Classic Guns: Ruger Red Label Shotgun

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Among the engraved Ruger Red Label models offered was this limited edition commemorating the 50th anniversary of Sturm, Ruger & Co. in 1999.
Among the engraved Ruger Red Label models offered was this limited edition commemorating the 50th anniversary of Sturm, Ruger & Co. in 1999.

No longer in production, the Ruger Red Lable is still considered iconic. And at one time, it made the gunmaker the only outfit manufacturing pistols, rifles and shotguns.

What Made The Ruger Red Label A Unique Over/Under:

  • First introduced in 20 gauge, a 12 gauge added five years later.
  • Originally outfitted with fixed chokes, interchangeable tubes becoming an option in 1988 and then standard fare in 1990.
  • Gun included a single selective trigger, selective automatic ejectors and a checkered American walnut stock.
  • A pistol grip or English-style straight grip were both available.
  • A unique feature of the box-lock action was a completely smooth design with no exposed screws or pins.

Sturm, Ruger & Co. is known for creating some of the most popular firearms in American history; some can even be called icons. These would include the Ruger Standard Model .22 pistol, dozens of single- and double-action revolvers, and many rimfire and centerfire rifles, including the ubiquitous 10/22, now in its 55th year of production.

All of this was accomplished by a company that’s still a relative newcomer to an old industry. From a modest beginning in a Connecticut barn 70 years ago, Ruger became the only gun company to manufacture all categories of firearms in the USA: pistols, revolvers, rifles and shotguns. In 1977, Bill Ruger accomplished his feat of rounding out all the gun categories when the Red Label over/under shotgun was announced. It remained in production until 2011, and after a couple of years, it briefly returned to the catalog in 2014.

The Ruger Red Label, unlike many other over/unders or doubles, was first introduced in 20 gauge, with the 12 gauge added five years later (1982). The sleek, little 28 didn’t come along until 1995 and is rare enough to bring a premium. Fixed chokes in the common patterns of improved/modified, modified/full or skeet/skeet were standard, with interchangeable tubes becoming an option in 1988 and then standard fare in 1990.

Other features included a single selective trigger, selective automatic ejectors and a checkered American walnut stock with either a pistol grip or English-style straight grip. A unique feature of the box-lock action was a completely smooth design with no exposed screws or pins. This served as an ideal background for many engraved models, which were available at extra cost from several master engravers.

The Red Label was introduced with a suggested retail price of $480, which would equal a little more than $2,000 today. Remington’s Model 3200 was the only other quality over/under made in America at the time; it was priced in the $1,000 range.


Draw A Bead On Shotguns:


Bill Ruger on the Red Label

In R.L. Wilson’s excellent book, Ruger and His Guns (Chartwell Books, 2007), William B. Ruger spoke with pride about his new over/under shotgun and the changes in manufacturing processes:

A single-barrel Ruger Red Label trap model was introduced in 2000. It featured an adjustable buttstock and cheekpiece. Only about 300 were made, making it one of the rarest Ruger firearms.
A single-barrel Ruger Red Label trap model was introduced in 2000. It featured an adjustable buttstock and cheekpiece. Only about 300 were made, making it one of the rarest Ruger firearms.

“We make the finest pair of shotgun barrels that could ever be built. We put the money into the machine instead of in hand labor. All the great, old-time gunsmiths—the men who made the beautiful things—are today building the beautiful equipment to build the beautiful things. Perhaps you could say that, except for engraving, gold inlaying and elegant finish, [by] using machines, you can easily surpass the work of the finest person in terms of truly mechanical movement, the precision of the apparatus. You have to remember—fine watches are not made with files.”

The Red Label was not without its critics. Some shooters complained about the gun’s weight and poor balance with longer barrels. However, depending on personal tastes and shooting style, many liked the design. Even so, by 2010, the price had risen to $1,900, and production had dropped to only 1,323 guns. The time had come for a change, and the original model was discontinued in 2011.

A redesign was already in the works. Ruger addressed some of the criticisms with a new version in 2013. Improvements included a change in the gun’s center of gravity, resulting in enhanced shooting performance and handling in the field. Extended forcing cones and back-bored barrels helped address the recoil issue. The new model had a suggested retail price of $1,399—about $500 less than the version it was replacing, mainly due to streamlined production costs.

In January 2015, the company announced that the Red Label was no more. Increased competition from European gunmakers had reached a point at which Ruger could not meet revenue expectations.

The article originally appeared in the November 2019 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.


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