BSA GRT Lightning XL SE Review

It’s understandable to want to absolutely love the BSA GRT Lightning XL SE. After all, BSA has a great track record with quality spring piston rifles and now, with the GRT gas strut, the Lightning XL should be unstoppable, right? Well, in our opinion, it depends. Please read on as we elaborate.

Quick Specifications

The GRT Lightning XL SE is a breakbarrel, single shot gas-piston air rifle that is available in .177, .22 and .25 caliber versions. Remember that this model comes with no open sights, so if purchasing you should already have or plan on purchasing a good scope compatible with the rifle’s 11 mm dovetail-type rail.

This is a very compact and fairly lightweight (at 6.6 pounds) carbine, with a shrouded barrel that tops out at a mere 14.5 inches and overall rifle length of 37.5 inches. The trigger is adjustable (2-stage) and is reported to require around 2-lbs of pull. The safety mechanism is manual. Like most, it features a ventilated rubber butt-pad. The rifle stock is made of stained beechwood.

What We Like About the GRT Lightning XL SE

A show-stopping first impression and top quality fit & finish

Probably the most impressive thing about this rifle is how great it looks and feels. The beefy proportions of this gun, along with its rich beechwood stock, detailed checkering and high-quality bluing throughout really makes this one of the best-looking air rifles we’ve seen in a while. Indeed, in terms of its curb-appeal, we’d put the GRT Lightning up against the likes of many more expensive Diana, Hawke or AirAirms rifles.

And its appeal is not only “skin deep” either. In part due to its compact size and manageable weight, this rifle is very comfortable to draw on the fly and hold, and also boasts great balance that allows the shooter to really get comfortable before taking a shot. If you are not typically bench rest shooting, these are qualities you will soon learn to appreciate!

Finally, with the exception of the trigger, most will find this rifle to be extremely well-put together and solid,  with just enough heft to remind you that you are holding a high-quality weapon.

Quiet, unusually smooth shooting

The GRT Lightning has a very effective shroud that keeps noise down.The GRT gas strut delivers remarkably smooth firing that you might not appreciate if you haven’t had much experience with springers. Nevertheless, shooters of just about any experience level are likely to enjoy the very fluid shot cycle and very limited kick with this model. But perhaps more impressive is how very muffled the report is. Rather than the twangy notes delivered by most spring-piston rifles, the GRT Lightning simply gives you a dull “thud” that is very quiet – in fact, it’s so stealthy that we’d consider this a classic backyard type of gun (watch your local laws on this, however).

Great stock 2-stage trigger

You’d expect a decent trigger on a an rifle approaching $400, and the good news is you get one. And while it may not be the best stock 2-stage trigger out there, it is very light (around 2 lbs-pull) and breaks cleanly, making it better than many others in this price class. As with most triggers, some have criticized certain aspects of its travel – namely, the rather long second stage, but we think most will be more than happy with it out of the box, and never need or even consider upgrading this trigger.

Impressive Accuracy (with a caveat)

The high-quality rifled barrel (manufactured in the UK) does not disappoint, and most users should enjoy very tight groups from the GRT Lightning. However, due to the relatively modest muzzle energy produced by this model (13-14 FPE), this may not be the case with the .25 caliber version, which simply cannot retain sufficient pellet velocities (especially when using standard lead pellets) to battle pellet-drop downrange, resulting in a very bowed trajectory. Unless you enjoy lots of range-finding, in our opinion, this makes the .25 caliber suitable only for close-range target shooting, plinking, and pest elimination (i.e., shooting within 25-30 yards).

What We Don’t Like

The GRT Lightning logoThe “GRT” Logo on the stock

GRT is a great company, but many agree that their logo doesn’t belong on the otherwise flawless beechwood stock on this rifle.

Indeed, the laser-engraving is hard to miss, in addition to being permanent. Of course, this does little to detract from this model’s overall beauty, but it is clearly something we (and many others) would have preferred was omitted from the finish.

Underwhelming power

The .177 caliber generates roughly 13 FPE and the larger calibers around 14 FPE, give or take. In the case of the .22, for example, you can expect velocities in the neighborhood of 650 FPS or so when using standard lead pellets. We haven’t tested it but you’d be lucky to get close to 500 FPS with lead in the .25 caliber if not using some gimmicky PBA round.

This is not what we’d consider an underpowered air rifle in the .177 and .22 calibers; however, it’s by no means impressive either, and as a consequence we would not recommend the .25 caliber for anything beyond very close range shooting/pest elimination (within 25-30  yards). As we’ve explained before, while heavier pellets pack more FPE, even when fired from the same gun, they fly slower than lighter calibers all other things being similar. And the slower the pellet travels the longer mother gravity can pull on it – this is why you need more power for the larger calibers; it’s not for added knock down, but rather to keep sufficient pellet velocity so shot trajectories are not unreasonably bowed.

This is why .177 rifles are not optimal for serious small game hunting (because their lighter projectiles carry less FPE and knock-down power) yet are the easiest caliber to shoot accurately at respectable distances; their pellet trajectories are simply the flattest and therefore require little to no range-finding. This doesn’t mean that you cannot shoot larger calibers accurately of course; but in this particular case the lack of power is likely to make the .25 caliber especially challenging.

Stiff cocking

Normally, a rifle that requires significant effort to cock rewards you with lots of FPE in exchange. Not here. While not outrageous by any means, the GRT Lighting is no walk in the park either, and despite being a very modestly-powered air rifle is fairly stiff to break. To BSA’s defense, this could be a result of this model’s compact dimensions, which may limit the mechanical leverage available to facilitate cocking.

Price and Value

This model is currently approaching $400, which is not unreasonable for its quality. Nevertheless, it seems a bit pricey compared to other popular gas rams and certainly compared to the many quality spring-piston rifles in this price class.

Concluding Thoughts

The BSA GRT Lightning XL SE is a stunningly beautiful and very well made air rifle with excellent, smooth performance out of the box. And if you want a rifle that is quiet enough for backyard shooting (laws permitting, of course), this is an excellent choice.

But, unless you are keen on the .177 model, the very modest power of this rifle makes it difficult to shoot accurately downrange in the larger calibers, and the .25 caliber should be considered only for very close range shooting. Thus, while fine for plinking, spinning and pest-elimination, we would not recommend this rifle for small game hunting – where accuracy over a range of distances is vital for achieving humane kills.

Finally, although this rifle is very high quality and can deliver outstanding accuracy when its limits are respected, for the money we think there are many other gas-rams that offer similar or superior performance. And if you are open to spring-piston powerplants, you have still more options, such as for example the less-expensive RWS 34 and similarly-priced RWS 48.

 

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