Review: Cimarron Lightning

Most single-action revolvers are the large-frame Single-Action Army type. Then there are the smaller frame .22s. The Cimarron Lightning is a neat bridge between the two.

It is called the Lightning after Colt’s 1877 Lightning. The Lightning was offered in both .38 Colt and .41 Colt. The double-action trigger was a sensation in the day.

It did not prove robust in use and few are found with the action still working. They are also terribly difficult to repair. However, they are an important footnote in history.

The new Lightning is a single-action using proven lockwork, but it is very close in size to the original. My example sports a bird’s head grip, others have a square-butt grip.

The revolver is chambered in the versatile and accurate .38 Special. There is also a .22 Long Rifle version available.

Cimarron Lightning Grip and Finish
The blue finish color case hardening and wood grip checkering are all first class.

Handling the Cimarron Lightning

I like my neat little 4¾-inch barrel single-action. The grip fits most hands well and allows a good, natural point. Control is good if you want to play cowboy and fire a few rounds quickly.

The Lightning revolver loads through a gate one at a time and unloads the same way, using an ejector rod to bump spent cases out of the cylinder.

Some of us love this type of revolver, and that is the joy of a single-action cowboy gun. I like the bird’s head grip. If you have a large hand, you may wish to keep the small finger locked under the grip.

The revolver balances well, no question about that. It is light on the hip if you wish to use the revolver for a field gun. My revolver rides in a Rocking K Saddlery “Threepersons” holster.

It doesn’t get any better. While it is primarily a recreational shooter, the Cimarron Lightning is a neat small-game and trail gun.

For the person with experience in single-action revolvers, it could serve for personal defense, although there are better choices.

Cimarron Lightning in Leather Holster
A revolver like this demands a quality piece of leather. This is from Rock K Saddlery, designed by Tom Threepersons over 100 years ago.

Cimarron Lightning Features

A note: this revolver doesn’t feature a transfer-bar safety. The chamber under the hammer must be kept empty for safety.

Load a cartridge, skip a cylinder, load four cartridges and then cock the hammer and lower it on an empty chamber. For fun shooting, this isn’t any drawback.

The Lightning is a well finished and fit revolver. The blued and case-hardened appearance is pleasing. The grips fit the frame well, with no hint of overlap.

The trigger action is crisp and clean, breaking at 3.1 pounds. The sights are simple, with a groove cut in the top strap and a half-moon front sight.

The revolver fires to the point of aim with 110 and 125-grain bullets, and a bit high with 158-grain lead bullets. The sights are not large, but are precise when properly lined up.

The .38 Special is a versatile cartridge. Everything from 148-grain target wadcutters to heavy, jacketed hollow points have been tested in the Cimarron.

.38 Special Cartridge
The .38 Special is a nice all-around revolver cartridge.

Shooting the Lightning

I have several favorite .38 Special handloads, mostly using cast bullets from

A classic 148-grain wadcutter/Titegroup powder combination at 650 fps is a pleasant choice that may be fired all day without discomfort. Moving up a bit, I also used a hard-cast 173-grain SWC at 800 fps.

This is a fine all-around field load, useful for small game and for defense against coyote and feral dogs. Firing from a solid benchrest, I have fired five-shot groups of less than two inches at 15 yards.

In factory loads, I have used the Hornady 125-grain XTP and the Hornady 110-grain Critical Defense.

The Critical Defense load at just over 1,000 fps is also quite accurate, sending five shots into less than 2.0 inches at 15 yards.

I have also fired a number of combinations that I have used over the years for various purposes. The .38 Special suits this revolver well and there are very few single-action revolvers this size in a centerfire caliber.

I had the occasion to fire a few shots at a long 50 yards at range debris, including dirt clods and discarded pop cans. The Cimarron is accurate enough to make hits well past conversational range.

The Cimarron Lightning is a fun gun that is well worth its price. Pride of ownership is high and the revolver is useful in several roles.

Have you tried out a Cimarron Lightning revolver? How did you like it? Let us know in the comments section below!

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (9)

  1. My Cimarron lightning is almost perfect. Love the flat top birdshead grip. Love the small size revolver. Mine is the 22lr. Absolutely beautiful. Have looked for years for a 3.5 bbl Lightning. Couldn’t find one so I settled for the 4.5 inch barrel. The bluing and color case harding is extremely nice . Shoots to point of aim . Sending mine off to get the barrel shortened to 3 inch .

  2. I have the 4 3/4 inch barrel version. Although I like this pistol alot, especially the overall size and the close to original birdshead style grip. I have found a couple of the inner springs to be a bit on the fragile side. As I have replaced a few of them myself. And I don’t have a large number of rounds through it. I do wish they would have made this in double action like the original. Overall I’m happy with my purchase!!

  3. I got this pistol because of the style that attracted me. The problem is the rod that holds the
    cylinder when extracted will not pass through the ejection finger tab, I am using a dremel
    tool to cut the size of the tab for the rod to pass through otherwise I have to remove the
    ejection housing to remove the cylinder, good idea?

  4. I have the .357 version and have yet to shoot it. I have tons of .38 special loads and a few magnums. Bought it mostly for the looks of the Old West……a true birdshead grip, unlike the awkward Ruger versions.

  5. I always wanted a Bisley, because that was what grandma used on the old frontier to dispatch rattlers coming around the dugout on the Kansas plains. If they had just made the trigger look more like that model, it would have come closer to what an original lighting looked like, and I would have been interested in buying one. I don’t really think I’d like the original 41 colt ammo though; and what about a half cock safety? I thought all Colts had that at least?

  6. Nice article. I picked up one of these in 2000 for my son as his first center-fire revolver. Perfect for training younger shooters or those with smaller hands versus the full-size SAA’s. One point though: you load one round, skip the next chamber, then load the next four chambers. The six chambers are in the one cylinder! Skipping a cylinder would be interesting;)

  7. Personally I’d go with a Schofield replica or Ruger’s Vacqueo or Blackhawk,if I wanted a single action.
    Nice looking piece you reviewed,but with my large left hand….Good loading technique for the “pre transfer bar” systems

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