By Guy J. Sagi
The cargo hijacked from tractor trailers each year in the U.S. is valued at more than ½ billion dollars, and the encounters are often violent. Carrying a gun over state lines, especially loaded and ready for action, is a tricky legal problem. In some states and municipalities it is a felony just to possess a loaded firearm in the driver compartment of your vehicle. The old adage, “I’d rather be judged by twelve than carried by six,” may sound great, and you may believe it from your armchair, but on the road in the middle of nowhere, including nowhereland inner cities, the choice may mean life and death, or loss of liberty and livelihood.
One approach, which we discussed in an article called “A Handgun When you Can’t Own a Handgun,” is to carry some sort of non-cartridge black powder firearm. Our focus in the article was the 1858 Remington revolver, but recent booming sales of this CVA Optima V2 we were recently able to test has a lot of people wondering if this little dandy has become a favorite for over the road truckers who want to protect themselves by whatever legal means possible. A muzzleloader doesn’t fall under the Federal definition of a firearm, but beware that in many states an municipalities a non-cartridge firearm is thought of the same way as a cartridge gun. In Las Vegas for example, the law intentionally includes anything capable of launching a “projectile.” New York state specifically addresses non-cartridge firearms, and in Michigan there is no difference between a cartridge and non-cartridge firearm. You even have to buy black powder guns from a gun dealer there. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are getting one over on the anti-gun politicians. Before you decide to carry a black powder firearm as your only “legal” option, make sure it is legal.
The CVA Optima V2 .50 Cal. Pistol would be pretty hard to deploy from concealment in a car, at 18¼ inches long, 5 7/8 inches tall and 1 3/8 inches wide. Thankfully, truck cabs are a little more generous in regard to space and the 14-inch stainless steel barrel allows it to blend nicely with tire iron collections. It’s also heavy, at 3.7 pounds, sans optic, powder and bullet, so it may not be the right gun for those slight of build.
CVA makes some of the most accurate muzzleloaders on the planet, as we’ve seen before. It starts with that Bergara-made barrel. Bergara begins its manufacturing process by first inspecting and straightening each of the steel cylinders that will become a barrel. Not every company subscribes to this step. If a deviation of .004 inch or more is detected the blank is rejected or straightened. Then the barrel is drilled and honed. The interior has a mirror-like finish after this process, thanks to the diamond-tipped bits that leave no machine marks. A carbide bit now passes through the barrel, which produces the rifling (so-called button rifling) needed to stabilize bullets. The entire process can slightly alter the barrel at the molecular level, which can compromise accuracy. The last step in the Bergara barrel-making process addresses that concern by reheating the barrel to relieve stress. The 14-inch barrel in the Optima has a rifling rate of 1 twist in 28 inches and the Spanish company has a well-earned reputation for producing some of the finest barrels available today.
This is a thick gun, .816 inch at the muzzle and .997 inch at the back. CVA uses fluting to reduce a little weight, and it’s not overstated with four of the six grooves measuring 5¼ inches in length. The relatively hidden pair underneath are shorter, only 1¾ inches long.
A Bullet Guiding Muzzle helps ease loading chores on CVA muzzleloaders by effectively holding the bullet fully upright during initial ramrod operation with something of a “throat” for the bullet. This keeps it straight at the start of seating, so as you apply heavier pressure the bullet doesn’t get cockeyed. If you’ve ever started to apply pressure to a bullet on a muzzleloader and had it teeter off center, you know well the frustration this system helps avoid.
The throat is a great idea someone should have figured out a long time ago. CVA stops the barrel’s rifling slightly before it reaches the muzzle end. But, the hole at the muzzle is .520 inch wide, and the smooth sides for the ¼ inch before rifling begins allow the bullet to remain secure until a ramrod is applied.
The Optima has a 4¾ inch DuraSight Z-2 Scope Rail atop its receiver, but eye relief forced the Leupold VX-1 2-7×33 mm mounted for testing as far rearward as it could go. The gun is tapped for iron sights and the rail can be removed by backing out six hex screws.
To fire the gun, the hammer must be cocked. Unfortunately, magnified optics have a habit of getting in the way. The Optima’s extended hammer spur remedies the problem by providing an additional .45 inch of slightly offset gripping surface. The grooved, .284-inch diameter extension ensures purchase in wet or cold conditions and left handers can change the spur to the other side of the hammer.
Triggers on CVA muzzleloaders are always a pleasure. This one had a let-off weight of 2.5 pounds, it was consistent, had no creep and if there was any takeup it was nearly impossible to detect. Many hunting firearms shun triggers this light to avoid accidental discharges, and for good reason. When afield, things are dropped, branches are brushed and feeling can disappear from wintertime fingers. CVA takes advantage of this muzzleloader’s type of operation to provide the kind of trigger shooters dream about.
If you have used muzzleloaders before, you’ll have an instant appreciation of CVA’s Quick Release Breech Plug. The grooved plug is nearly one inch in diameter on the outside and it provides a grip solid enough that no tools are required for removal. In testing it was a breeze to use.
Operation of the Optima is pretty much standard for an in-line muzzleloader. Always make sure the barrel is clear of any obstructions before loading. To do so, you must first open the action.
With the gun pointed in a safe direction, and while keeping your finger off the trigger, grab the pistol by the grip. Wrap your index finger on the spur or extension that comes down from the triggerguard and squeeze. Now with your other hand, grab the barrel away from the muzzle and you will be able to rotate the action open. The barrel will go down relative to the grip.
Unscrew the breech plug and look down the barrel from the back. Make sure there is nothing inside and that it is clean before proceeding. If there is an obstruction, use the ramrod to remove it.
Replace the breech plug, close the gun and you’re ready to load. The Optima V-2 can use up to 100 grains of blackpowder or blackpowder substitute. The minimum recommended load is 50 grains. Never use smokeless powder. Before beginning the loading process, remove the ramrod from underneath the barrel.
If you are using granulated powder, carefully measure your charge in a separate container or flask. Then pour it into the barrel from the muzzle end. If you are using pellets, insert the right number of pellets. For testing we used Hodgdon Triple Seven pellets.
Now take your bullet and insert it into the muzzle. It will sit nicely in the Bullet Guiding Muzzle while you get your ramrod. If you have not done so already, assemble the ramrod with the brass extension provided with the Optima V2. Without it, you will not be able to fully seat the bullet and charge, which can also create a dangerous situation.
CVA’s polymer Palm Saver is an ingenious device that will save you tons of discomfort as you load. Thread it onto the longer piece of the ramrod and you’re ready to push your charge firmly to the bottom of the barrel. The Palm Saver’s shape allows it to ride with the gun and not come off, so feel free to leave it on.
Then use the ramrod to force the bullet down the barrel and ultimately atop the charge (the blackpowder or blackpowder substitute). A bullet starter helps, but isn’t really necessary on a gun this short. It’s also a good idea to mark the ramrod at the muzzle once you’ve successfully loaded to ensure it reaches the same mark every time you load. Muzzleloaders get dirty fast and it’s easy to think the bullet is all the way down when it is not. The bullet must be resting against the charge each and every time the gun is shot.
The last step is to open the handgun and insert a 209 primer into the breech plug. Close the gun and you’re ready to fire. There are no safeties on this gun, except the most important one (between your ears), so don’t cock the hammer until you’re ready to fire and always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.
For testing Remington Kleanbore 209 primers were used and PowerBelt 245-grain AeroTip bullets. The scope set at two power magnification. The RCBS AmmoMaster Chronograph measured the bullets with one, 50-grain Triple 7 pellet at a five-shot average of 893 fps. That load was a downright pleasure to shoot and one of the three-shot groups at 50 yards managed to measure 1.5 inches. Average for all four, three-shot groups was 1.9 inches from a sandbagged rest, though.
Things changed with two Triple 7 pellets. Despite using the same setup, average group size rose to slightly more than four inches and the best measured 3½. The first two shots would be close, then the third would wander for no reason. The same was true with the 1.5 inch group with the reduced charge. The scope appeared firmly anchored after testing, ruling out one possible culprit. Barrel heating didn’t seem to be a problem on the 57 degree testing day, either. Velocity was a scalding 1,537 fps with two pellets. As the gun was set up, it was heavy enough that the off-hand shots taken weren’t painful with the increased charge size, although muzzle rise is significant. But, you’re not going to be taking a fast follow-up with this rig.
No tools were required to remove the breech plug, despite a long range session and the fact this gun gets dirty, fast. All muzzleloaders run dirty, and cleaning them right after shooting is critical.
That dirt also reinforced the importance of marking the ramrod so you know when the bullet is fully back on top of the powder. We didn’t mark it because this is a test gun, and when one of them was not flush against the powder, it acted like a hangfire. The primer went off when the hammer struck, but it seemed like a second or longer before the powder ignited and the bullet exited the gun. Fouling in the barrel may convince you the bullet is all the way back, but it may not be. Scrubbings between each shot remedies the problem (more aggressive scrubbings in our case) and if you suffer a similar fate, remember to keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.
Where legal, the Optima V2 would be a wonderful option for primitive-weapons hunting seasons. It would take two pellets of Triple 7 to humanely drop big game, but with some range time and experimenting with different bullets and maybe changing powder, groups are bound to shrink. It is a Bergara barrel, after all.
Is the Optima V2 at $348.95 a better self-defense choice for long haul truckers than cap-and-ball revolvers, which offer you six fast shots and the ability to carry extra cylinders? Probably not, but if you’re heading afield this year for big game and want an added challenge, it does have performance good enough to fill the freezer.