Ithaca offers a traditional stock and an AR-style pistol grip as custom options for its M37 shotguns. Photo: Scott Smith
Although it's best known today for its hunting weapons, Ithaca has produced firearms favored by the military and law enforcement for decades. The Ithaca Model 37 shotgun and M1911 handgun are two John Browning designs that have been carried in both World Wars and in numerous police operations.
Sadly, the company fell on hard times in 2005 and closed operations. New owners reopened the operation a couple of years ago and are making moves back into the law enforcement and military markets.
Recently, I received a pair of M37 Defense Gun 12-gauge shotguns in the eight-shot and five-shot versions for test and evaluation. The five-shot model was fitted with Ithaca's recoil reducing adjustable stock, while the eight-shot model features a simple synthetic stock. Both are lightweight and easy to handle; these have been hallmarks of the M37 Defense Gun since its inception.
The Ithaca Model 37 is hugely popular with shooters of all stripes for the "handiness" of the shotgun and the ergonomics of its feed/ejection port. The port is positioned on the bottom of the gun, which makes the shotgun ideal for left-handed shooters and reduces the chances of a case bouncing into the chamber when ejecting shells next to objects and walls.
Ithaca's smooth operating pump is another feature that has made the M37 popular with past law enforcement users. This pump is smooth and easy for most any stature of shooter. Consequently, the Ithaca M37 is one of the fastest operating pump shotguns on the market today. A seasoned operator shooting an M37 can rival a novice shooting self-loading shotguns for delivery of fast shots.
The M37 feels light, but it will take a beating. Agencies around the country have had these shotguns on duty for years.
Ithaca offers the M37 Defense Gun shotgun in a five- or eight-round model, in wood or polymer, with optional recoil-reducing adjustable stock. Ithaca keeps the sighting on these guns simple using a brass bead. The bead sight has been used for decades and works no matter the light conditions.
One of the changes from the old M37 to the new Defense Gun model is the fixed barrel. The barrel of the standard sport M37 is removed by simply unscrewing the magazine cap. This allows the shooter to swap the barrels for different applications such as hunting. Unfortunately, the barrels do not mate up exactly the same, which leads to minor variations in pressure behind the payload and could possibly affect the consistency of shot placement. That's not so critical when shooting clay pigeons, but it could be in police operations.
Ithaca has solved this problem in the M37 Defense Gun by press fitting the barrel and making it fixed. This gives you a consistent pressure behind each round and each round enters the chamber the same every time.
The M37 Defense Gun comes with an 18.5-inch improved cylinder barrel. This choke will allow a police or military operator to shoot any payload from less-lethal to 00 buck to rifled slugs. This is the first shotgun I have shot that has an improved cylinder choke, so I was interested in how well it would perform on the range.
To test the M37 Defense Guns, I shot both the fixed polymer stock eight-shot and the five-shot polymer model with the recoil-reducing adjustable stock. I used Remington's Reduced Recoil 8 pellet 00 buckshot, Federal's 9 pellet 00 buckshot, and slugs from Wolf and Brenneke. I also ran a number of old "high brass" magnum loads to test the effectiveness of the recoil-reducing stock.