The Gun Digest staff took a trio of Ithaca shotguns to the range to put them through their paces and see what we liked and didn't like. There wasn't much of the latter to be found. A field grade 12 gauge; a 12-gauge Deerslayer III and a new Grade AAA 28-gauge M37. We weren’t disappointed.
By Dan Shideler and Jim Schlender
Ithaca Deerslayer III Slug Gun
First up was the Deerslayer III. Its 24-inch fluted heavy barrel made it look like a serious purpose-built slug gun, and that’s exactly what it turned out to be. Our sample gun carried a Nikon 3×9 variable scope, and with some new premium Winchester Supreme Elite Sabots, we found that we could shoot sub-two-inch groups at 100 yards as long as our ammunition held out.
But it wasn’t only its accuracy that really impressed us about the Deerslayer III; it was its remarkably crisp, light trigger pull and slick slide that put the smiles on our faces. Several shooters commented that they had never racked a smoother pump gun.
We wished that we had more time to spend with the Deerslayer III, because at around 10 lbs. with scope, it was a pleasure to shoot.
There’s bound to be some debate about what is truly the Rolls-Royce of pump-action slug guns. Some will say it’s the Remington 870-based Tar-Hunt DSG; others will choose the Deerslayer III. Since both guns perform so well, it’s likely to come down to a matter of personal preference; but the Ithaca’s extremely slick slide and snappy trigger pull will undoubtedly appeal to connoisseurs. At a suggested retail of around $1200, it’s not exactly inexpensive, but you get what you pay for.
Ithaca 12-ga. Field Grade Featherlight
We then moved on to the 12-ga. Field Grade Featherlight. This is as close as you can get to the classic M37s of years gone by but, like the Model 87 that briefly preceded it, it has a 3-inch chamber and interchangeable choke tubes. Anyone who’s ever shot a well-built M37 knows how slick their slides are, and the Field Grade was no exception. Clays just didn’t stand a chance with it. Everyone shot it well, from tiny Corrina Peterson up to linebacker-size Tom Nelsen.
The Field Grade Featherlight 12 gauge retails for around $850. That’s on the high side for pump guns, true, but few who shot the gun would maintain that it’s not worth it. When a 5-foot-nothing young lady such as Corrina can pick up an M37 for the first time in her life and outshoot the rest of our staff with it, well, that gun’s got some serious mojo.
Ithaca 28-gauge Grade AAA
Next came our chance with the new 28-gauge Grade AAA. It was almost as much fun just to hold this gun, with its slender scaled frame, as it was to shoot it (well, almost). Contributing Editor Jake Edson dusted every bird we threw up with the tiny, pointy little gun. If we had any suggestions for the Grade AAA 28-gauge, it would be to replace the dull black recoil pad with a plain horn or hard rubber buttplate. Who needs a recoil pad on a 28, anyway?
The new 28-gauge Featherlight starts at around $1000 in its Grade A dress; for that you get nice but not super-deluxe wood and a plain roll-engraved receiver. Those who favor the 28 gauge for upland hunting may decide that the Remington 870 Express is all they really need, while others will prefer the very elegant Browning BPS Hunter. We have shot all three and done rather well with them. Still – and perhaps for no other reason than plain old sentimentalism – we rather like the new 28-gauge Ithaca.
Some shooters may have issues with the red-orange Raybar front sights that graced both the 12 and 28 gauges, but to your editor, an Ithaca fan of long standing, they just wouldn’t be M37s without them. Like them or not, you will certainly know they’re there, even on overcast days. On bright, sunshiny days, the Raybar sights glow like a neon sign at midnight.
Your editor’s very first shotgun, purchased back in 1974, was an Ithaca Deluxe Featherlight 20-ga.
Coincidentally, I had just dropped it off at Poly-Choke in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, for a new rib just before I had a chance to shoot the new Ithacas. As fond as I am of that old 20-gauge, the quality of the new Ithaca M37s is even better. In terms of fit, finish and function, I found nothing to complain about and plenty to praise.
With annual production at around 3,500 M37s of all types, you won’t see as many of them in the fields or on the lines as you would, say, Remington 870s. But if you get a chance to shoot one, I recommend you take it. In my opinion, it’s the smoothest, slickest, sweetest pump gun on the market.
For more information on the new Ithaca 37s, I don’t think the company would mind it one bit if you visited their website at www.IthacaGun.com.
Editor's Note: article appears in the 2010 Gun Digest Annual book.