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.[PAGEBREAK]
Both M37s shot tight patterns with the 00 buckshot loads out to 15 yards. Beyond that range, the pellets were off target, and that becomes a liability issue in law
At distances out to 25 yards, both M37s offered more than adequate accuracy. When I took my time from the bench, I was able to shoot sub-two-inch groups. Offhand firing as quickly as I acquired a sight picture, my five-shot groups were never larger than six inches. For a smooth bore shotgun, this is good accuracy.
While the standard Pachmayr Decelerator does a good job taming the 12-gauge, the recoil-reducing stock of the five-shot Defense Gun was even more impressive. I am far from recoil sensitive, but 12-gauge shotguns can wear me out. The modified ATI stock that Ithaca uses makes shooting the M37 feel like shooting a 20-gauge.
I made one adjustment to the eight-shot M37, adding an XS 24/7 Big Dot sight. I feel that a tritium sight for a duty weapon is almost always a must. Tritium sights allow you to see the sight in the worst lighting conditions.
Cocked and Locked
If your agency is looking for a new handgun, you may want to consider the Ithaca M1911. While some of the younger generation may wonder why a shotgun maker is producing handguns, it should be noted that Ithaca built 1911 pistols and M3 "Grease Guns" for the military during World War II.
The new Ithaca M1911 is a far cry from the M1911A1 built for the military in the 1940s. This new M1911 is a testament to modern technology and machining. My test and evaluation Ithaca 1911 is factory stock, and it rivals any of the custom 1911s in my collection for fit and finish.
Ithaca's 1911 features cocobolo stocks secured by hex head screws, while the front strap and mainspring housing are checkered for a solid grip. An extended thumb safety makes taking your pistol on and off safe easy. Other features include a perfectly fitted beavertail, hand-fitted barrel/bushing dovetailed front sight, and adjustable combat-style rear sight. The front sight is pinned to the flattened slide to ensure it will not move during even the hardest use.
I found the factory trigger on the Ithaca 1911 to be excellent, about five pounds crisp. Thanks to the tool steel hammer and sear, this fine trigger will last the lifetime of the pistol. The lightened aluminum trigger is smooth, and reset and take-up are minimal.
The frame-to-slide fit on the Ithaca 1911 was tight with no play. This tight fit ensures years of durability even under hard use and will keep the dirt and grime out of the rails. A few drops of oil will keep the pistol running as smooth as silk.
Ithaca hand fits the barrel and bushing to extract the most accuracy out of the pistol. Once you remove the front of the two-piece guide rod (with supplied wrench), the bushing can be removed without using a bushing wrench. This is a sign of a properly fitted bushing; many shops fit the bushing so tightly you must use a wrench, which affects the reliability of a duty pistol should it get "dry." There needs to be a smidge of play in the fit without being sloppy; otherwise accuracy suffers.
The other part of the barrel that must be properly fitted is the lug area and the swinging link. The 1911 needs to lock securely when in battery, yet have enough movement that the link moves freely when cycling. These fits combined with the bushing fit when properly executed make the 1911 match accurate, and duty reliable.[PAGEBREAK]
Ithaca has brought all of these features together to make a nearly perfect rendering of a duty 1911. The pistol was even finished with tried and proven Parkerizing. This finish is low gloss and absorbs lubrication to help in preventing corrosion in wet climates.
Durable and Accurate
While looks are important for a duty pistol, performance is the biggest concern. To evaluate Ithaca's new 1911, I rounded up ammunition from Atlanta Arms and Ammunition, Black Hills, Remington, and Winchester, and headed to the range.
Prior to testing the pistol for accuracy, I fired nearly 200 rounds of mixed ammunition to test its reliability. It never missed a beat and fired hollow points, full-metal jackets, and semi-wad cutters with boring consistency.
After the reliability test, it was time to evaluate the Ithaca 1911 for accuracy. I had some 230-grain hollow points from Remington and Winchester and some 185-grain hollow points from Atlanta Arms and Black Hills. The Ithaca showed no preference for bullet weight or manufacture; it simply shot well. It printed sub-two-inch, eight-shot groups from a rest at 25 yards. That's eight shots compared to the standard five or three, which translates to one fine shooting pistol.
The Ithaca M1911 I have been testing is a fine pistol. It shoots well and is dead nuts reliable. Ithaca's 1911s are not cheap, but they are worth every penny. You will find this pistol more than up to the task of duty, CCW, and even competition.
The new Ithaca Gun Company is carrying on the heritage of Ithaca and then some. The M37 Defense Gun shotgun and M1911 handgun are built for a wide variety of applications, and their accuracy and reliability make them ideal choices for law enforcement duty. These two weapons will meet and exceed your accuracy requirements and will serve you well for years to come.
Scott Smith is a former federal police officer for the Department of Veteran's Affairs who currently serves as a reserve officer and is a contributing editor to POLICE.
Ithaca M37 Defense Gun Specs:
Caliber: 12 gauge
Capacity: 8 rounds
Barrel Length: 18.5 or 20 inches
Overall Length: 38 inches
Weight (empty): 7.1 pounds
Trigger Pull: 4 to 6 pounds
Sight: Brass bead
Stock: Synthetic (available in walnut)
Ithaca 1911 Pistol Specs:
Caliber: .45 ACP
Capacity: 7 rounds
Barrel: 1-16 inches, left-hand twist
Weight (empty): 2.6 pounds
Barrel Length: 5 inches
Overall Length: 8.75 inches
Height: 5 inches
Width: 1 3/16 inches
Trigger Action: Single
Safeties: Manual thumb, grip
Sights: Novak or BoMar available
Price: $1,599 and up