Uberti Lightning Replica Rifles

By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff

Uberti Lightning Short Rifle
Uberti Lightning Short Rifle. Illustration courtesy of A. Uberti S.R.L.

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.

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.

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. 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.

The three Uberti Lightning rifle models are the Rifle (24" octagon barrel), Short Rifle (20" octagon barrel) and Carbine (20" round barrel). 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 popular Uberti Lightning Short Rifle.

  • Item #: 356022
  • Action: Pump repeater with exposed hammer
  • Caliber: .38 Spec./.357 Mag. and .45 Colt
  • Capacity: 10 cartridges in tubular magazine under barrel
  • Total Length: 37"
  • Weight: 6 lbs. 6 ounces
  • Barrel: 20" octagon, blued
  • Stock: A-grade walnut with checkered forend
  • Buttplate: Curved rifle type, blued
  • Frame and Trigger Guard: Case-hardened.
  • 2007 MSRP: $1099

The construction and fit of the Uberti Lightning is generally very good. 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. Both are given a glossy lacquer finish that highlights the grain and color of the wood.

The action of the Uberti Lightning is smooth and doesn't bind. Cartridges are fed into the chamber from a tubular magazine under the barrel by a pivoted lifter. 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 is not a feature of the original Colt Lightning; Uberti added this safety feature.

The trigger of a Colt Lightning could be held back and the rifle fired simply by pumping the handle. 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 discovered that the Lightning design has some peculiarities to which one must become accustomed. 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.

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, potentially 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.

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. For us, the Lightning design represents a good idea that is flawed in execution.

Note: A complete review of the Uberti Lightning Short Rifle can be found on the Product Reviews page.

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