Monday, July 28, 2014

Ruger Red Label Shotgun Review

Ruger Red Label Shotgun Review

A few years ago, Ruger gave me a scare. Just about the time I had scraped together enough cash to pick up a Ruger Red Label shotgun, they suddenly discontinued the shotgun line. There was little information from Ruger as to the reasons other than a nonspecific answer of  "due to re-tooling and production capacity." Luckily, the affordable Ruger Red Label is back again, this time loaded with additional features and accessories for the avid hunter and sporting clay shooter.

After my wife and I both enjoyed a sporting clays event, we decided it would be a fun family activity to do together. I picked up the Red Label because I wanted an affordable option to initially share to get into Sporting Clays which did not break the bank.  Ruger's recently reintroduced Red Label shotgun features a reasonable street price of around $1200, it fit the bill perfectly for what we were looking for in a shotgun which would sure to get knocked around during air travel and would also be a great upland game gun.

The original Ruger Red label was definitely a value in the market, however Ruger has updated and packed even more into this very well appointed over-under shotgun. The fit and finish are definitely a higher grade than what you will find on most of the Ruger line. 

Ruger Red Label New Top - Old version Bottom
Not that Ruger does not do a nice job with finish work, but usually finishes are more "field & defense" grade. On the Red Label, the checkering is sharper, the finish has a higher degree of perfection, and the metal-to-metal fit is also very tight and well finished. It is a higher grade of Ruger than we are used to.

Ruger Red Label New Top - Old version Bottom
The Red Label is available in a couple barrel configurations including 26”, 28” & 30”, however I choose the 28" barrel as a compromise between something maneuverable for sporting clays and real field work but long enough to be competitive with the longer barrel skeet/trap guns.  The New Ruger Red Label is similar to the old Ruger, however there were extensive changes. So many changes, it is a completely different gun.  I was lucky that my FFL dealer has just done a transfer for another customer on the old 12 gauge version, so I snapped a few side-by-side comparison pics with my phone to show the difference. The quality of these pics may be a little off from my usual images, however it definitely conveys the differences.

The old Ruger Red Label used screw in chokes as does the new version, but the new version has a higher barrel bore line, a straight verus angled receiver to stock union, a lower grade finish, hard recoil buttpad versus a new soft squishy one, a blued steel "action lever" versus stainless steel, a slightly different trigger guard, and lower profile vent rib on the barrel versus the new marginally higher rib.

Beyond those differences the trigger was also significantly upgraded on the new Red Label to a much cleaner feeling trigger break. At least comparing these two shotguns, the new Red Label used a higher grade American Walnut used on the stock than what I saw on the older version.
Ruger Red Label New Bottom - Old version Top

The new Ruger Red Label receiver is finely polished stainless steel which contrasts nicely with the blued cold hammer forged alloy steel barrel. The shotgun features a standard 3" 12 Gauge chamber with combo tange safety/barrel selector. The Red Label auto cycles with each trigger pull to the next barrel, however the shooter has the option to decide which barrel they would like to be first in the firing order.  This allows shot setup for sporting clays stages where the initial target may be a short or long shot.

It used to be long ago that double triggers were the standard for sporting double barrels, however single mechanical triggers have become so good and fast that you really see very few competitive shooters using them on any over/unders outside of the expensive $10,000+ Italian spaghetti skeet guns. Like all Ruger products, the new Red Label is a value in the market delivering all the features noted above all at an MSRP of around $1400 and a street price of around $1200.  

Ruger also equipped the Red Label shotgun as a kit which delivers everything a shooter needs in a very nice custom molded semi-rigid soft sided case. The zippered case is basically a stiff soft sided case with custom internal foams to accommodate the shotgun in disassembled state, the five steel-shot compatible screw-in Briley chokes, and Briley Premium choke tube wrench. The chokes included are two skeet chokes and one full, one modified and one improved cylinder choke.  Beyond providing a full array of standard screw-in chokes to get the shooter started, Ruger also backbored the barrels for reduced recoil and more uniform patterns. They even went the extra step to stress relieve, hand fit, and silver braze the vent rib to the barrel.

The 28" barreled Ruger Red Label is a very nice setup for the new sporting clays, skeet, and trap shooter who also wants a great gun for upland game hunting. This is the beauty of a the 28" barrel and the flexibility all the included chokes provide.

I patterned each of the chokes to understand the uniformity and assure pellet spread fell into typical spread widths. Generally I like fixed dedicated barrels, however I was very impressed with the tidy groups and spreads I saw from the Ruger. I certainly did not waist my time counting pellets or measuring spreads; my goal was simply to assure I did not see anything inconsistent which I did not. The Skeet chokes were screwed in and I set up my Champion electric pedal operated Clays thrower and went to work re-educating myself on shooting clays again after nearly a 30 year hiatus. It comes back, but slowly. Currently I am probably breaking 50%-60% of the calys thrown by the Champion thrower.

Understandably, you may still be writhing from just dropping $1200 on a new Ruger Red Label shotgun, however if you do not have access to a clays range, the $300 12V electric Champion Clays thrower is "Really REALLY nice to have". My range unfortunately only allows "special people" to operate the electric thrower on the range, so if you are un-special person like me, you need to bring your own thrower. Load in a stack of clays and go to work throwing clays with just a touch of a foot pedal. Neat accessory if you want to really train for any type of shotgun shooting. Of note, I used rechargeable 11.1V 3S lithium-Ion RC Car battery packs to power the thrower and one pack provided a couple hours of throwing, was easily swapped, and did not weigh 50lbs. My thought was why should I drag around a deep cycle battery if I do not need to.

The Ruger Red Label fit well as a one-size-fits-all size, however I personally would want to shorten the stock a bit if my wife and I were not sharing the shotgun back and forth. Looking at the old version versus the new version, the new Red Label added about 3/4" length with the addition of the extra cushy buttpad. In my case, I would prefer the shorter length; in my wife's case, she likes it how it is. Guess who won that argument.

Everyone indicates back boring a shotgun bore decreases recoil, and I must admit that it does seem to. The Ruger was very pleasant to shoot through the afternoons of testing. The cushy buttpad help considerably as well. Keeping in mind most people will be shooting lighter "Clays" loads and not full power 3" shells, the shotgun handled recoil well.

The Red Label shotgun is not a competitive clays gun, however it is a perfect gun to get into skeet, trap, or for those who plan on being able to have a little fun at the clays range and still have something to hunt with. Comparing it to the higher end FN SC1 shotgun, it lacks the higher rib, extended chokes, porting, stock comb adjustment, and adjustable trigger which most competitive shooters expect at a minimum. The Silver Label is also about half the cost of the FN SC1 as well. That noted, the Ruger includes features which are typically not included on shotguns of this price such as a full set of chokes, custom case, and back bored barrels.

Again Ruger has delivered an excellent gun in the Red Label at a very reasonable price considering its features. In this case, it is the perfect over-under for my wife and I to drag around to a few charity shoot events, break a few clays on a quiet afternoon, or run semi-competitively at a local match.

Stock American Walnut
Receiver Finish Finely Polished Stainless Steel
Barrel Finish Blued
Barrel Material Alloy Steel
Chamber 12 Gauge 3"
Tang Safety
Single Mechanical Trigger
Cold Hammer Forged Barrel
Backbored for reduced recoil and uniform patterns
Vented Rid - stress relieved, fitted, and silver brazed
Length of Pull 14.50"
Drop at Comb 1.50"
Drop at Heel 2.50"
Mod. # 4191
Barrel Length 28"
Overall Length 45"
Weight 7.7lbs
Also Include: Custom molded, semi-soft case; Five steel-shot compatible, screw-in Briley chokes and wrench included, featuring two skeet chokes and one full, one modified and one improved cylinder choke, plus a premium-quality Briley® choke tube wrench.
MSRP $1399

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1 comment:

Unknown said...

I just received an eMail from Ruger responding to my question: Why is the red label not in the new 2015 catalog. The red label has again been discontinued.
I shoot a 1995 red label "Woodside" and love the gun so this is sad news.