William Batterman Ruger is a happy man. Although he died fourteen years ago, the news that the company he founded was bringing back his iconic shotgun—the Red Label—undoubtedly brought a smile to his face.
The Red Label arose from Bill Ruger’s desire to produce an American-made over/under shotgun that could compete head-on with European over/unders. Announced in 1977, the first production Red Labels hit the market in 1979 in 20-gauge with 26-inch barrels priced at $480—which was $270 less than the asking price for a comparable Remington Model 3200, the only other quality American-made over/under at the time. In succeeding years, the Red Label line was expanded to include 12- and 28-gauge models in a variety of barrel lengths and model variations. Like so many other Bill Ruger designs, the Red Label was a resounding success, and contributed in no small part to the company’s ascendancy to the title of American largest firearms manufacturer.
But times change. By 2010, the Red Label’s sticker price had grown to $1,899, and production had dropped to only 1,323 guns. Ruger very quietly discontinued the Red Label in 2011, leaving America’s largest firearms manufacturer without a single shotgun in its product line (the Gold Label side-by-side was discontinued in 2006).
Last fall, Ruger announced its decision to resurrect the Red Label, and introduced an improved design at the 2014 SHOT Show priced $500 below the original Red Label’s last MSRP.
“We knew we could employ newer technology, improve the design and deliver a better performing Red Label,” says Ruger President and CEO, Mike Fifer. “We have done that and restored the Red Label as the best American-made, over-and-under shotgun on the market.”
The new Red Label is offered in 12-gauge only with 3-inch chambers, and the choice of 26-, 28- or 30-inch barrels as the only options, all currently priced at $1,795. Yes, you read that right: $1,795. Ruger offers no explanation as to why the price jumped $400 in less than a year, but we’re guessing that the bean counters are the likely culprits. It’s obviously costing Ruger more to produce the new Red Label than they originally projected.
Our evaluation gun was fitted with 26-inch barrels. At first blush, the new Red Label is almost a dead ringer for the original article, but there are a host of differences between the two guns—some quite subtle, and others more obvious. The new gun preserves the understated elegance of the original, with its rounded, pinless, screwless, polished stainless steel, box lock receiver, sculpted fences and contrasting blued barrels and trigger guard. The top lever is now done in polished stainless steel to match the receiver (it was blued on the original), and the mid rib between the barrels is conspicuous by its absence.
The barrels flare noticeably starting about seven inches aft of the muzzles, evidence of several major performance enhancements to this second-generation Red Label. The first of these take the form of extended (2.5-inch long) Briley screw-in choke tubes, five of which are provided with the gun—one Full, one Modified, one Improved Cylinder and two Skeet—along with a premium Briley choke tube wrench.
Less obvious enhancements include extended (2-inch) forcing cones that compress the shot column down to choke constriction more gradually, and what Ruger describes as “maximum” back boring, both of which contribute markedly to the reduction of perceived recoil and more uniform and consistent shot patterns. The addition of a 1-inch Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad with rounded, no-snag, plastic heel insert also works to lessen perceived recoil.
Our sample gun was fitted with an American walnut buttstock and Schnabel forend, both of which exhibited above-average figure. The buttstock even had some pronounced vertical tiger striping visible on both sides. Length of pull measured 14.5”, with a drop at comb of 1.50” and a drop at heel of 2.50”, which should provide a pretty good fit for most adult males. The pistol grip has a very slight palm swell, but not enough to lengthen reach to the single selective trigger—which we found to be pretty short.
The machine-cut checkering on the sides of the forend and neck of the buttstock is well executed at 18 lines-per-inch, with pointy diamonds and adequate coverage. Wood-to-metal fit is typical of that on most any production over/under shotgun—fairly flush in some places, but markedly proud in most.
The barrels are fitted with a 5/16” wide ventilated top rib that is silver-brazed (not soft-soldered) to the ramp machined integrally with the monoblock and the eight steel blocks that support it over its length. The top rib is stress relieved, with perpendicular cross hatching machined into the top surface to reduce glare. A 0.125” diameter brass-bead front sight is perched just aft of the muzzles.
Despite its short reach, the single selective trigger works quite well. A mechanical design, it requires no inertia from recoil to reset for firing the second barrel. When set to fire the bottom barrel first, and following about 1/8” of take-up at a pull weight of just over 1 pound, the trigger breaks cleanly and consistently at a pull weight of 7 lbs. 12 oz., with no perceptible stacking and minimal over travel. Trigger pull for the second (top) barrel averaged 9 lbs. 1 oz., with some noticeable stacking toward the end of the trigger stroke. With the barrel firing order reversed, the trigger pull weights and performance characteristics were largely maintained, with the exception that the average pull weight for the first (top) barrel dropped to 7 lbs. 5 oz.
Barrel selection is controlled by a combination safety/barrel selector mounted on the top tang. The first barrel to fire is selected by pushing the tail end of the selector to the left or right, exposing a “B” or “T” engraved on the top tang. The safety is disengaged by pushing the selector toward the muzzles, but it automatically resets to “on safe” every time the action is opened—a feature expected by hunters, but loathed by clay target shooters.
Ruger engineers obviously paid a lot of attention to the current state of shotgun technology, as exemplified by the top Italian manufacturers. The Red Label’s new innards look a lot like a Perazzi. The barrels rotate on replaceable trunnions (not on a hinge pin), and the automatic extractors/ejectors and rear locking lugs are clearly borrowed from the Perazzi design. Which, all in all, is a very good thing.
The first thing we noticed about the new Red Label during testing was how nicely it mounted, balanced and swung. The balance point on our 26-inch-barreled evaluation gun lies exactly one inch behind the trunnions, putting the center of gravity directly between the hands. The old Red label balanced and swung a lot like a tree branch, but this new model is truly on fire. And for me, it fit like a glove. The instant my cheek touched the comb, my eye was perfectly aligned down the rib in both the horizontal and vertical axes. While not particularly light—empty weight measured 7 lbs. 10 oz.—the Red Labels feels much lighter. Overall length with 26-inch barrels measured 43.5 inches. The new Red Label comes with the aforementioned Briley choke tubes and wrench, a novel gun lock and a molded, foam-padded, semi-rigid Cordura carry case.
When Mike Fifer called the new Red Label “. . . the best American-made, over-and-under shotgun on the market” he wasn’t just blowing smoke. This is, in all likelihood, the finest American-made over/under of all time, and at a $1,795 asking price, represents a real value. See the brilliant new Red Label at your firearms retailer, or for more information contact Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc., Dept. OT; Tel.: (603) 865-2442; Web: www.ruger.com