Back (Again) From Ithaca: Featherlight 20 Gauge

If you’ve never racked the slide on a classic Ithaca Model 37 shotgun, you’ve missed one of the smoothest and most innovative pump-action shotguns ever made. Long a favorite of left-handed shooters, John M. Browning’s design feeds and ejects through the bottom of the receiver.

The Ithaca name changed hands several times, as the Model 37′s all-steel design became more and more expensive to manufacture. CNC machining has brought manufacturing costs down out of the stratosphere. As Brad Kozak reported a few years ago they’re back again, and they’re now made in Ohio.

Utility-grade Model 37s like this one sell for about $500; field-grade 37′s and Featherlights list for $859. They’re not the most modern pumps on the shelves, nor the cheapest. But other pumps don’t have billet steel receivers, machined steel trigger guards, jeweled billet bolts, and machined (not soldered) vent-rib lugs like the Featherlight does.

45 Responses to Back (Again) From Ithaca: Featherlight 20 Gauge

  1. avatarjwm says:

    We had a 20 ga. featherlight when I was a kid because my brother was a lefty. Also a remington pump that looked and functioned like the ithaca. The remington was a 12 ga.

    What i remember about those older Ithacas was they could be slam fired and they had 2 and 3/4 inch chambers. They were good quality guns.

    • avatarChris Dumm says:

      You have a good memory. Everybody liked old Ithaca 37s and Winchester 12s because you could just hold back the trigger and work the slide like a madman. They were insanely fun.

      When I picked one up today, the first thing I did was check it for slam-firing. The president caught me doing it and smiled at me; he knew exactly what I was doing, and he said everybody who picks one up tries the same thing. He actually apologized that they basically had to put an interrupter on this new version.

      We’ll work hard to get a test version.

      • avatarjwm says:

        That featherlight 20 was a thing of beauty when walking any distance. It really was a light handy gun. The model 12 was a heavy beast. great for the duck and goose blind. Dad’s had the 3 inch chamber and full choke. We still used lead shot and even some paper hulled shells when I was waterfowling.

      • avatarAharon says:

        Is there a way to bypass or remove the interrupter?

      • avatarDyspeptic Gunsmith says:

        The Winchester M-97′s could do this too. This is where they acquired the nickname of “trench broom” — load ‘em full of buck rounds, wander into a Kraut trench, hold back the trigger and start shucking the slide.

        The German government thought this was ‘inhumane’ and protested it. Never mind the whole mustard and phosgene gas thing, right? They were scared of a pump shotgun in the Doughboys’ hands.

        • avatarjwm says:

          Yeah, true DG. But the model 97 killed at both ends. Kicked like a mule. Must have been the stock design combined with no recoil pad. Hard on your shoulder.

      • avatarChris Faulkner says:

        Chris – my late grandpa passed on an Ithica 37, 20 gauge to me. The only inscription (the nature scenery is exactly like the one at the top of the page) is that it’s a 2 3/4 barrel and has a patent number on it. I’ve never owned a gun and certainly am not looking to sell this heirloom. I’m just trying to understand what I have and look forward to getting it cleaned up and out to the range. Funny, how it also mentions this was intended for ‘lefties’. I’m right handed but shoot left. Maybe I was supposed to get this gun. Any advice or history is appreciated.

        • avatarTom in Oregon says:

          Chris, do not ever get rid of that heirloom for any reason.
          That said, try google, bing, and YouTube for information. I would also highly recommend taking it to a gunsmith for a good cleaning and lube job.
          Stay tuned here for info from folks who own one. I haven’t since the late 70′s. I do remember carrying it all day pheasant hunting and smiling at how light the thing was.

  2. avatarThe Smiling Swordsman says:

    My first gun was an Ithaca 410. I got it from my grandfather and plan to pass it on to one of my boys some day.

  3. avatarALH says:

    I shoot lefty and granted I’ve only fired a pump shotgun a couple times but I have never been really bothered (at least not yet) by spent cases being ejected in front of me either by rifle or shotgun but I can definitely see that being a nice feature. Those are some nice looking guns too, if I had the money wouldn’t mind looking into one.

    • avatarDrewN says:

      It’s more having your face right next to the ejection port if something does let go. Otherwise, yeah, you get used to brass unless it goes down your collar (looking at you, slick side AR’s).

  4. avatarensitu says:

    This shotgun was my 1st!
    Mine was Old Shool, you could hold the trigger down and pump away. Everytime the bolt locked the hammer would trip. Great for Jackrabbits! Or should I say Tacticle Jackrabbits?
    Actually this may be the penultimate expression of JMB’s (my hero) classless society as it served both the Right and the Left with equal vigor!

  5. avatarchewcudda says:

    this was my first shotgun
    Got it when I was 8 right before my first trip dove hunting.
    It was stolen from my house when I was 14.
    God i missed that gun.
    I will buy one for my son and daughter to learn with.

  6. avatarTim says:

    I’ve got a ’52 Ithaca 37 Featherweight with a 20″ riot barrel. Love that shotgun. Slamfire FTW!

  7. avatarDon says:

    I got one in 12 ga last may ago for around 300 bucks. Manufactured in the 70s, two barrels. Beautifully figured wood, no wear or rust. Shot a trap league with it all summer. Great gun.

    • avatarDon says:

      Holy crap… it DOES slam fire! I just tried it for the first time right now! I am going to have some serious fun this weekend. Is this a dangerous practice?

      • avatarDavid W. says:

        Like 100% of other things, nothing is dangerous if you know what you are doing. In my opinion, if ANYONE other than yourself shoots your gun, you should tell them about the slam fire issue. I’m not even 100% sure if I release the trigger before I pump my 870 so with an Ithaca I would be very very careful for the first few hundred rounds till I get use to it.

        • avatarDon says:

          I mean will it hurt the gun? It is my only shotgun and I probably put a few thousand rounds through it since I got it in may.

        • avatarjwm says:

          Don, slam firing ours seemed to have no ill effects on it. We kids were always rough on the gear but it took it. We also raced a browning auto 5 shotgun. You could, with just a little practice outshoot the auto in speed with the slamfire pump.

          Good times.

        • avatarensitu says:

          I used to shoot jack rabbits with Audie Murphy. He would hold the IIhica M-37 just like he held a Tommy Gun (see the movie). He would crouch and fire from the hip pumping that bugger like crazy twisting his body and feet to follow the rabbit. That man was like a gymnast or other athlete; I simply have never seen another gunman like him.

  8. avatarDyspeptic Gunsmith says:

    Ithica 37′s are indeed nice pump shotguns. They’re nice because they have a steel, not aluminum, receiver. That’s an entry-level requirement for consideration in DG’s “nice gun” list. If a gun has aluminum on it, anywhere, for any reason… it fails the “nice gun” test.

    Want to see some other nice pump shotguns? Go find a used Winchester Model 12. If you want a really nice pump gun, go find a “Pigeon Grade” Model 12. Bring your wallet and Platinum Card. Leave your wife at home. What she doesn’t know won’t hurt you — until the bank statements come in, that is.

    • avatarAharon says:

      You mean the Winchester SXP Pump Camp/Field combo that I want to buy is not a nice gun? :(

      • avatarChris Dumm says:

        Even a presentation-grade 870 Wingmaster is kind of a cheap gun compared to a 1930s all-steel shotgun. Winchester stopped making the Model 12 a long time ago because it was expensive to manufacture compared to more ‘modern’ and cheaper designs like the Remington 870. I suspect that Remington would love to abandon the 870 in favor of something cheaper and chintzier, if they could get away with it, but there are limits to how cheap we all are willing to go. All-plastic Remingtons and Rugers are probably a bridge too far.

        But I digress. The Ithaca was an improved version of a J.M. Browning shotgun designed for Remington. It was called the Model 17 (maybe 19; I’m too lazy to wiki it right now) and it was a fine bottom-eject model also. Remington eventually replaced it with the Model 870 because the 870 was cheaper to produce.

        Modern Winchesters, except for the reproductions which are custom-made for them by Miroku, usually don’t have any connection to the historical JMB designs. The Winchester 1300 series is a completely different gun.

        • avatarAharon says:

          Chris, thanks for the clarification and history. I like learning about the origins of things. On youtube, there are professionally made and interesting videos about guns running about 45 minutes long. I’ve watched and enjoyed them.

          Tales of the Gun – The Guns of Browning
          Tales of the Gun – Guns of Winchester
          Tales of the Gun – The Shotgun
          Top Ten – Combat Rifles

          BTW, I think I saw a few Winchester Models 12s going back to WW1 at the Gun Room. We should go have a burger and check them out. I hope it doesn’t turn into another $625 burger day.

        • avatarDyspeptic Gunsmith says:

          Mass production of the Model 12 continued until the “1964″ changes at Winchester wrecked the company. Buuuut, you could still get a Model 12 from the special order shop until fairly recently.

          All in all, I think Winchester made nearly 2 million of the 12′s.

      • avatarDyspeptic Gunsmith says:

        Sorry, no. There’s an aluminum receiver on that gun, ergo in the estimation of gunsmiths who like Nice and Really Nice guns, it’s out of the running for the title of “Nice Gun.”

        Nice shotguns:

        Browning A-5, Remington Model 11 (which are basically the same)

        Winchester Model 12 pump (this comes in “nice” field grades up to the Pigeon Grade, which today can be found for $3K on up to $8K)

        Winchester Model 21 and Model 25 SxS’s (tho the 25 is cheapened up from a 21). A Model 21 in good shape will probably cost $3K to $5K as a starting point.

        Parker, Fox, LC Smith, Lefever, etc doubles – even the field grade of these classic side-by-sides is superior to what is sold in their price range today. Shootable field grade examples start in the $700 range and go up. The highest grades of these shotguns bring over $100K today. The very highest grade of Parkers are basically priceless – there were only three made. They’re now museum pieces.

        Browning Superposed O/U. This is the forerunner of the Browning over-under line.

        Ithaca’s early guns, including the Model 37

        Remington Model 31 – another all-steel pump gun.

    • avatarAPBTFan says:

      Why exactly does “nice” exclude aluminum?

      • avatarDyspeptic Gunsmith says:

        Because:

        a) aluminum is easy to dent.
        b) and as such, it won’t hold details, like engraving, for very long.
        c) where aluminum and steel meet, you have abundant opportunity for galvanic corrosion.
        d) steel can be blued. Aluminum cannot. Getting the finishes to match between a blued barrel and an aluminum receiver invariably looks like crap.

        • avatarAPBTFan says:

          Points taken on the cosmetics and aesthetics but….

          If a fella isn’t into that and bought a 590 because the military saw fit to use them for quite a while (like me) how much of a player is galvanic corrosion? The 500 has been around for decades and stood the test of time and there are dozens and dozens of pistols that use aluminum frames with steel slides.

          I’m not trying to be a smartass. I’m just trying to understand why, on a functional but not necessarily purdy firearm, there’s anything wrong with aluminum and steel.

        • avatarMD Matt says:

          DG,
          I’m with you re-wood and steel. What are your thoughts on the browning BPS? I bought an engraved model last year and love the look and feel of the gun. That said, the mechanism is a b**ch to clean, since you can’t easily get past the loading bars to the chamber while it’s assembled.
          Also, I’ve been looking for a “nice gun” double barrel, preferably a side-by-side, preferably with exposed hammers, two trigger design, and nice wood. It would be for home defense and recreational plinking. Any thoughts that don’t involve the stoger coach gun?

        • avatarRich says:

          I have heard the BPS is based on JMB’s design of the Ithaca.
          Is this true? (I want to know because I have one in 20 GA.)
          Thanks

        • avatarjwm says:

          APB. I have a 500 mossberg. I’ve heard countless times that if you attach anything to the aluminum reciever, such as a side saddle shell holder, you have to be xtra carefull with the screws. If you over tighten you can damage the reciever.

          For my purpose an aluminum reciever serves me well. But my guns are tools, not collectables.

        • avatarDyspeptic Gunsmith says:

          On a functional gun, there’s nothing wrong with it as long as you’re happy with what the factory gave you.

          What I’ve got against the Mossberg 500/590 isn’t what you, the operator sees. What I’ve got against the Mossbergs is what happens to my hands when I take apart a brand-new one for a customer – I get my fingers sliced up by all the burrs Mossberg left on the parts inside that you typically don’t deal with. I’ll take a file over many of the parts inside a Mossy to clean up the burrs the factory left as a lovely extra gift for gunsmiths.

          I’ve got an issue with the plastic molding that holds the trigger group together. But for the rest of the gun? It works fine.

          They’ll never be heirlooms, however.

          Putting screws into aluminum: Unlike steel-on-steel screw threading, on aluminum you want coarser threads. Most scope mounting screws are rather fine threads – 48 or 40 threads to the inch. If you try to thread a piece of aluminum for threads that fine, you’ll often get a result you don’t want – stripped threads or cross-threading that results in a really botched-looking hole.

          There are two ways to solve this: One is to use a coarser thread (28 or 32 TPI) to give a bit more “meat” to the threads in aluminum, and the other is to use a steel insert that is put into a tightly machined counter-bored hole in the receiver and use cyanoacrylate glue to hold it in. This latter option is really an option only on painted/coated guns, because you’ll never get steel to anodize or aluminum to blue, so unless you’re painting it, the steel inserts stick out like a sore thumb.

          Neither are “best” solutions, which is yet more reasons why I don’t like aluminum on guns. I could go off on a tangent about aluminum as to why I don’t tolerate it for a “nice” gun, but suffice to say that aluminum leaves your gunsmith with a rapidly dwindling number of options of how to do what you, the typical gunowner, wants done, and have the results look good. A gunsmith who takes pride in his work looks at aluminum and sighs… because he knows in the end, the result isn’t going to look as nice as it could be made to look on steel.

          Thoughts on a Browning BPS: I’ve seen them only in 10 gauge, but they’re built OK. They have a tang-mounted safety, which you’re typically for or against – but never in the middle about.

          Brownings are a bit more complicated on the inside than some other pumps if you’re doing a complete tear-down and reassembly.

        • avatarAPBTFan says:

          DG – thanks for the thoughts.

  9. avatarensitu says:

    Just Google Guns designed by JMBrowning. The man created the US Firearm industry and all the dewcent euro designs except the Mauser

  10. avatarAPBTFan says:

    I have a late 70′s Model 37 Featherlight my dad gave me and must reiterate what everyone else has already said – it is a solid, dead reliable sweetheart of a shotgun.

  11. avatarKCK says:

    Million Mag March

  12. avatarJim D says:

    I have used the Winchesters such as the 1300′s and now SXP with great results for thousands of rounds with no problems whatsoever. They have been very durable and nice to carry in the field, where the BPS gets heavy after a long day afield. The aluminum receiver has been with us for 50+ years already. It is not ideal for the artistic shotguns, as D.G. mentioned above, but as a workhorse field gun it is fine.

  13. avatarBiofire says:

    I just ordered the model 37 in 20 gauge with wood furniture. Should have it next week. Can’t wait.

  14. avatarjim says:

    Well, the 37 is pretty cool – it was the cop gun of choice between the Winchester 97 and the 870. But my favorite Ithaca – and I’ve queried the factory, and they said they were looking into bringing it back – is the old “lever action” Model 66 single shot. Just another cheap hardware-store gun in its day, but way beyond your regular dog-leg single-shot. Crank the lever to break it open (which felt as solid as artillery) with a straight stock. When I was a kid in the 70s they were about 50 or 60 bucks at Western Auto (and a regular sight in the gun racks of pickups on the town square) and in the early 80s I had a battery of them (.410, 20 ga. and 12 ga.) that I had picked up here and there. The light weight and straight stock made the 12 a bit more than my medium 5′ 8″ self was comfortable with except with very light trap loads, but that 20 with 3″ was the most accurate quail and clay-pigeon gun I’ve ever shot. Shot quite a few ducks (pond jumping, not from a blind) with it as well. Now of course they go for three or four times what I let them go for in moments of stupidity.

  15. avatarcpu says:

    I have an Ithaca 37 that I bought a year ago for $120. It had 4 holes drilled in the top of the receiver that I filled with dummy screws and the buttstock needed a refinish which took 1 Saturday. The serial number puts it at 1949 and it is a sweety.

    The 37 was designed by Browning as the Remington model 17.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Remington_Model_17

    cpu

  16. avatarDoug says:

    I have access to a very clean Model 1912 20 GA. w/ serial number indicating made in 1917. it’s not been modified for longer shells. It’s been checked over by a local dealer, pronounced ok to shoot. I have two questions.
    Where on earth can you get ammo for the thing? None of the local dealers have it and none of the online sites list it.
    The action feels really, really stiff. Lord only knows when it was last used. How smooth/stiff should it feel?

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