Our objective here was to test the speed and accuracy of this sub-gauge gem in a simulation of a covey flushing over dogs. In actuality, though, the 3-bird shoot would be more difficult given that clay targets are tinier than our favorite upland game birds. And certainly the targets thrown at Central Penn Sporting Clays that overcast, spring morning would fly in ways nature never intended.
Of course you could argue that the success of an outlandish evaluation hinges on the skills of the shooter. In particular, an experienced pump-gun jockey will out-perform a break-open or semi-auto devotee in this exemplar of extreme sporting clays.
Still, the assumption here is that even a shooter far better than me would be stretched when wielding a 28-gauge pump shotgun on a 3-bird sporting clays course.
We made an unusual shotshell choice for our evaluation. It was the C 28 Game Load from Rio Ammunition. It’s a 1-ounce shell with #9 shot rated at 1,200 feet per second. We could have opted for the standard ¾-ounce, 28-gauge loads packed with either #8 or #7½ shot. Basically, the choice of Rio’s C 28 Game Load boiled down to spread: with three concurrent targets in the air, we erred on the side of higher pellet volume over the greater breaking-power mass from the larger #8 or #7½ shot. We matched the Rio’s C 28 load with the flush-mounted, improved-cylinder, screw-in choke standard on the Ithaca shotgun.
By most accounts, the Ithaca Model 37 Featherlight in 28-gauge represents the pinnacle of craftsmanship in upland pump guns. When you handle the shotgun, it conjures up visions of a lost art-form in American gun making. But the current owners of the Ithaca Gun Company have made it their personal mission to restore the prestige of the original iconic manufacturer that still draws a wide and loyal following.
The Ithaca Gun Company of today carries on the name of the first factory established in Ithaca, New York in the late 1800s. Until World War II, Ithaca manufactured among the best American shotguns including the Flues side-by-side, the Knick trap gun, the 3½-inch Magnum 10 and the original Model 37 pump inspired by a John Browning design.
During the 1960s, the company churned through different owners until the factory was padlocked in 1986. Between 1987 and 2003, an investor group resurrected the brand, making fine shotguns in Italy. The venture sputtered until a tax lien by the government crippled the company in 2004, followed by investor lawsuits. Finally, in 2005, the company was liquidated.
Craig Marshall decided he could make a go of the Ithaca Gun Company in 2005. He converted the family mold-making factory in Upper Sandusky, Ohio. The undertaking ran out of money and the factory closed for nearly a year between 2006 and 2007.
Enter glass magnate David Dlubak. By June 2007, the Upper Sandusky operation was back in business focusing exclusively on the Model 37 pump. Mr. Dublak summoned back the team of master machinists with the single-minded goal of manufacturing the Model 37 to space-age tolerances using 100-percent American parts – down to every screw and spring.
The current Ithaca upland gun comes in both Featherlight (steel receiver) and Ultralight (aluminum receiver) models with bottom ejections to shelter the action against the elements. The receivers are honed from a single billet of material on CNC machines. The Featherlight gun is available in 12 gauge, 16 gauge, 20 gauge, and 28 gauge. The Ultralight gun is available in 12 and 20 gauge. Prices for the 28, gauge, Model 37 Featherlight start at just under $1,000.
Ithaca’s Model 37 Featherlight and Ultralight feature:
- A receiver that is machined from a single block of steel (or aluminum)
- A lengthened forcing cone to reduce recoil and shot deformation
- The classic game scene engraving
- 3 Briley choke tubes: full choke, modified (installed), and improved cylinder
- Choke threads that are machined true and straight (Briley Chokes)
- Fancy black walnut stock and forend
- Gold trigger
The Model 37 shuns soldering or other heat-induced joints. Ithaca’s SBS (Solderless Barrel System) vent rib barrel is entirely a machined component. The high-grade steel barrel is never supposed to warp from heat. A single screw attaches the rib to the barrel for trouble-free replacement.
When assembling an Ithaca Model 37, you lock the barrel into the receiver with a twist versus sliding it straight in like on a semi-auto. A lug slides around to make contact with the end cap, exerting additional pressure on the forend while at the same time acting as a lock washer. This design eliminates the need to constantly tighten the end cap as is often the case on other shotguns during a day of shooting.
Our Model 37 Featherlight 28-gauge arrived with lovely Fancy walnut that exuded an elegant, old-world disposition – certainly better than the Fancy A Grade receiver would imply. All the steel was matching matte blue. The 28-gauge receiver featured a classic scroll that framed the manufacturer’s name and 28 gauge in a signature script. The pistol grip was finished with the trademark black oval cap and Ithaca name in arching white typewriter letters. The wood-to-metal fit was flawless, even on the forend rings.
Like the other Model 37 Featherlights, the 28 gauge has a 4+1 shell capacity. It weighed 6.1 pounds. The length-of-pull measured 14 inches, drop at comb 1½ inches and drop at heel 2¼ inches. The shotgun had arrived with 26-inch barrels for an overall length of 45 inches. (The 28-gauge Model 37 Featherlight is also available with 28-inch barrels.) Trigger pull measured a consistent and crisp 3.1 pounds – meaning that the pliant trigger contributed to greater control by purging the jerky flinch that causes a downward wrench of the muzzle often afflicting affordable, sub-gauge field guns.
What we would discover on the 3-bird course is that the light trigger and easy slide promoted full concentration on the target and a greater level of control normally associated with a fine over/under. Best of all, the shotgun shouldered neutrally – essential in a 3-bird shoot where you must quickly establish the targets with your eyes before moving the gun.
The 100-target course required three rounds of three birds at each station. Central Penn Sporting Clays has 20 stations, and the 3-bird shoot skipped over a few. Rather than get mired down in detailing the entire scores, I’ll be reporting the best results on each station. The rationale here is that the highest scores reflect the full potential of the 28-gauge Model 27 Featherlight. We all make lucky shots, but you’ll see that the outcome speaks more to the fluid functionality and precision of the shotgun.
The front part of the Central Penn sporting clays course is open terrain. The back third changes to trees and corn integrated into the target presentations that ratchet up the difficulty.
When it comes to configuring 3-bird trap machines, timing is everything. Some of the targets are closer than others in arrangements that allot enough time to hit all of them before the clays dive into the ground. On a pump gun, the slide action must be smooth and fast, the trigger sure and decisive. Playing 3-bird sporting clays with a 28-gauge pump gun translates into a profusion of moving parts as the stopwatch discards cherished seconds against a razor-thin margin of error.
Station 1 threw a single left-to-right quartering target and a pair of right-to-left quartering targets. My best score was 3/3
Station 2 threw three quartering birds from the right. Top score on the station was 2/3.
Station 3 offered up one fast, left-to-right dropping target and a pair of quartering birds from the left. My best score was 1/3.
Station 5 presented a left-to-right quartering bird and two long, fast-dropping overhead shots thrown from a tower behind the cage. Except for a ridiculously long bird, this was probably the most difficult presentation on the course. My highest score occurred on the first round with 3/3.
Station 6 featured two close droppers and further quartering bird. Highest score here was 2/3.
Station 7 introduced a chandelle circus: two quartering from the right and third quartering from the left that flew between the other two. Best score was 2/3.
Station 8 threw two low outgoers and a low dropper. Consistently shot 2/3.
Station 10 was a long bird, at least 100 yards, thrown from a tower behind a tree, and going away. Engaged in a single, feeble attempt.
Station 11 threw 1 left-to-right quartering bird and two left-to-right high chandalles. Best score was 1/3.
Station 13 presented one left-to-right quartering bird matched with a pair of quartering birds from the left. Highest score was 3/3.
Station 15 revealed a target quartering left-to-right and two right-to-left. On one of the rounds I shot 3/3.
Station 16 threw two quartering left-to-right birds and one long chandelle. Best score was 1/3.
Based on these scores you can draw your own conclusions about Ithaca’s Model 37 Featherlight in 28 gauge. The shotgun performed brilliantly, with zero jamming or hung ejections. The trigger certainly ranks as one of the best in the industry – intuitive and creep-free.
Ithaca’s 28-gauge Model 37 Featherlight is not the cheapest pump gun on the market, but it most certainly is the sweetest.
Irwin Greenstein is the Publisher of Shotgun Life. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.