CVA’s Optima and Traditions’ Vortex Muzzleloading Hunting Pistols

CVA’s Optima (Top) and Traditions’ Vortek (bottom.)

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Handgun hunting is a small part of the overall hunting market, and those of us who use muzzleloading pistols to bag our deer, hogs and other game are a tiny minority of hunters. Often, there has been only one company offering such a muzzleloading handgun designed for hunters in any given year, but 2012 is a banner year.  Both CVA and Traditions now have deer hunting handguns in the marketplace.

No doubt about it. These are large guns and they need to be to burn sufficient amounts of black power (or substitutes) to propel .45-caliber saboted bullets or .50-caliber bore diameter bullets into game like whitetail deer, wild hogs and even some African species. Although I have had the Optima out hunting, I have not been lucky enough to have any game before the gun yet, but wanted to write this entry because of the large amount of interest in these guns and how they compare with each other.

In looks, the Vortex is the sexier gun, but appearances do not kill much game. The Optima with its inch-longer barrel is the heavier gun by a 1/4-pound and slightly longer. Both have relieved muzzles for easy loading, both have rails for mounting Red Dot or optical sights and both employ a push button in front of the trigger guard to break the falling-barrel action. The Vortek also has a detachable trigger assembly for easier cleaning.

Traditions recommends an 80 grain maximum charge of black powder in the Vortek, whereas CVA says that their Optima will do fine with 100-grain charges. I have had considerable experience taking game with a Thompson/Center Arms 209X.50 muzzleloading Encore with a 15-inch barrel and usually use two Pyrodex or Triple Seven pellets, a Wonder Wad and a 370-grain T/C MaxiBall in this gun. This load can  be depended on to penetrate 28-inches of tough deer, hog or wildebeest.

For the first shooting test with the new guns, I used 70 grains of Hodgdon’s Triple Seven in the Vortek, a 250 grain Traditions saboted bullet, 290 grain PowerBelt and Kaido Ojamaa’s 255 grain .45-caliber cast lead bullet in a Harvester black ribbed sabot. In the Optima I shot the same three bullets with two of Hodgdon’s White Hot pellets (100 grain black-powder equivalent) and did one shot with 70 grains of Triple Seven and Traditions’ saboted bullet to see what difference that extra inch of barrel made.

To give some nearly real-time results to those who were really interested, I posted two YouTube videos. The first “Test Fire CVA’s Optima and Traditions’ Vortek Pistols is up at: , and the second, “Load Development Optima and Vortek Pistols” can be seen at:

Velocity and Energy figures are shown in the following table.:

Pistol,         Charge               Bullet                               Velocity (5 yards)           Energy

Vortek         70 gr. T-7           295 gr. Power Belt                 1131 fps.                  838 ft./lbs.

                  70 gr. T-7           255 gr. Ojamaa                      1265 fps                   906 ft./lbs.

                  70 gr. T-7           250 gr. Traditions                    1147 fps.                  730 ft./lbs

Optima        70 gr. T-7          250 gr. Traditions                    1268 fps.                   893 ft./lbs.

               100 gr. WH           295 gr. PowerBelt                   1370 fps.                 1230 ft./lbs.

               100 gr. WH           255 gr. Ojamaa                       1477 fps.                 1235 ft./lbs.

Boneyard Bill and the Optima Pistol following 50-yard shooting. The PowerBelt bullet struck the nose and the others left and right in a 2-inch group. The Vortek’s single shot with iron sights was about 4-inches to the right.

  Not unexpectedly, the longer barrel and heavier powder charges resulted in the Optima developing higher velocities and energies. By this time I was shooting iron sights on the Vortek (with a front bead, which is not good for precision shooting) and a small BSA red-dot sight on the Optima. The Optima certainly shot with game-killing accuracy and had indications of being a very accurate gun – judging from the limited shooting that I did. I fired three shots using the three bullets at Boneyard Bill, my Zombie target, at 50 yards. These three different bullets made a nice triangular 2-inch group, which was probably about the limit of aiming precision with the red-dot scope. A shot with the iron-sighted Vortex hit 4-inches to the right, but would have still been in the “kill area” of a deer.

The Optima is the lower cost and the more versatile of the two pistols in that it can take larger loads of cleaner-burning powder, generates higher energy figures and has a better trigger. The Optima pistol from Cabela’s has a base price of about $280, and it is shipped with a synthetic stock and a scope rail, but not with sights. With is wooden stock and iron sights the Vortek is priced at $370. If I owned a Vortek, would I trade it in on an Optima? Probably not. Both pistols will kill close-range deer and hogs very well.

To prevent potential wrist damage with these heavy recoiling handguns, I shoot them sparingly. More detailed shooting might change the chronograph results 100 fps. or so, but no deer is likely to know the difference.

I will be hunting with the Optima during the 2012-13 season, and it will be interesting to see how it does on game. To date, there is every reason to suspect that this gun will be an outstanding performer.

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For information on Kaido Ojamaa’s bullets and molds in .36 and .44 calibers contact him at

14 thoughts on “CVA’s Optima and Traditions’ Vortex Muzzleloading Hunting Pistols

  1. Great test, i own both pistols and find the Optima a much better performer. By the way the Optima is rated to 150gr of 777 by the manufaturer it is in the manual. The Kaido Ojamaa bullet does not cease to amaze me, it works in revolvers, pistols and rifles and as you can see it out performs the competition delivering more power and velocity than the others while maintaining superb accuracy. Truly a universal bullet design that hits like a hammer out of these pistols. Keep them coming Hovey!

    Thank you for taking time to test these products.

    • Dear Rudy, Although it is true that the Optima can physically stand the pressures of a 150-gr. charge, I do not recommend it, because a 100-grain charge is adequate to kill any common game at typical pistol ranges. To combust a 150-grain charge in this short barrel, you would need to load heavier bullets in the 400 to 500 grain range to have more :”dwell time” in the barrel, and subject yourself to considerable more recoil. The 100-grain charge with a bullet weighing 250-300 grains will kill deer and hogs very well, provided that shot placement is reasonable. If shot placement is not good, larger charges will not result in many more game animals being put into the truck. Above all else, it is where that first shot hits that counts the most – precision shooting will trump power.

  2. Very good information, just getting started on finding good loads for my vortek, kinda wish I would have bought the optima instead but it appears that the vortek is close to hot 45 colt ballistics which under 50 yards would do fine. Going to work up some Barnes sabots, 290-295 grains to see how they perform. This article was very helpful, just wondering why the vortek has a maximum of 70 grains verses the 150 max on the optima,I believe in rifle length the regular vortek is 130 or 150 grains. I thought the vortek pistol was the same but chopped shorter to pistol size. Apparently there must be an reason so I will stick to the 70 grains.

    • The reason for the Vortek’s smaller recommended powder charge is that testing at Traditions showed that heavier powder charges with lighter weight bullets would not efficiently combust in their barrel. This is true. If you want to burn something approaching 100 grains of black-powder equivalent in 14-15 inch barrels you need to use a heavier bullet. This is the reason that I commonly use the 370 gr. Thompson/Center Arms MaxiBall in my Encore and Optima pistols with 100 grain loads. This is the maximum load that I find to be really shootable in such pistols.

      • Yes that makes sense, I have some of those TC bullets and TC maxi hunter with hollow point front end. It seems the Optima is reasonably price, might have to pick one up. I am a contender hunter but I have not found any factory BP barrel for the old frame contender, just the Encore. Not sure if a regular contender barrel could handle 100 grain loads made by JDJ JONES or others, need to do research on that one. If so I would buy that instead. Normally shoot 7-30 waters and 375 Winchester ( hard to find anything in 375), but pistol hunting in BP is the way to go, thanks for the info, keep up on your testing and posting the results.

      • TC never did produce a black powder barrel muzzleloading for the Contender. Some were made by acustom maker that I wrote about decades ago, but their name escapes me at the moment. You might try a Google search and see if anything comes up. They may be out of business by now. They were also located in New England. Hovey


    • I suspect that the rifle and pistol frames for the Vortex and Optima are identical to the rifle versions, but query CVA and Traditions to make sure. I have switched out Encore rifle and pistol components many times, but not the other two brands.

  3. Gonic made ML pistol and rifle barrels for the Contender. TC did make ML rifle barrels for the G2 Contender that would work on the original by simply removing the pin on the underlug. There are also custom ML barrels made for the Contender by Bullberry and MGM

    • Fox Ridge, T/C’s Custom shop had them for a few years after the muzzleloading version of the Encore was dropped from the T/C Catalogue. Some custom makers might provide you with one with appropriate nipples, breech plug and ramrod pipes, but you would also have to alter the under-barrel fore-end for the ramrod. They were never common. If you are lucky you might find one on a table of used T/C parts at a show somewhere. Failing finding a barrel for your Encore frame, the best option is the CVA Optima for a modern powerful single shot muzzleloading pistol.

  4. I have a v2 optima I have killed 7 good bucks with it. Some up to 75 yards but I put a 4- 32 pistol scope on it. It shoots great,I use 60 grans of power and a 240 grain works good for me.

    • Pete, what powder and bullet are you using? I personally prefer a heavier load, and would like to hear more particulars of the shots, penetration etc. I use about this much powder in the Walker Revolver with round ball. Here you have the working advantage of a longer barrel and heavier bullet compared to the round-ball load. My load for the Encore and Optima pistols is 100 grains of FFg black (or equivalent with cut-backs in charge for Triple7even) and a 370-grain MaxiBall. I sometimes hunt heavier game than whitetails with these pistols and don’t want to bother changing zeros, resighting in, etc; so I don’t change the load. I average 27-inches of penetration with this load in game animals like large hogs and Wildebeest. I don’t have elk, but if I were to pistol-hunt them, this would be the load that I would use. It does give heavier recoil, but this is a load I may shoot only a dozen times a year. My first elk, if I ever have the chance, is spoken for by my .75-caliber Brunswick Rifle. It wants one bad.

      • I use a tc 240 grain bullet two 30 grain pellets for 60 grains.less does great for me I’m not as young as I us to I backed the power bullet is a tc 240 grain jacketed hollow point.

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