The Ruger Red Label Shotgun Returns

By Randy Wakeman

2014 Ruger Red Label Shotgun
Illustration courtesy of Sturm, Ruger.

A little bit of reminiscing: back in the day when the Ruger Red Label first appeared, it caused quite a stir. At an appealing price point compared to the Beretta and Browning vertical doubles of the day (1977), the Red Label sold briskly and began its better than thirty year run. There's not been an affordable American made O/U, before or since, as successful as the Red Label. Back in 2007, the Ruger Red Label Sporting Clays was presented with the following basic specifications.

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

Over the decades, the Red Label's price point advantage diminished, the tooling wore and Ruger seemed to lose interest, perhaps due to their greater growth and success with rifles and handguns. Not being promoted or touted aggressively, the sales numbers shrank and the once broad spectrum of models began to shrink as well. After thirty years, the Red Label was becoming costly to produce and wasn't made with the latest machining methods. Ruger decided it was time for a complete rethink of how the gun was made, with all-new tooling. Ruger hired veteran shotgun designer Dwight Potter away from Browning and the long task of the redo of the Red Label quietly began.

A quick external look at the new Red Label seems like not much has changed. There is a well-designed, well-padded soft case, a locking device that you can padlock to keep the firearm from being assembled (a sign of the times) and a generous Decelerator pad with a hard top of the heel insert to prevent snagging. It comes with five Briley stainless choke tubes and a very good choke tube wrench, just as did the last of the original Red Labels. The most eye-catching thing about the Red Label is the price: it has come down, way down, to $1399 2014 MSRP and about $1000 discount retail price.

The thousand dollar plus, American made O/U is something that no one else has been able to execute. It is well below the Browning-Beretta entry level price and blistering close to some Turkish imports that lack decent pads, choke tubes, much less a stainless steel “pinless” receiver. Ruger is going to sell all the Red Labels they can possibly make for a good long while. It is baffling to some how Ruger could pay American workers, in 2014, to put out the thousand dollar vertical double and make any money on it.

Part of the answer is the one-piece receiver that uses less dedicated “left / right” parts. There are less different parts in the new Red Label and apparently brand new tooling, production and assembly methods to go along with it. Manufacturing doesn't necessarily change every day, but this is 37 years after the classic Red Labels first appeared. Here are the published specs for the new Red Label reviewed here.

  • Model Number: 4191
  • Gauge: 12
  • Stock: Cut checkered American black walnut
  • Receiver Material: Stainless steel
  • Receiver Finish: Finely polished
  • Barrel Material: Alloy steel
  • Barrel Finish: Blued
  • Barrel Length: 28"
  • Overall Length: 45"
  • Weight: 7.7 lbs.
  • Length Of Pull: 14.5"
  • Drop at Comb: 1.5"
  • Drop at Heel: 2.5"
  • Chamber: 3"
  • Ejectors: Selective
  • Safety: Automatic, top tang
  • Trigger: Single, selective
  • Sights: Vent rib with brass front bead
  • 2014 MSRP: $1399

The actual weight of the gun tested is 7 pounds 14 ounces, essentially the same as the last Red Label 12 gauge I reviewed in 2009. It doesn't handle or point appreciably differently and that isn't a bad thing. It is a softer shooter, but due only to the better recoil pad. The last Red Label had just a hard piece of thin rubber for a butt plate. This isn't a shotgun to chase pheasants with, no nearly eight pound gun is. For more stationary shooting, dove and clay targets, it is enjoyable. For walking around applications, it isn't. (That is what British style game guns are for. -Editor)

The new Red Label retains the auto-reset safety that no one on the Guns and Shooting Online staff likes. It isn't wise to rely on a mechanical safety in the first place and it is even less wise to rely on a mechanical device to mechanically reset itself. It is particularly worthless when clay target shooting, for the gun is broken-open until you intend to shoot. No safety is beneficial on an O/U used for breaking clays. Most folks would be appalled if not livid at the notion of a self-engaging safety on any other firearm, but for whatever reason many break-action guns still have it.

The Red Label has coil spring selective ejectors and a mechanical single selective trigger. The barrel to be fired first is selected via the top tang safety lever. In my test gun the trigger pulls are unacceptably heavy, one sear breaking at 6-3/4 pounds after some initial take-up, the other at six pounds. The gun is easy to shoot, though, as it weighs almost eight pounds.

The mono-blocked barrels are blued alloy steel, cold hammer-forged of high-strength chrome-molybdenum steel. They feature 2" forcing cones and back boring. There are no side ribs, which reduces the cost of manufacture.

The Red Label is pointed by means of a 1/4" dovetailed, free-floating, ventilated rib with a brass bead front sight. The vent rib is stress-relieved, contour-grounded, precisely fitted and silver-brazed (not soft-soldered) to the finished monoblock.

The select black walnut stock has a traditionally shaped pistol grip, cut checkering and a slim, tapered forend. The forend release latch is stainless steel.

For the money, the Red Label is hard to beat. In terms of value, this is an O/U that easily gets an “A,” for not only is it a lot of gun for the money, it has a better pad, general build quality and factory choke tubes than many. To make this an “A+,” Ruger is going to have to do a better job with the triggers and lose the automatic safety. For now, you will need a gunsmith to address these issues, if you find them troublesome.

Most folks that I know would buy American, without hesitation, if all things were equal. The problem is, things are never truly equal of course. I don't view the Ruger Red Label as a threat to the more celebrated mainstream O/U models, such as the offerings from Caesar Guerini, Fabarm, Browning and Beretta.

However, it is curtains for the economy import stackbarrel market; the Ruger Red Label is a far more desirable piece than most Turkish imports and it is just going to get worse for them as Ruger rolls out the 20 gauge version sometime towards the end of the year. The Red Label's price point is just too appealing to ignore, for it is less than many alloy autoloaders with plastic or fake wood stocks, sometimes much less.

I won't say that the Red Label is my absolute favorite O/U. However, the vertical doubles that I find more desirable run in the $2500 - $4000 (or higher) price range. The value-minded consumer can buy two or three Red Labels and have some ammo money left over. It is a large gap.

The revitalized Ruger Red Label does what no other American manufacturer has been able to do, offer a steel and walnut vertical double for a 2014 discount retail price of around $1000. This is the day the Turkish music died.

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Copyright 2014, 2016 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.