(This is a reader gun review contest entry, click here for more details.)
Who knew you’re likely to spend $1,600+ to get a good-looking and good-working over-and-under shotgun? Probably anyone who has shopped the “low” end of the over-under market. The Browning Citori Lightning Grade I 20 gauge with 28″ barrels carries a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $1,989. If you look hard, you can take one home for around $1,600. This gun does just what it should and looks just as it should . . .
Shotguns ― particularly double barrels ― are tricky. They seem like the simplest of guns. Therefore, they should be the cheapest of guns. Or so it seems. Somehow, over-and-unders are among the most expensive guns; at times shockingly so. New over-and-unders can exceed $30,000. Many shooters don’t think of $5,000 models as high-end. At the same time, over-and-unders are available for $500 or so.
Because of the wild price disparities and the fact that most all shotguns will do close to the same thing with the shot, namely scatter it, it helps to discuss shotguns in terms of what they are not and how they compare to other guns, in addition to focusing on just the gun itself.
The Miroku factory in Japan makes all Browning Citori shotguns. Miroku has made quality double barrel shotguns since the 1960s. Browning makes an insanely large number of models under the Citori line. They range in MSRP from $1,650 to well over $10,000. The Lightning is the cheapest full-size Citori. It’s available in any gauge you please. Don’t confuse Citoris with Browning Superposed shotguns. Superposed guns are basically custom guns made by F.N. in Belgium or much older production guns made in Belgium.
For comparisons, CZ, Stoeger, Stevens and others make lower-cost over-and-unders in in Turkey, while Franchi makes some in Italy. For this review, I handled the Beretta Silver Pigeon I (MSRP $2,245), the Franchi Instict L (MSRP $1,149), the CZ Redhead (MSRP $953), and the Stoeger Condor Supreme (MSRP $599). The Lightning and the Beretta stood head and shoulders above the other guns.
Applicability for a given situation
The Lightning is a field gun. Browning made it to carry around while trying to shoot animals. The Lightning is not purpose built for any clay shooting sports. However, the vast majority of shooters will not own both a dedicated field gun and a dedicated clay gun. Field guns tend to be much cheaper than clay guns and are in much wider ownership. Thus, many shooters will use field guns on the clay range, maybe more often than in the field.
The Lightning weighs 6 lbs 9 oz. That’s among the heavier, if not the heaviest, of 20 gauge field guns. But it’s far from too heavy to carry. Many consider that extra weight a major plus, especially on the clay range. A heavier gun follows through on a swinging shot better than a lighter gun and absorbs some extra recoil.
The 28” barrels on the gun reviewed are on the long side for a field gun and the short side for a target gun. Today’s shotgunners trend toward longer barrels. The 28” barrels provide a nice option in a gun that will see use in both the field and the clay range. Browning offers shorter barrels but not longer ones for the Lightning field guns.
The Grade 1 Lightning looks just like a shotgun should, if you like traditional-looking shotguns. The Lightning moniker comes from the gun’s rounded pistol grip. The Lightning has an understated and elegant appearance. With the all-blued metal and dark walnut wood, the gun has no flash. Only the glossy finish on the wood and the Browning gold trigger stand out. Despite the understatement, the Lightning displays as a clearly nice shotgun, even at a quick glance. At the same time, it does not look like a competition or high-end shotgun. In short, its appearance perfectly matches what it is.
Appearance-wise, the Lightning is on par with the Beretta 686 Silver-Pigeon I in terms of overall attractiveness. The Beretta has some bling in the form of a shiny receiver. The Beretta also has matte finished wood. The Lightning’s appearance is well ahead that of the Franchi, Tri-Star, and Stoeger over and under offerings. These guns can stray towards cheap-looking. The Lightning looks like quality.
Fit and finish
The Lightning had the best fit of all the handled guns. Out of the box it was not too stiff breaking open and closing. All the others, including the Beretta, were. All the parts are tight, go together snugly, and come apart easily. The wood and metal fit together excellently.
The Lightning’s bluing is good, but not great. It’s a little too black and lacks depth. The receiver has some nice, understated engraving. The finish of the Lightning really shone when compared to the cheaper guns. The CZ’s receiver looked almost plastic. The Stoeger looks cheap overall, which is fine because it is. The Franchi’s appearance did not justify its middle-ground price. I found the Franchi’s metal comparable to low price shotguns.
Wood quality is critical to a shotgun’s appearance and value. Walnut with good color and figuring is scarce and expensive. The Lightning has decent wood. The stock has some figure, but not a lot. The wood has good color, but not great. The fore-end has straight-grained wood. The glossy finish is flawless. The checkering is distinct, crisp, and feels good on the hand. The Lightning and the Beretta have comparable wood. The CZ and Stoeger have flat, plain wood. The Franchi has wood somewhere in between.
The Lightning performed flawlessly and reliably.
Ease of use
Things don’t get much easier to use than a double barrel shotgun. Even at that, the Lightning does well. The safety does not engage automatically when the action is closed. I consider this an important plus. The safety switch also serves to easily change the order in which the barrels fire. Browning engraved the receiver with an “O” for the over, or top, barrel and a “U” for the under barrel. However, Browning did not mark the safety position clearly enough. The receiver only has an uncolored, engraved “S” for the safe position. The picture of the tang above shows the safety in the safe position. The safety has no marking for fire. Fire should be clearly marked, in my opinion.
Ease of disassembly
Disassembly works like most double barrels. Pull a lever on the handguard, remove the handguard, break the gun open, separate the barrels from the action. You’re done. Perform basic cleaning from this point. Double barrels clean like a breeze.
The Lightning balances well and points well, but so does every other reasonable shotgun. Shotguns come down to fit. In gross, general terms fit means when you shoulder the gun and weld your cheek to the stock, your trigger finger lands naturally on the trigger and your dominant eye looks right down the rib. A gun either fits you or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, you can get the gun worked on or buy a different gun that fits. There is no right or wrong answer here.
Triggers are important, though. In rifle terms, the Lightning’s trigger has a little bit of creep, leading to a clean break at, I’m guessing, 4-5 pounds. When firing at flying targets, the trigger pulls cleanly without affecting the shot in any way. The trigger essentially disappears into the shot. The Lightning’s trigger is noticeably lighter and cleaner that the Silver Pigeon I’s and heads and shoulders above all the cheaper offerings.
Aftermarket options & accessories
The Lightning uses Browning’s choke system called the Invector Plus. Because Browning sells oodles of shotguns, Invector Plus chokes are readily available anywhere and everywhere. Browning does not sell extra barrels for Citoris. The barrels are hand fitted to the individual gun at Miroku. Because of the ubiquity of Browning shotguns, accessories like butt pads, cheek pads, and beads abound.
Yes? It’s a shotgun. About all I can say is that over the first four rounds of skeet I shot with the Lightning, I easily beat my personal best (which isn’t very good). The Lightning’s comb fits me better than my old gun’s though. The Lightning certainly puts the shot where it’s supposed to, but most shotguns will do that. I did not pattern the gun because TTAG doesn’t do that with shotguns (and it’s boring).
The safety does not go on automatically when you close the shotgun. Auto or manual safeties are a personal preference. I prefer manual.
Least Favorite Features
A field gun spends a lot of time loaded near other people. The safety switch should have a clear fire marking. The ejectors throw the spent shells a bit farther than necessary.
Overall & Ratings
Let’s be honest. If you’re buying an over-and-under shotgun, you’re almost certainly concerned about aesthetics. Assuming equal fit to the shooter, the vast majority of shooters will bust about as many clays and kill as many birds with a $400 Mossberg as they will with a $30,000 Krieghoff or Holland & Holland. If you just want to hit your target, get a semi-auto and save a pile of cash.
The Lightning just breaks into the territory of the kind of gun that might stay in the family for a few generations (the Beretta does too). The Stoeger, CZ, and Franchi are more work-a-day in feel and appearance. While the Lightning has a significant cost difference ― $1,390 – $840 ― between it and these competitors, the Lightning also has much better feel, fit, and finish. If you’re shopping for over-and-unders, you’re likely prioritizing fit, feel, and finish. If so, you’ll find your money well-spent on a Citori Lightning Grade I.=
Ratings (out of five stars):
Reliability * * * * *
Everything works and works every time.
Ergonomics * * * * *
Assuming the gun fits, it points great, swings great, and has easily-accessed controls. The extra weight the Lightning has compared to similar field guns gives it an edge here.
Aesthetics: * * * *
The Lightning has five star aesthetics for me. However, others might consider the understated looks a negative. At this price, the fore-end should have nicer wood. The gun is still a looker, though.
Customize This: * * * *
This is another tough one. In TTAG review parlance, “customize this” really means “accessorize this.” The Lightning has a ready selection of aftermarket chokes, beads, cheek pads, and recoil pads. That’s about all you can do to an over-under without getting into serious cutting on the stock or custom-made extra barrels that cost about as much as a new gun. To some extent, the Lightning’s quality achieved by hand fitting prohibits serious accessorizing. It’s tough to penalize a gun for its quality, so I’ll stick with four stars instead of three.
Overall: * * * * ½
The slight creep in the trigger, the lack of a fire marking, and the straight-grained fore-end wood steal a ½ star. As compared to the other guns, the Lightning beats the Berretta in function, meets it in form, and costs a little less. The Lightning stands head and shoulders above the lower-cost offerings in form and function (and it should).