No, the Ithaca Gun Company didn’t just cut down one of their famous Model 37 pumps and lacquer it pink. The good folks in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, hand-selected a couple of sub-gauge bird killers and fitted them with walnut dimensions that directly reflect a woman’s anatomy.
Everyone knows that if you want to consistently crush clays or down birds, it’s essential that the length of pull, pitch and cast of the wood on your shotgun form a perfect contour with your shoulder and face. High-volume shotgun makers try their best by producing firearms that fit the average Joe – and for most men this practice is satisfactory.
The average Jane, meanwhile, is stuck with a shotgun marketed to the man in her life. The so-called woman’s shotgun is typically a youth model painted bubble-gum pink, with some gender-bender advertising behind it. But in reality, women bird hunters need more than a shotgun for kids. With their longer necks, breasts and shorter arms, womens’ shotguns should feature a pitch, drop and cast to help avoid bruising while also providing a viable point of impact at the target.
Some experts agree…
Chris Batha – the highly acclaimed writer, gun-fitter and instructor – broke out a separate section for lady shooters in his seminal book “Breaking Clays – Target Tactics, Tips and Techniques.”
Chris notes that women’s more prominent cheekbones often demand a higher Monte Carlo stock, and their smaller hands would be better served with a slimmer pistol grip for proper comfort and control.
When it comes to a woman’s upper anatomy, he writes “The shape and soft tissue of a woman’s chest requires careful adjustment to the pitch (angle of the rear portion of the butt that contacts the shoulder) on the stock. Too much pitch and all of the recoil forces are concentrated through the toe (bottom of the butt) of the gun. Not only is this painful and bruising, but can result in twisting or canting the gun or, worse, placing the butt of the stock out onto the bicep. This fitting problem can be further compounded by the adjuster or buckle on the bra strap. This clip is often exactly where the toe of the gun rests, adding to the discomfort and bruising.”
Ithaca decided to tackle these problems by fitting one of their Model 37s with a stock measured specifically for women. We knew from an earlier visit to Ithaca that the company was dedicated to women shooters. We had spent time with Ithaca’s master stock fitter where he discussed how the company measured several women to come up with the best possible dimensions for a ladies shotgun. Enter the Model 37 With Ladies Stock.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Model 37, the latest iteration of the legendary pump has been heaped with praise. Although the nomenclature harks back to the first, beloved Model 37 manufactured by the original Ithaca Gun Company, the new owners have modernized the shotgun with small-batch, state-of-the-art manufacturing that emphasizes reliability and value.
For instance, the Model 37 receiver is machined from a single block of steel (the Featherlight model) or aluminum (in the case of the Ultralight). Since the Model 37 With Ladies Stock is only available in a 20 gauge, the Ultralight version weighs in at a scant 5.8 pounds – a full pound lighter than a Beretta Silver Pigeon II over/under in 20 gauge.
Weight is a significant concern among women shotgunners. As Chris Batha writes in “Breaking Clays – Target Tactics, Tips and Techniques” …
“ ‘It’s so heavy!’ is one of the most common comments I hear when ladies take part in a first lesson. Yes, the sporting shotgun is heavy, designed to be carried a little and shot a lot. The average of 7½ to 8 lb. combined with what really is an unusual position to both hold and support weight – at arm’s length – leads ladies to shoot off the back foot. Because of the weight of the gun, women and other shooters of small stature tend to lean backwards, pushing their hips forward, using their upper body to counter the gun’s weight.”
Most of us have seen women shotgunners trying to hit clay targets from this awkward stance. It’s easy to dismiss them as some sort of girlie wanna-be trying to cut it with a guy’s shotgun. But it’s not the women to blame; the shotgun manufacturers should be held accountable for ignoring women, who represent a sizeable portion of buyers.
According to the National Sporting Goods Association, 2.4 million women hunted with firearms in 2005, an increase of 72 percent over 2001. Participation in target shooting grew by 50 percent over the same time. And among female target shooters, the number using shotguns grew by 16 percent.
With the growing number of women taking up clays and wing shooting, Ithaca’s introduction of its Model 37 With Ladies Stock model begs the question of where the new generation of women’s shotguns will be developed. Looking at the dedication and research behind the Model 37 With Ladies Stock, the logical conclusion to reach is that the best women’s shotguns will come from small and mid-size manufacturers such as Ithaca.
Ithaca’s Model 37 With Ladies Stock project started innocently enough in December 2008 from a conversation with a firearm instructor who expressed frustration that no manufacture offered an off-the-shelf shotgun that fit the average American woman. Ithaca rose to the occasion. The company embarked on a research program that would identify the ideal dimensions for woman shotgunners. The conclusion they reached yielded the following specifications:
- Drop at comb: 1½ inches
- Drop at heel : 2¼ inches
- Cast: ⅛ inch
- Toe out: 3/16 inch
- Length of pull: 14 inches (Ithaca will cut the stock to any length at no cost)
About the drop at comb, the company wrote: “This is critical as this controls position of the shooters eye’s horizontal position relative to the axis of the bore. How many times have you seen a woman just not be able to get her cheek correctly on the stock? Raising the comb to her level helps immeasurably.”
When it came to the the drop at heel specifications, Ithaca explained, “This is less important than the comb however by being close to parallel the perceived recoil is much less.”
Ithaca said of its cast measurements: “In spite of narrower shoulders we find that the distance between the eyes and narrower nose bridge that women require as much cast as most men.”
And of the critical toe out dimension, Ithaca clarified: “The angle of a woman’s shoulder is different than a man's (can you believe it took us a year to figure that out). Women's shoulders move out a bit from top to bottom. This is one of the most common causes of bruising in new female shooters.”
Ithaca tallied the dimensions and concluded: “Can women break clay or kill game with this stock? - YES !!”
While shotgun manufacturers are often at a loss as to how to attract the support of women shooters, Ithaca developed a brilliant plan to provide women with a much-needed firearm – the woman-friendly shotgun.
The latest Ithaca’s Model 37 With Ladies Stock continues the company’s tradition of honoring women bird hunters. In 2001, under previous management, Ithaca had released a Model 37 designed for women. The company also contributed a portion of the proceeds to the NRA Foundation Women's Endowment.
The first-generation Ithaca shotguns for women were offered in 16 and 20 gauge, the lightest of the shotguns tipping the scale at about five pounds. Both versions featured a straight, English-style grip instead of the bulkier pistol grip. The shotguns were created to fit a woman approximately 5-feet, 5-inchs tall.
Today’s Model 37 Ladies Stock model benefits from all the upgraded manufacturing techniques that Ithaca incorporates into its standard shotguns.
The new Model 37 With Ladies Stock includes the standard Model 37 4+1 shell capacity, gold-plated trigger with crisp 4-6 pounds of pull, lengthened forcing cones, bottom ejection, 3-inch chamber, Briley chokes, Pachmayr 752 Decelerator Recoil Pad and engraving options.
In addition to extremely close component tolerances, the Model 37 features a Solderless Barrel System. By having the rib stanchion machined directly from the steel stock of the barrel, the vented rib then slides in onto them and is held in place with a single screw. This approach helps prevent warping under rapid firing, assuring a consistent pattern at the target, while making sure the rib joint doesn’t crack.
I have shot four Model 37s, and the lingering impression is that you want to own one. The Model 37 in 28 gauge lived up to the hype as one of the most endearing shotguns currently available, both aesthetically and mechanically. I then shot the Model 37 Waterfowl model on the Chesapeake Bay for some sea duck hunting, and in a single sweep of the shotgun I nailed the only bird on the boat that day. The next two Model 37s I managed to shoot were actually the ladies versions.
The Model 37 With Ladies Stock is available with either a 26-inch or 28-inch barrel in both the Featherlight and Ultralight models. Ithaca had sent me two Featherlights, each with a different length barrel.
I took both shotguns to Central Virginia Sporting Clays in Palmyra, Virginia for a morning on the wooded course with Elizabeth Lanier and her GRITS (Girls Really Into Shooting).
Tina Nyczepir remarked that “the gun was lightweight with no recoil.” Tina normally shoots a 20-gauge Beretta 391.
Sandy Nunnally, who owns a 12-gauge Caesar Guerini, also enjoyed the light weight of the Ithaca. She also appreciated the fit: “I liked the way it fit. The comb was high enough to fit me very well.”
After shooting her own 28-gauge Browning Citori, Mimi Wingfield said of the Model 37 With Ladies Stock, “It was fun it shoot. I think it would be wonderful in the field for birds.”
I subsequently caught up with Carolinn Pocher Woody and her buddies at the Cedar Creek Sporting Clays in Millville, New Jersey. Carolinn’s go-to shotgun is a 12-gauge Caesar Guerini. For her, the Model 37 With Ladies Stock was something completely different – in a good way. “I was surprised at how little recoil there was. It was easy to move and I think it would be great bird-hunting gun.”
In effect, I formed very similar impressions of the Model 37 Ladies Stock after shooting it at both Central Virginia Sporting Clays and Cedar Creek.
I crushed several true pairs with the 26-inch version of the Model 37 Ladies Stock. Admittedly, the stock was too short for me, but the pump action was smooth and confident. The ease of the action plays an important role in pumps that weigh around five pounds. A stiff or choppy stroke can result in excessive muzzle jitter between shots on lighter pumps – not the case on the Model 37 With Ladies Stock. Even with the undersized length of pull, I could easily supplement control of the shotgun through the wonderful pistol grip that allowed me to maintain both a smooth swing and a high degree of vertical stability.
In fact, I was pleasantly surprised at how well the shotgun swung, as though there were a second barrel adding that critical ballast at the muzzle.
Of the trigger, I would say the pull was closer to four pounds than six – the leeway that Ithaca describes in its product literature. The weight of the trigger and the forend action worked in harmony – meaning that neither drew excessive attention to itself to distract from a congruent shooting experience.
With a suggested retail price of $859, the Ithaca Model 37 With Ladies Stock is a hard shotgun to beat. Often, women gravitate to semi-autos in pursuit of a low-recoil shotgun. Even then, chances are pretty high that they would need the stock shortened. Ithaca, meanwhile, would cut the stock for free. Where else are women going to find a deal that good on a shotgun?
Irwin Greenstein is Publisher of Shotgun Life. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.