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(This is a reader gun review contest entry, click here for more details.)

By TT

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.

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Overall appearance
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.

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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.

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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.

Handling characteristics
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.

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Accuracy 
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).

Favorite Feature
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).

 

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29 Responses to Gun Review: Browning Citori Lightning Grade I 20 Gauge

  1. Very nice review, TT. The Citori’s are great shotguns, and $1600 is a “good deal” for a very nice, quality over/under that can be passed down through the family.

    As you stated, the most important quality in shotguns is fit and how naturally the gun shoulders and points for you. When all your shots are on moving targets, you don’t want to have to “think” about the gun. That’s why I feel it’s critical to try a number of different brands and models before buying, whether it’s a $300 pump or a high dollar O/U. Quick, clean kills are the goal, whether clay birds or live game.

  2. I don’t think you can go wrong with a browning or a beretta; what it comes down to is how the shotgun fits you. This, among all other factors, is more important with an o/u shotgun than anything else. I chose the Beretta sv10 because it shouldered better than a Citori or Guerini for me. I feel like all o/u’s $2k+ will be execellent guns. The more you spend over $2k, the nicer the wood and engraving gets.

    • ^^THIS^^

      Fit is everything.

      I’ve got a SPI 12ga, and a EELL .410. The price difference of nearly 3k comes down to the wood, and engraving on the EELL, nothing else.

  3. I have lots of shotguns and I’ve had lots of Citori’s. The lightning is a good gun if a bit heavy. If you really want a hunting 20 gauge and you like the lightning shape and look the one to get is the Feather.

  4. Good review. I hunt with my silver pigeon several times a year. As I get older though, I’m wishing it was a 20 instead of 12 gauge. And the safety engaging every time it’s broke open is very annoying.

  5. Good guns, no doubt. I hunt with my mossbergs for a very simple reason. Very first hunt with my wood stocked 500 20 ga. and I took a tumble. Gouged a big chunk out of the stock. Took a fall with my synthetic stocked 500 12 ga. and put scratches on the stock.

    No big deal in my mossbergs. Would have been heart breaking in a Browning.

  6. One nice feature of the Citori is that after the first 50,000-100,000 rounds it can be rebuilt (if needed) for a reasonable price. Those who are involved in serious clay target competition will invariably opt for a Krieghoff or Perazzi, but entry level OUs from these companies are going to cost you close to $10,000. The new Citori Crossover Target model is less than $1700 (street price). The $8300 you save will buy a lot of ammo and range time, so unless your name is George Digweed or Kim Rhode go with the Citori.

    • There are also Citori models optimized for trap shooting, which run about $3K MSRP.

      The Citori line is a good, solid O/U shotgun. There’s a few things that I don’t like – the inertia trigger, for example – but on the whole, they’re solid, reliable shotguns and are very good in the bang/buck consideration vs. other O/U shotguns (especially the European offerings).

      Brownings tend to be pretty tight when they’re new, and they get more reasonable over time.

  7. What percentage of Grade I owners are also Grade VI owners who wanted something they weren’t afraid to scratch up?

    I’ve only ever seen one of those high-end, hand-engraved shotguns (a $9,000 Beretta), and I’d be shocked if anyone ever tried to hunt with it. It just looked way too gorgeous to ever risk taking anywhere.

    • I dunno, I’ve seen some bad things happen to fine guns on a clays course, and I’m talking about cosmetic damage only. Unless I buy it to hang on the wall, I’m shooting it. 😀

    • I’ve seen $10K guns on trap ranges and I’ve seek $5K guns out in the field on upland game hunts. Duck hunts? No.

      I’ve seen guys bring $5K guns on chukar hunts in Nevada. Several of us who were familiar with the terrain warned them to go get a cheap-assed Rem 870 for hunting chukar, but to no avail. Later that evening, we’d meet the same guys who were looking like someone ruined their day – and it was invariably because they dropped their expensive gun.

      When hunting something tame like pheasant or doves? Sure, use a high-dollar gun.

  8. My dad kicks himself for not buying a crate of FN Superposed at the PX when stationed in Germany way back when. $300 each.

    I kick him too!

  9. I don’t know much about O/U shotguns, but I know that one must be very careful when typing “Citori” on a device with auto-correct…

  10. I’m certain that it’s a very nice gun.

    That said, it’ll be a rainy day on the Moon before I plunk down that much medium-of-exchange on a scattergun that’s not an historic relic.

    Juts 2¢ from the 99%…

    • Russ, if your using the gun for skeet, trap, or sporting clays it just about becomes a requirement to have a “decent” gun (like the Citori). Unlike taking an occasional shot in the field, doing skeet/trap/clays on a frequent basis and you end up taking many, many shots. Three rounds of skeet, 52 weeks a year is 3,900 shots per year. Four rounds, twice a week and you are at 10,400/year. With a cheap O/U or S/S, they will quickly show wear and within a not too long period of time, your gun will be worthless. Yes, you can go semi-auto (auto-loader) or pump, but each of these also have issues. With the semi-auto, your shells are flying. With the pump, this also happens and you have the additional issue on doubles (skeet, clays) being considerably more challenging.

      With an over/under or side by side, you can also more easily extract the used shells for reloading. Not only does reloading allow you to reduce costs (compared to factory rounds), but even more importantly better control the load characteristics. As an example, for skeet I usually use a 3/4 ounce load (12-guage) which does just fine breaking the bird yet produces a much lower recoil.

      • I do have a double (S/S) 20 gauge bird gun, but I paid $65 for it and after brazing the extractor it’s good as new; it even looks O.K.

        Guess I’m just not the sort that’d ever wrap a bow ’round an Escalade even were I to win at Lotto.

        I’d fix up a ’63 Riviera instead…

  11. I hate pump shotguns and worry about reliability (and cleaning hassles) with a semi. Thus, I really want a O/U for hunting.

    But, I really want a synthetic stock so I could use it for turkeys or ducks (I know that is not the normal use for an O/U) w/o ding fears.

    Crazy idea?

      • I don’t really care about SxS vs O/U except that there seem to be a lot more current options available in O/U.

        I love my Glock because it functions perfect and is easy to clean. From a reliability/cleaning perspective, an O/U seems like a winner.

      • The O/U guns became more popular than SxS guns mostly due to people’s preferences regarding the sight picture.

        On a O/U gun, you get less of the barrel profile obscuring a target when swinging on a traversing target. When you get into clay games, people can become very picky about their sight picture on a clay.

        The other thing about O/U guns is that you can reconfigure the barrels to an unsingle for trap singles, and then a set of shorter barrels for skeet, and longer barrels for field or trap doubles (or sporting clays) use. With a SxS, there’s no equivalent of the unsingle barrel option at all.

  12. This review failed to mention one of the most important aspects of an O/U shotgun — does it have a mechanical or inertia trigger?

    Owing to the absurdly high cost of shot these days, many skeet shooters reload ultra-lite shotshells. Some reload 12 gauge with as little as 3/4 ounce of shot. Recoil is so light on those loads that some O/Us won’t cycle an inertia trigger to the next barrel.

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