Looking for a new over/under? Read how the new Red Label is vastly improved.
After a three-year hiatus Ruger has resurrected its Red Label shotgun. Maybe you are not a fan and never will be, but let me tell you this up front: It handles better than the old one and it's $1,000 cheaper. Why did I use the word resurrected, and how did Ruger do it without cheapening the gun? I'll tell you, but the whole story should start at the beginning.
From 1977 when it was first introduced as a 20-gauge until 2011 when the entire line officially folded, Ruger's first and only over/under shotgun was the only respectable and affordable American-made over/under in town. Made in Newport, NH, it was wholly American—and it was wholly Ruger. Some sportsmen loved it for that reason alone, and therefore grew fond of its old-school stock design and robust steel—typical of the 75 year-old gun maker's style—while other sportsmen lambasted it for resembling a warthog and swinging like a two-by-four.
Indeed, the gun was as polarizing as Sarah Palin, but none of that mattered when its price tag kept rising and soon out-priced even Ruger loyalists. Pragmatists tend to also be penny pinchers, and when it broke $2,000 even the ghost of George Patton broke rank. Years ago the gun actually reaped awards for its innovative production technique by which its receiver was cast from two pieces and welded together then fit by hand, but by 2008 the technique was antiquated due to rising labor and material costs. Add this to the fact that the market was hot for black guns, not bird guns, and the Red Label was doomed.
Some sportsmen loved it for that reason alone, and therefore grew fond of its old-school stock design and robust steel—typical of the 75 year-old gun maker's style—while other sportsmen lambasted it for resembling a warthog and swinging like a two-by-four.
Ironically, it was the same black-gun boom that brought it back from the dead. Ruger capitalized on its tactical gun sales and that helped bankroll its evolution as a company, which you are witnessing right now.
Ruger hired new engineers to review each of the Red Label's parts to see how the gun could be made more efficiently. They achieved their goal by casting it in steel, then placing it in CNC machines to finish it in a fraction of the time it would take a human. It's also a more accurate process. Ruger's Craig Cushman said they also shaved some weight here and there, which moved the point of balance a half-inch rearward. While the old model came with removable spacers between the barrels, the new model comes absent them. This gives the new model that distinctive daylight-between-the-tubes look and also removes weight from the barrel end, lending it a livelier, weight-between-the-hands feel.
In essence, the Red Label is a 7.5 pound over/under box lock shotgun featuring a steel receiver, single selective trigger, automatic safety and ejectors, 5 Briley choke tubes, a semi-pistol grip stock made of American walnut and barrels of 26, 28 or 30 inches. The beavertail fore-end is attached via a Deeley latch and is very trim. The gun is only available in 12-gauge now, but I currently have a finished 20-gauge in my possession despite Ruger's coyness in revealing its launch date. I expect fall.
I took both the 20 and 12 on a stroll through a pheasant field and other than birds, here's what I found: While retaining its largely American stock dimensions, it definitely points and handles better than the old model. While the 12-gauge has a rib that's higher than most field guns, both guns shot where I looked, and to me that's the most important thing—barring safety—about a shotgun. I did not have to think about cheeking either gun or pulling the trigger. That means it fit me and there were no barrel alignment issues. I had no misfires, and both guns locked up nice and tight but opened easily. Recoil was mitigated thanks to a Pachmayer recoil pad that was neither too thick nor too slick. The triggers are not things of poetry, but have come a long way for Ruger. To me, the gun has a slightly more racy look than the old model.
While accessories shouldn't influence a decision to buy a gun, the Red Label's 5 Briley choke tubes are a $100-plus value right there; Marketers also really nailed its fitted ballistic Nylon-and-foam zippered case that facilitated my feeling cooler than I naturally am when I broke the gun out in front of my hunting buddy. Pathetic on my part, yes, but it is a cool case.
This is a pure hunting gun, rather than a skeet or clays gun. That I know because it's got automatic ejectors and an automatic safety that's also the barrel selector. The single trigger is mechanical, meaning it doesn't rely on the recoil of the first shot to cock itself like Beretta guns, among others. I really like its beavertail fore-end rather than the Schnabel style that has become so popular—yet remains so worthless.
As for negatives, my test gun's barrel selector was on the loose side, and the 12-gauge's rib was a little high to my liking—something that just takes getting used to. But this is pretty nit-picky, especially for a $1,000 gun (its retail list price is $1,300.) I challenge you to find a better one for that money, and if you are talking American, make like a Goodfella and forget about it.
The bottom line is, for me the gun folded pheasants like yesterday's newspaper. It works—as all Rugers do—so if you are in the market for an over/under, go to the gun store and feel it for yourself. Being a pure bird gun, not a clays gun, go for the 20-gauge with 26- or 28-inch barrels when it comes out. It's special. If you don't like it, well, that's the joy of being American: We have many choices.
Regardless, do you know what the Ruger's Red logo is? It's not a flame-licking eagle from hell, but is in fact a Phoenix, a long-living bird from Greek mythology. The Phoenix was said to be resurrected, or risen from the ashes of its predecessor. That's what the new Red Label has done, and Ruger's logo has never been more befitting.