Photos by Michael Anschuetz
The Browning Citori has been one of the world’s most successful over-under shotguns since its introduction in 1978. In fact, I bought one as my first over-under shotgun that very year. The cost at a department store in Northern Virginia was $666, an easy number to remember. That’s $2,596 in current dollars, a sum remarkably well aligned with the current price of the standard model. The NRA was paying me a princely $18,000 at that point in my career, which translates, surprisingly to me, to a bit over $70,000 in current money. So if that’s in your tax bracket, the Citori is your shotgun.
Just as it was then, the maker is B.C. Miroku of Kochi, Japan. Miroku has existed since 1893, and for many years its signature product were harpoon guns, though it made a variety of revolvers, rifles and shotguns. In 1963, Miroku guns began to be sold in this country under the Charles Daly name. Older readers will remember the distinguished-looking gray-haired gentleman who represented the brand. Charles Daly, who originally imported guns from Germany (i.e., “Prussian” Dalys), moved to Italian- and Japanese-made guns in the 1960s.
Miroku sold guns outside the USA under its own name, and was especially popular in Australia and New Zealand. But there clearly was a lot more potential in the U.S. over-under market than the 4,000 to 5,000 guns a year being sold by Daly. Meanwhile, Browning had been encountering increasing costs and production bottlenecks on the Superposed over-under. It was a masterpiece, but was designed in the 1920s and required lots of hand-fitting. If you’ve ever owned one, you’ve no doubt marveled at the complicated forend lock and other features.
Browning hoped to supplement the Superposed with a lower-cost Belgian over-under: the Liege. It was not especially popular and suffered when Browning stocked it and other guns in salt-cured wood that caused severe rusting and required a massive recall. The situation lasted between 1973 and ’75.
Browning and Miroku started their collaboration with a relatively humble gun, the BL-22 lever-action. Shortly thereafter came the centerfire Browning lever-action rifle (BLR) with its distinctive rotary bolt. In 1973, Browning and Miroku began development of the Citori, which had certain features of the Daly shotgun but was made under a much stricter quality control regime. Production for Charles Daly ended that year, but Daly guns in the pipeline continued to be sold through 1976.
Today, Miroku is the primary source for Browning and many Winchester arms, but they also make machine tools like gun drills, lapping machines and machinery for the woodworking industry.
The listings for the various Citori variants take up almost 25 pages in the “Blue Book of Gun Values,” so I will make no attempt to detail them, but suffice to say there have been Citoris made for upland and waterfowl hunting, trap, skeet and sporting clays in 12, 20, 28 gauges, and .410 bore. Browning even attempted a Citori in 16 gauge in the late 1980s. Unsurprisingly, it lasted only a couple seasons.
The Lightning designation indicates a lightweight shotgun with, generally, but not always, the classic round-knob pistol grip. This was a feature of the original Browning Auto-5 and was common on the Superposed, though the very first model had an English-style straight grip.
The round knob grip looks great and carries comfortably in the field. Contemporary shooters would be unlikely to select it for competition, but if you look at photos of old trap guns, plenty of them had the round knob-style grip.
Guns & Ammo’s sample White Lightning was chambered in 28-gauge. It’s built on a 20-gauge frame, so the forend is a little bulbous, though comfortable for all that. Checkering of forend and buttstock are in a curving point pattern at 18 lines-per-inch.
The frame has been given a silver-nitride, so-called “white” finish with attractive scroll decoration on a dark field. The decoration is carried over to the bottom of the frame including the moving parts.
The forend iron is greatly simplified from the Superposed’s complicated unit with a Deeley-style lever that engages a loop on the bottom of the barrel.
The cocking cam at the bottom rear of the forend presses back on a sliding connector in the front lump of the monobloc. This in turn engages the cocking lever, rotating it up as the barrels are opened to cock the hammers. This system is a bit more complicated than some seen on more recent designs, but it is well proven and smooth operating.
The selective ejectors are operated by trips that pass diagonally though the sides of the frame. When the Citori is fired, they move forward with the hammers, protruding slightly through the bottom-front sides of the frame. They then engage ejector sears that hold back the ejector hammers inside the forend. When the barrels are fully lowered, the sears are pulled away from the hammers, allowing them to fly rearward, powered by husky coil springs to impact the ejectors.
Again, this is more complicated than more recent approaches that put the ejector springs inside the monobloc, but it’s very positive in operation and aesthetically pleasing, too.
The safety is a manual, which will please those who plan to use the White Lightning for sporting clays shooting, as well as hunting. In typical Browning fashion, it allows us to select barrels by moving it left or right when it’s in the rear-safe position.
The trigger blade is gold-colored in the customary Browning style and is fixed rather than adjustable for pull length. Lacking adjustability will be no big loss for most users. Pull weight was very usable and measured at 4½ pounds for both barrels.
Locking is done by a sliding bolt at the bottom of the standing breech that engages a bite at the bottom of the monobloc. A variety of systems including Beretta and Kreighoff have moved the locking system higher to allow a lower frame height, but the Browning style remains popular; You’re certainly not going to find frame height a problem in the smaller gauges.
The barrels have solid side ribs and are topped by a 6mm (.244 inch) straight-sided ventilated rib. This is rather tall at .345-inch because the monobloc is 20-gauge sized and so is taller at the rear than the 28-gauge unit. This will primarily be of interest to the very discerning.
There’s a .085-inch white mid-bead and a .16-inch white front-bead. The White Lightning comes with full-, modified- and improved-cylinder Invector-Plus Extended choke tubes. These are 2¾ inches long and extend from the muzzle by a half-inch. Though a key is supplied, chokes are easy to remove and replace without tools.
The tubes have rings at the front that cover the slots, helping keep the tubes from tearing up the inside of your gun case. Inside, the tubes have a conical-parallel configuration with the last inch or so being parallel to guide the shot charge straight out the muzzle.
The barrels have chrome-lined chambers, though the bores themselves are not plated. This is intended to improve ejection and durability. The inside bore diameter is .550 inch, with the full choke constricting to .520 inch, the modified to .535 inch and the improved cylinder to .541 inch.
The forend and buttstock are made of an oil-finished black walnut with a thin Inflex recoil pad at the butt. The Inflex pad is intended to direct the buttstock down during firing to spare the shooter’s cheek. That’s not much of a problem with a 28-gauge.
I fired the White Lightning with results shown in the accompanying table, and function-fired it on clay targets with Nobel Sport and Federal loads. There were no failures of any kind.
Despite the Lightning moniker, this is not an extremely lightweight gun thanks to the 20-gauge sized monobloc, which is quite thick-walled when bored for 28-gauge barrels. G&A’s sample tipped the scales at just a feather over 7 pounds. There are a variety of 28-gauges, both doubles and repeaters, that are lighter than 7.
That said, are you really going to notice the difference between 6 pounds, 13 ounces and 7 pounds? Probably not, though it’s in the nature of people to want the lightest, just as they want the fastest or the most powerful. You’re likely to find that that little bit of extra weight won’t bother you at all, and it might help maintain a smoother swing. If absolute minimum weight is the goal, you may want to look elsewhere.
Fellow editors and I found the White Lightning a pleasure to shoot on a warm spring afternoon. It shot about 5 inches high at 40 yards with the lower barrel, and almost dead flat with the upper, so all sorts of targets were easy to hit.
As you would suspect, recoil was practically imperceptible, which is why the 28 gauge is so much fun to shoot. Now, if someone would just make cheap ammo for it!
Browning’s latest Citori White Lightning would be an ideal choice if you’re looking to make the change to a smallbore for preserve birds, dove hunting or sporting clays. Its looks will provide pride of ownership. More than 40 years of production ensures that any kinks have long since been worked out. I sold my first Citori in 1980 to a friend who then peddled it to a member of the Bolivian national skeet team. Shooting the new White Lightning makes me wish I had it back.