There’s little doubt that the pump or semiautomatic trench shotgun, and its close associate the riot gun, are formidable small arms. Combining the handiness of a short-barreled scattergun with the ability to get repeated shots off in a hurry while spraying various sizes and combinations of shot — depending upon range — over an increasingly wide area, has appealed to the military, police and homeowner alike for more than a century.
I must admit that I’m not the world’s most enthusiastic shotgunner. But trench and riot guns really do grab my attention. It’s probably due to their military and law enforcement heritage. Apparently I’m not alone, for prices of original, unaltered trench guns of all periods seem to continue rising even in a slightly down collector market. Values on some of the more common guns, such as Winchester Model 97s and Model 12s, can still be pretty hefty. Fortunately, Inland Manufacturing of Dayton, Ohio, through its marketers MKS Supply and in association with Ithaca Guns Co., is now offering a dandy new product that promises to satisfy those desirous of a martial-mien 12 gauge — but more about this anon.
Trench guns, as their name implies, first came into use by American troops in the trenches of World War I. Incarnations of civilian guns were offered by Winchester (Model 1897 and Model 12) and Remington (Model 10). These handy repeaters immediately drew the ire of the Germans who filed an official protest claiming their use was in violation of the 1907 Hague Convention. Uncle Sam saw things differently, however, and the trench gun became a fixture in the Great War and other conflicts to follow.
While both trench guns and riot guns have short barrels (normally around 20 inches) and are cylinder bored, there are differences. While the riot gun is more or less an abbreviated version of a sporting arm, the trench gun traditionally sports a muzzle attachment that allows the piece to be fitted with a bayonet, has sling swivels and a pierced metal handguard, also called a heat shield. The bayonet used on the premier trench guns and others thereafter was the Model 1917, a blade introduced by the British in 1913 for an experimental .276-caliber rifle, which they subsequently used on their similarly configured Pattern 14 Enfield Rifle. As the .303 Pattern 14 was made for the Brits by Remington and Winchester, when the Yanks entered the war and produced their own .30-’06 version of the gun, the same bayonet dubbed, like the rifle, the Model 1917 went along with the package.
Principally, trench guns are employed for more tactical work, while riot guns, in the military at least, are
primarily used for such things as riot control and guard duty. Early on, police also adopted the riot gun as an integral part of their arsenals, and they remain so today.
For a company as venerable and prolific as Ithaca, it’s a bit odd that one of its signature products, the Model 37 pump gun, didn’t see more military usage than it has. Based on an earlier John Browning patent, the Model 37 was introduced by Ithaca in 1937. Its mechanism was simple and robust. Like a number of slide actions, the bolt itself had no locking lugs, as it was lifted up when the slide was moved forward and, after locking into position, is held securely below by the slide, which locks it in place.
One of the shotgun’s most endearing features is its bottom ejection. This allows for efficient disposal of empties, and as shells are also loaded through the lower ejection port, it’s easy to use by either right- or left-handed shooters.
Various incarnations of the Model 37 have been offered over the years in 28-, 20-, 16- and 12-gauge. It’s one of those time-tested products that, despite the introduction by others of more space-age designs, because of its manifest, practical, no-nonsense attributes, perseveres and can be relied upon to provide continued good service. Its merits have especially been appreciated by law enforcement, including the largest police forces in the country, such as Los Angeles and New York, adopting versions as their scatterguns of choice.
World War II saw considerable trench gun usage with Remington, Savage, Stevens and Winchester providing the lion’s share of product. The U.S. government also contracted with Ithaca for Model 37 trench guns, but records show that ultimately less than 1,500 were delivered. Ithaca diverted most of its arms
manufacture to 1911A1 .45 ACP pistols. Ithaca also supplied some M37 riot guns and standard-length barrel training guns.
World War II-issue Ithaca trench guns featured a high-polish blue finish, plain walnut stock and plain buttplate. As well as standard markings, the receivers were stamped with a U.S. Ordnance bomb insignia and “R.L.B.,” the initials of Col. Roy L. Bolton, chief of the Rochester, New York, Ordnance District.
During the Vietnam War, the M37 again was called into service. Configured much like its World War II predecessor, the Vietnam-era Ithaca, rather than being blued, was Parkerized and had a small “U.S.” stamped on the forward portion of the right side of the receiver. The quantity of these guns delivered is unknown, but it is presumed to be quite limited as, like the World War II Ithaca trench gun, they are quite scarce on today’s collector market.
Interestingly enough, it was found that by the 1960s, stocks of the older wooden-gripped 1917 bayonets had virtually disappeared from government stores, so contracts were let out with General Cutlery in Fremont, Ohio, and Canadian Arsenal Ltd. in Long Branch, Canada. These “updated” 1917s have checkered plastic handles, plastic scabbards and are Parkerized. As well, the blades were about a half-inch shorter than the originals. Vietnam 1917 bayonets are much scarcer than those of World War I-
vintage and, correspondingly, bring higher prices.
According to the Thirty-Seventh Edition Blue Book of Gun Values, a World War II Ithaca Model 37 trench gun in 98-percent condition will bring $20,000! Even a military riot gun in similar shape runs in the $6,000 range. Vietnam ’37s, while also scarce, are listed at $8,500. That’s still not inexpensive, and I must admit that I can’t tell you when I last saw one offered for sale. At these prices, it is easy to understand why any proud owner would have to be somewhat circumspect about firing his original.
As noted earlier, this situation has been alleviated by Inland Manufacturing, who is now offering a Model 37 Trench Shotgun exclusively manufactured for them by Ithaca. Featuring the inimitable ’37 action, the Inland product is a superb re-creation of the period piece, with only a couple of minor variances from the real article.
As the Inland M37 Trench Shotgun is made by Ithaca, the action is the real thing. The gun retains the identical button safety at the rear of the triggerguard and slide release on the front. It loads and ejects from the bottom of the receiver and has the same simple knurled-knob barrel removal system. Ithaca is still offering the Model 37 under its own brand name in a number of different 12-, 20- and 28-gauge incarnations — everything from Defense Gun models to several variations of sporting arms.
As per the period M37 trench gun, the Inland product is a 12 gauge, has a 20-inch barrel, plain oil-finished walnut stock, plastic buttplate, four-plus-one capacity, Model 1917 bayonet adapter, ventilated heat shield and sling swivels. The cylinder-bored barrel is 20 inches long and the gun’s overall length is a quarter under 40 inches. It weighs in at around 6¾ pounds. Finish is Parkerized, which would be the Vietnam-era standard, though the receiver is inappropriately marked with the World War II Ordnance bomb and “R.L.B.” stamping, which would have been seen on the blued version. Unlike the originals, which were chambered for 2¾-inch shells, the Inland 37 will accept 3-inchers.
There is no question that a trench gun looks like it means business. It does! Inland’s handsome re-creation carries on the tradition in spades. The fit and finish of the piece is superlative and a solid tribute to the original. In fact, it’s a gun that I would be proud to have in my own martial arms collection, new-made or not!
I’ve fired a number of Ithaca ’37 sporters in the past, and even an original World War II Trench Gun. I can attest that the new Inland M37 is the equal of them all. There are few mysteries that issue from firing a cylinder-bore shotgun with a 20-inch barrel. Depending upon the shot size, type of shell and ranges, results are generally going to be pretty predictable, as was the case with this gun.
Using Hornady 2¾-inch 00 buck Critical Defense shotshells at 10 yards, the spread was 11/4 inches; at 15, it ran 4 inches, and at 20 yards it came in at 53/4 inches. While the military generally opted for 00, many shooters prefer 000 or even No. 4 birdshot, which I am sure the Inland Trench Shotgun would also handle with aplomb. Being something of a purist, the 00 suits me just fine. Due to the plain buttplate, the gun does smack the shoulder a bit, but it’s nothing the average shooter can’t handle.
The action was smooth and easy to operate, with rounds being chambered, fired and shucked as fast as I could work the action. The gun does have a disconnect, so one cannot slamfire the Inland as one could the original World War II and Vietnam versions.
For those of you, like myself, who think there are few angrier-looking guns than a trench gun with fitted bayonet, be assured that the barrel adaptor on the Inland will accept either a World War I, World War II or Vietnam-era U.S. Model 1917 bayonet with no problem.
There are a number of short-barreled defense shotguns on the market, but to my knowledge, the Inland M37 is the only one in trench gun configuration. This means that those of us who want an example of such an arm in their collection can do so for a reasonable price. Actually, the Inland M37 serves a two-fold purpose: It’s a nostalgic military-style shotgun that can plug up a hard-to-fill gap in a military collection, but one which can also be used as a practical defense arm.