Ithaca Model 37: The Ithaca Model 37 doesn’t get discussed much these days, but it was an excellent shotgun for the time and isn’t too far behind modern options.

As the name implies, it’s been kicking around since 1937, and to this day, the Ithaca Model 37 is produced in limited numbers, and they demand a pretty price.

Ithaca made a million guns by 1968; by 2003, they reached 2 million models. As of this writing, the Ithaca Model 37 is the longest-produced shotgun and the only pre-World War II shotgun still in production.

So, let’s dive into the Ithaca Model 37 in its famed Deerslayer configuration. We’ll look at the specs and features and why this model is up there with the likes of the Winchester Model 12, Mossberg 500, Remington 870, and Winchester 1897.

Keep reading!

Table of Contents

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Ithaca Model 37 Review At a Glance

Pros

  • Short, Handy Barrel
  • Rifle Sights
  • Ambidextrous Ejection
  • Smooth Action

Cons

  • Cannot Port Load
  • Single Action Bar

The Bottom Line

The Ithaca 37 Deerslayer is a classic pump-action shotgun that’s been around for so long for a reason. It’s a sturdy, well-made pump action shotgun with a history of success in the deer stand, the duck blind, the battlefield, and the patrol car.

My experience was that the Ithaca is reliable, easy to shoot, and well-suited for various tasks. Its design might be a bit behind, but it’s still a sturdy option.

429

at Guns.com

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Specs & Features

  • Barrel Length: 20 inches
  • Overall Length: 39 inches
  • Weight: 7.5 pounds
  • Caliber: 12-Gauge 2.75-inch chamber
  • Capacity: 5 rounds

The Model 37 shotgun isn’t quite a standard pump-action shotgun, but it’s not far from standard, either. What makes the gun different is its lack of a traditional ejection port. Both sides are slab sides.

The gun feeds and ejects from the bottom of the weapon. This is odd but functional. Shotguns from KelTec and Smith & Wesson both use a similar design.

Bit Odd

Other than that, the gun is relatively standard. The controls consist of a safety, trigger, and pump release. Ithaca uses a corncob pump action design and some really beautiful checkering on the stock.

It’s an attractive weapon, for sure.

The Deerslayer model uses rifle sights mounted to the barrel. On this vintage of Ithaca 37, the front sight is a massive high-visibility triangle. The rear sight is an open design.

Together they make a very accurate shotgun.

Ithaca 37: Some History

I’m going to keep a convoluted story short and sweet. Ithaca may have produced the gun in 1937, but the design comes from much earlier. John Browning and John Pederson designed the 20-gauge Remington Model 17 in 1917.

Ithaca took the Model 17 and began making several design changes. Harry Howland went from front to rear to modify the weapon to make it easier to produce and cheaper to create. Ithaca also produced the gun in 12-gauge.

Popular 12ga Shotgun Ammo
Popular 12ga Shotgun Ammo

By 1937 the patents expired, and Ithaca could now produce the pump-action shotgun.

Which was great…. because it was right in the middle of the Great Depression and WWII.

Ithaca made some modified variants of the Model 37 as a trench gun but mainly focused on producing M1911 pistols and M3 submachine guns.

The company didn’t have an instant hit, but the shotgun took off after the war. It quickly became a must-have for police and even military forces, as well as hunters of all types.

The Ithaca in Vietnam (Photo: World War II Wiki)

In the hands of hunters, guns like this Deerslayer model became popular. There was also a Turkeyslayer and numerous hunting configurations.

Police forces adopted the Ithaca 37 Defense, or DSPS…a.k.a. the Deerslayer Police Special. They also produced the Stakeout variant with a 13-inch barrel for low-profile use, often quickly deployed from a vehicle.

Police officers from the NYPD, LAPD, and many more carried the gun on patrol, in SWAT teams, and more.

The United States military fielded the gun from World War II and on. It became fairly popular in Vietnam due to its rather unique design. Without an ejection port, there was one less place for dirt, mud, and general gunk to enter the gun.

Ithaca Model 37 Deerslayer

SEALs made good use of the shotgun in Vietnam, and it was the host for the famous duck-billed choke that spread pellets horizontally. What ultimately affected the popularity of the Ithaca 37 was the production of the Remington 870.

Remington’s 870 was cheaper, easier to produce, and featured a more reliable twin action bar design and setup.

After that, shotguns like the Mossberg 500 and, basically, all modern pump-actions reduced the market for the older, more expensive, single-bar design.

Who Is the Ithaca 37 For?

The Ithaca 37 Deerslayer is self-explanatory…it’s a deer hunting gun.

Its general design lends itself to hunting environments that tend to be thick and nasty. I won’t lie, the Ithaca 37’s reputation and the cool factor is why I purchased it, but the gun does fit my hunting environment very well.

The swamps of Florida are the perfect place for the Deerslayer.

Florida swamp water is spicy

The shorter 20-inch barrel makes the gun easy to maneuver through thickets and while climbing up a tree stand. Big long barrels on shotguns are valuable for bird hunting but exceptionally useful for hunting deer.

The Deerslayer comes in both rifled variants and smoothbore variants. Rifled variants are 100% slug guns, and smoothbore guns like this example can use both rifles and slugs fairly effectively. If you need to maximize your range, then the slug variant is the way to go.

Ithaca Model 37 Deerslayer

You wouldn’t be out of line using the Ithaca 37 Deerslayer for defensive use. The 20-inch barrel isn’t the shortest, but it will work.

There is precedent with the DSPS as a duty gun. It’s not as effective as the Defense model with its extended magazine, but capable.

Fit & Feel

There is something special about this combination of American wood and steel. Old-school shotguns have a different charm than most.

Weight is weight, but Ithaca found a way to balance the gun well and ensure that the weight itself is a bit deceiving. It doesn’t feel as heavy as it is, and even if it did, 7.5 pounds isn’t a boat anchor by any means.

Ithaca became famous for the Featherlight shotguns, which were quite light for the era.

Ithaca Model 37 Deerslayer

The wood furniture is uniformly and beautifully checkered. The stock has a 13.25-inch length of pull that’s quite nice and fits into the shoulder well. With every shot, a big recoil pad helps cut some sting out of the gun.

Fine-cut checking greets both hands as you grip the gun, making it easy to utilize the push/pull method of recoil reduction. Good Lord…the action of this gun feels smooth. It glides rearward at the most subtle motion.

The safety moves without much resistance and clicks into fire and safe with a nice tactile delivery. It’s easy to understand why the Ithaca 37 was so popular and why the gun is still in production.

How Does It Shoot?

I started with a few slugs. A set of rifle sights invites slug use and longer-range shooting. A few one-ounce Federal slugs set things off.

I started at 25 yards to check point of aim, point of impact. The gun consistently fired to the left just slightly.

12ga Slug, Opened
12ga Slug, Opened

With that in mind, I applied some Kentucky windage and moved back to 50 and 75 yards to check for accuracy. At 75 yards, it hit slightly low, but at 50 yards, it was dead on with a slight hold to the right.

I fired four rounds. I held three to the right and one dead center to see how far left at 50 yards I was hitting. The slugs group fantastically, and the Deerslayer does a great job at throwing slugs where you want them.

At 75 yards in a supported position, I could consistently hit a 10-inch gong. That’s pretty good for throwing a 1-ounce chunk of lead from a smooth bore barrel.

I switched to buckshot to check out the pattern. It’s pretty average. The pattern the gun throws is based on a lot of things, including ammunition.

12ga 00 Buckshot, Opened
12ga 00 Buckshot, Opened

With cheap buckshot, the gun patterns at about 8 inches at 10 yards and 13 inches at 15 yards. Federal Flitecontrol acts like a slug out to 15 yards, and a Federal Vita Shok does a great job within 20 yards.

The gun patterns as well as you’d expect from a cylinder-bore shotgun.

Sighting the Deerslayer In

What stands out to me is how much rifle sights rule on shotguns. They really excel at mixing in precision and speed. The big front orange sight is quick and easy to see, perfect with buckshot.

Dropping the big front sight between the rear iron sights makes slug precision possible. Slugs and bead sights can work, but the difference in accuracy between a bead and a set of rifle sights is unbelievable.

Ithaca Model 37 Deerslayer

It’s a shame that modern shotguns either use bead sights or ghost ring options. While both are fine, the rifle sight design mixes the best of both worlds to provide speed and precision.

I think more shotguns should move into that route and use rifle sights.

Shoulder Thumping Fun

Shotguns pack a pound of recoil, which is what they do. Shooting the Ithaca 37 is no different than shooting any other standard pump shotgun.

What matters most is your ability to use recoil mitigation techniques.

Luckily the texturing on the stock and foregrip makes the gun easy to push and pull on. This cuts recoil significantly and makes the gun plenty easy to handle.

Ithaca Model 37 Deerslayer

Even full-powered slugs and buckshot didn’t leave me bruised and broken.

Shooting the Ithaca 37 is an immensely enjoyable experience. It’s easy to see why the Ithaca 37 has been in production for so long. Admittedly the production line is fairly small these days, and the new guns are extremely expensive.

However, keep an eye on the used market; you can often find an affordable option. It’s not uncommon to find a used Ithaca 37 for around $500.

What Sets It Apart

Modern offerings from Mossberg and Remington are fine guns, great guns even, but they don’t possess the same smoothness and quality the Ithaca 37 possesses.

While they might perform just as well or even better in some categories, they lack the charm and craftsmanship of the Ithaca guns.

The smoothness of the action, light trigger, and high-quality wood furniture. It is just built differently.

By the Numbers

Reliability: 5/5

The Ithaca 37 is a pump-action shotgun. Any reliability users are likely going to be on the user. The gun runs cleanly and smoothly and isn’t ammo picky.

Ergonomics: 4/5 

The action is ridiculously smooth, the texturing on the pump and stock is fantastic, and the controls are extremely smooth. The length of pull is just right, and my only complaint is the lack of an ejection port. You can’t emergency reload, and slug select drills and malfunction fixes are difficult.

Accuracy: 5/5

No complaints here. The sights are absolutely fantastic. It’s very easy to land your slugs and buckshot on target. A slight adjustment to the front sight fixed that hitting left issue.

Customization: 1/5

Uhm, the after-market isn’t exactly great for these guns. Plenty of other wood stocks are available, and you can add a sling, but not much more.

Value: 2/5

I’m judging this category on new production guns. The Ithaca design is fantastic, but spending over a grand for a pump-action shotgun is tough.

Overall: 3.5/5 

429

at Guns.com

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Upgrades & Accessories for the Ithaca 37

There isn’t much you can do. Heck, my model doesn’t even have sling swivels.

Esstac Side Saddle

You can apply Velcro to either side of the receiver and attach an Esstac Side Saddle.

12

at Esstac

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

These Velcro-backed side saddles are easy to use, and the Ithaca’s lack of an ejection port means you could set it up on either side or, hell, use two of them!

Magpul MS1

If your Ithaca 37 has sling swivels, a modern two-point sling is a great way to make it easier to carry.

32

at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

The MS1 has a quick adjustment design with a low-profile tab to add or remove slack. It’s perfect for over the shoulder, across the body, or however else you want to carry your Ithaca.

Final Verdict

The Ithaca 37 is like driving a classic muscle car. It certainly has some quirks, but there is just something about it that will always be charming.

Better yet, The Ithaca 37 can still get you across the finish line.

Ithaca Model 37 Deerslayer

I love this gun. I love its history, smooth design, and great accuracy. However, the high price of new models and lack of customization may be off-putting to some.

What do you think of the Ithaca 37? Let us know in the comments below! Need more shotguns? We have more recommendations in Best Pump-Action Shotguns.

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