There are no signs on the factory at 420 North Walpole Street in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, but open the old door and the pungent smell of machine oil is your first hint that the Ithaca shotgun is being re-born.

This rambling building that once housed a rolling rink, an automotive center and mold-making operation has been transformed into the backbone of the Ithaca Gun Company. Hard-working American men and women, like so many discarded in the upheaval of globalization, are now devoting their full measure of sweat and muscle to manufacture a new 100-percent American-built over/under shotgun code-named Phoenix.

“It’s nice to think that we could help our brothers and sisters in America by keeping and creating new jobs,” said Ithaca machinist, Tom Troiano.

Every screw, spring and steel billet is sourced from the U.S. as the company brings to life the stunning new 12-gauge Phoenix. From its inception, the Phoenix was designed to honor the proportions and sturdy sensibility of the classical over/under American shotgun.

InsideBreakOpen
Ithaca’s Phoenix in-the-white.

Shotgun Life recently enjoyed the privilege of spending a full day at Ithaca talking with nearly everyone in the company. We spoke with the men who made the barrels, the receivers and the stocks. We spent time with management. And we were given the unique opportunity to be the first one outside of the company to shoot a prototype of the forthcoming Phoenix.

We can report unequivocally that design breakthroughs engineered into the Phoenix have made it the softest shooting 12-gauge over-under we have ever pulled a trigger on. The felt recoil on the Phoenix is virtually nonexistent – on par with the benchmark Beretta 391 Target Gold 12-gauge semi-auto – kicking only just enough to reset the inertia trigger.

Better yet, with a starting price of about $2,500 and moving to $10,000 depending on the type of engraving and grade of American walnut, the Phoenix could easily mark a renaissance of the big Ithaca shotguns.

That’s why Ithaca named the Phoenix after the dazzling mythical bird which rose from the ashes to fly once again. But leading Ithaca authority, Walt Snyder, author of the definitive books The Ithaca Company From the Beginning and Ithaca Featherlight Repeaters…The Best Gun Going observed that the new Phoenix also has an historical precedence.

In 1945, Ithaca had built a one-of-a-kind 12-gauge, over/under prototype. As the Model 51, it had serial number EX1, for experimental 1. It now appears that the new Phoenix is a direct descendant of that orphaned masterpiece.

Full-length
The Phoenix as we saw it at the Shot Show.

Our first glimpse of the new 12-gauge over/under took place in January 2009 at the expansive Shot Show. There in booth 1736, I was drawn to the allure of an elegantly understated over/under that was all chrome-moly black steel and American walnut. The receiver, devoid of engraving, drew me in and I picked up the gun. I mounted it to my shoulder, my immediate impression one of a tight, well-balanced shotgun. Then I moved the top lever to the right and to my astonishment the barrels slowly fell open as though on hydraulics.

This was the shotgun that Walt would see several months later at a dealer event in Wilmington, North Carolina. Ithaca’s Mike Farrell arrived with it and Walt’s initial impression was that “It looked like a very well made gun. It seemed to mount and balance very well.”

At the time of the Shot Show, the gun remained months away from being in shooting condition and it hadn’t been christened the Phoenix. But after returning to the office, I would occasionally call Mike, the company’s number-two guy (no one at Ithaca has a job title), until he agreed to let me visit the company and actually try the shotgun.

For those of you familiar with Ithaca shotguns, it would be easy to dismiss the Phoenix as another heartfelt effort to salvage this fabled American manufacturer established in 1883.

Taking its namesake from the first factory in Ithaca, New York, the company’s fortunes in later years have been a tortured tale of missteps as one management team after another tried to reclaim the glory years that spanned the late 1800s until Pearl Harbor. That was a triumphant epoch when Ithaca manufactured shotguns such as the Flues side-by-side, the Knick trap gun, the 3½-inch Magnum 10 and the Model 37 pump based on a design by John Browning.

Beginning in the late 1960s, the company changed hands several times until it padlocked the doors in1986. The following year a new investor group took the helm until 1996, when entrepreneur Steven Lamboy acquired the assets and rights to make the Ithaca doubles. He turned out some beautiful shotguns in Italy bearing the Ithaca name but fell into bankruptcy in 2003. By 2004, the Federal government attached the company’s bank accounts for back taxes and a bitter lawsuit ensued in New York state between various stakeholders. In 2005, Ithaca’s assets were surrendered and the company liquidated.

That’s when Craig Marshall entered. Owner of MoldCraft in Upper Sandusky, he converted the family mold-making business into a new iteration of Ithaca. During the transition, the Marshalls assembled the flagship Model 37 pumps from existing inventory with every intention of restoring the marque’s luster. Unfortunately, the Marshalls eventually found themselves under-capitalized for the venture to the extent that they were forced to idle the factory for eight months between 2006 and 2007.

Finally, in June 2007 industrial glass magnate David Dlubak acquired the company's assets and Ithaca name from the Marshalls. He started making fresh plant investments in the nondescript Upper Sandusky facility and brought back the team working on the Model 37.

As Dave explained to us in Ithaca’s distinctly blue-collar conference room, “We want to make a high-quality shotgun, at an affordable price, that will fit in the working man’s hands. The gun is going to be that guy’s pride and joy. The old Ithacas lasted fifty or sixty years. Now we make them to tighter tolerances and with better steel. We don’t want cheaper, we want better.”

Like many luminaries in the industry, Dave did not get his start making shotguns. Just as Harris John Holland began as a tobacconist, and Charles Parker a maker of spoons, curtains and locks, Dave comes from a family that owns and operates one of the largest industrial glass recycling businesses in the U.S., Dlubak Glass.

Dave was in the process of finalizing a new product called “bubble glass” that combined concrete and glass in faux log building material. Replete with grains and knots, bubble glass is resistant to fire and insects but soft enough for an ordinary drill bit. He was looking for a mold maker who could package the bubble-glass logs for affordable and dependable shipment.

He went to MoldCraft and met the Marshalls. Dave was presented with an opportunity to invest in Ithaca. Instead, he bought it.

Although a long-time aficionado of Ithaca shotguns, he acquired the company because of “the quality of the people and their ability.” These tool-and-die makers were the “elite of the elite,” he said.

For example, barrel-maker Roger Larrabee has been a tool-and-die machinist for 47 years. He trained Tom Troiano, who turns out the receivers.

“Roger trained a lot of the guys here,” Tom said.

3Guys
Ithaca craftsmen Roger Larrabee, Tom Troiano and Dan Aubill.

As a self-described “control freak” with a passion for quality, it was paramount for Dave to build a team with the capabilities to “make all the parts here,” he said. “I’m interested in making it all under one roof.”

He characterizes the Ithaca Gun Company as being in “stage two,” meaning that it has resolved the manufacturing issues with its current popular pump guns: the accurate Deerslayer series, the rugged Model 37 Defense, and the sweethearts of the pump-gun community, the 28-gauge Model 37 and the Model 37 Featherlight and Ultralight.

These shotguns showcased the production capabilities of the company. They demonstrated the team’s ability to craft receivers from a billet of steel or aluminum, to do away with soldering or any other heat-inducing joining, and to machine one-piece barrels with integrated rib stanchions that eliminate any potential warpage from the run-of-the-mill rib soldering.

“Ithaca certainly seems to have manufacturing savvy,” Walt said. “I’ve seen their Model 37 and it’s beautiful and I would assume they would be successful with the new over/under.”

These accomplishments came from “spending many midnights sorting these things through,” Dave said. “We’re not in love with wood, we’re in love with steel.”

The company’s passion for steel is clear when you tour the factory floor. As raw Pittsburgh steel goes from the mill-turn lathes to to grinders to finishing machines to polishers there is an almost monastic sense of duty among the people making parts for the shotguns. All the tooling and fixturing was developed in-house. Custom software was written by the youngest guy on the crew for the tightest possible tolerances. The individual components are funneled into an assembly room where one person hand fits everything together into a single shotgun.

After the factory floor I spent time with Aaron Welch, Ithaca’s designer and engineer. Looking over his shoulder in the cramped office, he rotated the solid-block 3D models of the Phoenix on his computer monitor.

There was the Anson-Deeley boxlock action ready to fire 2¾ inch shells.

I discovered that a secret to the low recoil of the Phoenix are the three capsule-shaped pockets machined into the bottom of the receiver. They are designed to distribute the load of shooting, improve longevity of the components and help absorb the spent gasses. Moreover, the slightly greater mass of the receiver and monobloc combine to give the Phoenix a lower felt recoil. The less-restrictive 1.5 degree forcing cone and somewhat heavier burled stock also helped tame excessive kick.

In examining the monobloc, Aaron talked about how the barrels are held to the breech section by a tubular connector, instead of being soldered, to improve reliability. At the business end of the 30-inch barrels, the muzzles are dovetailed together, rather than soldered, to prevent distortion from thermal expansion.

That sense of a hydraulic assist when opening the shotgun comes from cocking rods that push against the hammer springs when you move the top lever.

The top bolting mechanism was borrowed from the old Ithaca Knick. It sits high in the receiver for a stronger grip on the monobloc.

Next I looked at how the rib slides into the stanchions and is mounted with a single screw. Aaron said that interchangeable ribs would be available to provide different points of impact.

In the end, the Phoenix would weigh about eight pounds.

Now it was time to see how all the parts worked together.

CEO
Dave Dlubak with the Phoenix prototype.

Mike grabbed the prototype of the 12-gauge Phoenix. The shotgun was still in-the-white with a couple thousand test rounds through it.

We drove a few minutes to a piece of property on a lake that had once been a quarry. A house overlooking it was under construction. The house belonged to Dave and was being built from bubble glass in cinder-block form factors.

In addition to the house and lake, the property also had a trap machine set up by the previous owners.

Mike handed me the gun and in fact it did feel very well balanced. I practiced mounting it a few times. The straight stock fit quite well. Dan Aubill, the guy in charge of Ithaca’s custom stock program, had told me that it was measured to fit the “average guy” with a 14¼ inch length of pull, zero cast, drop at comb of 1½ inch and drop at heel of 2¼ inch.

Pushing the top lever, the barrels slowly fell open. I loaded in two 1? ounce shells. Mike took up the controller and when I called “pull” two things immediately took me by surprise. The first was the extremely low recoil, the second is how I completely pulverized the targets.

Mike and I went through a couple of boxes of shells, the two of us taking turns pulling targets. The trigger was light and crisp, the beads lined up perfectly and the tapered forend enabled a wide range of control.

I turned out to be the last one who shot the Phoenix that day and when the time came to return it to Mike I thought “I gotta get one of these.”

Irwin Greenstein is the Publisher of Shotgun Life. Please send your comments to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

Useful resources:

http://www.ithacagun.com

Published in Guns
Tuesday, 03 March 2009 10:46

Pheasant Phun

I was recently invited to go to South Dakota pheasant hunting, and what a trip it was. Kirstie Pike the President of Prois Hunting Apparel, Keli Van Cleave, and I went as Prois Hunting Apparel Pro Staff members and were treated to outstanding hospitality by the owners and staff of Pheasant Phun at the Olsen Ranch in Hitchcock, South Dakota.

Dave Olsen is the proprietor and the head wrangler of the operation. Dave's mom, Annie, and his father, Art are some of the nicest people you will ever meet. The film crew of SSOutdoor Adventures was also there filming for an upcoming show.

We got to the Olsen's J Bar Ranch early on a Friday morning. We were received with a warm hearty breakfast and were given the game plan and instructions for the day. Anxious to begin, we headed out to the garage for the safety talk and a thoughtful prayer by Dave for our good day.

The trucks were warming up and we ladies were supposed to ride in a nice warm, cushy dually. As we walked outside to the waiting vehicles Kirstie, Keli and I spotted a huge beast of a machine sitting among the vehicles that were not being warmed up. Almost simultaneously we asked if we could take the huge retired military radio truck. Dave laughed, then realized that we were serious and was more than willing to let us hunt in the beast. When will men understand how much we ladies love big trucks? We climbed in and as we sat down for our ride, all got a huge chuckle at our seats. The beast was well outfitted in antique church pews.

STORY2insideA
Kirstie Pike


As we bumped and rolled along the road we got to know the other hunters and the wonderful dogs who were to be our helpers. Charlie and his delightful, young, yellow Lab Bailey, Bob and Zoe, Gerard and Titan and our host Dave with Grizzly and Chopper.

It was cold that morning and the birds seemed to be flying out way further than I was comfortable shooting. I was using a small 20 gauge that I hadn't shot much before, so I didn't want to take ridiculous shots. A few birds were harvested that morning, but not by me. Keli Van Cleave was hunting with her bright pink bow and we were all curious to see if she could actually hit a flying bird with it. I didn't know Keli well and was skeptical.

We headed back for a hearty, hot meal of chili and some of the most wonderful Cheese-Broccoli soup I have ever tasted. I knew my diet was heading out the door. We took our belongings up to our loft bedroom and were shown the lay of the 'bunkhouse.' The bunkhouse was a converted barn that slept around 18 people very comfortably. There was a warm, inviting sitting area, with a long bunkhouse dining room. To look at it from the outside it still looks like a working barn, but once inside it is clean, luxurious and well-appointed. The view from any window is beautiful and the sunrise, breathtaking.

After lunch we went out again and some of the hunters filled their limits. I didn't shoot any birds, but had a great long walk and lots of exercise. Maybe going off my diet at lunch wasn't a total loss.

At dusk, we returned to the bunkhouse and enjoyed a fabulous dinner followed by cocktails and tastings from Dave's wine collection. We chatted with the other hunters there and soon found ourselves getting sleepy. We got ready for bed and once we turned in, found ourselves behaving like we were at an adolescent slumber party. We gabbed and chatted for quite some time before finally falling into warm, deep sleep in our cozy beds.

When the sun came up we were ready to go with a delicious hearty breakfast of pancakes, eggs, biscuits and gravy. We hunted all morning and I took a few shots, but nothing fell. I was a little discouraged and frustrated with myself, but still had a great time. Keli and Kirstie didn't shoot anything either and were also a little frustrated. The men were all able to get birds, so we knew they were out there and plentiful, but we were getting nothing.

Lunch was amazing and the table was set for a special holiday party that was to take place that evening. Kirstie and I were keeping an eye on the weather reports because we had a 14 hour drive home the next day. We learned that a storm was headed our way, but still planned on staying for the party and leaving early the next morning.

We knew that afternoon would be the last time to shoot so we needed to make it a good one. After lunch, we loaded up into the big green beast for the last time. We went to a thicket of trees and began our long walk. The dogs jumped several birds right off the bat and I was never in the right place for a shot. We walked about a quarter mile further and suddenly the woods came alive with pheasants. I pulled up on one as it flew up into a tree. It was hit but needed another shot. I finally bagged one. Then a few feet later another flew up and I shot it.

STORY2insideB
Anne Vinnola and Kirstie Pike


Out of the corner of my eye I saw a beautiful pheasant fly up through the trees toward Keli. I hollered at her to watch for it and for a few minutes guided her back several feet to where she could see where it had landed. The bird flew up, off of a tree limb, and she stuck it with her arrow. WOW she actually did it! We all cheered and were so excited for her. It was a perfect shot and was her first pheasant taken with a bow. I had never seen anyone shoot a flying bird before. It never occurred to me that it was possible, but Keli sure made a great shot and believers of us all. That was some serious "girl power!"

Kirstie shot two birds and loaded up for another. The dogs were everywhere and each was working hard and fast. In the midst of all of the noise and excitement, two pretty little does ran out and startled everyone.

I was quickly onto my last bird of the day and shot it just as it started to land on a branch. It was wounded and luckily I was able to get to it with the aid of my favorite dog of the weekend, Grizzly.

I had earlier asked Dave to show me a quick way to finish off a wounded bird without wringing its neck. Ever mindful of keeping a bird whole for taxidermy, I know that many hunters get into a bad habit of wringing the neck of a bird and invariably ruin a good mount. Dave showed me to place my thumb in the V of the throat and to press with up with my thumb and my forefinger on top of the head to crush the windpipe. This was a quick and humane way to finish off the bird without damaging the feathers. I also felt it was important to personally know how to finish off an animal as the hunter, and not need to rely on a guide to do it for me.

In the last few minutes of this exciting hunt we all limited out and met our hunting goals for the weekend, Keli, with her bow and Kirstie and I with our shotguns. The happy dogs were all running with their tongues hanging out after a thrilling afternoon. As we all went back to the bunkhouse, we had a lot to congratulate each other about.

Kirstie and I took one more look at the weather and decided to hit the road that night and drive as far as we could. We were going to have to miss the wonderful holiday celebration that Annie and her crew were putting together, but we felt the weather was making it impossible to stay.

If you are in need of some great pheasant hunting, warm hospitality and friendly, welcoming people, give Dave and his family a call. They will make your stay as happy as possible and you may even get a few beautiful pheasants for your table. Kirstie and I decided this will be a place we will return to and bring our families. Once you are there you are treated as family, and somehow, as royalty too. If you need help finding the place call Dave at 605-266-2848 or go to www.pheasantphun.com. He will leave the lights on for you. Keep an eye out for our show on SSOutdoor Adventures.



Anne Vinnola is a dedicated sportswoman. She is a freelance writer and blogger on the outdoors, and co-owner with her husband of the Colorado Institute of Taxidermy Training and Big Timber South Taxidermy Studio. Anne is also a Pro-Staff member of

Prois Hunting Apparel.



Useful links:

http://www.coloradotaxidermyschool.com/index.htm

http://skinnymoose.com/annevinnola/

http://www.proishunting.com/

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Published in Women Shooters
Saturday, 30 August 2008 16:03

Grouse in High Places


On a hot August day last year, James Ashcroft visited Atholl estate, for a day of sweltering sport after the well-heeled Scottish grouse, a gamebird beyond compare

Published in Destinations