February 16, 2016
By Joel J Hutchcroft
The classic Ithaca Model 37 pump-action shotgun's heritage traces back to the Remington Model 17 shotgun that was patented by John M. Browning in 1915. It's another example of Browning's genius.
Gun designer Harry Howland modified the Remington model's firing pin and ejection mechanism in 1931 for the Ithaca Gun Co., and Ithaca originally planned to bring out the gun as the Model 33 after Browning's patents expired in 1932, but an in-depth investigation into those patents discovered that the design also involved some patents held by John Pedersen (who is most famous for the Pedersen Device that converted Springfield Model 1903 bolt-action rifles into semiautomatics). Pedersen's patents were due to expire in 1936, so Ithaca waited until then and began producing the gun as the Ithaca Model 37. While I can't confirm it, the Ithaca Model 37 has been said to have "the longest production run for a pump-action shotgun in history."
The history of the Ithaca company is a bit convoluted, as it was in and out of business and changed hands and names several times during the 20th century. The company was founded in 1880 in Ithaca, New York, by William Henry Baker. In 1967 the company was sold to what would become General Recreation Inc. By 1987 the company was called Ithaca Acquisition Inc., and it moved gunmaking operations to King Ferry, New York, and also changed the name of the Model 37 to Model 87. In 1996 the company went by the name of Ithaca Gun Co. LLC, and it changed the name of the pump gun back to the Ithaca Model 37. In 2005 Ithaca Guns USA LLC of Upper Sandusky, Ohio, purchased Ithaca Gun Co. LLC's assets and started building Model 37s in Ohio. In 2007 Ithaca Gun Co. acquired the assets of Ithaca Guns USA LLC and continued producing Model 37s in Ohio.
The Ithaca Model 37 lives on today. The 2016 catalog lists Featherlight, DeerSlayer, Defense, camouflaged Turkey Slayer, Waterfowl, and Trap versions. Also, Browning Arms currently produces the BPS shotgun, which is a modified version of the Model 17/37.
The Ithaca Model 37 is a bottom-ejecting, pump-action shotgun. That means the sides of the receiver are solid. According to my research, the intent was to prevent debris from entering the action. Browning employed this concept in other designs, most notably his fantastic little .22 semiautomatic rifle.
The Ithaca Model 37 uses a single action bar, and the original guns could be fired continuously by keeping the trigger squeezed and working the pump action. Later versions were changed to eliminate that mode of fire.
One of the Model 37's most distinctive features is how the barrel attaches. Interrupted threads on the chamber end of the barrel fit into corresponding threads inside the front of the action. Once inserted, the barrel is turned 90 degrees, and is held in place by a nut attached to the end of the tubular magazine. Turning the nut holds a ball against an extended lug on the barrel.
Several versions of the Ithaca Model 37 have been offered: riot guns, trap and skeet versions, standard grades, deluxe models with ventilated ribs, DeerSlayer models, Supreme grades, and Featherlight models, to name just a few. Originally, it was only 12 gauge, but over the years it's also been offered in 16, 20, and 28 gauges. Barrel lengths have been 20, 26, 28, and 30 inches. There was even an English-style straight-stocked version.
My friend and neighbor, Dan Eiker, was the catalyst for this column. He had purchased an incomplete Ithaca Model 37 and had ordered the parts necessary to put the gun in working order. One afternoon last summer he brought it out to show me how it had all gone together. He had done a good job on assembling everything, but because I was not well acquainted with the model, I suggested that I borrow the one shown in these pictures from the Shooting Times gun room, bring it home with me, and compare it to his gun. During that show-and-tell session I became interested in the model and subsequently learned a lot about it.
The Shooting Times gun is in new-in-the-box condition. In fact, it had not been fired until I got my hands on it. This one was made in April 1997, during a time when Ithaca was located in King Ferry, New York.
It's the Deluxe vent-rib version and has a checkered pistol-grip buttstock with 0.75-inch-thick recoil pad, checkered forearm, and 28-inch barrel that's threaded for screw-in choke tubes. It has three Briley chokes: Improved Cylinder, Modified, and Full. The barrel has a floating vent rib and the traditional orange/pink Raybar front bead sight. The receiver sports the simple engraving that was originally drawn by Ithaca firearms engraver Bill McGraw: waterfowl on the right-hand side and pheasants and a dog on the left-hand side.
Historically, the Ithaca Model 37 was used extensively by the U.S. military, police departments, and prison guards in the short-barreled configurations, but the ST gun is a hunting model, so that's what I put it to for this report. A day hunting doves at my family's farm revealed that it's great for such adventures.
The Model 37 has a reputation for smooth operation and dependability. I can't attest to its dependability because I only spent one day in the field with it, but I can agree with the smooth-operating part.
The Model 37, as exhibited by our example, was very well built. Plus, it was a well-thought-out design. But then, weren't all of John Browning's gun designs well thought out? Add to that the modifications by John Pedersen and Harry Howland, and you have one of the all-time greats.