Keep reading to get the details on my CVA Wolf Northwest review.
Updated 20 September 2015
In preparation for hunting season this year, I recently purchased a new muzzleloader. I finally got a chance to test it out at the range and today’s article is a review of my CVA Wolf Northwest legal muzzleloader. It is a brand new variation of their Wolf line of muzzleloaders that CVA designed in order to provide the reliability and convenience of an in-line muzzleloader, yet still meet the legal requirements for use in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.
I purchased my CVA Wolf Northwest from Muzzle-Loaders.com, an online company based out of Oregon that sells muzzleloaders and their accessories. Since they are in Oregon, their products only take 1-2 days to reach me and they don’t charge sales tax, which makes their already competitive prices even more appealing. Overall, I was very pleased with my experience with them: the representative I spoke with was friendly and knowledgeable, they shipped my order quickly, and I felt like I paid a reasonable price for the Wolf Northwest. Due to these factors, I do recommend doing business with them. Just FYI: I paid the full retail price for the CVA Wolf Northwest.
The Wolf is CVA’s entry level break action muzzleloader, below the Optima and Accura. However, just because it is an entry level muzzleloader doesn’t mean it is a piece of junk. On the contrary, I’m pretty impressed with the performance of such a reasonably priced muzzleloader. The base model Wolf has a .50 caliber, 24” stainless steel barrel, a reversible hammer spur to accommodate left or right handed shooters, an ambidextrous breech, a very nice recoil pad, DuraBright fiber optic open sights, a quick release breech plug, and is drilled and tapped for a scope.
The CVA Wolf Northwest goes a step further by modifying the breech plug to be compliant with the hunting regulations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. In order to accomplish this, the breech plug is designed to work with loose (instead of pelletized) powder, fit a musket cap (instead of a 209 primer), and has four holes cut into the sides of it that ensures that the ignition system is “exposed to the elements” in accordance with the regulations for muzzleloader season. By making these few adjustments to the Wolf, CVA was able to design a muzzleloader that incorporates nearly all of the benefits of an in-line muzzleloader, while still being legal to use in the Pacific Northwest.
When I received my CVA Wolf Northwest, I was immediately impressed by the obvious quality in the workmanship exhibited in the muzzleloader. The Wolf fit me nicely and was lightweight, quick to mount, and pointed very well. The breech opened easily and smoothly by simply depressing the lever on the trigger guard. The trigger, while it will never be compared to the trigger on a competition 1911, was still pretty smooth, and broke cleanly with 3 pounds of pressure, and had very little overtravel.
The CVA Wolf Northwest has a 1:28” rifling twist, making it suitable for most full size (non-saboted) projectiles. CVA recommends using PowerBelt bullets. This is not surprising, considering they are made by the same company. However, conicals and sabots made by Thompson Center, Hornady, Barnes, and other companies will also work. Though I haven’t spent a great deal of time trying to develop highly accurate round ball loads, my CVA Wolf Northwest also did reasonably well when shooting plain old round balls. However, CVA does recommend only using projectiles weighting less than 400 grains in the Wolf Northwest for best results.
As with most muzzleloaders, the CVA Wolf Northwest is designed to use up to 150 grains of black powder or a black powder substitute, such as Hodgon’s 777 or Pyrodex. Under no circumstances should smokeless powder be used in the Wolf Northwest (or any muzzleloader for that matter). However, even though the muzzleloader will safely handle up to 150 grains of black powder, that does not mean that using a maximum load of propellant will produce the best results. CVA recommends using 80-120 grains of black powder for best accuracy, though results will vary between different muzzleloaders.
Over the past few months, I’ve shot my Wolf Northwest using several different loads of Goex FFg black powder and Hodgon’s 777 with 350gr Hornady FPB bullets, 245gr and 348gr PowerBelt AeroTips, 320gr Thompson Center Maxi-Balls, and 350gr Thompson Center Maxi-Hunters. Additionally, I’ve also shot 250gr Hornady SSTs, 250gr Barnes TMZs, and 250gr Barnes T-EZs in the Wolf Northwest and you can read about the details here. All powder measures were by volume. To compare each load, I measured the velocity using my chronograph and measured the group size at 100 yards. The results are in the table below.
|Bullet||Powder Load||Avg Muzzle Velocity||Avg Muzzle Energy||Group @ 100 yards|
|350 gr Hornady FPB||90gr 777||1565fps||1904 ft·lbf||3.5"|
|350 gr Hornady FPB||90gr Goex FFG||1401fps||1525 ft·lbf||1.8"|
|245gr PowerBelt AeroTip||90gr Goex FFG||1488fps||1205 ft·lbf||.9"|
|348gr PowerBelt AeroTip||90gr Goex FFG||1394fps||1502 ft·lbf||2.75"|
|320gr T/C Maxi Ball||90gr Goex FFG||1467fps||1530 ft·lbf||7.5"|
|350 gr T/C Maxi Hunter||80gr Goex FFG||1296fps||1306 ft·lbf||4"|
As you can see, the Wolf Northwest really liked the PowerBelts, and to a lesser extent, the Hornady FPBs. Though I think I’ve wrung all of the performance I’m realistically going to get out of the 245gr PowerBelts, I think there is still some room for improvement with the 348gr PowerBelts and the Hornady FPBs. I’m going to continue to experiment and tweak my loads with those bullets and see what kind of results I get.
The Hornady FPBs were the most difficult to load of all the bullets I tested. I’ve read horror stories of shooters having to use a ridiculous amount of force, sometimes even to the point of having to use a hammer to properly seat the FPBs. I’m pleased to say that this was not my experience. Though they needed the most force to load and required the use of a bullet starter, they were not excessively difficult to ram home. The PowerBelts were not difficult at all to load. However, they left a significant amount of residue in the barrel after each shot, while the FPBs did not.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Thompson/Center bullets did not perform well at all, and I’m pretty disappointed with the results I obtained with them. The bullets were very easy to load, almost too easy. I suspect that they were not fully engaging the rifling and generating a good seal when fired. This likely accounts for the reduced velocity and accuracy I observed with them. As a result, I’m not going to continue to experiment with either of these bullets.
Overall, I was impressed with the performance of the PowerBelts and the FPBs. With the accuracy I was achieving with the 245gr PowerBelts, I’m comfortable with taking a shot out to around 150 yards on a deer. However, I’m a little concerned about using PowerBelts on elk. I think that the FPBs will perform better, and I feel comfortable taking a 100 yard shot on an elk with the accuracy I’m obtaining with them at this point.
Unfortunately, my Wolf Northwest does not seem to like Hodgon’s 777. Though it consistently produced significantly higher velocities than the Goex black powder, I had numerous ignition problems with it. Specifically, it would have a very fast (~ 1/4 to 1/2 second) hang fire on nearly every shot. This made for a small, but noticeable delay between the fall of the hammer and the gun firing that adversely affected my accuracy. I’m not sure if I just have a bad batch of powder, or if this is typical performance of Hodgon’s 777 when used with a musket cap. I can say with certainty that I have never had a single ignition problem with my Goex black powder in the Wolf Northwest, or any other muzzleloader I’ve ever shot.
Another great aspect of the CVA Wolf Northwest is how easy the muzzleloader is to clean. The “quick release” breech plug also lived up to its name. Even after shooting it all day at the range, I never had any issues removing the breech plug using just my fingers. In between shots, and after finishing for the day at the range, cleaning the muzzleloader was a simple matter of removing the breech plug and running a few patches through the bore.
Also, by simply changing the breech plug and the firing pin system, the CVA Wolf Northwest may be converted to use 209 primers. Since it is also drilled and tapped for a scope, it is a great choice for a hunter who hunts in multiple states with varying laws for hunting with muzzleloaders. For instance, I used this muzzleloader in the northwest configuration to hunt blacktail deer in Washington last year. However, I was also able to mount a scope on it and switch over to 209 primers to use it on a Quinault Indian Reservation bear hunting trip.
Unfortunately, the CVA Wolf Northwest is not a perfect muzzleloader and it does have a few problems. There are two areas where I was not impressed with its performance: the quality of the factory installed sights and the initial reliability of the ignition system. Fortunately, I was able to easily correct both of these problems.
The open sights that came with the CVA Wolf Northwest were of marginal quality. The fact that both the front and rear sights were fiber optic greatly enhanced their utility in low light conditions. However, the sights appeared cheaply made and were difficult to adjust precisely. In general, I do not like open sights, as they are the least accurate of all iron sights. Additionally, the rear sight was mounted near the middle of the barrel. This cut down on the sight radius and made it even less precise.
Luckily, the E. Arthur Brown Company makes a reasonably priced peep sight/scope mount combination designed specifically to mount on CVA muzzleloaders (Williams makes another good one). No special tools were needed for installation and it only took me a couple of minutes to install it on my muzzleloader. The peep sight was a tremendous step up in quality and my shooting improved dramatically once I mounted it. This sight mounts just in front of the breech plug, which increased the sight radius from 14” to 22 ½”. Additionally, this sight has the added benefit of allowing for the use of a scope (when legal) while still having the peep sight mounted.
A slightly more frustrating problem I encountered when first shooting the CVA Wolf Northwest was unreliable ignition of the musket caps. The manual stated that the rifle was designed for use with RWS Musket Caps and recommended their use. However, even when using the exact musket caps that CVA recommended, two or three caps out of ten would fail to function. Upon inspection of the caps, it was clear that the firing pin was striking them and leaving a noticeable dimple. The musket cap would always function properly when I tried a second time though, leading me to believe that the spring on my muzzleloader was weak and not allowing the firing pin to strike with enough force.
Fortunately, CVA was very helpful and easy to work with when I called and reported the problem. They replaced my hammer spring for free and gave me a 30% off coupon to their online store for the inconvenience. After replacing the spring, the muzzleloader functioned perfectly and I have not had a single ignition problem since. Hopefully, this is not an issue many other people will have to deal with.
All in all, I’m pleased with the performance of the CVA Wolf Northwest. I would recommend this muzzleloader for hunters in the Pacific Northwest who are interested in taking advantage of the opportunities present during muzzleloader season, but who also would like some of the conveniences associated with an in-line muzzleloader. With a price of less than $250, the CVA Wolf Northwest is an especially good bargain for a hunter looking for a first muzzleloader.
Still trying do decide? Below is a good description of the differences between the CVA Wolf Northwest and CVA Optima Northwest muzzleloaders.
Update 6 December 2014
I shot my first blacktail (and my first deer with a muzzleloader) a couple days ago using the CVA Wolf Northwest. It was a grueling hunt under cold and wet conditions, but the CVA Wolf Northwest performed well. It fired when I pulled the trigger and put the bullet (a 250gr Barnes T-EZ) right where I was aiming. The deer ran less than 30 yards after the shot.
During the course of the 2014 Washington deer season, my CVA Wolf Northwest did everything that I asked of it. Not only is it lightweight and easy to carry, but it worked without fail. I hunted in some nasty condition conditions: pouring down rain, snow, and bitter cold temperatures. Even under the worst of conditions, the CVA Wolf Northwest always treated me well: every time I pulled the trigger the gun fired and it always hit where I was aiming. What else do you need from a hunting rifle?
Update 12 May 2015
The CVA Wolf Northwest just struck again on a Quinault Indian Reservation bear hunting trip. I mounted a scope on my CVA Wolf Northwest and used a conversion kit made by CVA to switch it over to 209 primers for this hunt (both of which are legal on muzzleloaders in Washington if you’re not hunting deer or elk). I used a 290gr Barnes T-EZ propelled by 100gr of loose Hodgdon’s 777 powder. I hit the bear (a ~150 pound sow) right behind the shoulder and she ran 30-40 yards after the shot.
Reliability & Durability: 4/5
Size & Weight: 5/5
If you like what you’ve read so far and are looking for a great Northwest Legal muzzleloader for a reasonable price, then I highly recommend purchasing a CVA Wolf Northwest muzzleloader.
If you liked this article on the CVA Wolf Northwest, check out this article where I test out several different bullets in it and be sure to read my CVA Optima Northwest review to learn more about a similar muzzleloader.