Gun Review: Ruger’s Red Label Over-Under Shotgun

The wait for Ruger's reintroduction of its Red Label over-under shotgun has been worth it with the company producing a more user-friendly smoothbore.

The wait for Ruger’s reintroduction of its Red Label over-under shotgun has been worth it with the company producing a more user-friendly smoothbore.

After almost three years off the market, Ruger has reintroduced its Red Label shotgun. And the retooled over-under shotgun’s improvements has made the wait worth it.

During my first year as a member of my college’s trap and skeet team I dumped what little savings I had into the purchase of a Ruger Red Label Sporting 12 gauge over/under shotgun.

After I finally earned enough cash to get the gun out of layaway, it became my competition gun for the next three years. I learned the finer points of shooting behind that gun, fed it my very first reloads (which it thankfully fired without a hitch) and broke my first 25 and 50 straight targets with that shotgun.

I even brought home a bit of hardware with that Red Label, and it accompanied me to my first national competition at the National Shooting Complex in San Antonio. Because of all of this, I was a little heartbroken when Ruger decided to drop the Red Label from their lineup in 2011, and I was equally as excited to field test the new version of the gun that broke cover in late 2013.

The original Red Label design dates back 35 years, and during that time there have been many advancements in machining technology. The Red Label hadn’t really disappeared in 2011 as many of us feared, but rather the gun was headed back to the design room for some updates that make today’s Ruger stackbarrel a better gun.

The primary difference between the new Red Label and its predecessor is the design of the receiver. Originally, the Red Label’s receiver was built in two pieces that were then welded together by hand, and even the very best welders couldn’t eliminate small variations in the welded receiver’s overall dimensions. In essence, each Red Label had to be hand-fitted, which was a time-consuming process.

The new version has a one-piece cast receiver that is more uniform, resulting in a more consistent gun that has better wood-to-metal fit. This alone was a significant improvement, but according to Ruger’s Craig Cushman, this was only one of the improvements incorporated in the new design.

“Every component inside the receiver was scrutinized, and many of the new pieces are built using modern CNC machining,” Cushman says. The incorporation of CNC machining makes this new version of the Red Label more uniform and allows internal parts to be standardized and interchangeable, making the new gun more robust and cheaper to produce than the outgoing model.

“Incorporating CNC machining equates to better performance down the road,” Cushman says. “We examined every piece of the design to see where it could be improved.”

One of the most noticeable improvements on the new Red Labels is the single-piece receiver. Previously, the over-under shotgun's receiver was produced in two separate pieces, then welded together.

One of the most noticeable improvements on the new Red Labels is the single-piece receiver. Previously, the over-under shotgun’s receiver was produced in two separate pieces, then welded together.

Looks as Good, Performs Better
Externally, the new gun looks much like the old version.

The top lever is now stainless steel and matches the polished receiver. The safety/barrel selector functions in the same way that the older Red Labels worked; when the safety is in the rearward (Safe) position, the lever can be toggled to select the top or bottom barrel. The safety slides forward to the fire position, making it easy and safe to manipulate the controls without looking down at them, even with gloved hands.

The safety on the Red Label is automatic, so every time the action is opened the lever automatically slides back to the Safe position. The new gun has a single mechanical trigger that, at least in my test gun, feels crisper and smoother than the old one.

The pre-2011 Red Labels had a reputation for excessive recoil, and having shot several thousand rounds with one of those guns at the range, I can attest to the fact that the old Red Label was a thumper. The team at Ruger knew this, and one of the goals of the current redesign was to make a gun that produced less felt recoil.

Ruger achieved this by adding lengthened 2-inch forcing cones and installing a soft Pachmayr recoil pad that sucks up much of the kick. I have a bit more mass of my own to help dampen recoil than I did in college, but the reduction in recoil is significant. It’s much easier to stay on target with the new gun, and even after shooting in excess of 100 rounds my shoulder felt good. I can’t say the same for the old gun.

One of the most noticeable improvements to the new gun is the addition of a ¼-inch dovetailed free-floating rib that is silver-brazed to the monoblock. It’s a more robust design than the outgoing rib, and the single brass bead is effective. Ruger opted not to add a large, plastic bead to the gun (thankfully).

With the 14 ½-inch length of pull, 1 ½-inch drop at the comb and 2 ½-inch drop at the heel, the gun produced a roughly 60/40 pattern for my testing, which is ideal for most applications. The robust locking systems remains similar to the original, and lockup was solid. The gun comes standard with automatic ejectors, and throughout the test they worked as advertised, elevating unused shells and kicking out spent hulls without a hitch.

As previously stated, the latest Red Label looks remarkably similar to the outgoing model. The walnut stock is excellent, and the wood-to-metal finish is better than the earlier iteration. The hammer-forged barrels are blued, and all three models currently offered (12 gauge with 26-, 28- or 30-inch barrels) have a gap between the top and bottom barrel.

The gun comes with a well-designed semi-soft-sided carry case and five Briley choke tubes (Skeet, Skeet, Improved Cylinder, Modified and Full), as well as a choke tube wrench. MSRP for each of the three models is $1,399, and all Red Labels are made in America.

The safety on the Red Label is automatic, every time the action is opened the lever automatically slides back to the safe position.

The safety on the Red Label is automatic, every time the action is opened the lever automatically slides back to the safe position.

On the range I found that this gun is, in fact, better than the model it replaces. Lockup is as tight and secure as ever, but the new gun has a balance point that has been moved rearward to offer a smoother swing and better feel. The new rib is an improvement over the old one, too, and the efforts to reduce recoil have helped this become a more compliant and comfortable gun for target shooting.

I was thrilled to see that the Red label was coming back, and I was even happier to see that the engineers at Ruger decided to take a good gun and make it better. Whether you’re a serious clay breaker or an upland hunter looking for a quality stackbarrel, the all-American Ruger will fit the bill perfectly.


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