August 12, 2012

Taurus Thunderbolt C45BR .45 LC

Many Cowboy Action shooters looking to shave the last seconds off their time use a pump rifle. In the quest for speed in that game, top shooters are posting winning scores with the old Colt Lightning design, or clones thereof. Because top shooters use them, that means everybody wants one, whether or not they work better than the ol’ lever action mainstay. Gun Tests Magazine recently tested the Taurus Thunderbolt C45BR .45 LC. Here's what they said:

The original Colt Lightning was made in three sizes, the smaller two being more popular. The medium frame, first of the series, was made from 1884 to 1902, and was offered in .32-20, .38-40, or .44-40 to match popular revolver calibers of the day. Total quantity made was around 90,000 in the medium frame, which today’s guns copy. Original guns in shootable condition are scarce and costly, but today you can buy a decent copy of the Lightning from several sources, including Taurus, American Western Arms (AWA), USFA, Beretta, and one or two others, and at least one of them is totally affordable. Calibers now include .45 LC and .38/.357, but AWA still offers the original chamberings.

To immediately dispel several rumors making the rounds of the Internet, yes you can get Taurus Thunderbolts ($475), and no, AWA USA, which produces the $850 Lightning Carbine, is not out of business. We spoke with the heads of both companies and verified product availability.

Taurus Thunderbolt C45BR .45 LC, $475

This 26-inch-barrel rifle (also available in .357/.38 Spl.) had a hardwood stock that looked like birch, with a touch of figure to it to keep it from being plain. Very soon the Taurus Thunderbolt will be available with a case-colored receiver (Model C45BCHR) at the same price, or in stainless for $525.

Gun Tests March 2006

All 26 inches of barrel make for getting the most out of the .45 LC round, and provides a good sight radius. Turns out it didn't much matter, because we got 4-inch groups at 50 yards off a machine rest. We liked this rifle's looks, balance, and reliable function. We found it stayed on target better than the shorter carbines during fast shooting, which is what it's all about.

Workmanship overall was very good, we thought. The bluing was exceptionally nice, and one of our favorite touches was the crescent-shaped steel butt plate, nicely fitted, and totally in keeping with the aura of cowboy guns. We found the metal polishing to be excellent, as was the overall fitting of the gun. The straight-hand butt stock was uncheckered, but the forend had some coarsely done checkering that helped traction, but could have been sharper. The sights were unusual and in need of attention by the dedicated shooter, we felt. The front blade resembled half a nickel with a bite taken out of the rear portion. As seen by the shooter, it tapered upward to an indefinite, rounded top. Windage was adjustable on either the front or rear unit by drifting, and the rear had a screw to hold it in place within its dovetail notch. The rear, a buckhorn with step adjustment, had a tiny notch in the center that we thought needed to be enlarged to a square notch. Then the owner could take a file to the top of the front blade, and end up with a decent sight picture. However, we shot the gun with the issue sights, with what we thought was the right amount of the front sight sticking up above the rear, and got as good results on target with this setup as with the best sights of the other two guns tested here. In other words, the sights worked but we didn’t much like ‘em as they were.

The hammer had an odd feature in the form of a button that permitted uncocking the rifle without touching the trigger. However, this button got the hammer to half cock, and the trigger needed to be used to get the hammer all the way down before the action could be opened. The action was locked in the firing position whenever the hammer was in either the half or fully cocked position. We could see little use for that button on the Taurus’ hammer, but it was not in the way, and it’s there if you want it. The action was quite slick for a new gun, we thought, and got slicker as we used it. It was easy to see how this type rifle could help someone shoot very quickly while still retaining accuracy. The trigger hand never breaks its grip, and that is the hand that controls the rifle. The forend did rattle a bit, but all three guns had that fault.

Gun Tests March 2006

The checkering on the forend helped us work the action, especially when pushing the time limits. The buttstock was uncheckered. Loading was done with the action open, and was not all that easy. The long tubular magazine held 14 rounds.

One distinct feature of the rifle-length Taurus was its ejection-port cover, which the two carbines lacked. But we noted the cut for the cover removed significant metal from the action, which may not be a good thing. The trigger pull was stout but clean at just over five pounds. At the range when we began loading the gun we found it to require a distinct knack. This was the same with all three guns, and we liked it about as much as loading a lever rifle. The action must be open to insert cartridges. Once with this Taurus we had a round slip back beneath the lifter as we loaded the magazine. This required two screwdrivers, holding the rifle in a padded vise. Once the gun was properly loaded (it held 14 rounds) it performed perfectly. We tested with Black Hills cowboy ammo, Ultramax cowboy ammo, and with Winchester cowboy ammo, all with 250-grain cast RNFP bullets. We knew this gun would not feed rounds that were over SAAMI specs for length, so avoided them. We tried a few Cor-Bon 300-grain jacketed soft-nose loads, and they came out at about 1450 fps. They might be useful in this interesting rifle for deer hunting, but it would have to be used as a single shot.

Grouping was disappointing. We fired at 50 yards from a machine rest and our best groups with the Thunderbolt were about three inches. We averaged about 4 inches for all five-shot groups at 50 yards from a machine rest. That’s probably adequate to hit the steel plates in action shooting, but we were not impressed. We’d do something serious to the sights before we used this rifle for any purpose other than having fun, but the issue sights worked well enough, we thought, for that use. Felt recoil was less with this rifle than with either carbine, but was never an issue with any of ‘em. Muzzle blast here was noticeably lower.

Gun Tests March 2006

The buckhorn rear sight needed work, we thought, it having no defined notch for the round-topped front blade. But it worked. The trigger was okay.

Gun Tests Recommends

Taurus Thunderbolt C45BR .45 LC, $475. Our Pick. If we wanted to be instantly competitive in Cowboy Action shooting today we’d grab a brace of six-shooters and a Taurus Thunderbolt, all in .45 LC, and be quite happy. We found no reason to spend more than the cost of this worthy Taurus for a Lightning-type rifle for cowboy fun. In fact, we’d probably buy Taurus Gauchos for the revolvers too. Yes, you can spend a whole lot more than the cost of this Taurus, but all you’d get, we felt, would be fancy wood and a prettier rifle. For action shooting, which can be downright dirty and mighty hard on the guns, we thought the Thunderbolt was the only way to go. We’ll pocket the extra $375 to $1000 that the others would set you back, thank you, and be mighty happy with this one.

Comments (15)


Posted by: DIRTY DOC | September 21, 2016 2:26 PM    Report this comment


Posted by: RoyB | August 21, 2012 2:34 PM    Report this comment

OH I'm sorry... I thought the other posters said that these guns had found no favor in CAS and in their safes because... "they don't work." My bad! Admittedly I am not a CAS shooter. I am hunter and accuracy is the Alpha & the Omega for me because I can choose the projectiles for the job at hand. I hunt with and shoot cast bullets - out of my very own molds cast by me from .32 to .458 - to get the accuracy I require of my personal handguns & rifles . And I assure you, I live in this world. Your requirements are just not my requirements, that's all.

Posted by: Markbo | August 21, 2012 1:23 PM    Report this comment

Thanks Markbo for your wonderful insight. I'm sure you are a superb marksman and all your firearms are sub one inch. I'm dealing with the real world and any rifle shooting cast lead, at slow velocity , and with open sights stays around an inch at 75 feet is on my list of keepers. And for CAS, this is superb accuracy and "plenty good enough".

Posted by: RoyB | August 21, 2012 12:55 PM    Report this comment

1" @ 25yds? Roy I'm sorry, but that is nothing to brag about! I have an awful lot of handguns that do that or better and if I can't get a rifle to shoot twice as good as that (1/2" at 50yds for rimfire or sub 1" at 100yds) it goes down the river!

Posted by: Markbo | August 21, 2012 11:26 AM    Report this comment

I have a Case Colored Taurus Thunderbolt in 45LC with a 26" barrel. It is a beautiful rifle with superb workmanship. Using round nose, soft cast lead bullets at 850FPS, it will shoot into 1" at 25 years all day long. My action is still a bit stiff but I have less than 500 rounds through it. Once I have 500 rounds through I'll tear it down and give it a good stoning. So far it has been a great investment ( I paid $500)

Posted by: RoyB | August 16, 2012 5:52 PM    Report this comment

I'm disappointed in the machine rest response, since sight problems could be fixed with the addition of a Marble's sight on the wrist. As for the front sight being too tall, that's what you want. All it takes is a file to shorten it, but making a too short sight taller is a major pain.
I wonder what the barrel/chamber specs are? The poor accuracy might just be too-small bullets or a too large chamber.

Posted by: KMacK | August 16, 2012 4:17 PM    Report this comment

I think it's important to check out any firearm pretty thoroughly prior to purchase. Comments concerning Taurus products often seem to be up and down the scale from excellent to lousy. My experiences with the several pieces I have, of Taurus manufacture, are all pretty positive.

Posted by: canovack | August 16, 2012 4:15 PM    Report this comment

I have a couple Taurus revolvers one in 38 sp snub nose and a 22mag 8 shot in snub nose and a 22lr pump action that I use in teaching yunguns and the gals how to shot and it is also a good servival rifle, very nice groupings even at 100 yds, great for small varmits.
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Posted by: bear1 | August 16, 2012 3:59 PM    Report this comment

I have one. I like it. I have not had any problems with it. Shoots just fine.

Posted by: Mustang Ash | August 16, 2012 2:59 PM    Report this comment

Dont Buy an AWA product. After a few rounds their very expensive slide action Lightning Bolt failed to work. I sent it back. They no longer reply in any manner. I consider my gun stolen by them.

Posted by: MARK F | August 16, 2012 1:58 PM    Report this comment

I had one of these in 45LC. While I had excellent accuracy, it was the stiffest action I've ever had. I sent it back once for repair and it came back worse... sigh... Sold it off without a tear.

Posted by: captpete | August 16, 2012 1:27 PM    Report this comment

I've been looking at this rifle for a while now, but frankly, 8 moa off a machine rest is a shot stopper for me. I have a Taurus PT1911 that I've put 3 shots in an X-ring at 50 yards with one hand, and if a rifle can't do better than that, I don't need it. Darned shame, too.

Posted by: old gaffer | August 16, 2012 1:16 PM    Report this comment

This appears to be an interesting piece to add to any collection, and it could have some pretty good utility value.....if it had a shorter barrel. I'm not aware of what requirements must be met for cowboy action shooting, but for general around the house and in the car utility, I'd think that a 16 inch barrel might be pretty cool. Of course, the tubular magazine would have limited capacity with a short barrel, but a few hits of .45 Colt from a 16 inch barrel might be pretty effective at home defense ranges.

Posted by: canovack | August 14, 2012 8:37 PM    Report this comment

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Posted by: ttwoodard | August 14, 2012 8:16 PM    Report this comment

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