Uberti .45 Colt Lightning Short Rifle
By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
A. Uberti, Srl. was founded in 1959. Uberti is neither ancient nor a traditional name in U.S. firearms. However, the Italian company that bears Aldo Uberti's name has been carving out a reputation for producing top quality reproduction firearms. Uberti first produced cap-n-ball revolvers, and that is how they made their reputation, but has since expanded into producing cartridge revolvers, single shot rifles, lever action rifles and miniature arms.
Aldo Uberti was incarcerated in a concentration camp during the Second World War, but emerged to become a successful gunmaker, businessman, and family man. "Let's not limit ourselves," this exceptionally wise man would say.
He combined a love of nature, history, and the American West with his innate perfectionism to produce the finest, historically accurate, replica firearms in the world. Aldo died in his sleep in 1998, and ownership of A. Uberti Arms passed to his two sons.
Since its founding Uberti guns have been distributed in the U.S. by a variety of importers, but Uberti is now part of the Benelli, USA group of companies--themselves now owned by Beretta--and is imported and distributed directly. This allows the US consumer access to factory trained technicians and genuine Uberti replacement parts.
Having had great success with previous Uberti firearms, we were eagerly anticipating the arrival of the Uberti replica of the Colt Lightning rifle that is the subject of this review. A Lightning graces the Home Page of the Uberti web site (www.uberti.com) as well as the cover of the 2007 Uberti catalog.
The Colt Lightning was a pump action rifle introduced in 1884 to compete with the dominant Winchester lever action rifles of that period. The first cartridge offered was .44-40, to complement Colt SAA revolvers, but Colt went on to manufacture Lightning rifles in three different frame sizes (small, medium and large) to accommodate cartridges from the .22 Short rimfire to .50-95 Express.
Total Lightning production exceeded 185,000 before the rifle was finally discontinued in 1904. The small frame rimfire Lightnings were the most popular version, barely edging out the medium frame model in popularity. Just under 90,000 of the Colt Lightning rifles made were small frame rimfires. Nearly another 90,000 were medium frame rifles chambered for what were essentially combination rifle and revolver cartridges (.44-40, .38-40, and .32-20). Less than 6,000 large frame Lightning Express rifles were produced.
Uberti brought back the Lightning, which has found favor with cowboy action shooters, in three variations. All Uberti Lightnings are built on the original .44-40 (medium) size frame. Uberti Lightnings are available chambered for the .38 Special/.357 Magnum or .45 Long Colt cartridges. Oddly, the original .44-40 caliber is not offered.
The three Uberti Lightning rifle models are the Rifle (24" octagon barrel), Short Rifle (20" octagon barrel) and Carbine (20" round barrel). We asked for, and duly received, a Short Rifle to review.
All Uberti Lightnings are stocked in A-grade walnut and feature color case hardened receivers and deeply blued barrels, magazine tubes and loading gates. They are pretty rifles, as you can tell from the photo at the top of this article.
Here are some specifications for the .45 Uberti Lightning Short Rifle.
The construction and fit of our Uberti Lightning is generally very good, as we have come to expect from Uberti replicas. The deeply blued barrel, magazine tube and small action parts contrast nicely with the color cased receiver and curved (rifle) buttplate.
The forend (slide handle) is cut checkered in a point pattern, while the straight hand walnut stock is not. We'd like to see the stock checkered to match the forend. Both are given a glossy lacquer finish that highlights the grain and color of the wood.
The trigger pull of our Uberti Lightning measured 4 pounds 4 ounces by Rocky's trigger pull gauge. There was very little creep, but a great deal of over travel (all the way back to the trigger guard). Frankly, the trigger felt heavier in use than it measured.
The Lightning has a shorter receiver than a Winchester Model 1873 rifle. It loads via a right side loading gate, much like a Winchester lever action. Cartridges are fed from the tubular magazine under the barrel to the Lightning's chamber by a pivoted lifter, similar to that adopted by John Browning for the Winchester Model 92 and Model 94 rifles. The Lightning will feed cartridges when tilted at severe angles.
The action of the Uberti Lightning is smooth and doesn't bind. It can be pumped and fired rapidly. Our test rifle sports an ingenious sort of hammer transfer bar arrangement that prevents inadvertent discharge unless the trigger is held all the way back. Consequently there is no hammer safety notch and none is required. The Uberti Lightning can be safely carried with the hammer down on a loaded chamber. This safety feature was added by Uberti.
The trigger of a Colt Lightning could be held back and the rifle fired simply by pumping the handle. Accuracy was terrible, but the magazine could be emptied quickly. (Not unlike an SKS assault rifle in that regard!) The Uberti Lightning has been redesigned so that the hammer interferes with the operation of the bolt if the trigger is held back while attempting to cycle the action.
We wondered why the Winchester lever action rifles sold so much better and proved so much more enduring than the Colt Lightning. After all, the Colt name was just as well known and respected as Winchester on the frontier, the Lightning is as slender as a classic Winchester lever action and it can be operated even faster. A pump rifle is also easier to operate from the prone position so often used in a firefight. A good rifle, after all, was an important survival tool on the frontier. It was used to defend family and home as well as to put meat on the table. The arrival of our Uberti Lightning gave us a chance to find some answers.
What we discovered is that the Lightning design has some peculiarities to which one must become accustomed and these undoubtedly had a negative impact on sales. First and foremost, keep your shooting hand back and away from the hammer and bolt when you pump the action. If you don't, the hammer or bolt will take a bite out of your hand. This is not a problem with a lever action because the shooting hand operates the lever, but it is with the Lightning.
Unlike a Winchester or Marlin lever action, the action of the Lightning must be open (bolt rearward) to load cartridges into the magazine. This means that the rifle must be taken out of action to reload, a serious drawback in a skirmish.
Another loading peculiarity is that a cartridge slid through the loading gate into the magazine tube can fail to catch the magazine stop and immediately be forced backward into the rifle's receiver by the magazine spring, thus tying up the action. The owner's manual warns about this. This type of jam can be cleared by using a thin tool (a jeweler's screwdriver or a pen knife blade will work) to lever the stuck cartridge forward and into the magazine tube where it belongs. Careful loading can avoid this problem, but careful loading might not be at the forefront of one's consciousness during a battle with hostiles.
Early production Lightnings (and our Uberti replica) lacked a dust cover over the receiver of the type found on the Winchester '73. Later Colt production incorporated this feature.
To get some trigger time with the Lightning we visited the Izaak Walton shooting range south of Eugene, Oregon. This facility offers covered shooting positions with bench rests and 25, 50, 100 and 200 yard rifle ranges. In this case, only the first two distances came into play. Guns and Shooting Online staff members Rocky Hays, Bob Fleck and Chuck Hawks did the shooting for record over a couple of fine Spring days.
At the rifle range our Lighting exhibited satisfactory accuracy. Its performance was roughly comparable to that of the .45 Colt caliber Uberti 1866 "Yellow Boy" replica that we previously reviewed, but inferior to that of the excellent .38 Spec./.357 Mag. Uberti 1873 Winchester replica that we recently reviewed. This probably has more to do with the caliber than the rifle, as we have yet to see a .45 Colt rifle of any kind that shoots as accurately as a .357 Magnum.
The buckhorn sights on the Uberti Lightning are no worse than others of the type, but they are not designed for aging eyes. Being middle-aged geezers, we found it impossible to focus on the rear sight, and the front sight was none too sharp, either. So we had to do some guessing regarding sight alignment. On the other hand, the same was true when we shot the Uberti 1866 and 1873 rifles.
We were able to locate two kinds of .45 Colt ammunition. One was a generic "white box" factory load using a 250 grain JHP bullet at a MV of 860 fps from a revolver. The other was a Chuck Hawks reload using a 200 grain Speer "flying ashtray" JHP bullet in front of enough HS6 powder for a muzzle velocity (MV) of about 950 fps from the 7.5" barrel of a Colt SAA revolver. (Estimated MV from the Lightning would be around 150 fps faster with both loads.)
All three shooters fired groups at 25 and 50 yards on NRA 25 yard centerfire pistol targets with both types of ammunition. Here are our 25 yard shooting results with the Uberti Lightning.
AVERAGE 25 YARD GROUP SIZE = 1.50"
And here are our 50 yard shooting results with the Uberti Lightning.
AVERAGE 50 YARD GROUP SIZE = 2.40"
As we mentioned earlier, these are satisfactory, but not exceptional, shooting results. The average 25 and 50 yard groups shot with our Uberti 1873 lever action rifle were about half the size of the Lightning's average groups.
In the course of shooting the Lightning we encountered constant feeding failures due to a little dip that the shell elevator makes as the bolt begins its forward travel. Whether this was simply a failure of our particular rifle or common to Lightning rifles in general we do not know. This little shell elevator dip often caused the nose of the JHP bullets that we were shooting to hang-up on the edge of the chamber. A round nose bullet might have slipped into the chamber anyway, but we had no such ammo on hand to try.
Perhaps a change of bullet form would cure the rifle's feeding problem, but it would not cure the next problem that we encountered. Namely, bulged cases and powder blow back every time the rifle was fired. The chamber of our test rifle was obviously cut out of round, as fired cases showed. Ejected cases were asymmetrically bulged with heavy streaks of powder residue down one side. Perhaps worse, hot gas and tiny particles of powder were blown past the Lightning's bolt at the shooter's forehead. And this was with standard factory loads and reloads well below the SAAMI allowable maximum average pressure of 14,000 psi. Heaven forbid anyone attempting to shoot high pressure .45 Colt loads in one of these rifles.
The blow back was more troubling than the slightly bulged cases, since the cases were not stretched to the point of rupturing. Getting sprayed with hot powder granules is not fun. Do not shoot one of these rifles without eye protection!
Nor is this a reloader's rifle. Filthy, bulged cases are hardly a reloader's ideal starting point, nor are cases from any unlocked action.
On the plus side, the relatively light spring tension on the Lightning's loading gate made it easy to load the magazine. And it is easy to single load cartridges directly into the Lightning's chamber. This can be a real plus, particularly when shooting from a bench rest. Some rifle ranges today have a "single cartridge only" rule.
Our conclusions about the Uberti Lightning were mixed. Everyone agreed that it is very attractive. Rocky liked the little rifle and would like to keep it despite its flaws. Bob and Chuck felt that, on balance, the traditional Marlin, Henry, and Winchester lever action rifles are functionally (if not conceptually) superior. For us, the Lightning represents a good idea that is flawed in design and execution.
RIFLE REVIEW SUMMARY
Copyright 2007 by ChuckHawks.com. All rights reserved.
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