Sidelock Muzzleloading Rifles by CVA

You Can Shoot Them

For over thirty years CVA (Connecticut Valley Arms) supplied a variety of inexpensive sidelock muzzle-loading rifles to the American Market. Advertised with the motto, "You Can Shoot Them", CVA rifles were manufactured in Spain and imported into the United States by the hundreds of thousands.

For the price they were hard to beat and while they might not have been historically accurate replicas, they were generally well made of decent quality materials. Both flintlock and caplock rifles were sold assembled or as unfinished kits. With easy to build kits often priced below 100 dollars, they were a muzzle loader for the masses.

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My CVA Rifles

Top: CVA Frontier Carbine - The finish on the stock is straight linseed oil applied over a period of years.
Bottom : CVA Kentucky Rifle - The finish on the stock is an oil based wood stain covered with several applications of tung oil.

While I primarily shoot cartridge firearms, I do dabble with caplock guns from time to time.

I still have the first black powder rifle that I have ever bought. Ordered through the mail almost 20 years ago, it is a CVA (Connecticut Valley Arms) Frontier Carbine1 in 50 caliber, that I assembled from a kit. Manufactured in Spain for CVA, if memory serves, I paid about a hundred dollars for it.

It is pretty much a simplified hawken type rifle with a relatively short, 24 inch barrel.

Ten years later, I paid 30 dollars for an unfired CVA Kentucky Rifle at a swap meet. Also a kit rifle in 50 caliber, the rifle was assembled and the stock had been varnished but it was missing the cleanout screw and muzzle cap.

Fortunately I was able to procure some parts that would work. I also sanded off the old finish and the applied a stain covered with tung oil. Though the bulk of the inleting and shaping for these stocks are done at the factory, the wood in these kits always show tool marks and often the new owner is so eager assemble the piece that they never do a proper job of sanding out these imperfections.

CVA Frontier Carbine CVA Kentucky Rifle
Overall Length 40.0 inches 48.0 inches
Weight (lbs) 6.2 7.0
Caliber 0.50 0.50
Barrel Length 24.0 inches 33.5 inches
Barrel Twist 1 in 48 inches 1 in 48 inches

Load Development

Finding an accurate load that works for target shooting or hunting is often a process of trial and error.

The first consideration of load development is knowing what the maximum safe powder charge that can be used in your firearm with a given type and weight of projectile.

On page 5 of the warranty information pamphlet that I received with my Frontier Carbine many years ago, it lists 100 grains of FFG black powder as the maximum charge in 50 caliber for both patched ball and conical.

Most CVA sidelock rifle barrels including mine are stamped with the maximum pressure rating of "700 Kp/cm2" which stands for Kiloponds per square centimeter, an obscure term of german origin equivalent to Kilograms per square centimeter. By multiplying by a factor of 14.2, this tranlates to maximum pressure of about 9950 pounds per square inch.

In the book, "Muzzleloading For Deer And Turkey", Author Dave Ehrig references a chart from the Lyman's 2nd Edition Black Powder Loading Manual which lists pressures for two 50 caliber patched ball loads fired from a TC Hawken Rifle with a 28 inch barrel with a 1 in 48 inch barrel twist.

According to that chart, a charge of 90 grains of FFG blackpowder will produce a muzzle velocity of 1650 feet per second and peak pressures of 7000 psi. Using 90 grains of the finer granulation, FFFG (triple f) will increase the muzzle velocity to about 1800 fps but pressures will spike to 9900 psi (Ehrig 141), the top limit for barrels stamped for 700 kiloponds per square centimeter.

Often the most powerful load is not necessarily the most accurate load. Consider the two rifles mentioned above, both have a barrel twist of 1 turn in 48 inches. This is often referred to as a "compromise twist" between the slow twist (1 in 66" or 72") traditionally used in rifles designed for patched roundballs and the fast twist(1 in 30") used for heavier conical projectiles. The idea is to provide acceptable accuracy using either type of projectile.

In 50 caliber barrels having a 1 in 48 inch twist, it has been my experience that when using a patched roundball that a powder charge of 70-75 grains of FFG powder is generally the most accurate load.

I tried a relatively mild load with Hodgdon Pyrodex measured by volume with a setting of 75 grains of blackpowder. By weight, this amounts to 52.5 grains of pyrodex. CCI #11 percussion caps were used.

CVA Frontier Carbine
0.490" dia 177 grain Patched Round Ball
Range Velocity EnergyImpactDrop
(Yards)(FPS)(Ft Lbs)(Inches)(Inches)
0 1510 896 -0.5 0
25 1364 731 1.6 0.6
50 1245 609 2.6 2.4
75 1147 517 2.1 5.6
100 1072 452 0.0 10.4
125 1013 403 -4.0 17.2

CVA Frontier Carbine
Lee 50 Cal REAL 320 grain
(Yards)(FPS)(Ft Lbs)(Inches)(Inches)
0 1163 961 -0.5 0
25 1108 872 2.4 1.0
50 1063 803 3.6 3.7
75 1025 747 2.8 8.4
100 992 699 0.0 15.1
125 963 659 -5.1 24.1
CVA Kentucky Rifle
Lee 50 Cal REAL 320 grain
(Yards)(FPS)(Ft Lbs)(Inches)(Inches)
0 1260 1128 -0.5 0
25 1189 1005 2.1 0.8
50 1131 909 3.2 3.2
75 1082 832 2.5 7.3
100 1041 770 0.0 13.2
125 1006 719 -4.5 21.2

At 125 yards all projectiles have a muzzle velocity of about 1000 fps but the round ball load has not retained its energy nearly as well at the conical projectiles.

CVA Frontier Carbine
Lee 500-360-M Minie Ball
(Yards)(FPS)(Ft Lbs)(Inches)(Inches)
0 1145 1071 -0.5 0
25 1099 987 2.5 1.0
50 1061 920 3.6 3.8
75 1028 864 2.8 8.5
100 999 816 0.0 15.3
125 973 774 -5.0 24.3
CVA Kentucky Rifle
Lee 500-360-M Minie Ball
(Yards)(FPS)(Ft Lbs)(Inches)(Inches)
0 1210 1196 -0.5 0
25 1154 1088 2.2 0.9
50 1108 1003 3.3 3.43
75 1069 934 2.6 7.7
100 1035 875 0.0 13.9
125 1005 825 -4.6 22.2

This group at 50 yards shows that acceptable hunting accuracy can be achieve with a relatively mild powder charge.

CVA is no More

Before you shoot off an email to me stating that CVA is still in business, you should understand that after a somewhat disastrous foray into the manufacture and sale of some poorly designed and constructed inline muzzle loaders, CVA became the target of a number of lawsuits from people who were injured as result of firing these rifles. To legally separate itself from this problem, the management of CVA created a new company called Blackpowder Products Inc in 1999 to which it transferred CVA's assets including the brand name but not its liabilities.

As a consequence of this transfer of assets, the limited lifetime warranty on my Frontier Carbine is not worth the paper that it's printed on 17 of my warranty booklet (CVA 17).

If you go onto the current website you will find the statement,
"Blackpowder Products, Inc. assumes no liability for any products manufactured or sold prior to January 1, 1998. "

The CVA brand is now just a tradename used by BPI Outdoors, a wholely owned subsidary of a foreign corporation based in Spain.

Gone are the old fashioned sidelocks. BPI Outdoors stopped selling them in January 2005 and they sold off their inventory of side hammer parts for CVA firearms soon after. In light of that, it seems unlikely that the company will ever be able to make good on its "lifetime mechanical warranty" even for sidelock rifles sold after 1999 by BPI Outdoors.

BPI still sells muzzleloaders under the CVA brand but they are now the more expensive modern inline rifles marketed to deer hunters.

A word of caution is in order for anyone interested in buying a CVA inline. In light of the recent track record of the company, it seems optimistic to think that you will be able to get warranty repair service or parts 5 or 10 years down the road for a CVA inline rifle, lifetime warranty or not.


CVA "Warranty Information : You can shoot it " Connecticut Valley Arms, Inc. 1992 p. 5, 17
Ehrig, Dave "Muzzleloading For Deer And Turkey" Stackpole Books 2005 p. 141 Google Books.
Nonte, George C. "Home Guide to Muzzle Loaders" Stackpole Books 1974 p. 37
Blackpowder Products, Inc "CVA | St. Louis Hawken" January 18, 2005 Accessed (Nov 6, 2012)

1. According to page 234 in "Guns Illustrated - 1981", the CVA Frontier Carbine was first sold in the U.S. in 1980.

The author of this page can be contacted at loreofguns at