Ithaca Model 37: Slamless Edition
The Ithaca Model 37 started life in 1937 in Ithaca, NY. The design is derived from the JMB designed Remington model 17. Chambered in 12 and later 20 ga, the 37 had a few interesting facets of its design that made it somewhat unique. One was the slab sided, bottom ejecting receiver. The other was the ability to slam-fire when the slide action was cycled with the trigger held back. This was not by accident, but an ability afforded by via a second sear that would release the hammer when the bolt had gone fully into battery (sadly discontinued in the mid-1970’s). Ithaca 37s were used by the United States military in WWII and in Vietnam by both US and ARVN forces. Interestingly enough, Trench Gun models of the Ithaca 37 marked with the ordnance bomb issued during WWII can be worth over $10,000!
Today, though no longer in its original incarnation, the company survives on in name, now with operations in OH and SC. Newer production shotguns no longer have the ability to slam fire, though Model 37s with this ability are still available on the used market. I found one of the newer shotguns of theirs in a gun store I stopped in while killing time passing through an area. This was the kind of place that had barrels full of guns on their sales floor. In one of these barrels, I found a 20″ barrel, 8 shot Model 37 Defense on sale for a deep discount. Though MSRP is $784 for the synthetic model, I paid less than half of that for my particular example. How does the Model 37 Defense stack up in the world of defense shotguns? Let’s take a look.
- Gauge: 12, 20
- Barrel Length: 18.5″, 20″ (as tested)
- Stock: Walnut, Synthetic
- Capacity: 5 (18.5″ model) 8 (20″)
- Weight: 7lbs, 2oz as tested
- OAL: 39.5″ as tested
- MSRP: $784 as tested
I used the Ithaca Model 37 as a primary home defense shotgun for a number of years, so I have a good bit of trigger time with the platform. I would describe it as easy to load, easy to use, and rather reliable. The trigger is quite good for a defensive shotgun, breaking crisply at just under 6 lbs. The safety is located on the rear of the trigger guard and snaps positively left to right from fire to safe and back again. The synthetic stock is no-nonsense, and few accessories exist for this shotgun. When it was my primary defensive shotgun, I would use an aftermarket barrel clamp in order to mount a light. It marked up the barrel a bit, but provided the necessary illumination for such a role.
Fit of the stock and slide to the shotgun is quite good, with little rattling and looseness. The checkering on the synthetic stock and forend has provided adequate purchase even in dirty or sweaty conditions. By virtue of its bottom-feed, bottom eject receiver, the Model 37 proved very well at keeping the action clean, whether in quick access storage or on the range. The black parkerized finish shows some wear and scratches after a decade of not-so-gentle use. Another interesting facet: Ithaca shotguns are 100% US made of US parts and materials.
With a fixed cylinder bore, this shotgun has liked almost all ammunition fed to it, with the exception of some older uncrimped 3″ turkey loads. It evens works somewhat ok with mini shells without the use of an adaptor. The Model 37 defense cycles quickly and effectively, and for a factory slide action shotgun, it is only eclipsed by the Benelli Nova and older vintage Winchesters and Remingtons for smooth cycling, in my opinion.
Churning through (depending on exact shell length) around 8 shotshells, it’s easy enough to keep the Model 37 on target. Perhaps due to the angle of the stock, felt recoil seems less than that of a similarly configured Mossberg 590 or 870 to me. Fully enclosed from the top and sides, the bottom eject design keeps the action better protected from dirt and debris than other shotguns and is friendly to southpaws. The downside of the bottom eject design is that when one does have a malfunction, it can be a bit of a bear to clear. The arms of the carrier can get in the way of stripping a stuck shell out of the action, and one can’t single load through the side.
The Ithaca Model 37, though having served in the military and still in some police inventories, is not as well known as the more ubiquitous Mossberg 500/590 and Remington 870, yet is an excellent slide action shotgun in its own right. If one is looking for a slide action shotgun for fun, hunting, or defense, take a look at the Model 37, it may be just the thing for you (and if you’re reading this blog, you’d likely want to find an older one with the second sear).
- Robust and as closed to the elements as it can be
- 100% US made
- Little aftermarket support
- Clearing malfunctions can be difficult
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