Ordnance Notes -- by Bob Stoner GMCM (SW) Ret.

ITHACA Model 37 Shotgun

The Ithaca "Homeland Defense Shotgun" is identical to the guns used in Viet Nam except for the installation a rubber recoil pad and absence of sling swivels. (Photo: Ithaca Gun)

The Ithaca Gun Company produced its first shotgun in 1883. In 1937 the company released its newest creation: the Model 37 Repeater. The Model 37 was a pump action shotgun based on the Remington Model 17 pump shotgun. The Ithaca was an improvement on the former design because it emphasized simplicity of form and function. The Model 37 has remained in continuous production since its introduction. It has been produced in a bewildering number of finishes, calibers, barrel lengths, smooth bore and rifled barrel configurations, and stock and forearm configurations. Its simplicity and reliability have earned it the respect of sportsmen, police officers, and the military.

Simplicity: the Model 37 has the fewest parts of any pump shotgun. Reliability: the gun is easily used by right or left handed shooters because, unlike other pump shotguns, it loads and ejects through the bottom of the gun. The double-fingered shell carrier provides positive control of the round, from magazine to chamber. The barrel is attached to the receiver by an interrupted thread. It is easily removed for cleaning by unscrewing the knurled plug on the end of the magazine tube, turning it 90 degrees, and pulling it off the receiver.

Shotguns have been used in combat by American troops since the Revolutionary War. While the tools of war have become more fearsome in their range and the number of rounds they can shoot, the shotgun is still an awesome adversary at short range. The Model 37 can put 54 pellets of 00 buckshot (.33 caliber) down range as fast as the trigger can be pulled and the forearm cycled. (Once the trigger was pulled for the first shot, the disconnector allows the gun to fire all the ammunition in its magazine by merely cycling the forearm.) In this regard, it puts your average submachine gun to shame.

Ithaca 37 combat shotguns used in Viet Nam were either riot guns (18-inch barrels) or trench guns (20-inch barrels). The stocks and forearms were wood and the exposed metal parts were Parkerized (manganese phosphated). The caliber was 12 gauge (2-3/4 inch shell) and the barrel was cylinder bored (without any choke or restriction) for maximum shot dispersion. Capacity was 6 shots. Trench guns had a barrel shroud or ventilated hand guard over the barrel and could mount the M7 bayonet of the M16 rifle. Sling swivels were provided for the standard 1-1/4 inch web rifle sling. Sights consisted of a brass bead mounted on the end of the barrel and a flat, grooved sight plane milled into the top of the receiver. The forearm latch (bolt release) was located at the right front of the trigger guard and the safety was located at the rear of the trigger guard. Shotguns procured for issue to U.S. forces during Viet Nam were in the 9XX,XXX serial number range.

A SEAL squad disembarks from a Light SEAL Support Craft in the Rung Sat Special Zone of Viet Nam. The point man is carrying an Ithaca M37. Notice that the second SEAL in line is barefoot. Some SEALs did this to confuse VC scouts who could dismiss such tracks, but would certainly recognize the distinctive pattern of the U.S. jungle boot. (Photo: US Navy)

The point man of Navy SEAL teams liked to carry the Ithaca M37 for the firepower it could bring to bear in the jungle where engagements were usually fought a point-blank range. The Navy also made up some modified Ithaca M37s for its SEALs. The magazine tube was extended almost to the muzzle of the 20-inch barrel and its latch lug was repositioned. The trench gun ventilated hand guard was not used. The modified M37 could now carry two additional rounds for a total of eight. A shot spreader (commonly called a "duck bill") was attached to the end of the barrel. The shot spreader's purpose was to flatten the shot group exiting the barrel from a circular pattern to an oval pattern. The shot spreader gave more coverage of the target at usual engagement ranges. These guns are now quite rare. Since the end of hostilities in Viet Nam, combat shotguns in the military inventory have been augmented by militarized versions of the Mossberg 500 and Remington 870. Nevertheless, the Ithaca M37 was a proven, useful tool. They are probably still in the racks of Naval Special Warfare armories.

The Ithaca Model 37 with extended magazine tube. Navy SEALs used shotguns like this with a “duckbill” or shot spreader to flatten the shot pattern horizontally to maximize the chances of getting hits on targets. The forearm moved to the rear like this indicates the bolt is back and the chamber is empty and ready to receive a new round from the under-barrel magazine tube. (Photo: Mike Porch)

Ithaca Model 37 Specifications:

Length . . . approximately 43 inches (depending on barrel length)
Type . . . . . pump action shotgun
Caliber . . . 12 gauge
Feed . . . . . tube magazine - 6 or 8 rounds
Sights . . . . brass bead front
Weight . . . approximately 7 pounds

© 2006 Bob Stoner R4