by J. Guthrie - Thursday, August 6, 2009
It would be interesting to know just how the first percussion-cap rifles were received across America's frontier in the 1830s. Dedicated flintlock owners must have been reluctant to switch, judging by the fact that it took almost another 25 years for caps to become the primary means of blackpowder ignition for hunters, soldiers and shooters.
CVA hasan ignition system that allows modern-day muzzleloader shooters to replace the 209 primer the way percussion caps replaced priming horns and flints so many years ago. The ARC Electronic Ignition is battery powered and uses an electric arc to ignite the propellant charge. It offers several big advantages-some ballistic, some practical-over guns that use 209 shotgun primers.
The Electra is built around the ARC Electronic Ignition system. A Z2 metal alloy placed ahead of the trigger guard houses the electronic components. When the trigger is pulled, an electric charge is released from a capacitor and travels to two contact points in the stock that match an extension on the breech plug. The breech plug has two points on its face; electricity arcs across these two points to ignite the propellant charge. It's a simple concept, but it took engineers almost three years to produce a working system.
The ARC ignition's biggest advantage is the elimination of 209 primers from the firing chain. Though muzzleloader-specific primers have greatly reduced the phenomenon, gas from a detonating primer often pushes the propellant charge and bullet forward in the barrel before the propellant fully ignites. The displacement changes from shot to shot, depending on the amount of barrel fouling, and in turn alters the chamber pressures of each shot. This inconsistency is an accuracy killer and often leads to vertical stringing-dead on, high, higher-on a target. An electric spark, however, does not displace the charge in this way, as it releases no gas upon ignition.
With about 200 rounds downrange, the Electra has proven to be a very accurate rifle. A large part of that can be attributed to a quality, Spanish-made Bergara barrel, but the gun out-shoots other CVA muzzleloaders with the same barrel. With 100 grains of loose Hodgdon Triple Seven propellant and Hornady's new 250-grain SST-ML High Speed Low Drag bullet/sabot combo, three-shot groups average just under an inch. The same propellant charge and 338-grain Power Belt Platinum bullets averaged 1.879-inch three-shot groups. Magnum loads of both pellets and loose powder were not as accurate, averaging around 2.5 inches for me.
Without a flash hole in the breech plug, no fouling can reach the action, scope or shooter. The Electra only fouls the barrel, so cleaning takes just minutes with the latest generation of bore cleaners. The breech plug face should be cleaned with a provided nylon brush every five to seven shots and removed from the barrel and thoroughly cleaned every 50 shots. The breech plug is removed from the barrel with a provided tool, but only after the barrel is removed from the stock.
Electricity moves fast so ignition is instantaneous when the trigger, just an electric switch, is pulled. "Lock time" (the term is a misnomer in this case because there is no lock) is measured in millionths of a second. The sample rifle's trigger "broke" (again, a misnomer because it has no sear) at 3 pounds, but feels quite different from a standard rifle trigger. The trigger resets the top-tang, two-position safety, so there is some over-travel to accomplish this-a bad quality mitigated by the exceptionally fast lock time.
The system is powered by a 9-volt battery kept under the grip cap and turned on and off with a switch behind the trigger guard. A red LED light behind the safety glows when the gun is turned on and then blinks every two seconds to let the shooter know the ARC ignition is powered up. Under normal conditions, a lithium battery is good for 500 or so shots. That decreases with cold weather, but the LED will continuously blink when the battery is getting low.
After each arc, the system automatically shuts down for 10 to 15 seconds, the average time it takes to reload the gun. The gun can also be turned off during reloading as an additional safety measure. The top-tang safety breaks the circuit when in the "safe" position. Needless to say, the gun underwent exhaustive safety testing before coming to market. Static electricity will not trick the system into firing.
Company literature and testing proved the gun is weatherproof, not waterproof. I took the Electra, paired with a Bushnell Elite 3x-9x-40mm, on my first trip to Africa and found its performance exceptional. Three different plains game animals fell to the rifle-a zebra stallion, a blesbok and a warthog. Ranges varied from 40 to 165 yards. When in the truck rack, the gun was turned off. As soon as I stepped off the truck, I turned on the rifle. The only special consideration the Electra was given was a spare battery in my daypack-along with the spare batteries for my GPS, SureFire flashlight, laser rangefinder and camera. Not hauling primers around in the field was a plus and it made air travel that much easier. Batteries are more readily available than primers worldwide.
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