Dangerous Muzzleloaders: A History
The above 3D laser surface scans show a typical set of barrel threads on the left, with the tapered or "bell-mouthed" defective CVA barrel thread attempt on the right. As a direct result of malformed and virtually non-existent barrel threads on a recent production CVA muzzleloader, Steve Tipton, Ph.D., P.E., Frank W. Murphy Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering concluded that the barrel breech plug threads "were defective and dangerous" and that "The threads were insufficient to contain the breech plug upon its initial firing." Dr. William J. Bruchey also noted that "failure was due to manufacturing or design defects which resulted in poor engagement of the breech plug with improperly formed barrel threads." Yet, despite this catastrophic failure upon the first shot fired, no warnings have ever been made from the manufacturer, no recall has ever been generated.
Hickey was the CEO (or President) of Connecticut Valley Arms that
used a variety of low-end manufacturers for product, including Dikar in
Spain. CVA became a name brand, not a premium one, but nevertheless a
known brand with distribution. Bob Hickey and company (various investors,
etc.) had the bright idea that they could import guns from Dikar for
$18 (???) or so from Dikar, retail them for $99, and make a bag full of
money. Note that the euro was not born until 1999 so this was all Spanish
lira equivalents. That's what they did, in 1995 - 1996, and as this was
right in the middle of the inline muzzleloading industry growth, they
sold tons of them. 60,000 putty-barreled guns in two years, just breathtaking
sales. I don't know the exact figures, but they lined their pockets with
some $5 million dollars in a few years. But.
far as I know, the manufacturer, Dikar S. Coop. of Bergara, Spain, never
initated a recall. The recall of 1997 was initiated by the "old C.V.A,"
the importer. It was not until May, 1999 (according to B.P.I.)
that B.P.I acquired the assets of the old CVA, and merely continued the
importer-based recall that already existed. As in the case of any public
recall, the recalls that can be easily gotten are already done, so comparatively
few guns remain. B.P.I. states "Blackpowder Products, Inc. assumes
no liability for any products manufactured or sold prior to January 1,
1998." It is a puzzling, tortured trail of paperwork for also
right now Dikar S. Coop of Bergara, Spain, owns 100% of the stock of Blackpowder
Products, Inc., so the manufacturer is the one and the same. The "Old
CVA" had Bob Hickey and Jay Brenneman as its officials, while the
new company Blackpowder Products had Bob Hickey listed as its C.F.O. until
2006. You don't hear much about Jay Brenneman, but Jay moved on to become
CEO of Traditions Performance Firearms, another saga in itself selling
extruded barrel Spanish muzzleloaders as well, mostly made by Ardesa of
Hardly a new idea, Bergara barrels have been around for years. The Dikar Cooperative has long been in Bergara, Spain, as the dated signatures above clearly show-- and that was 1985.
the "CVA answer" was grab officespace in Georgia, fund and form
an American company "B.P.I" and rescue CVA from the throes of
its bankruptcy. They hired Bob Hickey, former CVA Prez, and found a couple
of other employees like Dudley that they picked up from general sporting
goods and clothing sales. Bingo, now the inmates not just run the asylum,
they also own it. Better yet, as no outside part gets a cut of sales.
B.P.I acquired the "assets" of CVA (not much except a brand
name), Bob Hickey CFO still had all his distribution connections and
it was off to the races.
A proof mark on a firearm is an international proclamation that the gun has been proof-fired with an overload, then inspected and passed. You'll note this has been used in advertising, as by Winchester in the above ad from 1953. The proof mark on a "CVA" muzzleloader is worse than meaningless-- it is fraudulent. CVA branded muzzleloaders sold in the U.S. are proofed 0% of the time, according to Dikar testimony. Yet, the fraudulent proof-marks have been applied nevertheless for years.
Mountain Barrels controls the melt at the mill, uses certified steel along
with eddy-current testing and magnafluxing. Thompson uses certified steel
as well and has long touted their own "continuous magnafluxing"
process. It all costs money, though, and both GM and T/C reject entire
lots of steel that are not up to snuff. They have to. All of their assets
are here in the U.S. and exposed. All Green Mountain does is make barrels,
their existence depends on a quality barrel. Dikar's assets are tucked
away in Spain, with little comparative exposure or accountability in the
The above macro-photograph reveals the improperly formed or virtually non-existent threads in a CVA barrel. Other CVA rifles exhibited this same problem, but to a lesser degree. No warnings or recalls have been forthcoming from CVA, even though this horrible problem has been known to them for years. Reasonable quality control or proof-testing would have resulted in a failure on the bench-- this rifle never would have left the Bergara, Spain plant. Unfortunately, it was imported into the United States, went through distribution and sold at retail by an Ace Hardware. The first shot ever fired resulted in tragedy. A gun like this is a menace.
Dikar has had problems ever since. Of course they KNOW it, you can't get
sued 100 times and not know it. They have done their best to replace failed
guns with new ones in the case of no major injury. Those guns are quickly
discarded and to quote CVA officials "NO RECORDS ARE KEPT."
In the event of cases that they can quickly settle (with a non-disclosure
agreement) they have-- so no one is the wiser. The guns are discarded,
quickly, "NO RECORDS KEPT." Non-disclosure agreements are commonplace:
you want the cash on the table, take it and go play shut-up . . . or take
your chances with years of expensive legal wrangling, and try to find
a law firm with $300,000 to speculate on your case and an uncertain jury
verdict. Eric Zenger was able to contact me directly and speak out, as
in his case they stuffed it up-- he signed no non-disclosure agreement.
above photograph is part of the barrel from Mark Kohn's recent production
CVA, a photograph that I personally took. Although official proof marks
are clearly visible on the barrel, we know now they are fraudulent. No
CVA branded muzzleloaders sold in the United States are proof-tested,
according to Dikar S. Coop official's sworn testimony in open court. Zero
percent proof-testing makes catastrophic failure the first time the gun
is fired both predictable and foreseeable. Any consumer would be led to
believe that, based on these official proofmarks, the gun had indeed both
been proof-fired and had passed proofhouse examination after those proof-firings.
This was not the case here, nor is it ever the case according to
Dikar's Mr. Aitor Belategi.
No effort has ever been made to get Eclipse guns off the street. No effort has been made to get Mag Hunters off the street. No effort has been made to recover, examine, or even warn of potential KNOWN problems with Kodiaks and other models with malformed, only partially formed breechplug threads.
Could it get any worse? Well, actually it did. Thompson-Center Arms promoted Magnum Muzzleloading and Anything Out to 200 Yards Is Toast. Both Knight and Thompson promoted high-performance muzzleloaders, a non-specific term but commonly referred to a magnum three pellet loads. CVA / B.P.I. / Dikar was not to be outdone in the ad-brag department. Still using weaker, inferior, extruded barrel material considered as unsuitable by T/C and Knight, they started stamping Magnum on their guns. But. The but part is that it was all a lie. CVA guns were the same in magnum and non-magum versions, same steel, same animal. Even though the CVA owners manual warns the user to use three pellet loads only in Magnum labeled guns, it was a false, fraudulent, warning. The only difference was the cheap Magnum stamp on the gun, a marketing con that allowed CVA to sell the same old gun for a higher price.
That became another problem, a big problem as in the case of victim Jimmy Dial. While I was in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I spoke with Jimmy Dean Dial on speakerphone with attorney Gary A. Eaton present. It turns out that Jimmy had used his CVA Eclipse for several years, shooting extremely lightweight bullets and 120 grains of Pyrodex. I recall questioning Jimmy as to why he was using such unusually lightweight bullets. Jimmy's answer made perfect sense, He didn't like recoil. Alright, so it went for about three years. But then Jimmy was target shooting with a buddy that was using an Encore and "magnum" loads. Jimmy was having accuracy problems with his CVA and his buddy suggested he try his regular load, a heavier load. Unfortunately, that's exactly what Jimmy did and the result was instant, catastrophic failure on the first and only "magnum" load he ever fired and the injuries that he suffered as a result. So it goes. Note that Dikar has stated that there is no difference between a "magnum" CVA and a "regular" CVA except for the stamp that says magnum, and the more profitable selling price that goes along with it.
all this time, "NO RECORDS ARE KEPT." How many times this same
scenario has played out is unknown.
As a professional firearms evaluator for many years, I have reviewed CVA products before. I've never declined to review a CVA-branded product, but I've not actively sought the opportunity as of late, either. The basis is simple. Although I have a very good array of equipment, threaded go/no-go gauges appropriate for CVA-Dikar-Bergara barrels are not among them. It is not reasonable to look forward to reviewing a firearm that has a 96% percent chance of not having having its barrel properly inspected and right at a 100 percent chance of not having been proof-tested, or having the barrel pressurized in any way before it arrives in my hands. Those aren't the type of odds that anyone would appreciate.
CVA is only a brand, a brand controlled by B.P.I, which in turn has long belonged to Dikar of Bergara, Spain. With 0% proof testing of their firearms and a 4% inspection rate of a critical area like a barrel's breechplug threads, it isn't possible or reasonable to suggest their use. For Jimmy Dial, Eliot Best, Troy Cashdollar, Mark Kohn, Jon Katzenmeier, their parents, wives, and children (and countless others) this editorial comes regrettably late. Dikar's own puny 4% barrel thread inspection rate has still netted sixty or so barrels in house that were defective, these barrels destroyed with apparently no records kept. It is an astonishing, if not inexplicable failure to warn the consumer. No warnings even now at this late date, no recalls, no cautionary words about getting CVA branded product inspected by a qualified gunsmith that has been shipped and sold at retail in the United States. Yet, for the last seven years or so the influx of Bergara-machined barrels into the United States has persisted without change in quality or inspection procedures, according to Dikar's Mr. Aitor Belategi. This is quite a magnificent failure to warn and failure to act to resolve known issues and easily foreseeable incidents.
Safety first, always, and then have a great hunt is a good way to go.
So, here's hoping everyone has some great hunts in store for them.