Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Day 27: Picture of the Day

The theme of today's picture of the day? Night sights. Below is the Heinie Straight Eight sight pair on my Glock 20. While it rises a bit higher than standard Glock sights (more in line with a 1911), it provides fast target acquisition, even in low (and no) light. It's a quality aftermarket upgrade that can be installed at home with just a brass punch and some time. Recommended by the Ann Arbor Gun Guys!

Day 26: Ruger Red Label

My Ruger Red Label is currently my favorite gun. I use it for hunting as well as semi-competitive trap, skeet, and sporting clays, and it has a certain charm that only a classic American-made shotgun has to offer. It may not be one of the true classic doubles, but as the last production double-barrel shotgun still designed and manufactured in the US, I think it occupies an important place in shotgun history.

This particular version is an old-model 20 gauge, with the blued receiver that was discontinued only a few years into production. It has 3" chambers, a 28" barrel, and fixed modified over improved cylinder chokes. The quality of the wood is excellent, and the red rubber stock pad made by Goodyear gives a distinctive look to the older models. While the newer Red Labels are also nice, I'm aesthetically displeased with the stainless receivers and black stock pad in comparison.

Ruger shotguns don't have the best reputation. This may come as a surprise, knowing the quality of their other firearms and their outstanding customer service. However, they're known for accumulating small problems with wear that cause the use to send it in for (free) service, which is a definite inconvenience. This is supposedly more of a problem with the newer models, versus the older ones.

My only direct experience with Ruger's customer service was for the replacement of the barrel rib. A previous owner incorrectly installed an aftermarket middle bead sight off-center from the sighting axis, and bored completely through the rib, scratching the top of the barrel. I received estimates from several private gunsmiths but Ruger beat all of them. (This kind of major user-caused repair isn't free, but most things are.) I sent the gun into their New Hampshire based factory, and spoke with gunsmiths on multiple occasions. I had the shotgun back in about 3 weeks, including shipping time. They completely reworked the aged internals, replaced the rib, and (unfortunately) re-blued the entire gun. I should have told them not to do the re-blue since it had developed a nice plum patina over the years, but I don't think much of it, since its a shooter, not an investment piece.

Over/under shotguns aren't just for recreational clay shooting. They share a distinct advantage with the side by side in that they allow quick selection of two different chokes (and potentially two different loads) in the field. In a hunting situation, a flick of a switch can change your payload from a 3" magnum round of #4 buckshot through a modified choke to a 2 3/4" standard #8 birdshot load through an improved cylinder choke. Try doing that with a pump or autoloader. Of course, your ability to react to a flushing bird, for example, may hinder this selection process, which is why some traditional hunters still favor double triggers. For me, the configuration of the Red Label is effective and ergonomic.

I've done a few small repairs on my Red Label that others may have sent theirs in for. I made a small adjustment to the sear levers to adjust the timing, as one of the shell ejectors would occasionally catch on the sear. I also did a full takedown and cleaning of the action to rectify a dirty firing pin that would occasionally cause light-strike failures, with the help of the Radocy manual, which I purchased online. Many people are afraid to get into those parts, but if you take your time and have any mechanical skills whatsoever, you can do it. It's also nice when you know 100% how your firearm functions. Not everyone can say that.

From my experience, Ruger shotguns hold their own in the high-throughput category of shotguns. While I can only speak from my own experiences, I've put 2,500 rounds through my Red Label in the past 4 months without a hitch, and I plan on continuing this rate for a long time. Admittedly this isn't a "high round count" for a clay target gun, which may see tens of thousands of rounds in a year in the hands of a highly competitive shooter. But for someone who shoots target games for fun 2-3 times per week like I do, it will last a long time.

Ruger conveniently offers information concerning serial number history as well as electronic copies of old user's manuals on their web site. The serial history is only approximate, but it's easy to send them an e-mail or give them a call for an exact answer. The serial chart places this particular shotgun in their 1983 production line, but contacting Ruger, I was told it was actually manufactured in October 1981, which predates the introduction of the 12 gauge model! Really cool information to know as someone who appreciates firearms history.

Happy shooting!