Prompted by my friends over at the Liberal Gun Club, this is another in an occasional series of revisiting some of my old articles which had been published elsewhere over the years, lightly edited or updated with my current thoughts on the topic discussed. This is an article I wrote for Guns.com, and it originally ran 2/27/2012. In addition, I am including a new but related review of the Taurus Thunderbolt following the original review.
I have owned several lever guns over the years—a style I deeply enjoy. Currently, I have a Winchester 94AE in .44 magnum, which I love. However, I always keep my eyes open for a lever gun in .357 mag. It’s a cartridge that really begins to shine when paired with a carbine length barrel. Based on BBTI testing, it gains upwards of 50 percent velocity and pushes 1,200 foot/pounds of muzzle energy. But then the Uberti Lightning came into my life—a .357 pump carbine—and I wasn’t quite sure how to feel.
Don’t Forget Where You Come From
It’s a reproduction of the original Colt Lightning, originally manufactured in 1884 (but, curiously, listed as the Model 1875 by Uberti), and a pretty faithful reproduction at that. The only changes it has are to meet modern safety demands. Specifically, there’s a new hammer safety (of the transfer-bar variety), which eliminates the option to fire the gun just by pumping new rounds while keeping the trigger pulled. This also greatly reduces the chance of an accidental discharge.
The Uberti Lightning I shot was the ‘short rifle’ version, meaning it has a 20-inch barrel, with a case-hardened frame and trigger guard. It’s a very attractive gun with a top-notch fit and finish, a beautiful walnut stock—smooth in back and checkered on the slide—and good detail work. The case-hardening is quite attractive, but the gun is available in just a blued version if you prefer.
When first loading the gun I experienced a common problem that Uberti cautions about (and something I was warned about by several other reviewers): it is relatively easy to get a cartridge wedged under the carrier that loads a round from the tubular magazine into the chamber. This can also happen when you cycle the gun, if you’re not careful to push the slide grip fully forward and fully back. I wasn’t the only one of the three of us trying the gun who had this problem, and each time we had to stop, dislodge the cartridge with a small screwdriver, then cycle the action fully.
It’s a flaw in the design, there’s little doubt about that. However, once we all got the hang of it, we had no problems firing the gun quickly and accurately.
And I think that is the nicest thing about the Lightning: once you learn how to use it, it is faster and easier to stay on target than using a lever gun, at least for me. And I have a fair amount of experience shooting lever guns. You can run through 10 rounds almost as fast as you can pull the trigger.
The gun shot well, and was very accurate. At 25 yards (the longest distance we had available) it was no challenge to keep rounds in the X. Others have reported that it is just as accurate out to 50 yards, and I have no difficulty believing that.
Recoil is minimal, even with ‘full house’ 158 grain loads. The gun does have a curved metal buttplate, so the recoil-sensitive shooter could easily add something there to cushion recoil if necessary.
The gun is built robustly enough that it should handle just about any .357 magnum load out there without excess wear, and of course you can shoot .38 specials if you’re looking at reduced power needs or want to save a little coin at the range.
The Uberti website no longer lists the Lightning as available for sale, so if you’re interested in one of these guns you’ll need to hunt for it on your favorite firearms auction/sale site. The MSRP was $1259 last I saw.
So, if like me you’ve been thinking that you need to get a .357 lever gun, broaden your horizons a bit and consider the Uberti Lightning pump, instead. I am.
And about a year ago, I found one. Well, kinda.
What I found was a Taurus Thunderbolt:
That’s a 26″ barrel, and the tube mag holds 14 rounds of .357 mag (I think it’ll hold 15 of .38 special, but I would have to double-check that). Stainless steel, with walnut stock and fore-grip. The MSRP was $705, and I got mine (new, unfired, but it had been a display model for Taurus, so it had been factory reconditioned) for about 2/3 that price. You can still find them on various auction/sales sites for about $600 and up.
The Taurus isn’t as nice as the Uberti was, in terms of the finish. Still, it’s quite nice enough, and the mechanical aspects all seem to be fine. Particularly after breaking it in (say 3-400 rounds), there’s much less tendency for the design flaw mentioned above to trip you up, and most of the people who have shot mine have gotten the hang of it quite quickly.
It really is a slick-shooting gun, and once you’re used to it you can fire the thing almost as fast as a semi-auto carbine. It’s also easy to keep the gun shouldered and on-target,which I find difficult to do with a lever-action gun. I’ve found the gun to be quite accurate, easily as good as the Uberti version.
Being able to ‘top off’ the tube mag is nice, and there’s no need to fuss with magazines — though reloading it is definitely slower, and an acquired skill. Also, you have to carry loose rounds in a pouch or pocket.
My Thunderbolt weighs more than the Lightning (8+ pounds compared to less than 6 for the Lightning), due to the 6″ longer barrel/magazine. That makes recoil even more manageable, and I haven’t had anyone complain about shooting it even with hot .357 magnum loads. With mild .38 special loads it’s like shooting a .22, and a lot of fun for plinking.
I’m really happy I found this gun, and again I find myself saying what I did in my original review six years ago: if you’re in the market for a lever-gun in .357 mag, consider opting for a pump version, instead. And definitely, if you get a chance to shoot either of these guns, take it. You’ll be glad you did.
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