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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
I have a circa 1886 medium frame Colt Lightning rifle that's been in my family most likely since new, but at least since the early 1920s. It's in good mechanical condition and decent cosmetic condition, although it has suffered over the past 40 years that I have had it, which embarrasses me quite a bit. It is a family heirloom and recently I have thought about putting it back in action. I don't want to damage it any further but i don't think running a few cowboy loads through will hurt it. Any recommendations on ammo?
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
To be more specific, I guess my real question is whether modern smokeless cowboy loads are suitable for a rifle of this vintage or if I should be looking for black powder loads.
 

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I personally would avoid smokeless powder in it. I know it can be handloaded to low pressure etc. etc. However, in the Colt Lightning rifle I owned in 38-40 as well as about 10 1873 Winchesters Ive owned at one time or another, I only used either black powder or Pyrodex. It is what they are designed for. There is a difference between a safe action and a strong action (as detailed by Frank DeHaas in his book "Bolt Action Rifles"), and while the Lightning is probably strong enough for mild smokeless loads, as is the Winchester 1873, it is not a SAFE action for the loads IF something goes wrong. Ive gone round and round with this with others in a friendly way and don't wish to start it up now, but for your safety as well as the guns well being I would have it checked out for cracks in the frame, cracked locking lugs, excessive headspace, etc. by a competent gunsmith. If given the OK then load up a soft lead bullet with black or pyro and have fun! Remember to clean it up well when done. I will add that Trailboss powder may cause me to rethink some of this because it is almost impossible to get a double charge of the stuff, it fills the case, and the pressures are low, but I have not experimented with it enough in antique arms to say for sure. Pictures of the gun? We'd all love to see it.
 

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Yes, an overcharge of any smokeless is likely to damage a Colt Lightning; while they are impressive, they are weak like Winchester toggles. For years I've limited my shooting of them to Pyrodex or Black powder. Lately, I've started shooting Shockey's Gold which acts like black w/o sulphur. So far, the results are impressive, easy to clean and very, very low pressure indications. Like Black and Pyrodex, highly unlikely that you can overcharge a Lightning case (however, there are those who exert great force to compress the difficult to compress; they may succeed). The case is loaded like black with a tinge of compression so there is only one load for each bullet: a full (lightly compressed) case. Cleans easier than most smokeless powders at low pressure and gives a nice puff of smoke for those who wish to relive the past in one form or another. Regards, ron
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
I am a reloader, but I wouldn't shoot this enough to justify the investment in dies and components if I can find a suitable off the shelf load that is safe.

Here are a few photos of the rifle. Serial number 78XX dates to 1886 IIRC. As I mentioned, it's been in my family for a long time, probably since new. It belonged to my great-grandfather who died in the 1930s, so we've had it at least that long. I found it in a closet in my great Aunt's house in the early 70s and I've been its "caretaker" ever since, although I sadly admit that I have done a pretty poor job of it. At one point when I was a teenager I tried to re-blue it with cold blue, which I quickly realized was a bad idea but not until after I had scrubbed the patina off the left side of the receiver, which still doesn't match. I also lost the tang screw and Marbles tang sight it had back in the early 80s. Still haven't replaced the screw so the stock is loose.



 

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The replicas sold by Taylor & Company are supposed to have taken care of the weakness described. I've seen and handled several of them and they are beautifully made but not inexpensive. These would be the ones to shoot with modern loads. They're made in .38/.357, .45 Colt and maybe .44-40 as well.
 

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What a beautiful rifle, you should be proud that your family has kept this for so long. It shows honest wear and looks like a rifle should being 130+ years.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Update: I recently started casting lead bullets and loading black powder 45 Colt cartridges and decided it was long past time to shoot this rifle, which as I noted earlier in the thread, belonged to my great grandfather and has been in the family for at least 100 years. It's probably not been shot in at least that long either, considering he died in the early 1930s. This rifle was in a closet in our house when I was a little kid and was one of the first, if not the first, firearm I ever handled and certainly played a big role in sparking my interest in guns, so firing it for the first time yesterday nearly 50 years after first seeing it was pretty cool. I cast and sized the bullets with a vintage Lyman/Ideal reloading tool, and loaded the ammo with Goex black powder. That first shot was actually pretty anticlimactic. There was no drama and just a soft push from the surprisingly mild recoil. After the first round I fired eight more, and the rifle cycled and fed perfectly from the magazine. Accuracy left a bit to be desired but I wasn't really shooting for a group and I think the bullets might be a bit undersized for the bore. Here's a short video clip of the big moment.

 
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