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Ithaca Model 37 Shotgun Review: Best OG Pump-Action?

We take a look at an OG pump-action shotgun that still has some miles left on her...the Ithaca Model 37 Deerslayer. Come see how she handles on the range.

    The Ithaca 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 Model 37 is produced in limited numbers, and they demand a pretty price.

    Ithaca Model 37 Deerslayer

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

    So, let’s dive into the Ithaca 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


    Ithaca 37 Review At a Glance


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


    • 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.

    at Guns.com

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Available Coupons

    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.

    Shotgun Ammo in Stock

    Cost Per Round
    00 Buckshot
    00 Buckshot
    00 Buckshot
    00 Buckshot
    #8 Birdshot
    #8 Birdshot

    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 

    at Guns.com

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Available Coupons

    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.

    at Esstac

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Available Coupons

    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.

    at Amazon

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Available Coupons

    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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    24 Leave a Reply

    • Commenter Avatar
      don nielsen

      I was a Los Angeles policeman for 30 years (retiring 25 years ago). The Ithaca 37 was a patrol mainstay. when working the gang unit in in south central L.A. back in the early 70's, we'd carry two Ithaca 37 pumps in plain cars. On more than one occasion the sight of two uniforms exiting a plain vehicle with these pumps in hand caused suspects to throw their guns in the bushes or under a car. They had a bit of recoil with 00 magnums, but never a malfunction

      August 28, 2023 5:59 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Carl E.

      Love the Ithaca 37. I had 2 growing up a 20 gauge with a variable choke, and a deerslayer. I wish i still had them.

      April 12, 2023 4:20 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      I have an Ithaca Waterfowl 12ga that I bought new in 2021. The action is soooo buttery smooth. I’m a lefty, so it was a choice between the Browning BPS and the Ithaca. The BPS didn’t feel right to me, so the Ithaca won. I’ve shot a lot of different pump shotguns since the early 1990’s. In the mid 90’s, I was issued a Mossberg 590 and Remington 870 while I was in Security Forces in the USMC. None of the other shotguns have even come close to comparing with the Ithaca. You really have to shoot an Ithaca to appreciate it. It is so smooth and points so naturally for me that I even use it to shoot sporting clays with. It patterns great, as well. It has a few thousand shells through it, by now and still feels and looks like new. This is, by far, my favorite pump shotgun. I paid $1100 for it, and I feel that it’s worth every penny. I sometimes pull it out of the gun safe just to cycle the action a few times and smile!

      April 10, 2023 12:37 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      My only complaint is you can't shoot 3 inch shells.

      April 9, 2023 6:01 pm
      • Commenter Avatar

        My Ithaca waterfowl is chambered for 3” shells.

        April 10, 2023 12:40 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Chuck Cochran

      Being born and raised and spending the majority of my life in Colorado, there's not much Shotgun Slug Hunting going on in the State, so I always get a kick out of reading about it in the Eastern States, where the distances are closer, the foliage and undergrowth thicker (though a thicket of Gamble's Oak is a Right pain in the patoot to get through or shoot through). My father came from Northwest Georgia, and he would describe slug hunting with his Dad, and it sounds like it's its own unique challenge.
      Out here, I feel lucky if I can get inside 300 yards. My longest shot for a Bull Elk was a little over 700 paces, so roughly between 500 to 600 yards with my 6' 3" gait.
      Interesting history of a classic I've never had an opportunity to shoot. Rem 870s and 1100s seem to abound out here amongst all the Bird Hunters I know, sSo I've only seen an Ithaca in pictures in my 63 years.
      Thanks for sharing the history and your experiences with one Travis.

      April 9, 2023 5:59 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Mark Bucher

      The Model 37 is the finest pump gun made; The Browning BPS is a copy of it. The fit, finish and quality of a Model 37 is unsurpassed. I own two of them and have killed more ducks in North Dakota than any of my other shotguns. I've never had a malfunction in all the years using them. Who wants to spend a grand on a pump shotgun? Those who want the best you can buy.

      April 9, 2023 12:04 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Keith Elder

      The early 70's models, squeeze and hold trigger and keep pumping till empty. Can't dodge that much lead.

      April 8, 2023 9:17 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Steve Mango

      In one of the few regrettable firearms decisions I've ever made, I traded in a trio of M37s (20, 16, & 12ga) so I could buy a bullpup for home defense. I miss them, even though I can now hunt with a rifle in GA and my shotgun days were over. And to make matters worse, I probably got only half what they were worth. There is no smoother action than an Ithaca M37!

      April 7, 2023 1:55 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Keith Dorset

      I have 3 Featherlights, 12, 16, 20. Fantastic.

      April 7, 2023 11:19 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Howard Parker

      I too love the 37 Ithaca shotgun. It was my first shotgun as a kid and it was a 16 Ga. And you didn't mention that being there's no openings on the receiver , that design keeps dirt ,seeds rain and snow out of the action . plus you aren't throwing fired husks into someone next to you .its a great gun unfortunately I don't have it anymore .

      April 7, 2023 10:47 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      David R

      One addition, sling studs specific for the M 37 are available through Brownell’s and MidWay.

      April 7, 2023 8:16 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      David R

      I bought my 1975 M37 Featherlight in 1985 for $200. Included a smooth bore deer barrel and 28 inch full choke field barrel. I have since added the 18 inch home defense barrel. A KickEez butt pad, added this year to replace the stock pad, solved the recoil problem, as some describe it.

      To reload directly into the chamber, I eject the shell (live or fired), roll it over, drop in a shell, load, and you are ready to fire. Simple with a little practice. I have never had a malfunction that I did not purposely set up except for a defective shell causing failure to fire. That is corrected as described above if it’s the last shell or simply run the action if not.

      Great gun. I also prefer it over my A5.

      April 7, 2023 8:12 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Chris H

      Article says one of the cons is you can’t port load, how does it load? Top of the tube?

      April 7, 2023 12:17 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Glenn C.

      By far, my Ithaca 12 ga. pump, my favorite, even above my grandfather's A-5 Belgium made Browning 20 Imp. Cyl. that I took my first buck in 1969 with.
      You understate smooth.. I can hit the release with the barrel pointed up, and the slide and bolt drop to open. Smooth doesnt even come close to describling fine fitn finish milling and surprised you didnt mention or highlight the blued steel.
      I recently bought the grandkids a Youth model Mossberg 20 pump, and imo, is a piece of garbage compared to a vintage Ithaca, especially the 37.
      I'm not sure of my serial number, but I acquired mine in the early 70's and it's improved cylinder was my go to quail gun and anything else.
      At this time, I already had Reminton 1100's, both in various chokes and still have the deer slug gun. Now, at my age, ( I was in uniform.in 67, 68 ) that Rem. 1100 feels very heavy, but the old girl Ithaca still feels just right to me.
      The craftsmanship just isn't in the pump lines anymore like the guns produced 50 or more years ago.
      The Ithaca Model 37 is in a class all its own and until you handle one you can never come to appreciate what your article came close to conveying.
      Great article, well written, truly appreciated by those of us fortunate to have had a relationship with one over the decades.

      April 6, 2023 11:45 pm
      • Commenter Avatar
        Kurt S

        I agree with everything you'd said about the Model 37. I got my first one just after you did, 1070. It is a truly fine design and butter smooth. I picked a couple of Remmingtons in the 1980s for duck hunting. They were OK, but the Ithaca is still my sweetheart.

        April 7, 2023 7:26 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      T Kinch

      I have had my Ithaca 37 Featherweight for 35 years, and it was old when I bought it. Took many deer, ducks and geese with it. All the years of hunting with it, I have the serial number memorized #2008. A few rabbits have been taken also, even shot some 5 stand with it when my autoloader took a dump. Great article, dead on.

      April 6, 2023 9:48 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      I have 2 of these. First thing, I am left handed and it’s great to shoot without empties flying across my face. I have the featherlight for my bird gun. I have the 20” for my defense gun. At 40 yards and under, the targets were gone at the lower half after 3 rounds. Love it

      April 6, 2023 8:15 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Al Lovitz

      My 1st pump shotgun was an Ithaca 37 that I bought back in the '70s. Used it to hunt every thing from Grouse in the Dakotas to Squirrels in West Virginia. It never failed me. Like so many guns, I sold it and sorry I did.

      April 6, 2023 8:04 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Ed Raley

      What does the OG stand for.... not nice to use terms and abbreviations that are cryptic or little known.

      April 6, 2023 6:55 pm
      • Commenter Avatar

        You must be a boomer or not around Millennials/Gen Z much. OG = "original gangster"; slang for something that was unique, original or first in class...

        April 6, 2023 7:45 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      I have a newer 37 defense model put a red dot on top a heat shield a sling and it is good to go.

      April 6, 2023 6:52 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      I bought mine years ago. I believe it was the lightest pump action produced back then, if I recall correctly, it was 6 and 3/4 pounds. I added a beautiful custom walnut stock with gorgeous checkering from a company named Herter's. The custom forend is beautifully tapered and the gun is so smooth it pumps itself with the recoil. Have both barrels ribbed for bird hunting and the deerslayer barrel.

      April 6, 2023 6:41 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      Nice to see you look at the Oldtimers. I purchased a 37 when I was kid. It was used and came with a Poly choke with a big orange bead. I put a aftermarket pistol grip stock on it which allowed me to attach a sling. I trust the weapon over my Mossberg 930. It's a little beat up from duck hunting but it shoots straight all the time. It ejects from the bottom, so I do not spray empties at my hunting partner. Never had problem and probably never will. Good old shotgun. Not sure if the gun came with the poly choke or the previous owner installed? Anybody else have the same setup?

      April 6, 2023 6:18 pm
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