A reliable, antique shotgun holds generations of memories in the duck blind
In preparation for the upcoming duck season, I spent part of my afternoon cleaning my old Ithaca Model 37 shotgun. I went to work removing the barrel and spraying down the cold steel. I repeated my routine a few times and gently laid the pieces back onto the cleaning mat. For a solid ten minutes I stared at the shotgun in quiet contemplation. Two previous generations of duck hunters owned and used this very shotgun. My grandfather used this shotgun a few years after World War II ended, then passed it along to my father, who shot his first turkey with the Ithaca M37. Now, years later, I am the keeper of future hunts and forthcoming memories of this vintage pump shotgun.
Discovering the Ithaca M37
We humans are visual creatures, drawn to the beauty of our surroundings. The same holds true for our love of our shotguns. They rest side by side in the safe, lined up like soldiers awaiting orders from their drill instructor, destined for glory in the waterfowl marsh and cut corn fields. The Ithaca Model 37 is no exception; it oozes beauty. The walnut stock is rich with tightly laid grain patterns. The pump-style forend is deeply grooved and often affectionately dubbed a “corn cob” by hunters. Adding to the aesthetic charm, detail was given to the receiver with an engraved hunting scene on each side. The left side features three greenheads flying into a pond while the right side has a pointing dog afield with flying quail.
The Ithaca Model 37 Featherlight is chambered in three gauges: 12, 16, 20, and 28 gauge. The 12 gauge, which is the model I carry, comes in at a hearty seven pounds. In comparison, the modern Ithaca Ultra Featherlight 20 gauge weighs a mere 5.75 pounds, which is a noticeable difference.
Modern Ithaca M37 models offer barrel lengths of 24, 26, and 30 inches with a vented rib. In contrast, my 1940s model has a solid rib with a barrel length of 26 inches.
Unique features of the Ithaca Model 37
Perhaps the most unique feature of Ithaca shotguns is the bottom ejection port. The ejection port works double duty for the shotgun. Here the hunter may load either 2-3/4 inch or 3 inch shells. When the shotgun action is cycled, the spent shells will discharge from this same port.
The bottom ejection and loading port helps to maintain a clean barrel by protecting it from the weather and reducing the likelihood of rust. Snow, rain, and ice may be well-known companions in the duck blinds, but this feature helps to maintain a properly functioning firearm for many years to come. Our southpaw friends will appreciate the bottom ejection port on Ithaca shotguns because the spent shells will kick down and out, not across and into the face of a left-handed shooter.
Reliability of the Ithaca M37
Being new to duck hunting, it’s important to me to have reliable tools that function properly with each use. I’m still focusing on how to get ducks, so I need everything else to work as it should. My aging Ithaca fits the model of reliability. The care that was used to produce the Ithaca has withstood the test of time. Slight cracks have emerged in the stock near the receiver; a sign of use, or perhaps a sign of the love and devotion the old “corn-cob shotgun” has received through the years. Regardless, I know that eventually the old walnut stock will need to be replaced. Old memories will be replaced with new, giving the fourth generation of hunters an opportunity to create their own with this old gun.
Cost of the Ithaca M37
We all appreciate free things, and I am eternally grateful to have been gifted my Ithaca shotgun. A diligent shopper will find old Model 37s on the secondhand market in a range of prices from $230 to $500 or more. Gun shops and pawn shops can be great places for treasure hunters and adventure seekers. I would encourage you to start here if you are at all curious about using old pump shotguns for waterfowl hunting. The cautious buyer must carefully consider condition prior to purchase.
On the other hand, new Model 37 Featherlight shotguns range from approximately $900 to $1500. While the prices may be steep, the advantages of a new gun are worth factoring in when you are in the market for a workhorse shotgun. It’s a blank slate for creating memories for years or even generations to come.
Today’s firearms market contains an array of beautiful antiques and modern-day shotguns, each wonderful in different ways. Niche shotguns such as old Ithacas are begging to be used out in the field and in the duck blind. Don’t hesitate to venture out into the market and see what you can find.
Soon I will slip the Model 37 from its case and feel the sting of cold steel in the palm of my hand in the too-early, pre-dawn hours in the marshy blind. I will once again recall the history ingrained within the old walnut stock, remembering the stories shared from generation to generation. Faded memories give way to new ones. I will then look to my youngest child and smile, for soon a fourth generation will take hold of this old “corn-cob” shotgun and create new memories with each hunt.
Erin Woodward is a novice bird hunter. He was born and raised in Kansas where he currently resides with his wife and three children. Erin can be found during the fall and winter months venturing across the Great Plains in search of wild game. Spring and Summer are reserved for fly fishing for trout, and making the best homemade ice cream with his family. A member of Back Country Hunters and Anglers, he holds the value of public land access in great esteem for all hunters and adventure seekers alike. His hunting adventures are documented @pursuit_nature