The controversy was related to the series of problems and setbacks that plagued the company as it brought the gun to the market. The original Lightning is a complex gun that had fundamental flaws that had to be corrected in the design of the reproduction.
The gun was originally intended to be released late in 2002, but a series of production issues resulted in the gun coming to market about nine months late. After a series of false starts and delays, the gun has arrived and I was fortunate to have access to one of their test guns.
AWA released the first Lightnings a few weeks ago, but also decided to put at least two guns into the field for testing in the hands of many people to see what other problems might arise. I was offered one of these guns under the condition that I stress it and let as many people shoot is as possible. The objective was to make it break and to see what problems might arise. I took my test gun to shoots and let many people use it.
The gun performed flawlessly when I took it to the range to familiarize myself with its action. It is loaded a little differently than the more familiar Winchester and I wanted to be familiar with it. I found that it performed flawlessly during the familiarization process and I handled it more harshly than I do my lever guns.
I let Howdy Doody shoot the gun for a single stage in Manteca, and he reported no problems other than becoming familiar with the semi-buckhorn sights. We started seeing problems in the gun when a variety of people used it with a variety of different types of ammunition. These problems would be expected in any gun, however.
The day of reckoning came two weeks later when I entered a cowboy match in Jamestown and chose to use the Lightning. The gun developed problems during the first stage and I pulled it from competition in favor of my Rossi 92. Such are the trials and tribulations of field testing new guns.
We shot the gun more during the lunch break and three people had similar feeding problems with the same ammunition. We even put about twenty-five rounds of .45 Colt ammunition loaded with American Pioneer Powder through the gun. This would allow it to be shot in the blackpowder categories and to my surprise, it seemed to like the smoky powder.
A post-mortem of the gun revealed a slight problem with the right guide rail. The problem prevented cartridges from feeding cleanly into the chamber and will be replaced.
Territorial Governor, Shenandoah, tries the Lightning
I was impressed with the focus AWA was giving the gun from the moment I reported a problem had surfaced. That was the purpose of testing and they wanted the gun immediately shipped back to the factory so it could be inspected and the problem corrected. This is exactly the response I would expect from a company looking to find all of the potential flaws as soon as possible.
When cartridges did feed properly, I found the gun to be easy to handle and to shoot. I was able to shoot about a two-inch pattern at about 75 yards.
Cisco Pike throws smoke and an empty cartridge as he puts it through its paces.
Initial problems aside, an evaluation of the quality of the gun revealed its intricacy and the good quality of the workmanship. The one I was testing was a standard production model that was blemished with a scratch. The wood stock was upgraded to one with handsome checkering and fine grain. Unfortunately, it was also a second quality item that could not be sold and was put on the test gun to allow people to see the checkered version.
Upgraded wood stock on the test gun shows the fine quality of the checkering.
My test gun was equipped with semi-buckhorn rear sights and a brass bead front sight that made target acquisition much easier. The finish of the receiver is a deep and rich black that is very shiny and thick appearing. The barrel and magazine tube are blued with a slightly less rich finish. I understand this emulates the original finish that Colt applied to the originals.
Shooting the gun is a pleasure when everything works properly. Cartridges feed smoothly and eject cleanly. I was most impressed by how quickly I was able to become comfortable with the gun. It's light weight allows me to acquire the target quickly and I did not miss with this gun. The action cycled quickly and the front sight returned quickly to the target.
I am not anywhere near being a top shooter and I found my rifle shooting improved greatly using the Lightning as compared to my lever guns. Loading it does require a little practice since it is different than the lever guns.
Loading the Lighting is done with the the action open, which clears the action away from the loading gate and allows it to be opened. After loading ten cartridges into the magazine tube, simply close the action and carefully lower the hammer. There will not be a cartridge carried into the chamber until the action is cycled again.
After the gun is loaded, I carried it to the firing line and prepared to shoot a stage. When I reached the rifle portion of the stage, I picked up the lightning and brought it onto the target while cycling the action. The sights remained on the target and the first three shots were the fastest I have ever shot with a cowboy gun. I will get my next opportunity to try the gun as soon as it returns from AWA.
The deep rich finish on the receiver contrasts with the grain of the excellently fitted wood.
Two issues surfaced with each of the people who tested the gun. The first was the feeling that the length of pull on the stock was excessively short. This is actually a bit of an illusion. I feel my Rossi 92 is a bit too long and have considered shortening it. I placed the two guns next to each other and found the length of pull on both guns to be identical. This is apparently an illusion with the Lightning.
The second issue has to do with the loading through the loading port. Most people found it difficult to feed the large cartridges through the loading port against the strength of the magazine tube spring. I also had problems with the first ones I tried to load, but found it became much more natural and easier than my Rossi 92.
Like any new gun premiering on the market for the first time, the AWA Lightning test gun had a few initial problems. This is to be expected from any new and complex piece of equipment coming to the market. This test gun has over eight-hundred rounds fired through it and is on its way back to the factory to be reviewed and repaired.
My impression with the AWA Lightning is quite positive despite the problem with the right guide rail. It was very quick to shoot and I found the slight frame of the gun fit me nicely. I am looking forward to putting it through its paces when it returns. I also find it nice to be a part of seeing the Lightning return to the market after over one hundred years of absence.
I will update the end of this article when the gun returns from Florida. I will also shoot it in competition and report the results in next month's newsletter.