Ruger Red Label Sporting Clays O/U Shotgun

By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff

Ruger Red Label
12 gauge Ruger Red Label. Illustration courtesy of Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc.

Bill Ruger Sr. was a connoisseur of fine guns as well as an extremely astute businessman. The success of his Company is a tribute to his firearms instincts and his marketing acumen.

Back in the 1970's Bill Ruger determined that the market was ready for a new American over/under shotgun. The shallow receiver design of the Beretta O/U with its efficient and economical monoblock barrel construction was making serious inroads in a North American market long dominated by the Browning Superposed and Citori guns. Ruger thought that his Company could successfully compete in the O/U market by designing and producing a thoroughly modern shotgun in the USA. The result, introduced in 1978, was the Ruger Red Label.

The first Red Label was a 20 gauge field gun with 26" barrels. A year or so later, 28" barrels were offered. Still later the Red Label design was scaled up to 12 gauge, and in recent years down to 28 gauge. Each gauge is built on its own receiver, properly dimensioned for the barrels.

The 2007 Ruger catalog shows Red Label guns in field and sporting clays models with 26", 28" and 30" barrels in 12 gauge and 26" or 28" barrels in 20 and 28 gauges. All Red Label guns come with selective ejectors, a mechanical selective single trigger and an automatic tang safety that also serves as the barrel selector. A free-floating ventilated rib is standard.

Modern Red Label barrels are "back-bored" (over bored) and silver brazed to the monoblock that serves as the breech. Every gun comes with five steel-shot-compatible Briley interchangeable choke tubes. The supplied chokes are full, modified, improved cylinder and two skeet tubes. A deluxe choke wrench is also included.

The receiver is made of polished stainless steel in a brushed silver finish, the monoblock barrels are blued and the stocks are checkered American black walnut in either pistol grip or straight hand form. Standard models are devoid of engraving, although engraved models in three stock patterns (grouse, pheasant and woodcock) or practically unlimited custom patterns are now available through the Ruger Studio.

Ruger Red Label engraving
Ruger Red Label standard engraving patterns. Illustration courtesy of Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc.

One of the most elegant features of the Red Label is its "pinless" receiver. There are no exposed pins or screws, which creates a very smooth looking receiver and an excellent blank canvas for engraving. This shallow receiver has a "clean" breech face for easy finger access when loading or unloading.

The Red Label break-action pivots open on trunnions located on each side of the receiver opposite the lower barrel and matching hooks machined into either side of the monoblock. Most of the action parts are mounted on the trigger plate.

The bolting system uses two lugs cast and machined on the back of the monoblock, one on each side of the bottom barrel. Those lugs, or bosses, are engaged by what appears to be two round rods that protrude from the breech face. After removing the stock to expose the lock work, the two "rods" can be seen to actually be the legs of a stout horseshoe shaped block that slides fore and aft when actuated by the top lever. There is also a bottom lug that fits into a slot in the bottom of the receiver to resist any barrel motion once the action is closed.

Red Label stocks and forends are made of American black walnut. The grade of wood on production guns runs from what we would call "semi-fancy" to rather plain, depending on the luck of the draw. Upgraded wood is available from the Ruger Studio. Reasonably well executed cut checkering graces the stock and forend in Ruger's typical, skimpy four-panel pattern. The wood finish is unspecified, but appears to be a satin synthetic laquer.

The specific Red Label shotgun that is the subject of this review is a 12 gauge Sporting Clays Model privately owned by Guns and Shooting Online Editor Gordon Landers. The Sporting Clays Red Label comes with 30" barrels and no side ribs. The visible gap between the barrels makes the Sporting Clays model easily identifiable. The ventilated rib atop the barrels is graced by middle and front bead sights, as is typical of competition guns.

This absence of side ribs reduces the windage of the barrels and enhances barrel cooling. It also shifts the naturally muzzle heavy balance of the gun somewhat rearward by lightening the barrels, making the Sporting Clays model a bit quicker for leading fast moving targets.

Here are the specifications of the Ruger Red Label Sporting Clays O/U shotgun:

  • Catalog number: KRL-1236-BR
  • Gauge - 12
  • Chamber - 3"
  • Chokes - Briley tubes (F, Mod., I.C., Skeet, Skeet)
  • Stock - Cut checkered walnut pistol grip style
  • Barrel length - 30" with ventilated rib
  • Barrel finish - Blued
  • Sights - Front and middle beads
  • Length of pull - 14-1/8"
  • Drop at comp - 1-1/2"
  • Drop at heel - 2-1/2"
  • Overall length - 47"
  • Weight - 7-3/4 pounds
  • 2007 MSRP - $1790

Gordon has owned this particular gun for a while and shot endless numbers of clay pigeons as well as game birds with it without any malfunctions of any kind. The action opens smoothly with a precise, solid feel. The SST works as advertised and never balks or doubles. The ejectors are powered entirely by coil springs (no ejector hammers). They toss fired cases clear of the action without sending them to the next county. Unfired shells, of course, are merely raised for easy manual removal.

Participating in the shooting part of this review were Guns and Shooting Online staff members Nathan Rauzon, Bob Fleck, Jim Fleck, Chuck Hawks and (of course) Gordon Landers. We did our shooting in the field using a portable sporting clays trap to launch targets. For comparison we had several other shotguns along, including a 12 gauge Browning Superposed Trap gun, a 12 gauge Ruger Gold Label side-by-side field gun and a 20 gauge Remington Model 1100 Sporting Clays autoloader. All acquitted themselves well in our informal shooting as long as the shooter remembered to lead the targets and follow through.

Briley choke tubes are world-renowned for quality among competition shooters, so it is not surprising that those supplied with the Red Label patterned as expected with the 1 ounce and 7/8 ounce target loads (#8 hard shot) that we were shooting. For the moderate ranges over which we were shooting the IC and Modified chokes proved entirely suitable. The Remington autoloader, having only one barrel, was used with its "light modified" competition choke tube, and that also worked fine.

Everyone agreed that the Red Label shoots where it looks when you "figure 8" the beads and put the target on top of the front bead. Of course, you are supposed to be concentrating of the target, not the sights, when shooting a shotgun, but that was our general impression of the correct "sight picture."

Chuck admits to checking to see that the beads, visually, formed a figure 8 before shifting his focus downrange and calling for the target when shooting with the gun already mounted. Everyone else claimed to completely ignore the guns sighting beads. And even Chuck admitted that when shooting from a low gun (sporting clays or field) starting position he never uses the gun's sights. Anyway, the bottom line is that the Red Label shoots where we think it should.

In terms of feel and handling, among our comparison guns, the Red Label and the Remington 1100 Sporting Clays guns actually had the most in common. They have a weight forward balance, but not as much so as the Browning Superposed trap gun. Conversely, they are not as light and handy as the Gold Label side-by-side field gun.

The consensus of the Guns and Shooting Online reviewers is that the Red Label is a rather plain but well designed and reliable gun that is easy to shoot well. If you want a fancy gun that is easy to shoot well, the Ruger Studio stands ready and willing to turn your desire into reality. (See for details.)

In conclusion, we can do no better than to quote Gordon's own summary of his Ruger Red Label:

"My Sporting Clays model is over 10 years old at this writing, but I believe that the design has not changed during that time. I've fired thousands of rounds through the gun and can find no signs of wear. The gun has never failed in any function. I favor good side-by-side game guns, but I've shot clays and game birds with the Red Label and I'm going to keep mine."

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