Ruger Red Label: America’s Over/Under Shotgun


by Jeff Quinn

photography by Jeff Quinn & Boge Quinn

January 3rd, 2007




2007 marks thirty years since the introduction of the Ruger Red label shotgun. Introduced in 1977, it has been in constant production since 1978, which is stating a lot for an American maker of over/under double shotguns. It seems that most American double gun makers keep changing designs every few years, due to limited success in the market competing against foreign gun makers for the over/under shotgunner‘s affection. Still through all this time, the Red Label keeps on selling to a market of buyers who want a good, durable, and well-crafted over/under shotgun.

The Red Label design is, to my eyes, one of the most pleasingly elegant shotguns in existence. Its clean lines are entirely devoid of any pins or screws on the exterior of the shotgun. The Red Label has that classic look of a hunter’s arm, of a shotgun carried afield behind a good dog  on a crisp Autumn afternoon in pursuit of quail. The gun carries well, and points naturally. It also opens easily. I like that feature on the Ruger. Shooters who do not understand the design think that it is built too loosely. That just ain’t so. They are accustomed to buying a new Italian or Japanese gun and having to open it using both hands and one knee. The design of the Red Label locks it up as tightly as any double made, but upon opening, the mono block is eased forward ever so slightly, allowing the gun to almost fall open. It is an ingenious and elegant design, and in my opinion, the best on the market in that regard. The Red Label also has mechanical sears, meaning that the second barrel fired does not depend upon the recoil from the first to set it to fire. If you get a dud shell in the first barrel, the second will fire immediately upon pulling the trigger again. That is a good feature.

It has been almost three years since I last reviewed a Ruger Red Label. It was a twelve gauge Real Tree camo model, and it turned out to be an ideal turkey gun.

The Red Label reviewed here is a wood-stocked twenty gauge with the straight-gripped English stock, and is one of the best upland bird guns available today.  With its twenty-eight inch barrels, it weighs in at seven pounds, three ounces, and swings beautifully. Sometimes hunters look for less weight in an upland bird gun, but reducing weight too much results in a gun that does not swing well, with a whippy feeling, much like trying to smoothly swing a broomstick. I like a twenty gauge to weigh between six and one-half and seven and one-half pounds, depending upon the barrel length and density of the wood. Going lighter than that is counterproductive in a bird gun. It is much better to loose five pounds off the hunter’s belly than to try and shave a pound off of a well-balanced seven pound gun.

On the other end of the weight argument, some critics state that the Red Label is not heavy enough to be a dedicated target gun. I don’t see it that way. For clay targets, I like a gun that swings just like a bird gun, with enough weight for a good follow-through, but without being excessively heavy. Ruger designed the Red Label to be a top-notch field gun, but it also serves very well as a clay target gun, if it fits the shooter well, which is an important point with any clay target or bird gun.  While on the subject of target guns, Ruger will deactivate the automatic safety for a small charge if the owner so desires, as do many clay target shooters.

The test gun wore some very good walnut, with enough figure to make it interesting, and hand cut checkering on the wrist and forearm area. The wood to metal fit was very good, and the blued finish of the barrels contrasts nicely with the smooth stainless receiver. I really like the looks of the smooth receiver. Some makers have machine engraving on the receiver, and it is an option on the Red Label. It works well if it is done properly, but otherwise it detracts from the elegance of a good double. I like the plain look best. If a shotgun is beautiful, it needs no ornamental dressing applied.  The buttstock is supplied with a charcoal gray solid recoil pad, which works very well to keep the buttstock in place on the shooter’s shoulder.

The Red Label is a single trigger design, and the barrel selector is integral with the thumb safety, pushing it to either side to select which barrel fires first, and forward to fire the weapon. The forearm has a well-inletted latch, making the takedown of the shotgun easy without any tools needed. The Red Label comes supplied with five thin-wall Briley choke tubes, and an excellent tube wrench. The chokes are marked full, modified, improved cylinder, and skeet, with two of the latter provided.

The Red Label has filler strips on either side, closing the area between the barrels. These strips are removable if the shooter so desires, to change either the cosmetics or slightly alter the balance of the shotgun.  I believe that I prefer the open look with the ribs removed, but that is just a personal thing.

Another great feature of the Red Labels is that they are size-matched to the gauge of the shell. Ruger offers three sizes, with the twelve gauge being the largest, and the twenty-eight gauge being the sweetest little darling of an over/under shotgun that I have ever held. The twenty gauge is, however, my favorite for a field or clay target gun. It offers the best balance of power and size that I prefer. Contrary to popular belief, a twenty gauge shotgun will kill a pheasant just as dead as will a twelve gauge. A bird is killed with just a few pellets of shot, and the twenty throws them just as hard and fast as does a twelve, it just doesn’t throw as many of them. If your pattern is well-centered, the bird will never know the difference.

Another nice feature of the Red Label is that it comes with Ruger’s famous customer service.  With any maker, you are sometimes going to have parts break.; that is just a mechanical fact. If you have a problem with some of the more popular Italian shotguns, good luck in getting any satisfaction from the factory warranty.  If your Ruger breaks, Ruger will fix it. That gives me a lot of confidence when buying a product; any product.  The way in which a company treats its customers after the sale means a lot to me, as it should to each of us.  Ruger has a reputation for customer service that is one of the best in the industry.

Shooting this latest Red Label held no surprises, as the gun functioned perfectly, efficiently fully ejecting every fired shell and extracting slightly for an easy grip on the unfired shells.  The gun patterned well, and changing chokes was a quick and easy operation. The trigger pull measured an average of five pounds, two ounces, and varied very little between shots.  The automatic safety worked as designed, every time. There were no failures of any kind during testing.

In the title of this piece, I refer to the Red Label as "America’s Over/Under Shotgun", and that statement is likely to draw some criticism and a few nasty emails, but I stand by it. It seems that some over/under shotgun makers change their design about as often as a baby’s diaper, and for much the same reason.  It is expensive to build a quality double shotgun, and most American makers have all but given up on building one here, but the Red Label has endured against a barrage of imported competitors. It is true that the Ruger is not the ideal end-all to every shotgunner’s needs, as shotgunners are about as finicky as the proverbial Beverly Hills housecat, but for the majority of American hunters and target shooters, the Red Label has served well in the past and will continue to serve quite well for several more decades.  It is rugged, reliable, well-balanced, elegant, and affordable. It is America’s Over/Under Shotgun.

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Jeff Quinn

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Click pictures for a larger version.


Ruger's Red Label: America's over/under shotgun.





The English-style buttstock is well-figured, well-finished, hand-checkered, and perfectly shaped.







Side filler strips are removable for aesthetics or balance adjustment.





The Red Label comes supplied with five thin-wall Briley choke tubes, and an excellent tube wrench.