My Personal Report Card
To be brutally honest, I’ve not had the opportunity to spend any time behind the trigger of the new Optima; however, I have had the model in hand, and have come to one rather unscientific – and perhaps biased – conclusion: I like my Old School model much better. Not, mind you, that there’s a world of difference between the two.
Yes, the Second Generation Optima does feature some nice-to-have bells and whistles, e.g. the thumbhole stock option, and a slimmer, more streamlined appearance. And while for some, the quick-release breech plug of the new model might seem an absolute necessity, for me, a fanatical cleaner of guns, it’s an improvement somewhat lost personally.
By now, all you folks know how I feel about firearms and simplicity, and if you don’t, my mantra is as follows – The Simpler, The Better. And that, I believe, is what I like best about the Old School Optima, and to damn near the same extent, the Second Generation model; they’re basic firearms, with very few things to go wrong.
Visually, I like the looks of the Old School gun more than the new. There’s just something, well, ruggedly handsome about it; nothing fancy, gaudy, nor high-tech, but not mud fence homely either.
The barrel flutes, at least to me, add to the appearance, but whether or not they contribute to significant heat dissipation is a mystery. As for weight reduction – well, there too, I don’t know how much actual metal has been removed, plus by the time most hunters are finished hanging aftermarket accessories on their Optima, it’s still a 10-pound gun, give or take a couple ounces.
Aesthetics aside, though, my personal Optima is an accurate little rifle, capable of maintaining regulation baseball-sized, or three-inch, groups at 100 yards when stuffed with two 50-grain Pyrodex pellets and a 295-grain PowerBelt bullet.
Interestingly enough, point of impact doesn’t change between hollow points and the polymer-nosed AeroTip style bullets; I had thought it would, at least to some degree. At 50 yards, my Optima prints two inches high which, according to the company’s trajectory tables, brings the 295-grain PB back to zero at not quite 150, or in plain English, plenty of distance for most Midwestern whitetail situations, and then some.
Oh, and as for the bane of many a blackpowder shooter, the cleaning – well, and I mean no disrespect here, but if you’re capable of changing an ordinary light bulb, then you’re more than intellectually suited for maintaining the Optima, old or new.
A half-inch socket – or the supplied tool – removes the breech plug, which is dropped into a Mason jar with a couple inches of #13 black powder solvent. A spritz of bore cleaner, a .50-caliber brass brush, a little elbow grease, and a light coating of Bore Butter tends to the barrel. The breech plug gets scrubbed, the threads lubed with Anti-Seize, and replaced. A final wipe-down of the exterior – and maybe some Viz-Wiz on the scope lenses – and she’s ready for the rack.
Accuracy, aesthetics, simplicity; what more could a hunter ask for, except perhaps a killer bargain? Well, there’s that, too. Digging around on the Web, I found one Old School Optima, a .50 caliber identical to mine, listed on The Sportsman’s Guide site (sportsmansguide.com) for a club price of $197.
Hell, even the non-member price of $249 seems to me a clear cut case of money well-spent. New versions of the Optima range in price from $300 for the gun only (midwayusa.com) to Bass Pro’s (basspro.com) kit that features a scoped and bore-sighted .50 caliber, plus a padded case, for $400. In this day and age, when a tank full of fuel that’s gone in a week can cost $110, $300 for a firearm that lasts a lifetime is a damn good deal.
By the numbers
Make/Model – Connecticut Valley Arms Optima Pro
Caliber/Gauge – .50 caliber
Action/Firing mechanism – Exposed hammer; break-action
Ignition system – #209 Primer; in-line
Weight – 9.13 pounds (with scope)
Barrel length – 28 inches; fluted
Overall length – 44.25 inches
Trigger pull – 2.5 pounds
Sights – Adjustable fiber optics
Scope (as tested) – Cabela’s Alaskan Premium 3-9×40
Stock length – 13.25, with pad
Finish – Matte black
Recoil pad – one-inch;
Safety – Transfer bar
This article appeared in the February 28, 2011 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine. Click here to learn more.
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