The story behind this week’s Field Gun involves two whitetails, neither of which I killed. The first, a late-season shed-antler buck, was taken in eastern Iowa by 15-year-old Tannor Peska, a young neighbor on his inaugural deer hunt. The shot was made at approximately 40 yards in an open field; the 295-grain PowerBelt hollow point put the buck down as if the proverbial rug had been pulled out from underneath him. No chasing that one – and perhaps best was we could drive right to the fallen whitetail, and load him up simple as that. As one ages, factors such as that become quite significant.
The second, I’m sad to say, was accomplished in my absence; still, I was able to relive each and every second of the hunt via the hunter’s father. As the story goes, this young hunter dropped the hammer on his whitetail, also his first, at an estimated 70 yards. Though the shot was a bit high, the big Iowa doe nonetheless dropped on the spot, the PowerBelt – this one a solid AeroTip style – performing perfectly.
Impressive, yes, that these two young men did so well; however, equally as impressive was the performance of the rifle in the hands of these young nimrods. The gun was a .50 caliber Connecticut Valley Arms (CVA) Optima Pro muzzleloader, which I more than happily loaned the boys. This gun is as fine an introductory frontstuffer as has come down the pike in recent years. Oh, and did I mention accurate?
Before I begin, let me throw out one important note about this particular muzzleloader – it’s no longer available. Now before you throw your hands up and shout “What!” allow me to explain. The Optima Pro, i.e. the one I currently own, is no longer available; however, a new version is on the shelves, and doing quite well.
“We first introduced the Optima in 2003,” said Dudley McGarity, CEO for the Georgia-based Blackpowder Products, Inc. (BPI), umbrella company to CVA. “This was the turning point for CVA in terms of unit sales. Bottom line is the Optima rifles were the right guns at the right time.”
And, it seems, at the right prices, as the company’s dollar sales doubled between 2002 and the introduction of the gun in 2003. But all good things, as they say, come to an end. “The original Optimas were put out to pasture in late 2009,” continued McGarity, “and the new Optima presented to the public at the 2010 SHOT Show.” New technology, as is often the case, was the cause for the demise of the original Optima. “We decided it was time to update the Optima before it got stale in the marketplace,” he said. “But we still inventory all the parts for the original guns.”
My personal Optima, aka The Old Gun, is fundamentally as simple as they come. Technically, she’s a break-action. Think Topper single-shot 20-gauge but as an in-line .50 caliber muzzleloader, with a 1-in-28 twist.
A grooved barrel release, or breeching lever, located at the rear of the trigger guard opens the gun, revealing a removable breech plug into which a #209 shotgun primer fits. Cocking the hammer, extension included, is the final act prior to firing the piece; an internal transfer bar style safety prevents and accidental discharge. Both the ambidextrous Monte Carol stock and forearm are of composite, and the barrel is lightly scored with five 13.5-inch flutes. Fiber optic front and rear sights are standard, as are integral sling swivels.
The new Optima differs from the old largely in aesthetics and niceties; options such as a stainless steel finish, thumbhole stock, and standard DuraSight scope mounts (thumbhole stock only) being but three. There are, however, three significant changes to the new model. These include BPI’s patented Quick Release Breech Plug (QRBP), which allows the plug to be removed without tools – fingers only – after the gun has been fired.
Other easy-out plugs exist; however, removing them after the rifle has been fired has, until now, been questionable or impossible. Secondly, the breeching lever has been relocated to the front of the trigger guard, while the third is a slight redesign of the hammer. Have these modifications created a better beast? If conveniences translate into improvements, then perhaps the answer is yes.