In the early 1970s, Bill Ruger, co-founder of Sturm, Ruger, and Company realized there was a gap in the gun market. At the time, most double-barreled rifles were imported into the United States from Europe (as it has been for decades). They were expensive and often unobtainable for working-class fishermen. Keen to fill that void, Ruger went on to work on a functional and less expensive American-made over/under design and engineering – the Ruger Red Label. By 1977, the first Red Labels stickers hit gun store shelves. Red Label has enjoyed production for more than 30 years, but manufacturing costs are judged by the double pistol. Nevertheless, the Ruger Red Label remains a favorite with serious upland hunters across the country as well as a collector’s item for rifle aficionados.
Introduction by Ruger Red Label
The first production Ruger Red Labels was 20 gauges, not 12s (although both gauges were announced at the same time). Two years later, Ruger released the 12-guage followed by the 28 in 1994. Since its design, the Red Label has been touted as a reliable and well-built breakout business. Red Labels were originally sold for $480, which wasn’t too expensive for over/under that prestige. Adjusted for inflation, the Red Label would cost $2,271 today.
Aesthetically speaking, the Red Label stuck to the functional Ruger logo. The early Red Labels featured a simple oil-polished walnut stock with a pistol grip check or English-style straight stock and front end. The pistol had a bluish receiver, forged barrel, vented rib, and Ruger’s signature red recoil plate. Over the years, Red Labels have been offered in a variety of styles and options, including a 1985 stainless steel future model that remains one of the most popular variants. There was also a unique single-barreled trap pistol introduced in 2000. Until the late 1980s, all Red Label barrels had a fixed choke. Beginning in 1988, screw chokes were optional and became standard on all models by 1991.
Ruger has built a very functional over/under construction
What the Red Label lacks in curb appeal, it makes up for with super reliable mechanics. The red stickers use a convenient sliding safety, located near the back of the tang, which doubles as a barrel selector. Another unique feature of the Red Label is its trigger design. Unlike some trailing/lowering rifles, the Red Label trigger does not need to recoil from the first shot to reset the trigger for follow up. If you allow the trigger to move fully forward after the first pull, it resets and fires the second projectile.
Bill Roger said in an excerpt from R. Ruger and his guns. “We put money into the machine rather than manual labour. All the great gunsmiths–men who made beautiful things–today build beautiful equipment to build beautiful things. You might say that, except for the engraving, the inlay in gold, and the elegant finishing, [by] With machines, you can easily surpass the work of the best person in terms of true mechanical movement, and accuracy of the machine. You have to remember – great watches are not made with coils.”
Red Label had some shortcomings. Shooters mainly accounted for the heavyweight (12 gauge weighing 7 to 8 pounds) and an awkward balance point due to the extra weight forward in the barrels. I have a pair of 20 gauge red flags myself, I guess it just comes down to personal preference. My twenties are on the heavy side (7 pounds, 3 ounces) for an over/under sub scale, but the same weight also helps me swing and follow and eases the feeling of rebound.
The red flag has been discontinued
The Red Label’s demise came down to the spirit around which Ruger built the rifle — the price. As manufacturing and raw materials costs continue to rise, so has the price of Red Label. When the line was dropped in 2011, the cost of the new red flag was nearly $2,000. This exorbitant price tag set the red flag against many other well-made, affordable rifles, including the Browning Citori, and sales fell dramatically.
Two years later, Ruger revived the Red Label in a 12-gauge model after it underwent a deep redesign to cut costs and preserve jobs. The new Red Label hit shelves with a $1,300 MSRP. The second generation of the Red Label appeared similar to its predecessor but featured some welcome changes. Ruger was able to reduce the rifle’s weight to 7 pounds, 5 ounces, primarily by lowering the barrel weight. They also slightly modified the length of the pull to 14 inches, the drop at the instep (1 inch) and the heel (2 inches).
Mechanically, Ruger made minor modifications to the original design, but the goal was not to reinvent the gun, but rather to simplify the manufacturing process. The main change was a newly designed one-piece frame and tang as opposed to the two parts that were welded together as on previous models. Unfortunately, his renovation did not last long due to the ever-rising manufacturing costs.
“Our primary goal was to eliminate some of the complexities of manufacturing to reduce the cost of production,” said Michael Sylvester, a veteran Ruger engineer and Red Label enthusiast.
My set of Ruger Red Label 20 Gauges
I was gifted a pair of Ruger Red Label 20 gauge rifles by an older guy who hunted deer, elk and antelope. He spent years hunting partridge quail in southern Georgia with his two rifles. The blue is worn at the bottom of a shotgun work, the result of many seasons in pursuit of covey heights.
According to serial numbers, both Red Stickers were manufactured in 1983. One has a fixed barrel/skate assembly and the other has a modified/improved barrel. The Red Label skeet/skeet was my friend’s pistol for hunting quail in confined spaces while the improved barrel/modified spread gun was primarily used for sporting mud.
I spent several days outside with both guns and became smitten with them. Most importantly, I shoot them well. The weight has never bothered me. My only complaint is the suitability of the wood to the metal. It’s not flush, but that certainly doesn’t affect Ruger’s performance.
red stickers decoration
Prior to writing this article, I had never carved my own red labels. For testing, I shot 3-inch Winchester loads—a 1 1/8-ounce load from a 7.5 shot—at 30 yards (the typical distance you’d shoot a flying bird or chokar) within a 30-inch circle. Red Label skeet/skeet patterns averaged 48 percent at 30 yards with an average of 189 grain impacts within a 30-inch circle. The improved cylinder barrel produced a 64 percent higher pattern density while the modified barrel produced a 71 percent pattern (279 grit). It’s also worth noting that the center of the pattern was always near my target point.
read the following: Best Hunting Rifles Over/Under $1000
You can still find Red Label on the second hand market. Most of them cost no more than $1,500. Still, an American-made hunting rifle is reliable and in demand, and a great buy if you find one at this price in good condition. It’s unfortunate that Red Label is still in production. Because you could argue that it was one of the best affordable products ever produced in the US – along with the Remington 32 and Marlin 90. At the moment, no gun manufacturer makes a more/lower comparable price in the US. There are pairs Sophisticated built by the Kolar and Connecticut Shotgun Manufacturing Company, but today’s working-class hunter has no luck if he wants to buy an American.