistol it would only be one thing – installing a soft rubber pistol grip. Everything else is just perfect. I am going to keep this one. It will be a great addition to my muzzleloading arsenal – which I get to hunt with a whopping one week. Or, I could start carrying this with me during modern gun season.

Now that I have this pistol, I guess I will have to find a home for my Ruger Old Army and the few Pietta pistols I have, because after shooting the CVA Optima, the others seem anemic.

Here is a helpful link for this pistol: http://www.cva.com/

NOTE: NEVER USE ANY QUANTITY OF SMOKELESS POWDER IN ANY MUZZLELOADER! The use of smokeless powder in your muzzleloader will create dangerously high pressures upon ignition, which will likely lead to severe injury or death to the shooter and bystanders. The use of smokeless powder will immediately void the warranty.

If all firearms were treated as if they were loaded, there would be no more accidental shootings. Shoot Straight, Shoot Safe!


Jim Hammond has had some sort of gun in his hand since he was 5 years old. He started with a Daisy BB gun as a small boy, and with careful instruction from his very safety-minded father, has become a skilled and knowledgeable shooter now willing to share his knowledge and experience as he has FUN SHOOTING. “Safety first and everything else will follow.”