March 1998

Ruger Red Label Our Pick In A 20 Gauge Over/Under Shotgun

In our opinion, the Rugerís faster handling, easier operation and lower price made it a better choice than the Browning Citori Hunter.

At times, Gun Tests has been criticized for comparing apples to oranges. An expensive handgun versus a similarly-designed cheaper version in the same caliber, for example. Our intent in such cases is to find out whether the higher price is proportional to higher performance and, if not, to let the chips fall where they may.

We do not expect such criticisms with this comparison of over/under shotguns. Both are closely comparable in price. The Citori is directly descendant from John Browning’s wonderful Superposed. The Red Label is yet another success story in the continuing saga of William Batterman Ruger. Both 20 gauges are not ideally suited for trap, skeet or sporting clays when up against a firing line of 12 bores, perhaps, but perfect for upland bird hunting.

The Citori’s receiver is forged and milled from a solid steel block, then blued and hand engraved. Its critical working parts are hand fitted. This shotgun has a single selective trigger that is gold plated and barrels that are back bored. Full, Modified and Improved Cylinder choke tubes are standard equipment.

The Red Label’s receiver is cast and machined from 400-series stainless steel. It features unbreakable firing pins and rebounding hammers that can’t reach a firing pin unless the action is fully locked. The blued barrels are hammer forged from chrome moly steel, stress relieved, back bored, contour ground and topped with a free-floating, dovetailed sighting rib. It comes with five choke tubes.

All of this sounds like the beginning of a fair comparison to us. Here are the results of our examinations:

Ruger Red Label
For many years, the Ruger Red Label was the only over/under shotgun made in the USA. Although other such guns are now available, it is arguably the most popular. This model is offered in 12, 20 and 28 gauge with 26-, 28- or 30-inch barrels and a straight or pistol grip. Features include a single selective trigger, selective automatic ejectors and an automatic safety. The 20 gauge version in this test has a suggested retail price of $1,215.

Physical Description
Workmanship of the Red Label was, in our opinion, above average. Its stainless steel receiver and forend iron had a brushed low-glare finish, while the 26-inch barrels and other blued parts were brightly polished. Minor tool marks were noted on the interior sides of the receiver. Rub marks appeared on the right side of the barrel block, but the barrel assembly had no undesirable side-to-side movement. Other moving parts had a small to moderate amount of play.

The two-piece stock was made of American walnut with a flawless satin finish. Its 20 line-per-inch checkering was expertly cut. The black plastic grip cap and black rubber recoil pad with spacer were well installed. In wood-to-metal mating, the only shortcomings were a small gap on the left side of the receiver’s upper tang and another along the right side of the barrel. The detachable forend locked securely in place.

Our Judgments
With the commercial shotshells we tried, this Ruger functioned admirably. The barrel assembly unlocked easily, and its pivoting movement was smooth and free. When the action was opened, the selective ejectors automatically ejected spent hulls and pushed live rounds rearward about 1/4 inch for relatively easy removal.

In handling, we found the Red Label to be more evenly balanced than the other over/under shotgun in this test. Consequently, shouldering was quicker and easier. Swinging was faster and more responsive, though following through the target was less natural.

When a normal stockweld was established, the buttstock’s comb afforded a comfortable cheek-to-stock fit with a very good view of the sighting plane. Shooters with large hands felt the semi-beavertail forend and the pistol grip were a little too slim, but they could be grasped securely. The rubber recoil pad did a good job of lessening felt recoil and was non-slip.

Both right- and left-handed shooters could readily manipulate the controls with the thumb of their firing hand. The action release, a large lever on the tang, operated smoothly and easily. When pushed to the right, the release unlocked the barrel assembly and allowed it to be pivoted open.

The sliding manual safety on the tang, which automatically engaged when the action was opened, also served as the barrel selector. The safety engaged in the forward position and disengaged in the rearward position. Moving the rear end of this switch to left fired the top barrel first, and moving it to the right fired the bottom barrel first.

On this shotgun, the mechanism for resetting the trigger between the first and the second pull was mechanical, not inertial. Mechanical systems are generally considered to be the most reliable, since they will reset regardless of whether or not the first barrel fires. Inertia systems reset by utilizing the recoil forces created when the first barrel fires.

Experienced shotgunners think that both of the trigger pulls on a double-barreled shotgun should feel and weigh the same. The Red Label’s ungrooved 5/16-inch-wide stainless steel trigger almost made it. The first pull released at 4 1/2 pounds, while the second pull released at 5 pounds. Both pulls had a moderate amount of take up.

In our opinion, this Ruger’s sighting system was satisfactory. It consisted of a ventilated barrel rib with a medium-size, gold-colored bead on the front. The top of the rib was serrated to prevent glare.

Five 2-inch-long screw-in choke tubes made of stainless steel and a blued steel wrench were provided with the Red Label. Both of the tubes installed in the shotgun at the factory were labeled Skeet, while the other tubes were rated as Improved Cylinder, Modified and Full. Each of the chokes provided well-distributed shot patterns with Winchester #8 Small Game Hunter shotshells and Fiocchi #7 1/2 Field loads.

Browning Citori Hunter
Like many of this company’s long guns, the Citori is made in Japan. This over/under shotgun is offered in so many different configurations that they are too numerous to list here. The standard Hunter is available in 12 and 20 gauge with 26-, 28- or 30-inch barrels. It features a single selective trigger and selective automatic ejectors. In 20 gauge, this model retails for $1,334.

Physical Description
Overall, we considered the Citori Hunter’s fit and finish to be very good. Its receiver, which had some scroll engraving, and 26-inch barrels had a brightly polished and blued finish. No tool marks or sharp edges were found. Rub marks developed on both sides of the barrel block, because the barrel assembly was very tightly fitted. Other moving parts had little or no play.

Both portions of the stock were made of walnut with a high gloss finish. A few minor blemishes were noted on the left rear of the buttstock, but its black plastic butt plate was carefully installed. The checkering was cleanly cut. Wood-to-metal mating was as close to perfect as we have seen on a shotgun in this price range.

Our Judgments
No malfunctions were encountered while firing this Browning. The barrel assembly’s pivoting movement was smooth, but opening and closing it required twice as much effort as the Ruger Red Label. The selective ejectors automatically ejected spent hulls when the action was opened. However, unfired shotshells were pushed rearward only about 1/8 inch, so the rounds weren’t especially easy to grasp when removing them.

In our opinion, the Citori Hunter was a little more muzzle heavy than the Ruger. This afforded a slower swing, but follow-through was easier. Most of our shooters said shouldering was satisfactory, but those with relatively short arms felt this shotgun’s length of pull was a little too long.

The black plastic butt plate tended to slip down if the gun wasn’t tucked tightly into the shooter’s shoulder, and the plate’s pointed toe was a source of mild discomfort. All our shooters had to press their face down onto the buttstock’s comb to see along the sighting plane, instead of above it. The semi-beavertail forend and the pistol grip were hand-filling and comfortable. Felt recoil was average for a 20 gauge over/under shotgun.

The location and operation of this Browning’s controls were basically the same as those of the other shotgun tested. However, the action release lever’s movement was somewhat stiff. The safety lever, which doubled as the barrel selector, didn’t automatically engage when the action was opened.

We considered the movement of the gold-colored ungrooved 5/16-inch-wide trigger, which reset by inertia, to be above average. Either of its pulls released with 5 1/2 pounds of rearward pressure, according to our self-recording trigger gauge. Both pulls had a small amount of take-up.

The Citori Hunter’s sights consisted of a ventilated 1/4-inch-wide barrel rib with a large silver-colored bead on the front. Glare was prevented by the serrations on the top of the rib. This system provided a good sighting reference.

A wrench and three blued 2 1/8-inch-long choke tubes rated as Improved Cylinder, Modified and Full were provided with this 20 gauge. All of the chokes produced uniform shot patterns with the Fiocchi #7 1/2 and Winchester #8 shotshells.