Ithaca shotgun side view (courtesy thetruthaboutguns.com)

Armed forces have welcomed the pump shotgun’s short range firepower and platform versatility since the early trench shotguns used in WWII. Even today, when we have full auto M4s on every soldier and M249 SAWs in every squad, the pump-action shotgun has a place in the modern military. The Ithaca M37 Trench Shotgun, now reproduced by Inland Manufacturing, recreates one of the most visually memorable weapons used from 1937 to 1975.

I spent some time researching this gun, including a perusing this most excellent American Rifleman article, buying Bruce Canfield’s The Complete Guide to US Military Combat Shotguns and conversations with an uncle who was a Marine Corps rifleman and later a Marine Corps armorer. That helped me separate a lot of fact from fiction about the M37.

Ithaca ad (courtesy americanrifleman.com)

Although the M37 TS (our designation) was available during WWII, probably no more than 1,500 were used by U.S. servicemen abroad. The weapon didn’t really see much use until the Vietnam War, as the M37s (without a bayonet lug). According to my uncle, a WWII vet, that was shame. He absolutely despised the M1 .30 caliber carbine for its lack of ability to penetrate either the jungle or the enemy. He would have much rather have had the M37 TS — for the same reason that soldiers and marines would come to appreciate it in Vietnam.

Ithaca shotgun (courtesy thetruthaboutguns.com)

At short ranges, where much of their fighting occurred, a point man could unload five rounds of OO buckshot in a few seconds. If the enemy was danger-close, they got shredded. If not, or if aim was less than perfect, the M37s kept the enemy down long enough to get the rest of the squad moving and on-line.

There are a few references to medics and corpsmen being issued shotguns back in the day, which I found pretty odd. I couldn’t find any actual photos or accounts of medics carrying M37’s. If anyone has any, as a former army medic, I’d appreciate seeing them. I did, however, find photos of Marine LLRPs using them as well as some of our early Navy SEALS and Special Forces units carrying the old M37.

Ithaca pump action shotgun (courtesy thetruthaboutguns.com)

The new Inland M37 is a joint effort of the Ithaca Gun Company of Upper Sandusky, Ohio and Inland Manufacturing. The goal: faithfully reproduce the original item. When I say faithfully, I mean down to the original stamp marks on the receiver. The bayonet attachment and sling attachments are all there, as is the iconic heat shield on the barrel.

Particularly surprising is the quality of wood used. This isn’t highly figured maple mind you, but it’s not the cheap soft trash I see on most bargain pump guns nowadays either. With a little RemOil or Lemon Pledge, it shines up nicely and has a solid feel. The metal finish is just plain Parkerized, not particular attractive, but true to the original.

Ithaca M37 receiver (courtesy thetrutaboutguns.com)

The firearm is solidly made. As with the original M37 TS, there’s a single (left sided) action bar, and a little wiggle in the front hand guard. The receiver is milled from a single block of steel and boasts the general wartime level of robustness that made phrases like “milspec” synonymous with hardy quality.

If you take the time to disassemble the shotgun — which is not simple by most pump gun standards…it requires tools — you’ll find very little that’s smooth or polished in most of the gun. The chamber itself, however, is.

The M37 TS’s magazine tube is straight and without burrs, the spring is strong and the follower stays in position. The action bar could definitely use some polishing, but is no worse (and no better) than most Mossberg 500s or Remington 870s. These particular items are the ones I most often find fault with on modern 500s and 870s, as well as a host of Turkish made shotguns under different labels. I have no problem stating that, in general, the Ithaca M37 TS is a far better made gun than those.

Feed ramp Ithaca M37 shotgun (courtesy thetruthaboutguns.com)

The M37 TS is a bottom-feeding and bottom-ejecting shotgun. Feeding a single round is time-consuming, and it’s difficult to load just one round into the chamber. In fact, it’s easier to put a fresh round into the magazine and rack it in, rather than to attempt single round loading. If you want to switch back and forth between different rounds, this is not the gun for you.

Upon ejection, the spent hulls are thrown down and directly in front of you. I guess there’s some theoretical danger of tripping over them if you were walking, but I did a lot of walking and shooting with this gun and that was never an issue.

The plus side: the MG7 TS’s single bottom port is large. That makes it easy to quickly load four rounds. This gun accommodates the four-in-hand loading technique without any modification, which will get the gun refueled most riki tik. Even a novice can load two shells in-line easily and quickly.

The M37 TS is also great for lefties; bottom ejection means there are no hulls flying in front of your face. And yet another plus to be considered for a few of you who bring the wild hog killing game to another level; the gun needs no modifications to eject the hulls down and away from the rotor of a helicopter. In Texas, we call it Pork Choppin’ and it’s awesome.

Front sight, Ithaca M37 (courtesy thetruthaboutguns.com)

There is no rear sight on the M37 TS, just a brass bead front sight. And on this particular gun, the front sight seemed to be just a tiny bit off-center. Even though it was just a teeny tiny little bit, every person that shouldered the round noticed it and asked if the sight was off. At 25 yards, the pattern of shot into the target was slightly to the left, by about two inches. Using slugs, I was getting every round inside a 10″ circle at 50 yards. The slightly left pattern appeared to persist, but given my group size and only 10 slug rounds fired, it was a negligible shift in impact, if at all.

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My first day shooting the M37 TS I fired 40 rounds of buckshot for familiarization. The second day I loosed 50 rounds of buckshot and 10 slugs. In that string, using many different types of OO buckshot and Foster type slugs, I had no malfunctions of any kind. No round of any type was difficult to chamber and none difficult to eject at all.

Although the action isn’t butter-smooth, it’s extremely consistent using a variety of brands of buckshot and slugs. As always, I RemOiled the gun prior to shooting; the only maintenance I performed throughout the test. I never had a round stick in the chamber, and no issues with loading, no problems whatsoever.

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Firing 100 rounds of buckshot and slugs to prove reliability is great, but dang…this shotgun will make you pay for it.

At 6.7 lbs, the 20″ barreled M37 TS is about a pound lighter than a new 18.5″ barreled Remington 870 Express Tactical. And yet it’s the same overall length. The stock on the Ithaca has no real recoil pad, just a little hard rubber at the end of the stock. Don’t expect any cushion from it.

The recoil itself isn’t the big issue. The stock’s shape is more angled than most modern shotguns. It’s reminiscent of my old flintlocks, and the design has the same effect: the M37 TS is comfortable to shoot standing with the firearm across your chest, in the classic rifleman’s pose.

Ithaca Model 37 Trench Shotgun stock (courtesy thetruthaboutguns.com)

But that angle eats you up if you’re in a more isosceles stance, such as when you’re snap shooting or shooting on the move. That position created a nice single point cut into my chest from the heel of the stock. I’ve had a few weekends of 1,000 rounds of #7 and #8 shot through a Mossberg 500, and those didn’t chew up my shoulder and chest the way 100 rounds of buckshot and slugs did from this gun. You may want to consider a softer aftermarket butt pad as an add-on.

Ithaca M37 trigger (courtesy thetruthaboutguns.com)

As for the M37 TS’s trigger, I wish half of the rifles sold today had one so good. It’s not light — around 5 lbs — and breaks with minimal grit and the tiniest amount of creep. It’s not a Timney or a Jewell, but it’s better than most stock Remington and Ruger rifle triggers coming out of the box.

Even though I really like the trigger, there was one disappointment. The original M37 “trench shotgun” would slam fire. You could just point it in a direction, hold the trigger down, and pump as fast as you could to get five rounds of double aught with all due quickness. That was a feature, not a bug, and one I was looking forward to for this test.

Alas, the M37 won’t slam fire. It’s safer, but less fun. Story of my life.

Ithaca M37 with bayonet (courtesy amercianrifleman.com)

Is your target too close for shotgun application? Have no fear, this one comes with a bayonet attachment. The bayonet lug fits the classic M1917 bayonet. Originally made in, you guessed it, 1917, a range of guns were made to fit this piece of deadly cutlery for more than 50 years. I imagine when the enemy saw you coming down the trail with a 16-1/2 blade attached to the front of your scattergun, they knew you came to play.

At this time, the shotguns don’t come with the bayonet itself. That is a shame. I would hope that they would be sold as a package deal in the future.

Overall, the “new” Ithaca M37 Trench Shotgun is a solid, faithful-ish (no slam fire) reproduction of a classic pump-action shotgun. It’s pricey, but worth it for a piece of history that will reliably fire until the end of days.

Specifications: Inland M37 Trench Shotgun

Gauge: 12 gauge / 3″ Chamber
Magazine capacity:4+1
Barrel length: 20″
Total length: 38.5″
Barrel Choke: Cylinder Choke .730
Action: Manual pump, bottom load and ejection
Weight: 6.7 lb
MSRP: $1,259

Ratings (out of five stars):

Accuracy * * * *
It’s a 20-inch cylinder bore combat shotgun and, true to the original, there’s no choke you can screw in. The ability to consistently pattern a load is the important factor in accuracy of a cylinder bore shotgun. At 25 yards, most of the shot landed inside a 19″ silhouette, with rounds patterning pretty consistently inside of brands. The Fiocchi OOs seemed to be the tightest grouping of the several different types of buckshot I tried. One star off for being slightly off alignment.

Reliability * * * * *
People seem to think that any pump gun will just run without issues. That hasn’t been my experience at all. In fact, I’d say that’s the exception. This gun is one of those exceptions. Completely boring in its consistency. As it should be.

Ergonomics * *
Easy to carry all day, especially with its light weight and sling attachments. It’s cool to own, and fun to shoot, but for a little while. The light weight, lack of a recoil pad and stock geometry make sure it takes meat on both ends.

Overall * * * *
If this was Inland’s regular home defense model, I’d give it three stars, which is a star more than I’d give the recent 870s I’ve shot. But come on, it’s a 12 gauge pump gun with a long bayonet attachment. This is the gun that gave free face lifts to Mr. Charles and bought a little room for the point man to catch his breath. It gets at least one more bright white star for being the true reproduction of a classic.

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65 Responses to Gun Review: Ithaca M37 Trench Shotgun

  1. Way cool in a retro way. Mighty pricey. Excellent review though! I had a 37 clone Savage and disliked the bottom ejection. Getting a 7+1 Maverick which I looked at yesterday…anyone here have one?

    • I do. It’s my primary house shotgun. I have a bunch of shotguns but this one is my only single purpose gun. It works. It’s cheap. If the cops take it I won’t shed any tears.

      It’s a mossberg. No complaints at all with mine.

    • The Maverick is a great shotgun. I’ve got two, and both work very well. I don’t think you can find a new shotgun for under $200 that’s better than the Maverick.

  2. You won’t find a bigger fan of Ithaca shotguns than me, but $1200+ for a replica that doesn’t slam fire? Keep dreaming.

  3. The pump action shotgun made it’s wartime debut in WWI with the Winchester 97. The model 97 was still in use from the Philippine Insurrection into Desert Storm. It was far more common than the M37.

    As a combat medic, I don’t understand why believe in the myth of the ineffectiveness of a 30 cal carbine round.

    • As a combat medic, I’ve never seen anyone shot by a 30 caliber carbine round, and I don’t know anyone that has in the last 40 years either. So I have to listen to the folks I know that have actually used it in combat, which is, sadly, only a handful. But that handful all hated it. The math doesn’t really work for me either, with just a little over half the energy at the muzzle of the 556NATO. Certainly would not be my first choice.

      • It has about 3/4 the muzzle energy than 5.56 NATO which is significantly greater than half. I haven’t sat down to do the calculations but eyeballing the numbers it probably has equal momentum which means equal penetration.

        • I don’t suck at math. 110 gr (7 g) FMJ .30 Carbine has 1,311 J of energy out of an 18in barrel (according to Winchester). 4 g (62 gr) SS109 FMJBT 5.56 NATO has 1,767 J of energy out of a 20in barrel (according to NATO EPVAT testing, QuickLOAD, SAAMI, C.I.P.) This means that .30 Carbine is 74% of the energy of 5.56 (using 5.56 as the basis), or, alternately, that 5.56 has 35% more energy (using .30 Carbine as the basis).
          As for momentum; the .30 Carbine has more; at 7 grams and 606.5 m/s, it has 4245.5 gm/s, whereas the 5.56 NATO is 4g at 940 m/s, so 3760 gm/s. Of course penetration is more than simply a momentum calculation; diameter is going to affect it, as will the fluid-dynamics of the bullet and its likelihood to deform and/or tumble.

        • Depends on material. The small diameter bullet will do better against body armor but the big slower bullet with more momentum will generally do better in soft tissue.

        • Speaking of eyeballs and the 30 caliber carbine, Bugsy Siegel could not be reached for comment. (Tip of the hat to James Taranto and his Mary Jo Kopechne line).

      • I went ahead and did the calculations. The 30 caliber carbine has more momentum than a 5.56 NATO round.

        I used this calculator. It got the energy right which suggests that it’s momementum calculations are right.

        http://www.n4lcd.com/calc/

    • I was hoping someone else would catch that. I’m thinking it was just a typo. The Model 97 Trench Gun has it’s origins in WW1 of course (hence the ‘trench’ moniker)

    • Notice most of the guys that claim they hated it and it was ineffective served alongside folks carrying a Garand, which hit like,well, a freaking -06. I’m not sure anyone ever developed much in the way of carbine specific tactics for it either. But I’ve seen the .30 carbines used in action and they worked just fine,albeit in the days before armor. For me anyway, a kid who grew up with a 10-22 almost surgically attached to his body, the carbine is almost perfect ergonomically. I can see where it would be awkward with a moden load-out though.

    • I’ve heard that the Winchester model 12 (the model 1912 through 1917 or thereabouts) had a ten guage short-barrelled “trench-clearing” model in use in WWI. Is that correct? And of course the model 12s did slam fire, by design, and are still around in different guages, with reasonable examples selling for less than this new gun.

      • Yeah, the military ended up buying about 100,000 Model 12s for use in WWI and WWII. They were configured much like this Ithaca (heat shield and bayonet adapter), but with a 6-round magazine. As far as I know, though, they were all 12 gauge. Winchester didn’t make the Model 12 in 10 gauge, to my knowledge. Winchester stopped making them in the mid-60’s, and that’s when the military started buying more Ithacas.

        I inherited my dad’s old Model 12 (just a regular long-barreled hunting model, not a military one), and I can certify that slam-firing a shotgun is a whole lot of fun.

  4. I’m really glad that JWT is a regular writer at TTAG. I enjoy his reviews and the fact that he’s been pretty prolific with them as well

  5. We got our first 37 decades ago. My brother was a leftie(handed) and we poor working class folk couldn’t afford the pretty rare and pricey leftie models available then.

    I liked the 37 for hunting cause it was lighter than most of our repeaters. Lugging dad’s model 12 for a full days hunt made me a believer in ounces make pounds. One of the hardest kicking shotguns we had was a 37 lightweight in 16 ga. Fire slugs from it and it would bring tears to your eyes.

    Nowadays, if I want a shotgun with a bayonet I’ll get a 590. Cheaper and arguably a better gun.

  6. The Marines aren’t a corporation. Never “US Marine Corp”. Always “US Marine Corps”. Better fix it before a Marine sees it…

  7. Looks like a really nice gun. As for all the comments on the price, y’all need to quit whining. Pretty much any wood and steel gun from WWII or earlier is expensive to manufacture these days. There’s a reason why so many current manufacture firearms have so much plastic and aluminum in them.

  8. We had several M37s floating around my unit in Vietnam. None had been issued, all had been ‘scrounged’. They were neat to fire but the military 00 buck loads were pretty potent so nobody enjoyed firing them a lot. Later, when I became a cop, the standard police shotgun was the Model 37 with some departments opting for the more expensive Deerslayer model. It still hurt to fire a number of rounds even with a pretty stout rubber recoil pad.

    I picked up an old police model a couple of years ago (for WAY less than $1297) and while it was nice to have, I still prefer my 870 tactical.

    I always read JW Taylor reviews because I always learn something from them.

  9. Armies were way into pump-actions before WWII, especially the USA. We had issued them to troops in the Philippines and knew how effective they’d be once we entered WWI. I’ve got a hard-on for WWI here lately, and was just reading about this. I think the US was the only army that issued PASG to some troops during the war. By then, trench raiding had become so important, and the PASG was nearly perfect for that use. The Germans apparently even complained about the fact the Americans were using them and promised to summarily execute any prisoner taken with one. Soldiers in the various European armies even purchased their own sporting shotguns and sawed them off.

    • “The Germans apparently even complained about the fact the Americans were using them and promised to summarily execute any prisoner taken with one. ”
      Completely true. They went so far as to try to outlaw them under the Law of Land Warfare.

      • Before and after that complaint, the Jerries were gassing the Tommies with chlorine and mustard gas; shotties were over the line though.

        • One of the best, and most terrifying, courses I ever took in the military was “Field Management of a Chemical and Biological Casualty”. Much of the direct research was from WWI. It was a real eye opener to the Russian mindset. The US, British, French, and Germans all came up with different types of gas masks for the protection of chlorine and mustard gas. The Russians, if they developed gas masks they didn’t use them. Protocol was to just wrap your face with a cloth and send twice as many men. The first wave would suck up all the gas for the second. MF.

        • Sounds very interesting- it’s always cool to see the different gas masks from the varying armies. The channel has been around for a while now (since June 28 2014) but check out the Great War on Youtube. If you haven’t already discovered it, the videos are pretty cool. They do a new video every week about what was going on exactly 100 years ago in WWI as well as supplemental videos about various WWI subjects.

      • I remember reading about that. Apparently the Germans were okay with using mustard gas on Allied forces, but couldn’t stand the trench shotgun being used on them. All’s fair in love and war, no?

    • Ha! Some models had no shoulder thingy at all, only a pistol grip. Firing buckshot must have felt like shaking hands with a 220V outlet.

    • It was a simpler, more innocent time. They didn’t know they needed shoulder thingies. Let alone shoulder thingies that went up.

  10. The M37 is my go-to shotgun anytime I need one. Loved hunting with it as a kid & picked a second one up a few years back. Don’t know what all this painful kick is everyone keeps complaining about; I’ve never had any noticeable soreness after a full day of shooting. I was jazzed to hear about the Trench Gun model coming out, though the price & inability to slam fire are a bit of a letdown. Probably stick with trying to find an original, though if I do get one, I’ll have to examine the internals to see what’s keeping it from slam firing.

  11. For those less concerned with historical reproduction who like the bottom ejection but can not bear the price look at the imported Savage 350. For the really hard up there are some utility grade Chinese knockoffs made by Jing An available used. There is also of course the Browning BPS which is in many respects a modernized and improved variant.

    • Here’s what I tell customers who come to me with a broken ChiCom pump shotgun:

      “You might as well go buy another, and use this one (or that one) for parts. It’ll be cheaper than asking me to repair this one.”

      There is such a thing as “false economy,” and ChiCom firearms are solidly in that category.

  12. The Ithaca 37 is one of the last pump guns made with an all-steel receiver and nice wood stock. They’re very well built. Some people don’t care for the loading/ejection out of the same port, but for those who do, it works, and it serves righties as well as lefties equally well. NB how the price is up in the $1K area for a quality, US-made gun.

    JWT, what you describe in how the stock bites you is a result of the stock having no “toe-out.” This is a complaint that happens often in not only this shotgun, but in many other shotguns. I hear this complaint from men with larger pectoral and women with larger breast development. The solution is to either a) make the stock with ‘toe-out’ in the first place, or b) adjust the stock to have toe-out. So you could seek out a stock maker to make you a new buttstock, or adjust this one.

    I was taught how to adjust stocks to have toe-out by an old English gunsmith, he of the Birmingham gun trade, in an operation that, if owners of the guns were to see it, would probably make them hit the ceiling.

    You clamp the gun in a fixture that holds the receiver and barrels firmly. The rear of the fixture will have a clamp that attaches to the butt of the stock (sometimes with screws) and allows a torsion to be put on the stock, pushing the toe out.

    This technique works on only wood stocks, and the wood on that 37 you’re holding is quite nice.

    You wrap the wrist of the stock in rags that are soaked in linseed oil that has been heated. Put a pan under the stock to catch excess oil. Keep soaking the rags in heated oil. The oil could be heated safely to, oh, about 250F+. Keep it under 300F to prevent the oil igniting in the heating vessel.

    OK, when you’ve got a layer of cotton rags around the wrist of the stock, and you’ve allowed the heat from the heated oil to work, try to toe-out the stock a bit more. In good, harder woods, you’ll not get much results – but you’ll feel that the wood is getting more pliable. What you need is a bit more heat.

    None of the foregoing is what makes the owners hit the ceiling. This next part is.

    When you need more heat to get into the wood fibers, you light the outer layer of rag around the wrist of the stock on fire. Don’t let the flames get away from you, you just keep spooning more oil onto the rags. Keep the flame off the wood. This takes practice, so start with a walnut plank for your first practice piece of wood. Let the fire burn for, oh, a minute to 90 seconds, then blow it out. It goes without saying that you should have an extinguisher nearby, but let’s get that on the record.

    Let the heat of the fire work down through the saturated rags into the wood. Try putting more toe-out into the stock. As the heat works its way into the wrist, you’ll be able to gradually put more toe-out into the buttstock. If you don’t have enough toe-out yet, you re-light the flames. Lather, rinse, repeat. When you have the toe-out you desire, you pull off the rags, wipe off any excess oil, and leave the shotgun in the fixture to cool. Let it cool, oh, four+ hours in the fixture. You’re waiting for the wood fibers to set up again.

    An alternative to this method is to use a steam generator, but you’ll end up with lots of water in the action as the steam condenses on the steel parts. If you go the steam route, you should probably pull the lockwork out of the action and spray the inside with WD-40 to keep water from penetrating into nooks and crannies in there. You’ll also find out that it takes quite a while to heat up the wood enough to get the toe-out you desire with steam, since the steam you can commonly generate outside a boiler will be limited in how hot it is.

    All we’re doing here is what fine furniture makers have known for hundreds of years: you can bend or twist wood if you get the fibers hot enough to start them becoming supple and plastic. Hold the heated, now-plastic wood in the desired position, allow it to cool and you’re on your way to becoming the next Sam Maloof.

    I’ve done the flaming linseed oil rag technique a couple of times, and the owners who had “toe bite” really appreciate a stock that no longer punches them “right there” as they’d call it. I don’t understand why more shotgun manufactures don’t put at least a little toe-out onto their stocks. The two adjustments that people really seem to appreciate in a stock are cast-off and toe-out (for right-handed shooters).

    • I’ve taken the twist out of many an osage bow with a similar technique but I would have never considered it with a wood stock. That’s awesome. Thanks.

  13. “I imagine when the enemy saw you coming down the trail with a 16-1/2 blade attached to the front of your scattergun, they knew you came to play.”

    Correction: they knew you came to work.

  14. I think the gun is overpriced almost $1,000. I’ve had been shopping for a pump shotgun and before I found a used one, I had decided to get a RIA M5 at a cost of just over $200. A Maverick 88 by Mossberg was even cheaper at just under $200.

    My brother has a old 51 vintage M37 that shoots well but no better than the old 47 vintage J C Higgins model 20 I traded for.

  15. if you have a model 37 with a serial number of 855000 or greater, you have an interchangeable barrel. you may install part number 371201-hd-20-b (20″ 12ga barrel) along with 371240-8s (eight round magazine tube, 4finish choices. and that will be $300.
    ithaca is releasing an ar15 bolt carrier group one of these days.
    and they now make a precision rifle (the ad copy says their first rifle, but i have an x5 so they must mean out of ohio, not new york).

  16. Author: what is a good email to send you some pictures? I did a model 37 trench gun tribute not too long ago that I think you may enjoy seeing. And yes, this one you CAN jack Fire 😬😬😬

  17. It looks very cool but too expensive for me. I can make a real slam-fire Remington 870 trench shotgun at much cheaper price.

    That bayonet seems like overkill!

  18. I’ve had one for awhile now.
    It was born in 1976.
    It doesn’t have the bayo mount or the heat shield. I plan on buying this for it, so it’s complete.

    I use it as a house cover weapon. With the mag full and one in the pipe loaded with 00Buck, I guess it’s safe to say, I’ve got it covered.
    I’ve had a few Ithaca’s before. Two 20ga featherlights, a 16gauge I used pheasant hunting and LOVED it.
    I have this M37 in 12ga now, and I AM NOT DISAPPOINTED!

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