The history behind the Ithaca Gun Company and the Model 37 is a long one. In 1883, William Henry Baker and partners went into business as the Ithaca Gun Company and started making side-by-side shotguns in Ithaca, NY. John Pederson was credited with designing the Remington Model 31, Model 10 and the basis for the Remington 870. In 1937 John Moses Browning designed the Model 37 with assistance from John Pederson, and it was put into production by Ithaca.
In 1967, the Ithaca Gun Company was sold and in 1987 gun-making operations were moved to Kings Ferry, NY and the Model 37 changed to the Model 87. In 2005 Ithaca Guns USA, LLC purchased Ithaca’s gun assets and started production of the M37 in Upper Sandusky, Ohio. In 2007 Ithaca Gun Company acquired the assets of Ithaca Guns USA, LLC and continues to move forward with production.
14-inch Model 37 entry gun.
Several months ago, Steve Sandridge of Grindel Sales, a national wholesaler of ammunition, firearms and supplies, contacted me to ask if I would be interested in testing and evaluating (T&E) two new Ithaca Model 37 Defense shotguns. Of course I said yes.
When my T&E guns arrived, I was transported back to my first deer hunts. When I started hunting, I used an old Model 37 Deerslayer that was in the family. I carried that shotgun all over southern Ohio and remember how proud I was that I was fortunate enough to have upgraded to a pump gun from my old single shot.
The Model 37 Defense looked just like the old Deerslayer I’d used in the early ’80s. At first glance I thought they were simply making reproductions, but further inspection revealed the new guns are made using all steel instead of aluminum. The receiver is machined from a solid block of steel using the latest CNC machining techniques. The wooden stocks are made from black walnut instead of the foreign mystery wood. One of the things that impressed me was that every part of these guns is manufactured and assembled in the USA.
The first Model 37 Defense was a five-shot version with an 18 ½-inch barrel with wood stock and forend. The other Model 37 had a 20-inch barrel, eight-shot capacity and black synthetic furniture. Both shotguns were equipped with bead sights. With three-inch chambers, the 12-gauge shotguns can shoot either 3-inch Magnum or standard 2 ¾-inch shells. Weight of either shotgun is around seven pounds. Unlike other shotguns used for law enforcement or defense that utilize two action bars, the Model 37 has a single action bar.
As luck would have it, the shotguns arrived a week before a basic SWAT course I was teaching. What better way to evaluate the guns than to put them in the hands of SWAT cops for a week?
Deputy Jim Guest with five-shot Ithaca Model 37.
The five-shot model was a favorite due to its shorter barrel and good pointing ability. Both shotguns were fed everything from 12 gauge 00 buckshot and #4 buckshot to slugs, breaching rounds, bean bag rounds, less-lethal impact rounds, and chemical munitions.
As mentioned earlier, Model 37 has only one action bar, and although the bar is larger than other brands and made of steel, I was concerned about twisting or binding with only one bar. The design worked great. Even though I intentionally tried to bind the action, it still ran flawlessly.
The week of SWAT school, it rained for three days straight. The gun was routinely thrown in the mud, checked for obstructions and then shot. The gun was intentionally not cleaned to see how much dirt and fouling it could take. The Model 37 was a beast, and it did nothing but perform.
I routinely threw the gun on the ground and literally abused it. Now, before anyone reacts in horror, allow me to elaborate: These guns will be tossed in and out of squad cars and onto the floors of SWAT vans, banged against door jambs during searches, and left dangling from slings as officers go hands-on with suspects. If you have ever seen police shotguns, you know they usually look like hell—they are work guns.
The only complaint anyone had was about the sights. The bead sights just did not do the gun justice as a law enforcement/defense shotgun. During this time, I received a few calls from Steve Sandridge, who was working closely with Mike Ferrell of Ithaca regarding the testing and performance. They were very interested to hear what cops thought of their product. I told them that the Model 37 had performed well, but I was not thrilled with the sights, and I would also like to see a shorter entry version with a synthetic pistol grip stock.
Instructor Brandon McCray prepares to demonstrate multi-threat targets engaging steel plates at 25 yards using eight-shot Model 37. Guns ran very well despite muddy conditions at weeklong SWAT school.
Then the unbelievable happened—Ithaca sent me three more samples. I was amazed that a manufacturer had actually listened to the end user.
The three shotguns were all Model 37 Defense series. The first one was an 18 ½-inch, five-shot model with black synthetic stock and forearm with fiber optic sights. The second was a 20-inch, eight-shot version with black synthetic furniture and fiber optic sights. The third was a 14-inch entry shotgun with interchangeable standard or pistol grip synthetic stock.
I took the guns to several courses and allowed all my students to use them. The Model 37 has long been a favorite with left-handed shooters for its bottom ejection and because it easily allows for select load transition drills between buckshot and slug by simply leaving one round out of the magazine tube. The desired round is put in the magazine tube last, the action release depressed and the weapon cycled. This will clear the round in the chamber (typically buckshot) and chamber the desired round (typically a slug).
The bright fiber optic sights made for easy sight alignment, and good groups were achieved with all the weapons using Winchester one-ounce rifled slugs (our standard duty slug). The guns patterned all 00 buckshot and #4 buckshot well, but the Federal Tactical 00B produced the best patterns.
After having the guns for several months and logging thousands of hard rounds through them, I was asked, “What would you change or like to see?”
After contemplating my response for some time, I asked for a collapsible stock, an M1913 mounting rail, breaching standoff and pistol grip for the breaching version, as well as a SideSaddle and extra sling points. All of the above-mentioned changes are being produced on prototypes and may soon be available for production. Ithaca is also experimenting with a quick takedown trigger assembly based on USMC specs with an M4-style collapsible stock.
I was truly impressed with the service and response from Steve Sandridge and everyone at Ithaca. The Model 37 lived up to its history. It’s yet another John Browning design that has stood the test of time.
The fact that an historic American gun company is actually making and assembling the Model 37 here in the States makes this gun a must-try.
[Matt Schaefer is a 16-year veteran of law enforcement. He is the SWAT team leader and the lead weapons and tactics instructor for his agency. He is also a member of the U.S. Marshals fugitive task force. Matt can be reached at [email protected].]
Ithaca Gun Company
420 N. Warpole Street
Upper Sandusky, OH 43351