January 11, 2023
By Joseph von Benedikt
Winchester’s single-shot Model 37 shotgun was a byproduct of the Great Depression, when capable but inexpensive fowling pieces were a valuable asset to the family table. Simple and robust, the Model 37 featured a break-action receiver with a “semi-hammerless” design, meaning only the hammerspur was visible and accessible. A simple thumb lever atop the rear receiver tang opened the action, and an ejector tossed fired hulls over the shooter’s shoulder with a healthy “ping.”
More than a million Model 37s were made between 1936 and 1963. Winchester moved manufacturing to the Cooey facility in Canada and in the late ’60s brought out the Model 370, which was an adaptation of the 37 and Cooey’s similar Model 84. The 370 was short-lived. Just a few years later, a few more changes were incorporated, including a switch from beech to walnut stocks and a beavertail-type forearm with finger grooves, and the Model 37A arrived in 1973.
While not as prolific as the ancestral Model 37, nearly 400,000 37As were manufactured. These are marked “Made in Canada,” and as far as I know, they were made in most of the available gauges at one time or another, including .410 Bore. The gun featured here is one of those. The Cooey plant was closed in 1979, and the Model 37A was discontinued.
Model 37s were not serial numbered, so it’s very difficult to date them precisely. Model 37As were, but comprehensive records either were not kept or are not readily available. However, for the gun featured here I can get close; it was made between 1973 and 1979.
Unlike many .410 single shots, the Model 37A is a full-size shotgun. In fact, I was reviewing TriStar’s 28-gauge Bristol side-by-side concurrently as I worked with this 37A (you will be able to read my report on it in an upcoming issue), and I was surprised to find they are exactly the same weight: 5 pounds, 2 ounces.
As a result, the .410 37A is a very soft-shooting shotgun. My son’s petite Rossi .410 recoils with zest when 3-inch shotshells are used, whereas the Model 37A barely jumps when fired with “stout” loads. My kids love it. Even though it’s a bit hefty for the littlest ones to mount and swing, it’s so comfortable to fire that it’s become a favorite.
Being a single shot, there’s not a lot that’s unique about the Model 37A aside from its full-stature nature. The hammer is a rebounding design with a trigger transfer bar, so when left uncocked, it is quite safe. The action lever and the trigger guard appear to be cast of pot metal and are the only cheap-looking parts on the gun. The simple curved trigger has a gold finish, but it looks like bent sheet metal. A nice grip cap and buttplate lend a touch of class. My gun has a Full choke.
Disassembly is a bit different from most break-action guns. Simply grasp the forearm tip firmly and pull it away from the gun. A spring-loaded mechanism will first resist, then release the forearm. Open the action lever, and with the forearm removed, the barrel will separate from the receiver.
Reassemble in reverse order, with one caveat: The spring-loaded spur pointing up and away from the barrel channel in the forearm must be lined up into its notch in the barrel stud, then the forearm may be pressed home against the barrel.
Little is known about this Model 37A. I purchased it via Gunbroker.com after my children fired a similar shotgun and liked the minimal recoil. While there’s a trace of rust dusting the sides of the receiver, the bore and the rest of the metal parts are in excellent condition. Judging by the rougher shape of the wood buttstock, I suspect this Model 37A may have served duty as a truck gun.
The value of these .410 Bore guns ranges from about $150 for a hard-used example up to $400 or so for a prime gun in like-new condition. As I understand it, the 28-gauge versions are by far the rarest, so they command a much higher price.
On the clay range, the 37A is deceptively lively in the hands. When shouldered, if not cocked, the hammerspur occludes the sight, reminding the shooter to cock the hammer.
On that note, the hammer is one feature my kids are less enchanted with. Its spring is stiff, and the spur is modest in size. As a result, it’s hard for little thumbs to pull back. However, the trigger is crisp and relatively light, making it easy for small people to fire when ready.
The beavertail forearm is too wide for my taste. Perhaps it’s just what I’m accustomed to, but I think a .410 should be sleek. On the plus side, it’s quite comfortable in the hands and provides a nice stable feel when shooting. The buttstock is built for adults, too, with a 14.3-inch length of pull.
Perhaps as a result of that, I find the Model 37A surprisingly easy to break clays with. I’m not a natural shotgunner and have always had difficulty breaking a high percentage of thrown targets with a .410 gun. Hand-chucking orange clays, my wife, son William, and I recently took turns with the 37A. To everyone’s surprise, William and I both shot the gun better than any other .410 either of us had used before. Better yet, my wife never missed a target!
I view a single-shot shotgun as a tool and think of it as once the most cost-effective pot-filling tool available to American farmers. Whether tipping a squirrel or grouse out of a tree or rolling a cottontail, the Winchester Model 37A is handy and capable. It’s a reliable, easy-to-shoot gun that’s been putting meat on country tables for nearly a half-century.
Model 37A Specifications
- Manufacturer: Winchester Repeating Arms
- Type: Break-action, single-shot shotgun
- Gauge: .410 Bore
- Cartridge Capacity: 1 round
- Barrel: 26 in.
- Overall Length: 42.25 in.
- Weight, Empty: 6.13 lbs.
- Stock: Walnut
- Length of Pull: 14.3 in.
- Finish: Blued barrel and action
- Sights: Bead front
- Safety: Transfer-bar firing mechanism
- Trigger: 4.25-lb. pull (as tested)