View Full Version : The Ithaca 37 in action?

new guy
October 24, 2000, 11:41 PM
Howdy. You might remember a few weeks back I picked up an older 37 in 12 ga. Since detail stripping and cleaning the gun, I have shot six rounds of skeet and hunted with it a dozen times. What a great gun! Light, quick and so far, reliable.
I am completely smitten, enough so that I may try to find an old Deerslayer or M&P model for HD use. Therefore, I am trying to gain some sense of the Ithaca's utility as a fighting shotgun.
First, what is the Ithaca's history as a military and police shotgun? Who used it and what was its record and reputation? Any personal experience?
Second, I gather some of you out there are firearms trainers. What are your opinions on the Ithacas you have seen on your range? How do they hold up to the stress and strain of training, the elements and the occassional tumble to the ground?
What I know of Ithacas is what I have gathered in the hunting field. I would love to hear what some of you in military or police circles have to say before I go buy another one as a dedicated HD piece. And yeah, I know 870's and M1's rule the roost. I just like to be different. Thanks in advance.

Dave McC
October 25, 2000, 05:52 AM
The only downside I see to a HD 37 is a very small one, having to load through the bottom if you shoot it dry. With an 870, 97,12,500 etc, an empty shotgun gets the first reload thrown through the ejection port. This is impossible with the 37.

OTOH, for HD use, how often is that going to happen? One perp, one shot...

One other thing, again small. The design precludes mag extensions.

LAPD and various other agencies have used the 37 for several cop generations.

General Tso
October 25, 2000, 10:33 AM
Ithaca 37's saw use in Vietnam I know. Military had them in inventory along with savage's, Rem 870's and the older Winchester Model 12's and 97's. I've seen pic's of Army pointmen and Navy SEALs using them and have read they were popular guns due to the "auto-trigger" feature.

They saw a fair bit of police use also with LAPD (as Dave mentioned) being the largest user that I'm aware of.

Although the 37 cannot take a mag extension you can still find 20" barrel models with the 8rd full length tube available.

The newly reformed Ithaca corporation is making 37's again although I don't see riot gun versions listed.


October 25, 2000, 06:36 PM
I have a book on the NYPD's Special Emergency Units, and they are issued short barrelled Ithaca Mdl. 37s. Thet have a standard buttstock, short (14") barrel with rifle sights, and a strap on the fore end that the operator puts their hand through to prevent it from slipping forward to the muzzle and shooting themselves with their own weapon.
The LAPD had 16.5" barrel Ithaca 37s in the 70's that were seen used in shootouts with the Symbionese Liberation Army. Their only complaint about the guns was that the bottom ejection of shells affected reliabilty when shooting from prone positions (specifically from behind street curbs and auto hoods) when the shells would catch on the ground before clearing the shell lifter/carrier. Another supposed possible vulnerable part of the Ithaca is the single action bar that might not be as strong for bindups as dual bars like the Rem 870s and Mossberg 500s.
I remember reading from James Watson's book 'Pointman', where (as a SEAL) he carried the Ithaca 37 and like the fact that there was only one place to worry about dirt or mud entering the action, and usually he would dip the gun in paddy water, swirl the water around in the action, and let it drain without worry. He later had an Ithaca modified to have a duck bill shot spreader device and a custom 8 or 9 round magazine extension, as well as a pistol grip on his personal weapon he carried that he called 'Sweetheart' (It later became the basis of a project for an Ithaca 37 shotgun that was made up nearly identically and featured in an article in 'Small Arms Review' a year or two ago). Tom Swearengen (recently deceased) had mostly praise for the Ithaca 37, especially the extended magazine and rifle sighted version for law enforcement and military use in his book 'World's Fighting Shotguns'.
Duncan Long was somewhat more reserved in his praise, mostly in the area of the lack of accessories, the single action bar, and the high price of new model 37's compared to competing brands when his book 'Streetsweepers' was out in the late 80s.
A sad thing about the Ithaca 37 was that there were thousands of Ithaca 37s (along with Winchesters, Savages, and Remington short barrel, riot type pump shotguns--100,000 in all) were sent to Vietnam as a part of Hamlet self Defense units for rural villages. But the corrupt South Vietnamese government refused to issue most of them because they feared they might be at the ends of them in due time, so most of them were left in an ordnance depot warehouse in Saigon to decay.

crow slayer
October 25, 2000, 06:48 PM
ney guy,
Congrats on a great new(used) gun that will give you years of service. Don't let bottom ejection worry you, I've used them since I first started shooting, and wouldn't have anything else.
Keep your barrel warm!

October 25, 2000, 08:12 PM
The Ithaca 37 is argueably the best pump shotgun ever made (Win. Mod. 12 owners, form line at right to berate me, as I exit left...)
The bottom loading and ejection is an ambidextrous FEATURE, not a bug.
The Deerslayer barrels have another advantage, in that they are cylinder-bored 'Full Choke Full Length' a tight .69", and are very accurate with the older-style Foster slugs as well as more modern sabot styles; yet are still good with shot.
My 37 Deerslayer would keep the hot Federal 1-1/2 oz slug inside two inches at 55 yards, iron sights...and was also useful with shot on close-rising early grouse and woodcock. A very versatile gun indeed, and not given the respect it deserves.
I have no experience with the 'new' Ithacas...mine were from the original company.

If they take our guns, I intend to let my hair grow long and acquire the jawbone of an ass.

Badger Arms
October 25, 2000, 10:05 PM
LAPD had a mixed history with the Ithaca. Somebody there must have loved them. Ithaca's got a reputation for killing cops when STUPID cops made the mistake of keeping their finger on the trigger and racking the slide forward without watching their muzzle. As can be imagined, this caused the death of anybody unlucky enough to be on the other end of that muzzle.

They've been featured in movies such as "Terminator" "Aliens" and "LA Confidential" to name a few. I don't think I've ever seen anybody 'slam-fire' one in a movie. I wonder if Hollywood cares? Anyhow, once you let a few rounds loose that way you will understand why they are so prized by many.

Ithaca told me that they aren't currently making the 37 in riot dress. They said they would entertain a short run if a contract materialized.

Dave McC
October 26, 2000, 06:04 AM
Badger,it's hard to make things fool proof, fools are so ingenious(G).

The 37 is one of the all time best. It's amazing how many of those best were designed by a man who died in the 1920s.

As for the slam fire feature, I see little advantage to it. If I, with an 870, can fire it as soon as it's out of recoil, there's not much a 37 shooter can do that I can't. Oughta hunt down a 37 shooter next range day and have a shootoff,and see how the times run for a 5 shot string with good hits.

What would Guns N Ammo title an article about that?


Of course for G&A, after a few thousand words and some pics, they'd not come to any conclusion about which is better. Offending sponsors is not their thing.

new guy
October 26, 2000, 10:02 AM
ITHACA VS. REMINGTON - 10,000 ROUND TORTURE TEST!!! Yes, I can see it now. Funny stuff, Dave.
You folks have been most helpful. As usual I am greatful for all the well-informed responses. Keep 'em coming.
Good to hear you all supporting my solid first impressions of the Ithaca 37, too. Simple, rugged, elegant. Why is it every Browning design I touch, I fall in love with (give me any handgun as long as it's a 1911)?
I do appreciate that the bottom-ejection does pose problems with certain types of cover as some of you point out. If and when I obtain another 37 as a dedicated HD gun, I will train hard to avoid this problem. And I know the single action bar could be a problem, but after some time on the range and in the field, this seems more theoretical than anything. I do notice a relative scarcity of aftermarket parts as well. Again this is not a major problem because I believe the stock package, even with its four round magazine, poses no problems for me. I do not breach doors on drug busts, nor am I likely to conduct elaborate building searches, etc. I am a simple hunter and homeowner. I believe four rounds of 12 ga., a good set of sights, a loaded buttcuff and perhaps a gun-mounted flashlight is good enough for Casa de new guy.

Oleg Volk
October 26, 2000, 12:17 PM
I heard an opinion that single bar is forged whereas double bars are usually stamped and break more often...

Dave McC
October 26, 2000, 07:47 PM
The single vs double action bars hassle is moot in the case of the Ithaca. The 37 is as reliable,durable and smooth as an 870,and the Model 12.

JM Browning was to firearms design what Michaelangelo was to Chapel ceilings. There's at least 3 of his designs here, a Model 94 and a modified 1911 that's my alltime pick for serious handgun.Aand 4 870s, based on his patents.

Badger Arms
October 26, 2000, 11:52 PM
My father still shakes his head when he hears about my Ithaca collection. He grew up in the Ithaca era of the LAPD in LA. Much effort was made by many numbskulls of the time to blame the Ithaca on the cops that were killed. The single action bar is one that Dad cites every time as a reason NOT to own the Ithaca. I disagree. I've never SEEN a broken action bar nor have I heard anything even second-hand from anybody with any such experience. One would have to seriously abuse the gun to get it to break.

Slam fire is faster than any other type of pump action, hands down. That's a no brainer. Fire one and you'll see. I will take you up on the side-by-side any day, Dave :) ..... There's just no physical way you can reliably time your triggering to the locking of the action like an Ithaca does mechanically.

Ithaca bars are stamped, just like the rest of them on the market. Stamped parts are made from sheet stock which is more consistent metalurgically speaking than any bar stock.

Dave McC
October 27, 2000, 07:04 AM
Badge, if time only counts, you may have a small advantage. If we count hits and use time as a tie breaker,it's a new game. I used to clean this COF under 6 seconds, sometimes under 5.

Set up 5 tombstone targets at distance from 5-25 yards. On signal, fire one round of social ammo at each starting from low ready at the signal.Score and work the percentages.

I'm sure that a 37 can be fired faster than an 870 at one target,repeat shots. But how often do you have to shoot anything more than once with a 12 ga? I doubt pumping my 870 takes longer than target acquistion on a COF like this.

new guy
October 27, 2000, 02:35 PM
Hi again. This may be slightly off-topic, but here goes. I do not know a whole lot about scatterguns but I understood that the double action bar came around to prevent binding rather than breakage. Dave, badger, what do you think? Anyhow, my Ithaca's action is so smooth, the binding argument is academic.

Dave McC
October 27, 2000, 03:27 PM
Heard it both ways,newguy. The best pumps seem equally smooth and durable,regardless of single/double action bars.

Cheaper old pumps had action bar problems, the Noble, the Springfield, some High Standards, all had glitches with theirs.