January 06, 2009
Phil Bourjaily: Ruger Red Label
By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily
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?