Ithaca Model 37 Defense Shotgun

By Randy Wakeman

Ithaca Model 37 Defense Pump Shotgun
Illustration courtesy of the Ithaca Gun Company.

Perhaps due to the Obama effect and other factors, the HD/Tactical class of self-defense shotguns has seen more consumer interest as of late then ever before. The notion of a twelve gauge pump-action shotgun as an effective close quarters weapon is well supported: the M97 version of John Browning’s Winchester 1897 shotgun was the original “trench-sweeper.” Widely considered the first truly successful pump shotgun, the M97 was fitted with a heat shield and the M1917 sixteen inch bayonet for combat duty. The highly-effective use of the shotgun by United States forces in WWI had a dramatic effect on the morale of front-line German troops. As a result, on September 19 of 1918, the German government issued a diplomatic protest against the American use of shotguns, alleging that the law of war prohibited the shotgun. Secretary of State Robert Lansing rejected the German protest in a formal note. The 5+1 capacity M97 and OO buckshot defined the fast-handling, reliable, effective close-quarters shotgun for about thirty years, the platform of the high-capacity pump persisting through to present day.

The reason to consider a shotgun for personal defense is what many combat studies have shown: the hit probability of a shotgun is roughly twice that of a rifle. For home defense, the shotgun is a quicker stopper than a handgun due to its being able to produce more wound trauma with multiple wound paths, it is considered easier to use in a high-stress situation, and minimizes wall penetration compared to some handgun ammunition. It is also economical to practice with; no firearm is worth much unless you are proficient with it. Regardless of the individual’s choice, it is a very serious matter. It is a matter that commands understanding of all applicable laws, regular practice, and formal training. You might want to practice as if your life depended on it, as that is the general idea.

Number 1 Buckshot is .30 caliber; it is the superior choice as defined by the International Wound Ballistics Association: “Number 1 buck is the smallest diameter shot that reliably and consistently penetrates more than 12 inches of standard ordnance gelatin when fired at typical shotgun engagement distances. A standard 2 ¾-inch 12 gauge shotshell contains 16 pellets of #1 buck. The total combined cross sectional area of the 16 pellets is 1.13 square inches. Compared to the total combined cross sectional area of the nine pellets in a standard #00 (double-aught) buck shotshell (0.77 square inches), the # 1 buck shotshell has the capacity to produce over 30 percent more potentially effective wound trauma. In all shotshell loads, number 1 buckshot produces more potentially effective wound trauma than either #00 or #000 buck. In addition, number 1 buck is less likely to over-penetrate and exit an attacker's body.” For further reading, we refer you to the works of both Dr. Martin Fackler and Duncan MacPherson on bullet penetration and wounding ballistics.

Ithaca Eight Shot Model 37 Defense Gun

  • Overall Length                            39-1/2 in.
  • Barrel Length / Type                  20 inch, plain
  • Sight                                            Brass bead
  • LOP                                             14.25 in.
  • Buttstock drop                            1.625 in. drop at comb, 2.25 in. drop at heel
  • Buttplate                                     Pachmayr 752 recoil pad
  • Weight Unloaded                       6-3/4 lbs. as tested
  • Magazine Type                          Tube
  • Magazine Capacity                   7
  • Chamber Length                        3 inches
  • Steel shot capable                    Yes
  • Safety                                          Crossbolt
  • Action Finish                              Parkerized
  • Action Type                                Slide-Action, bottom ejection
  • Barrel Finish                               Parkerized
  • Stock                                           Walnut, Satin finish
  • Grip Type                                    Pistol Grip
  • Checkering                                 None.
  • Bore                                            12ga.
  • Choke                                         Fixed Cylinder.
  • Trigger Pull Weight                    4 lbs.
  • Warranty                                     One year.
  • Telephone                                  (877) 648-4222
  • Website                            
  • 2009 MSRP                                      $469

The tested 12 gauge Ithaca Model 37 is the high-capacity 20 inch barreled model, able to hold seven shells in the magazine plus one in the chamber. The buttstock is uncheckered walnut, finished off with a nicely ground, black Pachmayr “Decelerator” recoil pad. The external metal finishes of this HD shotgun are Parkerized; the barrel is a plain barrel with a brass bead at the muzzle. The Parkerized finish was extremely well-done and evenly applied. The walnut forearm is a big, beefy “honey-dipper” or “corn-cob” type, currently designated as a “ring tail forearm” by Ithaca. I was were instantly impressed with the steady grip and control this forearm gave me. The gun itself weighs 6-3/4 lbs., with a trigger that was exceptionally crisp breaking at 4 pounds on the nose.

As for background, the Ithaca M37’s used in Vietnam were primarily six shot versions: the riot gun was a 18 inch barrel, the trench guns were 20 inch barrel versions typically with heat shields and a mounting lug for the M7 bayonet. The Navy SEAL modified trench gun version lost the heat shield, but added the extended magazine to increase the capacity to 8 shots. The tested Ithaca is most similar to the Navy SEAL M37 both dimensionally and in firepower capability.

Unlike many wingshooting versions of the Model 37, the Ithaca defense model is not a take-down version. It has a solid frame with the barrel permanently threaded into its all-steel receiver similar to center-fire rifle constriction and that employed by the Ithaca Deerslayer II and III. It is a very strong system, as solid threads are obviously stronger than interrupted threads of the same length. By virtue of the bottom loading and bottom eject, the M37 goes a long way towards being ambidextrous. The trigger guard safety is set up for the right-handed shooter, but is reversible if you desire. The M37 is chambered for 2-3/4 in. and 3 in. shells, and is cylinder bore. The receiver is machined from an eight pound block of steel, and its barrel is made of 4140 chrome-moly. Despite the Ithaca’s robust, all-steel construction it is lighter than most "HD" models.

At the range, we couldn’t have been happier with the Ithaca’s performance. We made a lot of hulls, in sets of eight at a time, using factory Remington STS loads, and a variety of our heavier reloads for function testing. We had no malfunctions of any kind, the factory Pachmayr pad did a fine job of attenuating the recoil, and hull ejection was both positive and forceful. The Ithaca’s action was the smoothest and slickest action recently experienced on a slide-action repeater.

The Ithaca Model 37 had the excellent overall build quality, a smooth action, superb balance, the best trigger, and it was fast and  user-friendly to operate. It is easy to load quickly, easy to shoot quickly, easy to point quickly, has impressive eight-shot firepower and is pleasant to shoot despite its comparatively spritely weight. Not only was it the easiest to operate compared to other pumps, it retails for some $200 less than the others.  The Ithaca wins big on both performance and price. The Ithaca Model 37 Defense did it all for us, did it better, and even did it at substantially lower cost. The Ithaca has by far the slickest action, the best trigger, the lightest weight, the best handling, the softest felt recoil, and is hands down the easiest and fastest to use.

We even did some dimly-lit hallway testing, and where other front sights reflected black, while the Ithaca’s brass bead retained a soft metallic sheen. The well-fitted Pachmayr “Decelerator” pad did its job well. The Ithaca was the only slide-action we have recently seen that we could intuitively operate safety, slide, and trigger all without breaking stockweld. It was easy to load, and it’s bottom ejection prohibits hulls from bouncing off of walls or doors. The brass front bead let us quickly deploy lethal buckshot patterns from point-blank to 30 yards, far more capability than most home defense situations require.

If we wanted extremely low or no-light capability, the addition of an XS Sights “Big Dot Tritium” front sight is an easy add-on. While we believe that five or six shots is more than necessary for any foreseeable HD application, we’d rather have a few more rounds at our disposal than a few less, so the Ithaca’s eight shot capability with its factory one-piece seven-shot magazine tube gives us that as well. Finally, we found the Ithaca M37’s beefy walnut ring-tailed forearm gave us outstanding best feel and control. Ithaca wins as an HD gun on all the levels that we felt were really important. It is a job very well done by Ithaca, to be sure.

NOTE: There are full-length reviews of 20 and 28 gauge Ithaca hunting Model 37's on the Product Reviews page.

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Copyright 2009, 2016 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.