The Ruger Red Label II O/U Shotgun is a Sure-Fire Hit

By Randy Wakeman

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

Contrary to popular belief (or disbelief), the original Red Label was a huge success with very few problems. Certainly the Red Label had no more problems than any other widely used O/U (Browning, Beretta), with a far better track record for customer service than Beretta. The original Red Label was produced from about 1977-2011; nearly 35 years is quite a run for an American O/U.

Few people remember all the problems Browning had with the 1973 Citori. It took several years for the Citori to gain traction, it had its teething problems, but it went on to become the best-selling O/U in the world. Nevertheless, it isn't as if there are no Citori issues at all, whether firing pin erosion, excessively short firing pins, etc. While generally very good, neither Browning nor Beretta gets it right every time. I've had enough Browning and Beretta product to have crooked ribs, off-center beads and various cosmetic flaws. Nor are the more expensive (compared to the Red Label) Browning Maxus / Gold / Silver, Beretta 391, Beretta A400, Remington Versa Max, etc., autoloaders perfection personified. Far from it.

If you are looking for the fit, finish and aesthetic value of a Caesar Guerini in a $1000 O/U, you can forget it. It isn't a reasonable expectation. Even the quite fairly priced FAIR guns didn't make it in the U.S. I thought they were excellent for the money, but consumers voted otherwise. Savage couldn't sell enough Milanos to justify keeping them in the line. Marlin failed with their "L.C. Smith" labeled imports. SigArms failed with their B. Rizzini's, twice. S&W blew it with their "Heirloom Quality" Akus guns. The Remington Peerless 320 lasted only from 1993-1999. Remember the Remington 332? It lasted only three years, from 2002-2005. The Bettinsoli made Remington Premier was introduced and discontinued before anyone noticed.

Nothing before or since has remotely approached the success of the Ruger Red Label. The problem, after the close to 35 year run, was that the cost of manufacture kept creeping up. The significant price advantage of the Red Label eroded; as it crept closer to Browning and Beretta, sales also eroded.

The last time I included the Red Label in an O/U comparison was 2009. The Red Label Engraved was $2180 at the time and did quite well. It wasn't at the level of the CG Tempio, though, and Ruger at that late date wasn't promoting the Red Label much. Five years ago, $2000 was more than most wanted to pay for a Red Label, although it had good wood, clean checkering, evenly bluing, excellent triggers and a well-executed receiver treatment. It performed flawlessly.

The Red Label, originally, was a lot of gun for the money and that is more true today than ever. It doesn't compete with a CG or a Beretta 692, by any means, but it isn't supposed to. It is back and I'm glad about that. I have no doubt about Ruger standing behind their product, as they always have. They have no significant competition at this price level.

Way back in 1879, Frederick Beesley, invented the "self-opening system." Patented the following year, he quickly sold the patent to Purdey. Purdey side-by-side hammerless guns and rifles have been built on that action ever since. It was heralded and championed by Purdey as a wonderful thing and celebrated by the crowned heads of the world. All of this somehow seems forgotten. The Red Label was designed to be easy opening. When you move the top lever to the right, the barrel set is moved away from the monobloc. It is quite easy to see and that's why it is easy to open.

For all the banter about rust and corrosion (and finish issues with plating), the use of stainless steel in shotguns has been neglected. Commonplace in rifles and handguns, the idea that stainless steel is more corrosion resistant than carbon steel has been ignored by most shotgun manufacturers. Yet, the current Ruger action is stainless steel, without the associated potential issues of finish cracking, peeling and so forth. It beats cheap, decorative chrome or nickel every time, yet few seem to care.

I don't expect the level of finish or ornamentation on a $1000 O/U to compare to $2500, $3500, or $4500 guns. That isn't realistic. Ruger sold some 150,000 Red Labels during the original run. No American O/U has nearly approached that level in history. Over its eight year production period, the Remington Model 32 sold a grand total of 5100 units. Not a big success by any means, but the Krieghoff K-32 was a slightly redesigned version of the Remington Model 32.

For the money, $1000 or so at discount retail, the new Red Label is quite an accomplishment. No other name-brand manufacturer has a competitive product, not even close. The $1000 O/U is largely the import market creature of cheesy chemical fake case-coloring or belt-buckle adorned receivers, spotty black chrome finishes instead of bluing, choke tunes that look like they were made with a rat-tail file and vinyl-crucifix recoil pads. The Red Label is a huge jump over that clumsy class of low-grade double. The Red Label II is not beyond improvement: the automatic reset safety is annoying and the triggers could be lighter and crisper. However, the Red Label II's barrels are lighter, it is better handling and it is softer-shooting, with a generous, well-fitted recoil pad. The Red Label began its journey as a 20 gauge and that's the gun to which I'm really looking forward.

Ruger has upped their game in recent years. The Red Label II is quite an accomplishment. There are other O/Us I personally prefer, but they start in the $2400 price region and go up from there. For the money, the Ruger Red Label is without equal.

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Copyright 2014, 2015 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.