The Ithaca 37 is a pump-action shotgun made in large numbers for the civilian, military, and police markets. Also known as the Featherlight, it utilizes a novel combination ejection/loading port on the bottom of the gun which leaves the sides closed to the elements. In addition, the outline of the gun is clean. Finally, since shells load and eject from the bottom, operation of the gun is equally convenient from either side of the gun. This makes the gun popular with left-handed and right-handed shooters alike.
Designed by the famous firearms designers John Browning and John Pedersen, the gun was initially marketed as the Remington Model 17. The Model 17 was a 20-gauge of trim proportions, later redesigned and refined into the popular Remington Model 31. That gun would eventually be replaced in production by the Remington 870 which is still produced to this day.
Following the First World War, the Ithaca Gun Company was searching for a pump-action shotgun to produce, primarily to compete with the Winchester Model 12. They settled on waiting for Remington Model 17 patents to expire. After gearing for production of the Ithaca model 33, they discovered more Pedersen patents that would not expire until 1937; along with the introduction date, they changed the model designation from 33 to 37.
With the depression dragging on and war looming on the horizon, it was possibly the worst time to introduce a sporting arm. That this shotgun survived World War II is a testament to the soundness of the design. Many sporting arms ceased production entirely during the same period. While Ithaca did produce some shotguns for military use during the war, they also produced M1911 pistols and M3 Grease Guns.
After WW-II, Ithaca resumed production of the Model 37. Made in many different models, the Ithaca 37 has the longest production run for a pump-action shotgun in history, surpassing that of the Winchester Model 12 that had originally inspired Ithaca to produce pump-action shotguns. Ithaca has suffered many setbacks in its history, changing hands numerous times. At one time, the Ithaca 37 was renamed the Model 87, although it was soon changed back in one of many ownership changes. Production paused in 2005 when Ithaca once again changed hands. Production has resumed in Ohio.
The largest single user outside the US Military is the Los Angeles Police Department. Along with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, numerous other users include military, police, security agencies, and prisons. The Ithaca 37 was a popular choice among civilians for both sport and personal protection. With higher prices for new Ithacas and decreasing availability compared to the Mossberg 500 and Remington 870, use of the Ithaca 37 continues to decline. Interestingly, Ithaca's loss of market share was hastened by competition from a copy of the shotgun. Chinese copies of the Ithaca 37 (itself a copy of the Remington Model 17) have been imported recently. Additionally, the supply of used civilian and departmental shotguns has been a steady competitor.
Loading the Ithaca 37 involves inserting shells of the proper gauge through the loading/ejection port and pushing them forward into the magazine until retained by the shell stop. The slide release is pressed and the slide retracted completely then pushed forward. Pulling the trigger fires the gun and releases the slide for reloading. On most models, holding the trigger down causes the gun to fire the instant a new round is cycled into the chamber. Otherwise, the model 37 operates in much the same way as other pump-action shotguns.