A Ruger Classic

At long last, Ruger unveils its new Gold Label side-by-side.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

One of the hallmarks of Ruger guns has been an adaptation of the profiles and physical features of famous firearms. The company's very first success, a .22 rimfire autoloading pistol, bore a profile so unabashedly borrowed from the famed German Luger that many customers figured the name "Ruger" was similarly hijacked. Ruger guns that were to follow-the Single Six and Blackhawk lines of single-action revolvers, the Number One single-shot rifle, the Mini-14, the Model 96 lever rifle and other models you can probably name-bear distinctive stylistic traits of other famous and historical firearms.

This is by no means to imply that William B. Ruger "copied" other guns, but rather that he purposely honored famous styles that he personally favored and admired, and in doing so added his own unique brand of genius of mechanical design and manufacturing innovation. Of course, his success at capturing the imaginations of gun buyers by the use of such legendary profiles is self-evident. This is why the newly introduced (or, should I say, finally available) Gold Label shotgun, the last Ruger product in which Ruger himself had an active hand, is of special interest to lovers of fine smoothbores in general and students of the Ruger legend in particular. In any event, its genesis is a fascinating story that begins way back in the 1880s with a patent issued to a Scottish gunmaker by the name of John Dickson.

A Scottish Pedigree
The gist of Dickson's patent was the way the locks (the firing mechanisms, including hammers, springs, sears, etc.) were mounted on the trigger plate behind the frame rather than within the action frame itself, as is the case with boxlock actions or on sidelock guns that have the firing mechanisms mounted on plates that join the rear of the frame.

Since sidelock guns are easily recognizable by the very visible lock plates on either side of the action area (top British guns such as those made by Holland & Holland and Purdey are good examples), and boxlock guns are just as easily identified by the absence of sidelocks (the Win-chester M-21 and Parker guns being examples), Dickson shotguns are sometimes mistakenly assumed to be boxlocks. They aren't, of course. In fact, they come closer to being sidelocks, since none of the lock mechanism is contained within the frame proper. Or perhaps it's safer to call the Dickson a "connecting link" between the two styles, as did famed shotgun expert Sir Gerald Burrard. More to the point, rather than just being an alternative shotgun mechanism, the Dickson system boasts specific advantages over both the boxlock and sidelock systems. But this requires a bit of explaining.

[pagebreak] The most commonly voiced criticism of boxlock guns is that the action has been weakened because metal has to be removed to make room for the hammers and other parts of the firing mechanism. However, boxlock guns are simpler and less costly to build, which explains why certain makes and models classified as "less-than-best" are usually boxlocks. This also further explains why the British, and others who consider wing-shooting the top of the shotgunning food chain, tend to look down their aristocratic noses at guns that aren't sidelocks. Back in Dickson's time, when steel alloys weren't as strong and tough as they are now, action strength was a quite important factor, especially with the coming of nitro (smokeless) powders. Nowadays we hardly give a second thought to the strength of modern boxlock actions because of the strong alloys used. Nevertheless, old prejudices sometimes die hard.

Sidelock actions, on the other hand, are stiffer because the locks are separate rather than internal, but this isn't without inherent problems. For one, the action must be rather square, flat- bottomed and blocky in order for the side plates to join and interlock in a smoothly contoured, stylistic whole. (There are exceptions of course, but n many.) So when you consider the mechanical or stylistic disadvantages of boxlock or sidelock guns, the brilliance of Dickson's approach really begins to glisten like the gold with which the innards of his guns were plated. Since there were no action excavations necessary in his actions, à la boxlock, and because he wasn't bothered by the need to shape the action so it would mesh neatly with sidelocks, Dickson was free to sculpt the action in just about any shape he desired. And so he did, and the Dickson "Round Action" was born.

Why theRound Action?

Okay, so what's so great about a round action? With strength to spare in the action area, the Dickson system made it possible to remove unneeded metal and thus reduce weight-which is always desirable when building shotguns. From an aesthetic standpoint a rounded action offered a whole new possibility in stock styling. To better understand this, take a look at virtually any side-by-side or over/under shotgun and you'll notice that from the grip forward the contour of the wood changes radically in order to conform to the shape of the action. Sometimes this blending of the stock contour to the action is quite graceful and pleasing-as it is with the Fox doubles, for example-while with other makes it isn't.

[pagebreak] With Dickson's round action the grip area of the stock flows gracefully into the action with no contour interruptions, allowing an elegance of line and form seldom equaled in other designs. Occasionally Dickson's round-action guns are described as "delicate" or even "feminine," a visual impression created by their sensuous lines and superb balance. In fact, they are among the strongest guns ever created on the British Isles, and much favored by lovers of fine guns who consider them not only beautiful but equal in workmanship and finish to the finest London guns.

The legendary hunter and firearm aficionado Charles Gordon was so obsessed with Dickson guns that he ordered more than three hundred of them over a period of some 30 years. Another great admirer of the Dickson round-action shotgun was no less a gun expert than Bill Ruger.

Ruger's New Double
Among my most cherished memories of Bill are the frosty New England nights when we would sit before the cavernous fireplace in a house he had built around the hand-hewn timbers of an ancient barn. Warmed by the log fire at our feet and good brandy in our bellies, we would talk about the things he liked to talk about-mostly guns and the people who made them. On many of those nights, as our conversation zeroed in on a favorite gun, he would bid me: "Go get that Dickson, I want to show you something." And from his crowded gun cabinet I would fetch the shotgun and put it in his hands. Even in those early days Bill's fingers were weakened by arthritis, but there was love in them as he turned the beautiful gun so that the firelight reflected on the engraved steel and made the oil-finished walnut glow like the embers on the hearth.

"This guy Dickson knew what he was doing, you know" Bill would say, or something like it, and then he would point to an engineering feature he particularly liked, such as the way Dickson housed the ejector hammers in the action bar, rather than the forearm, the way most gunmakers do.

[pagebreak] That was a long time ago, a quarter century and more, but even then I knew that if and when Bill Ruger built a side-by-side shotgun, it would surely look a lot like the Dickson round-action he so admired. This is why old friends of Bill's, such as me, were not the least bit surprised when the Ruger Gold Label was unveiled a couple of years ago. In fact, it borrows a lot more from the Dickson than I would have guessed. Not only are the sexy curves and flowing lines closely followed, but even Dickson's frame-mounted ejectors were emulated (a fact honestly noted in the Ruger catalog).

How Will It Fare?
Side-by-side shotguns haven't fared particularly well in recent years. Though they were the staple field gun a century ago, side-by-sides gave way to pumps, autoloaders and, more recently, over/ under models. Even hunters who profess a love for the classic side-by-side are nonetheless more inclined to actually go afield with a gun of another style. This is why the great American doubles-Baker, Ithaca, Fox, L.C. Smith and Parker-are mainly relegated to the cabinets of collectors.

Winchester's Model 21 survives as a custom-order specimen and the Fox has been reborn in versions for the well-heeled. So one has to wonder if Bill Ruger's final effort, and perhaps his proudest achievement, will also prove to be his company's greatest challenge. The Gold Label has three good things going for it: It's American made; it's styled after one of the greatest shotguns of all time; and, with a price of about two grand, it's within the reach of working guys who have always craved a good double.

How good is the Gold Label? Our full evaluation and shooting-test report of it (and other new guns) will be in the gun test feature in the June/July issue. You won't want to miss it.

[pagebreak] Remembering Pete, the Man With One Gun
There were a number of sound reasons why I never particularly cared for going to school, but the most vexing of all was because some unthinking idiots had planned the school term so that it interrupted hunting season.

This caused me, on the more than occasional days when attending classes didn't seem a sensible thing to do, to seek the company of a local ne'er-do-well whose only purpose in life, so far as I could discover, was hunting and fishing. In addition to this virtue he had the good grace to let me hide my hunting clothes in the rickety tool shed behind his rickety house.

He could roll a cigarette or tie on a fly with one hand and wore high-top work shoes in the summer and fall (not that he recognized either of these seasons as a fit time to be working). The rest of the year he went around with patched hip boots flopping about his knees. I never saw him without a faded red leather cap that had fuzzy earflaps, which he turned down when the wind chill hit 20 below. His name was Pete, his sour-tempered wife had a regular job in town and what I remember best about him was the full-choke, 12-gauge Model 12 Winchester that for six months of the year was an extension of his person and personality.

Whoever said "Beware the man with one gun" must have had Pete in mind, because he was probably the most consistently deadly wing-shot I've ever hunted with. Doves, bobwhites, rabbits or ducks, he hunted them all with the long-barreled M-12, but he was most awesome when shooting from the hardscrabble duck blinds we'd make from cedar brush and driftwood. Th>How Will It Fare?**
Side-by-side shotguns haven't fared particularly well in recent years. Though they were the staple field gun a century ago, side-by-sides gave way to pumps, autoloaders and, more recently, over/ under models. Even hunters who profess a love for the classic side-by-side are nonetheless more inclined to actually go afield with a gun of another style. This is why the great American doubles-Baker, Ithaca, Fox, L.C. Smith and Parker-are mainly relegated to the cabinets of collectors.

Winchester's Model 21 survives as a custom-order specimen and the Fox has been reborn in versions for the well-heeled. So one has to wonder if Bill Ruger's final effort, and perhaps his proudest achievement, will also prove to be his company's greatest challenge. The Gold Label has three good things going for it: It's American made; it's styled after one of the greatest shotguns of all time; and, with a price of about two grand, it's within the reach of working guys who have always craved a good double.

How good is the Gold Label? Our full evaluation and shooting-test report of it (and other new guns) will be in the gun test feature in the June/July issue. You won't want to miss it.

[pagebreak] Remembering Pete, the Man With One Gun
There were a number of sound reasons why I never particularly cared for going to school, but the most vexing of all was because some unthinking idiots had planned the school term so that it interrupted hunting season.

This caused me, on the more than occasional days when attending classes didn't seem a sensible thing to do, to seek the company of a local ne'er-do-well whose only purpose in life, so far as I could discover, was hunting and fishing. In addition to this virtue he had the good grace to let me hide my hunting clothes in the rickety tool shed behind his rickety house.

He could roll a cigarette or tie on a fly with one hand and wore high-top work shoes in the summer and fall (not that he recognized either of these seasons as a fit time to be working). The rest of the year he went around with patched hip boots flopping about his knees. I never saw him without a faded red leather cap that had fuzzy earflaps, which he turned down when the wind chill hit 20 below. His name was Pete, his sour-tempered wife had a regular job in town and what I remember best about him was the full-choke, 12-gauge Model 12 Winchester that for six months of the year was an extension of his person and personality.

Whoever said "Beware the man with one gun" must have had Pete in mind, because he was probably the most consistently deadly wing-shot I've ever hunted with. Doves, bobwhites, rabbits or ducks, he hunted them all with the long-barreled M-12, but he was most awesome when shooting from the hardscrabble duck blinds we'd make from cedar brush and driftwood. Th