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Born In The USA

Born In The USA

Ithaca’s Model 37 28 Gauge!

By Sam Fadala—

Many of the finest shooting and hunting tools I own or ever wanted to own came from over the wide ocean — fine Swarovski scopes and binoculars, Franchi shotguns, Mannlicher rifles, good little Austrian .22 pistols — and more. But it’s also nice to come across an excellent example of American craftsmanship, and that’s where the new Ithaca 28-gauge scattergun shines.

I always wanted an Ithaca. My hunting partner, the late John Doyle, had one, and I got to use it when he, the Levy brothers of Tucson, Arizona, and I sallied forth into the field for Southern Arizona quail. I was then, and remain, intrigued by the bottom load, bottom eject of the rattlesnake-fast Model 37shotgun. It was designed right to begin with and if anything, today’s Model 37 is a slice above the original cut.

Where came this shotgun’s handle: Ithaca? Ulysses (Odysseus in Greek) was king of Ithaca. He was the chap who came up with the idea of the Trojan horse, that “gift” designed to smuggle 19 soldiers and himself into Troy, to later admit his returning brothers into the city — to burn the place down and save Helen, the wife of Spartan King Melanos. While the story lives in the world of mythology, the Greek island is no myth and its present namesake thrives in upstate New York, USA. Famous for Cornell University. Ithaca, New York, is home to astronomer Carl Sagan, Rod Serling, author of The Twilight Zone, Alex Haley, creator of Roots, plus several Nobel Prize winners. The city is also the birthplace of the 1883 Ithaca Gun Company that produced a M1911A1 semi-auto pistol, M6 survival weapon and M3A1 Grease Gun for the US Military during WWII. The company’s Model 37 12-gauge also found a home in law enforcement with both LAPD and NYPD as standard equipment.

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Sam’s Ithaca Model 37 in 28 gauge showed very good fit and over-all finish.

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The fore-end is classic, old school pump-gun and adds to the panache.

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A bit of scroll-work looks “just right” according to Sam, but he’d rather not have the gold trigger!

Re-Born

Glory days were followed by hard times for the company. Not long ago, equipment was auctioned off in a going-out-of-business sale. The Model 37, however, was just too good to die, and manufacturing was reborn in Sandusky, Ohio. The famous Model 37 was produced in the 21st century in all its former glory, with perhaps an even brighter glint to its crown. Today, this shotgun is offered in several intriguing styles. There is the Upland Featherlight 20-gauge with available “ladies’ stocks.” Upland Featherlight sporting 26″, 28″ or 30″ barrels. Deerslayer 12 or 20 offered with optional thumbhole stock scope-ready; the Home Defense; Turkeyslayer and the Waterfowl. As an aside to our story, but worthy of note, the company recently announced a 1911 semi-auto handgun.

What caught my eye and captured my imagination (on the cinema of my mind, Sam strolling upland game fields) was the 28-gauge Model 37. At the 2011 Shot Show the Ithaca booth reached out for me with friendly octopus tentacles and I had to get my hands on one of the displayed 28s. Fit and finish —fine. Handling — like Ali’s butterfly with the sting of a bee. I questioned at first the rather full pistol grip style stock for promised fast-handling, as opposed to the available straight English-style design. But the more I handled the former, the less concern I had for swift function in the field. Being an example of modern times, this 28-gauge shotgun came with Briley Choke Tubes and I found the full to be truly full, my choice for sage grouse hunting near my home in Wyoming.

The 28-gauge shotgun shell has received considerable notoriety in recent times as a gauge worthy of attention. For once, I may have been a baby step ahead of the crowd when I employed a side-by-side Italian shotgun in 28-gauge to bring home a bag of dove and quail for the dinner table quite some time ago. A Franchi semi-auto also came my way in 28-gauge. I found with the 1-ounce load, that shotgun prevailed on the biggest grouse in America — the sage hen. Shots are close on these soft-feathered bombers, and a concentration of pellets brings them down with conviction. I found, if anything, even tighter patterns in full choke with the Ithaca 28 over my Franchi. Ammo companies have come along with a winning full-house of 28-gauge loads, some I even find acceptable when pond-hopping ducks where 20-yard pokes are the rule.

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The Model 37 handles several modern loads fine, and Sam found the 1-ounce load to be very effective.

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The Ithaca’s unique bottom loading/unloading/ejecting method proved to be fast
and very reliable. Ithaca’s 37 in 12 gauge was a mainstay of the LAPD for decades.

Light-In-Hand

During my research, I ran across “Ithaca Model 37 Featherlight Shotgun” in the October, 1960 issue of The American Rifleman magazine. The author penned the first date of manufacture for Ithaca as 1880 (rather than 1883) in a “small wood building on the banks of Fall Creek,” the first example being a hammer gun in 12-gauge. The Model 37 surfaced in 1937. It was light-in-hand, with easy takedown, and today’s Model 37 is exactly the same. Unloaded, of course, turn the magazine nut clockwise until it’s snug against the magazine tube yoke. Turn the barrel a mere 1/4 out of line, lift away, and you’re ready to clear the barrel of fouling. Pretty handy.

The 1960 article praised the fact that the 37 “was a full pound lighter than its nearest competitor, weight reduction accomplished by clever design rather than the use of light alloys.” Bottom ejection was then, and is now, a veritable trademark of this shotgun. I found it handier than side eject when seeking spent shells to remove from the landscape. Rather than spewing hulls out into grass and foliage, the empties plopped closer to my boots, although ejection proved strong. Slick is a feeble word to apply to Model 37 function. All “pump guns” are fast-operating, but the snick-snick of the 37 truly is exceptionally quick. I plied the gun against fallen timber in the woods with up-jutting limbs. In quick-time, all projections were reduced to wood pulp gracing the forest floor.

I chose the A Grade for testing (and purchasing). Black American walnut exhibited sufficient pattern to please my eye, and wood fit to metal was fine. Custom engraving is an option for owner personalizing or banquets, birthdays and anniversaries. The 28 Gauge Model 37 can also be embellished with high-end gold inlay and fancy scroll-work, currently produced by master engraver Bill Mains. I elected for the 26″ barrel over the 28″, but for no particular reason. The trigger broke at 4.6-pounds, good shotgun-wise. I had forgotten about the Model 37’s past praise as light-in-hand, fast to point and shoot, with “good feel.” The first time in the field, these attributes came to the fore. Especially pleasing was the company’s promised “controlled” felt recoil, even with the forceful 1-ounce load. Ithaca claims a “lengthened forcing cone to reduce recoil and shot deformation.”

Most of all, this shotgun is pleasing in how it handles. It’s not only easy to load, but easy to unload: invert the gun; press down on the spring shell stop, and release rounds one at a time until the red follower shows. That clears the magazine. The chamber is evacuated per normal by activating the action release and ejecting the shell into the hand. Maintenance is friendly as well. And so I found the Ithaca Model 37 true to its heritage as a well-designed, well-crafted, efficient American made shotgun, pleasant to pack in the field and foolproof in function. I didn’t come across any particular quirk to complain about, although the gold trigger could be blued metal for my dollar.

For more info: www.gunsmagazine/Ithaca

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Sam found the Model 37 light and handy for prowling the woods.
Oh, and Sam? He is smiling, really!

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For a production gun, the test Ithaca had nice figure to the American black walnut stock.

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  1. dear sam sir in reading this web extra it brought a tear to my eye in reading this i have several ithaca mod 37s i love them all but one of them is a 20 gauge that really feels special to me. sir i am just nuts about ithaca and have since i was a kid.it makes me feel good when i find fans out there like you thank you for your column lloyd p.s all so i never owned a 1911 until i took the tour at ithaca they showed the pistol to me the rest is history now i own ah to many ah maybe not

    • I purchased a Model 37 riot gun, which, I believe is along the lines of the old Los Angeles police Model 37s, I think. I prefer the 37 over any other shotgun for its bottom ejection and being milled out of one block of metal, as I was told anyway. Whatever, I’ll take the 37 any day. I hope your article helps them sell a bunch. I wouldn’t want to see them go out of business.

  2. Chauncey Ching says:

    Sam, a wonderfully written article. I have a 37 in 20 gauge and while I have other shotguns, this one does everything I know how to do with a shotgun. New company in Sandusky is great – customer service is excellent. The Model 37 is so often overlooked.
    Thank you.

  3. My Ithaca 37, purchased in the 70′s, has never let me down. It’s murder on murders of crows (sorry). The bottom ejection may also be kinder to left-handed shooters.

  4. Bruce W. Fletcher says:

    My first shotgun was an Ithica Featherlight 20 gauge. I started shooting it when I was 13 and is still my favorite shotgun. I am 56 now. It’s lightening fast and perfect for upland game. I have hunted ducks, geese and everything else you can take with a shotgun. One of John Brownings finest designs.

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