March 11, 2020
By Layne Simpson
Browning introduced the Citori over-under shotgun in 1973, and it has become extremely popular among hunters and clay target shooters. Dozens of variations in 12, 16, 20, and 28 gauges and .410 Bore have been available. The Feather Lightning version was introduced in 1999 and was produced until 2017. Procrastinators who failed to purchase one will be thrilled to know that it, like the proverbial phoenix, recently rose from its ashes. A limited number of 20-gauge guns were built, but 12 gauge, like the one featured in this report, is standard production.
A high-strength aluminum receiver reduces weight by about a pound when compared to the standard 12-gauge Citori and does not have any negative effect on durability. This was accomplished by hinging the barrels on a steel crosspin in the receiver and by reinforcing the standing breech with a thick steel insert. A friend of mine in Montana who is an avid hunter of anything that flies, including pheasant, Hungarian partridge, and sharptail grouse, bought a 12-gauge Feather Lightning soon after it was originally introduced some 20 years ago. One of those people who seem to ignore recoil, he has fired many cases of heavy loads in the gun, and while its exterior finish shows plenty of dents, scratches, and wear, lockup of its action remains tight as a tick.
The receiver of the resurrected Feather Lightning has a silver nitride finish along with good coverage of machine engraving in a very attractive scroll pattern. A gold-colored feather at the bottom of the receiver is an especially nice touch. Breech lockup takes place when a hefty horizontal lug moves forward from the bottom of the standing breech to engage a groove in the barrel monobloc, just below the bottom chamber.
The H-pattern safety slide on the upper tang operates in the same way as on the Browning Superposed, which the Citori replaced years ago. All the way to the rear is “Safe.” Push the slide to the right and forward for shooting the bottom barrel first and to the left and forward for the top barrel first. I noticed an improvement here.
Whereas it was easy to “snag” the safety of the Superposed in mid-position and watch helplessly as a bird flew away unscathed, it is not as easily done with the latest Citori safety. It still can be done, but when shooting the test gun, I had to try hard to do it.
The single trigger is recoil-reset, which means that if you experience a dud on the first trigger squeeze, a second squeeze will not fire the shell in the other barrel. Considering the reliability of modern factory ammunition and good handloads, I don’t see that as an issue worthy of concern.
The black walnut stock and forearm are described by Browning as Grade IV/III, and both have a handrubbed oil finish. While the grain in the forearm was mostly plain with only a touch of contrast, the stock had plenty of figure with more on the left-hand side than on the right. Eighteen-line checkering at the wrist of the stock and on the forearm is nicely executed with no border runover and no diamonds left screaming for someone to come back and point them up. Browning’s Influx pad at the rear does an excellent job of soaking up recoil, and the shape of the grip harkens back to the days of the grand old Superposed. The Deeley-style latch worked flawlessly and made the forearm easy to detach and reattach. Drop at the comb is 1.75 inches, and drop at the heel is 2.50 inches.
Weight ratings are 7 pounds for the gun with 26-inch barrels and 7 pounds, 2 ounces with 28-inch barrels. Due to slight density variations in walnut, some guns will be a tad lighter than specified, while others will be heavier by about the same amount. The gun I shot had the longer tubes and weighed 7 pounds, 4.2 ounces on a digital postal scale.
The raised vented rib is 0.300 inch wide with its top surface textured for the elimination of glare. White bead sights at the midpoint of the rib and at its muzzle measure 0.070 inch and 0.160 inch respectively.
According to my trusty bore gauge, the bores of the barrels were overbored to 0.740 inch in diameter. Invector-Plus screw-in chokes measured 0.733, 0.723, and 0.709 inch for respective constrictions of 0.007, 0.017, and 0.031 inch. The chokes have Improved Cylinder, Modified, and Full markings, but on the Briley chart, which I consider to be standard, they would be closer to Improved Skeet, Light Modified, and Light Full. That’s an excellent combination for a gun used mostly for wingshooting with occasional practice rounds of skeet, sporting clays, and other clay target games to keep the eye sharp during the off-season. Adding a couple of chokes with 0.003 inch of constriction (Light Skeet) would make the gun ideal for hunting ruffed grouse. As I prefer on an over-under shotgun, the chokes are the extended type, and that makes them easy to check for tightness (with the gun unloaded), and the muzzles of the barrel are protected from dings in the field. Browning includes a very good choke wrench.
When comparing pattern center impact point of a shotgun in relation to my hold point as well as checking pattern uniformity and density with various loads at several distances, I use a steel plate measuring 50x50 inches supported by two wooden posts. A paint roller is used to coat the plate with a two-to-one mixture of white oil-based paint and new motor oil. After a pattern is shot, examined, and recorded, it is “erased” with a fresh coat of paint, and the plate is ready for the next shot. Pattern testing is best done from a rest, and for that I shoot standing with the back of my forward hand resting on a flat sandbag placed atop the paint-bucket shelf of a six-foot step ladder.
Some notes of caution are in order. Always wear eye protection, and due to the potential hazard of steel pellets bouncing back toward the shooter, a steel plate should be used for patterning loads with only lead shot or nontoxic shot of the same or similar hardness.
For wingshooting, I prefer a flat-shooting gun that places 50 percent of its pattern above and below my hold point. In my hands, the Feather Lightning placed its patterns a bit high but not enough to use as an excuse for missing in the field or on the clay target range. This holds especially true on flushing quail and pheasant. I should add that shotgun fit can vary considerably from shooter to shooter, and in the hands of others, the Citori Feather Lightning I shot may shoot its patterns dead center of their hold points.
During the golden era of wingshooting, it was not unusual for a well-heeled British shotgunner to fire an incredible number of rounds at driven red grouse in a single day. By American standards, their loads were quite light, yet they consistently grassed birds at great distances. With the aid of a human loader, they often used a matched pair of doubles built by Purdey, Holland & Holland, Westley Richards, or one of the other famous gunmakers. The minimum weight for a custom-built 12-gauge shotgun was considered to be 96 times the weight of the shot charge to be used. In other words, a gun shooting an ounce of shot should weigh no less than six pounds. Most guns were built a bit heavier because increasing weight reduces recoil, as does lowering the velocities of shotshell loads.
I don’t have a British double in 12 gauge, but my 20-gauge Westley Richards with 28-inch barrels weighs precisely 5.5 pounds. Using the old British rule of thumb, maximum shot charge weight for it is 0.92 ounce. Due to the high velocity of today’s 7/8-ounce and 1-ounce factory loads, recoil is rather unpleasant and probably more than a gun of its age should be subjected to. When fed a soft-shooting reload with 3/4 ounce of shot at 1,100 fps, the little gun is great fun to shoot and quite efficient at dropping quail, sharptail grouse, and pheasant out to 35 yards, which is a bit farther than I usually take those birds.
I mention this because like my Westley Richards, the Browning Citori Lightning Feather is an excellent candidate for light loads. Applying the old English formula, maximum shot charge weight for it is around 1.21 ounces. The gun is certainly capable of handling heavier loads, but for sporting clays and most wingshooting, light factory loads and handloads will get the job done and are more pleasant to shoot. The softest and lightest factory loads I have used when shooting various game birds with my Fox Sterlingworth double are available from Kent Gamebore Corp. Elite Low-Recoil shells from that company are loaded with No. 8 shot at a velocity of 1,200 fps. The 3/4-ounce load is in a 2½-inch shell and the 7/8-ounce load is in a 2¾-inch shell. The Top Gun subsonic load from Federal is also quite comfortable to shoot, and while it works fine on doves, its velocity may be a bit slow for adequate penetration on going-away pheasants much beyond 30 yards.
Hunting season was closed, so I shot two rounds each of Skeet, 16-yard Trap, and Five Stand. On the skeet field I used the IC choke in the top barrel and a Skeet choke from one of my guns in the bottom barrel. When shooting Trap and Five Stand, I chose the Improved and Modified chokes that came with the gun. For Skeet, I went with the Kent 2½-inch Low Recoil load. For Trap and Five Stand, I chose the 2¾-inch version. Of 150 clay targets fired at, five were misses: one at Skeet, one at Trap, and three at the springing teal and rabbits in Five Stand. In Five Stand a second shot is allowed when single targets are thrown, so I did manage to break both springing teals with follow-up shots, but one of those darned rabbits is probably still bouncing along.
When introduced back in 1999, the Citori Feather Lightning had 2¾-inch chambers. The latest version has 3-inch chrome-plated chambers, and while the gun would be quite unpleasant to shoot with 3-inch shells, it is believed in some circles that the longer chambers are beneficial when 2¾-inch and shorter shells are used. As popular opinion has it, an oversized bore reduces the recoil of a shotgun, and recoil is reduced a bit more when it is combined with a lengthened forcing cone and a 3-inch chamber. In some circles, it is also believed that a combination of a 3-inch chamber and a lengthened forcing cone reduces pellet deformation with lead shot for an improvement in pattern quality.
I sometimes hunt with 12-gauge guns but must confess to be a smallbore man with 20 gauge among my favorites for wingshooting. I also have several guns in 28 gauge and .410 Bore, and when hunting quail, doves, and other small game birds, they see more use than my 20s. Out to 35 yards or so, the 28 is also quite deadly on pheasants. With that said, I must add that the 12 gauge is a better choice for the wingshooter who chooses to own only one gun simply because it is more flexible. Feed it light loads, and it easily duplicates the recoil and downrange performance of the smaller bores. Feed it heavier loads and performance can improve.
The Citori Feather Lightning is an excellent choice for the uplands, and its balance and weight make it just about ideal for ruffed grouse. With light loads, it is also quite suitable for casual rounds of clay targets.