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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Barrel length: 20″
Total length: 38.5″
Barrel Choke: Cylinder Choke .730
Action: Manual pump, bottom load and ejection
Weight: 6.7 lb
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.