Ithaca Limited Edition 28 Gauge Featherlight Model 37,
Introduced earlier this year at the SHOT Show in Orlando and the Pheasants Forever conclave in Madison, the new Ithaca 28 gauge Featherlight is now a reality. It is offered in three different grades (A, AA, AAA) with corresponding levels of wood figure and engraving.
One thing that is remarkable about the new Ithaca 28 gauge, a gauge in which the Model 37 has never previously been produced in, is that it is distinctly its own gun. The vast majority of 28 gauge repeaters are built on the same receivers as 20 gauge guns. That would hold true for the Winchester Model 12 and includes the Browning BPS, for example. Regardless of whether you pick up a BPS in .410, 28, 20, or 16 gauge, you have approximately a seven pound gun with very similar feel and swing. Not a bad thing for 16 gauge fans, but a bit of a bummer if part of the appeal of a smaller gauge is the lighter to carry, quicker responsiveness that is possible with appropriately scaled actions.
Rather than just use a barrel with a smaller hole shoved into a larger receiver, the Ithaca 28 gauge is distinctly its own model from muzzle to butt. When I originally examined a few of the prototypes, I was struck at how well balanced the 28 inch barreled version was, so the 28 inch version is evaluated here. (The 28 gauge Model 37 is also available with a 26 inch barrel.)
Of the three available grades, I went with the middle or “Fancy AA” offering. It features upgraded AA grade wood and more extensive engraving, essentially full-coverage game-scene engraving on both sides of the receiver. Ithaca is still a small enough company that custom work that would be considered ponderous or impractical for larger mass-production firms is no problem for Ithaca. As a result, if you would like to “mix and match” the options, or perhaps would like custom stock dimensions, these are available. What seems to be popular combination right now is the standard “A” receiver engraving coupled with their best “AAA” fancy stocks. It is all up to you.
The trigger is impressively light and crisp, breaking at just three pounds. The test gun weighed in at six pounds. The black walnut stock and forend are extremely attractive, more visually arresting than the wood on a couple of $6000 O/U shotguns I have for comparison. The length of pull measured 14 inches, drop at comb 1.4 inches and drop at heel 1.6 inches.
The Ithaca proved to be an extremely soft shooter with both 3/4 oz. Fiocchi and 1 oz. Winchester loads. You might think, “Of course, it’s a 28!” Well, that has often not been the case for me. I have had a few 28 gauge O/U’s that have been surprisingly nasty little shoulder stabbers. Despite the Ithaca’s nimble configuration, it is finished off with a generous Pachmayr Decelerator pad that seems to help turn pleasant into gentle.
One feature I quickly noticed is the wide rib on the Ithaca 28. I measured it at about .318 inch. It seems wider than that and is part of the reason I found this Ithaca so easy with which to smoke clays. It has the look and feel of a sporting clays rib more than a common field rib and I liked it.
The Ithaca 28 gauge retains the solderless rib system of the new Ithaca shotguns, where the barrel risers are machined as part of the 4140 barrel itself, not mashed and soldered on as in most ribbed shotgun barrels. It precludes the potential warping of the barrel during soldering and removes the need to straighten the barrel afterwards. Whether this actually translates to better patterns is unknown. What is known is that it is a straighter, stronger barrel than otherwise possible. It is technically superior, even if the advantage may not be easily discernable. There is one potential downside; that being unwanted weight added to the barrel. With ten well-spaced risers on this Ithaca, it is not an issue. The Ithaca’s barrel is screw-choked, supplied with three Briley “Ithaca Plus” tubes from the factory with the modified tube installed.
This Ithaca is the “Featherlight,” featuring the solid billet, all-steel receiver construction for which Ithaca is known. There are no plans, at least that I know of, to go the “Ultra-Light” route which is what Ithaca calls their alloy-receivered models. I think that is a good thing, as substantial weight savings is already present from the scaled-down receiver. Trying to shave off a couple of extra ounces with as alloy receiver would make little sense, considering the resultant strength and durability loss that comes with alloyed aluminum. Already loosing a clean pound compared to the BPS is impressive; it is light enough in my opinion. The A Grade runs $999, the tested AA Grade $1589 and the gold-inlaid ultra-fancy AAA grade is $3499. Naturally, they are all going to do the same job. How fancy you want your new Ithaca is up to you.
One thing worth mentioning is that the Ithaca 28, despite its nimble weight and svelte profile, is a man-sized gun. It fit me extremely well. If you are considering one for your wife, son, or daughter, you may wish to order a bit shorter buttstock than is supplied. Some 28’s have shorter length of pulls as a matter of course; here we have a full-sized gun, so bit shorter stock with dimensions more suited to smaller-framed shooters is well worth considering.
There has not been a new repeater built around a specific gauge for a long time. One such notable shotgun was the William Roemer designed Winchester Model 42 introduced in 1933, designed around the .410 bore. Today, this little “Everybody’s Sweetheart” shotgun has reached cult status, with the upscale Pigeon grade models selling for $8000 - $9000 in mint, original condition.
That’s out of most shooters' price range. However, it does illustrate that the $999 entry level price of the Ithaca 28 is tremendously appealing. Not many new shotguns are clearly destined for “instant classic” status, but this new offering from Ithaca is. It is the best looking and best built 28 gauge repeater I have ever seen. It is a true 28 gauge, a shotgun that will more than satisfy the fussiest of 28 gauge aficionados for decades to come. Ithaca did it all right on this model; I was thoroughly impressed and I think you will be too. For ordering information, visit www.ithacagun.com.
Copyright 2009 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.