Ruger Realtree® Camo Red Label 12 Gauge

by Jeff Quinn

photography by Jeff Quinn & Boge Quinn

April 21st, 2004




Sturm, Ruger & Company has been producing double barreled shotguns of the superposed, or more commonly called over / under, configuration since 1977. Introduced in twenty gauge, the then-new Red Label was an instant hit with hunters who desired a quality over / under at a reasonable price. While the Red Label is by no means a cheap shotgun, Ruger used their modern manufacturing methods and design to produce a superior product at a price well below the competition. While other major American builders of double guns struggle to keep a design going for more than a couple of hunting seasons, after 27 years Ruger still produces the Red Label in many different configurations and three different frame sizes. Designed from the beginning to be a hunter’s gun, Ruger now has Red Labels tailored specifically for the clay shooting games.

There are several features that are unique to the Red Label among other competitive designs. Most notable from an aesthetic standpoint is that there are no exposed screws or pins on the exterior of the shotgun. None. This lends a very clean and sleek appearance to the shotgun. Another feature of the Ruger that I really like the self-opening design. Pushing the top lever to the right releases the action to fall open on its own. Some less-knowledgeable shooters think that this means that the gun is worn out. That just ain’t so. They are accustomed to most new double guns taking the use of both hands and one leg to open the action. The Ruger drops open smoothly with the push of the lever. The Red Label also has mechanical triggers, meaning that if you have a failure to fire with one barrel due to a bad shotgun shell, the other barrel will still fire. The use of trunions cast integrally with the frame allows for a sleeker, lower profile as opposed to using a cross pin underneath the barrels. The safety button also doubles as the barrel selector, and the safety is automatically engaged when the action is opened. The ejectors are selective, ejecting the fired shells and lifting the unfired ones for extraction. All Red Labels are supplied with five thin-wall screw-in choke tubes; one each of improved cylinder, modified, and full choke, and two that are labeled as skeet chokes. The gun is also supplied with a dandy little choke wrench.

I have always thought of the Red Label as an upland bird gun, and for that it is well suited. The smooth-sided stainless receiver, polished blued barrels, and checkered walnut stock, along with good balance and smooth handling, make the gun look and feel like a fine hunting gun. However, within the past few years, Ruger has introduced more unconventional variations of the Red Label to better suit the needs of other hunters, such as the All Weather Red Label, made with a dull gray stainless finish to the metal, and the stock made of a black synthetic material. While very practical, it did take some getting used to for someone accustomed to rich walnut and blued steel.

The latest variation of the Red Label geared towards hunters is their twelve gauge stainless gun with a RealTree® High Definition Brown finish to the entire exterior of the gun, with the exception of the dull gray trigger and safety button, and the black recoil pad. The gun wears twenty-eight inch barrels, and weighs precisely eight pounds, with any two of the choke tubes installed. The good balance of the piece makes it feel lighter. The finish is both durable and attractive, if a bit unconventional on an over / under shotgun. I at first thought that this gun would be suitable for waterfowl hunting, and for that it would be perfect. However, with further thought, I decided to try it out in pursuit of the wild turkey.

The turkey gun market is dominated by single barrel guns of either pump or semiautomatic operation, and these guns do very well in that role. The pump and auto guns offer the hunter a relatively inexpensive choice in a gun for hunting turkey. However, the superposed shotgun offers a shorter overall length compared to a pump or auto with equal barrel lengths, due to the shorter receiver. Pumps and autos compensate for this by using shorter barrels to achieve handiness. The main advantage to using an over / under, and one that is often overlooked, is the instant choice between two chokes. With a single barreled shotgun, you are pretty much stuck with one choke after the turkey appears on the scene. With a double barreled gun, you have a choice of choke constriction with the gentle flick of a switch. Most turkey hunters want the tightest choke available for their gun. This is a mistake. A turkey hunter needs a choke tube that will throw a good, tight pattern, but not one that is so tight as to destroy the meat. A choke that will place ten or fifteen pellets of number four or five shot into the head and neck of a turkey is perfect. The problem is that a choke that patterns perfectly at fifty yards will destroy a bird at fifteen or twenty. With a choice of two different chokes available instantly, the hunter can throw an effective pattern at a bird that won’t call in any closer than sixty yards, and use a more open choke on a bird that appears from behind a tree at fifteen. With a single barrel gun, that close range bird will be nothing but turkey burger if using a choke better suited for sixty yards. The Red Label, with its very effective camo pattern, conceals as well as any gun on the market, yet allows that instant choice of chokes in a very handy turkey gun.

Although the RealTree Red label comes supplied with five choke tubes, I wanted to take the gun out after a wild turkey. To produce a good tight pattern, I wanted to fit the gun with dedicated turkey choke tubes. A call to George Trulock of Trulock Chokes had some of his excellent turkey chokes on the way. I installed the .650 choke in the top barrel, and the .665 constriction in the bottom barrel. Both patterned extremely well. My plan was to use the top barrel for long range birds, and the bottom barrel for a closer shot. I loaded the gun with Remington three-inch magnum high velocity shells loaded with number four shot. This shell shoots only one and three-quarters of an ounce of shot, but at the higher than normal velocity of around thirteen hundred feet per second. Some turkey hunters want nothing but a three and one-half inch shell, with the idea that if they throw out as much shot as possible, it increases their chances of hitting a bird. They could be correct. However, a turkey is killed with a few well-placed pellets, not by the barrage of shot sailing past his head. I would rather have a shell with more velocity to reach farther and hit harder, as long as it patterns well. In the Red Label with the Trulock choke tubes, the Remington load groups the shot very effectively. There is no need for two and one-half ounces of shot when the gun patterns well.

Daybreak on Saturday morning found me in the woods with expert turkey caller Burris Byrd. Burris has been hunting turkeys and guiding others since back when a turkey gun meant just whatever shotgun you happened to have available. He has called up and killed more turkeys than anyone I know, and I knew that he could put us near a few birds. He didn’t let me down. He soon located a couple of gobblers, and we set up next to a wooded ditch line between two fields. Burris set out four decoys, and began calling. After an hour or so of coaxing a couple of good birds into view across one of the fields, they disappeared into the woods and followed the ditch line, sneaking up behind us. When the biggest of the birds offered a clear shot, he was within twenty yards. Selecting the bottom barrel with the more open choke, I aligned the Ruger’s gold bead with the bird’s red head, and pulled the trigger. He went down instantly. The gun patterned the number fours perfectly, right where I wanted them. Had I been forced to use only the tightest choke, the bird would have been killed, but likely would have rendered much of the meat inedible. As can be seen in the photos, choke constriction makes a big difference depending upon the distance from the target. The .650 tube in the top barrel is perfect for a long shot, but too destructive at close range. The Red Label gave me a choice with the flick of the selector, cleanly taking the bird without destroying the meat.

Until this Realtree Red Label came along, I had never considered an over / under shotgun for turkey hunting. The new gun offers the good concealment of other turkey guns, with all of the advantages of a fine double. The ventilated rib provides the means to mount other sighting equipment if one so desires, but I found the gold bead to work perfectly under the conditions that we were hunting. The only thing that this gun needs is a set of sling swivels. A good turkey gun should be so equipped, and I would like to see it offered that way from the factory. Anyway, it is easy to add a set to the Ruger’s synthetic stock. This particular variation of the Red Label is distributed exclusively by Lipsey’s, so if your dealer does not have one in stock, he can contact Lipsey’s and have it in a couple of days.

Check out the full line of Ruger products here.

To order some of George Trulock’s excellent choke tubes, go to:

Jeff Quinn


For a list of dealers where you can buy this gun, go to:


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Click pictures for a larger version.


Ruger's Realtree® Camo Red Label 12 Gauge comes complete with 5 choke tubes and a nifty choke tube wrench.



Guide Burris Byrd.



Author with supper. The RealTree Camo Red Label proved to be just the ticket for a clean kill without destroying too much meat.



The RealTree camo pattern is very effective.



Ruger's design features an ingenious barrel selector / safety switch.



For the ultimate in turkey choke performance, Jeff recommends Trulock choke tubes. The chokes performed flawlessly in the Red Label.



Remington's 3" magnum high-velocity 1-3/4" #4 load was the perfect turkey medicine in the RealTree Red Label.



The above patterns show the advantage of instant choke selection that can only be offered on a double. The top target shows the destructive effect of too tight of a choke at 20 yards, while the bottom target shows the perfect pattern of the same choke at 40 yards. A more open choke selection at close range allows effective killing power without destroying the meat. This is the advantage of a double gun for turkey hunting.