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January 06, 2009

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Phil Bourjaily: Ruger Red Label

The father of one of my son’s friends called the other day to say he had a chance to pick up a used Ruger Red Label and should he buy it for his son? Since I had just come back from a wonderful quail hunt in Texas and still harbored warm, fuzzy feelings for the 20 gauge Red Label I borrowed down there, I said sure.
For whatever reason, no shotgun is loved and hated as much as the Red Label. It has a loyal cult following, and a cult of haters, too. Having owned and sold three, I’ve done time in both groups.

Red Label lovers point out:
It is made in the U.S.A.
It is solidly engineered.
It has a very low-profile receiver.

Red Label haters counter:
It weighs too much.
The wood-to-metal fit is of high-school shop class quality.
It flops open.

All of the above are true, with a couple of caveats. The 12 and 20 are overweight pigs, except for the Sporting models, which have lighter-contoured barrels. The 28 is built on a perfectly scaled-down frame and handles beautifully. I was deadly with mine, but got tired of looking at the gaps between the wood and metal and sold it. The action does flop open, but it’s designed that way. The Red Label locks up just as tightly as any other O/U.

Red Labels have been in production since 1977, there are lots around. You can find them at pretty reasonable prices on the used market. Chances are, some day I’ll own another one, although I may very well sell it after a while. So the question is, Red Label, love it or hate it?


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I own my RL since 1986(bought new), it is a workhorse. Yes it is heavy, but have never had a problem with it. It's heavy because it is built like a tank. I would not trade this gun, I love it.

Jordy Evans

I've owned a Ruger Red Label 20 ga. with 28" barrels for 19 years. My wife has had one with 26" barrels now for about 16 years. I also own an engraved 28 ga. with 28" barrels and a 12 ga. gold label with english stock and several other Ruger rifles and pistols. The Gold label is extremely light and great to carry, but with the hard plastic butt will punish you with anything beyond light loads.

In my experience the wood of the Ruger firearms is substantially better quality than the other shotguns in the same price range.

I have had numerous issues with the safety not functioning properly or the second barrel not firing due to using heavy magnum loads that cause the barrel selector to jump out of the channel in the safety mechanism. It is a very easy thing to trouble shoot. It is the one true flaw in the gun's design.

The wood to metal fit has not been bad, although not perfect.

I also have a Kolar 12ga with 32" barrels that is my target gun.

You could correctly surmise that I buy American.

For those of you that fall in the hater camp and want to part with your Ruger firearms at any and all cost, I will take them off your hands.

As I write this I'm in transit from a four day Argentina Dove hunt.

Happy new year and best wishes.


I have a shooting buddy that has nothing but trouble with his Red Label. I am a Browning man, the 525 20ga is my favorite. I just got a new Citori Steel Special with a camo stock and shoots 2 3/4,3, and 3 1/2" 12ga. I'm used to 3" mags but those 3 1/2" kick like a mule. Will only shoot those wearing a waterfowl jacket. It does knock down the ducks at a farther range though.

Chev James

Life is too short to buy guns that look like the stocks have been inletted by inbred families of inebriated beavers.


So, it seems that the majority of you think that the Red Label is a POS, even the ones who say it "is good, except the safety doesn't work", "sounds clunky when opening the action", etc.

But, as the previous poster noted, most of you probably drink Schlitz, Old Mil, Mickey's, or some other "near beer" and have wives that resemble the aforementioned enebriated beaver!

Rocky MtnHunter

If you want a real fine dble,then by all means get a FOX in l6 ga.On the cheaper side a Steven/Savage is a poor man's bird gun and works great, not fancy but very well built. After a accident, I had to stop shooting dbles and went with the Auto's in 1100. No finer Auto has ever been made for the average hunter. To go back a few more years like the 50's the Rem Sportsman 48 with the recoil bbl is almost jam free. Most jams on Autos is not cleaning the firearm. I never shoot any of my guns without a good cleaning. On Auto's more jams occur due to a gunked up chamber. Buy a 2 buck chamber brush and clean the chamber after each outing. Shoot-um-straight and often.

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