Guns to Love: Shideler Reveals His Top Picks

Ithaca's M37
Ithaca’s 28-ga. M37. This one’s a Grade AA.

Ithaca 28-Gauge Model 37 Pump Shotgun
Lord Tennyson wrote, “In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love” Well, it’s spring, and although I can’t rightly be termed a young man anymore, I’m in love with Ithaca’s new 28-gauge Model 37 pump shotgun.

My first shotgun, nearly 35 years ago, was a new Ithaca 20-ga. Deluxe Featherweight, and it pained me when Ithaca fell on tough times a few years ago. Now, however, Ithaca is back in competent hands in their new headquarters in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, and although the company’s production is limited to around 3500 guns per year, the guns it does produce are gems.

The new 28-ga. M37 is available in three grades, A to AAA, with prices starting around a cool grand. I handled an AAA Grade at the 2009 SHOT Show and, brother, that was it for me.

Ithaca’s new 28-ga. is available on special order only, and I fully intend to order one as soon as I’ve bailed out the banks, the Big Three, Moe’s Pizza, and apparently everybody else.

It’s a shame that many younger shooters are unaware of the Ithaca Model 37. Based on the sainted John Browning’s patents for a bottom-ejecting shotgun, the M37 always struck me as the quintessential upland pump.

It is so refined, so exquisitely styled, so just plain pretty, that even today I have a hard time passing one up on the used-gun rack. What really hurt the M37, in my opinion, was the fact that it wasn‚Äôt offered with a 3″ chamber until it was rechristened the Model 87 some 20 years ago, and by that time the brand’s prestige had already dimmed.

In 2005, however, Dave Dlubak acquired the company, and he’s really turned it around. I’ve spoken to Dave and to Ithaca’s management team, and I’m glad to report that they are True Believers in the grand old name of Ithaca.

But even bigger news may be in the offing for Ithaca. They’ve got an all-new, 100% American-made 12-ga. over/under prototyped, and I hope like hell it makes it all the way to production. Until then, the 28-ga. M37 will do quite nicely for me.
Ithaca’s back, folks. (See www.ithacagun.com.)

NAA’s The Earl

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The Earl by North American Arms.

Then there’s The Earl by North American Arms. For those of you who came in late, NAA is the pre-eminent manufacturer of .22 mini-revolvers (and they field a pretty good team of centerfire pocket pistols, too).

The Earl is the latest of NAA’s mini-guns, and it’s a pip: a five-shot .22 Magnum that looks for all the world like an 1858-pattern Remington percussion revolver.

It’s made entirely of stainless steel (except the grips, of course) and even includes a faux loading lever that serves as a cylinder pin release. It even has a 4″ octagonal barrel with a barleycorn front sight.

Initially available in only .22 Magnum rimfire, a .22 Mag/.22LR conversion cylinder is expected to be offered soon, perhaps by the time you read this. At a suggested retail of $289 for the .22 Mag version, I’d have an awfully tough time passing up The Earl.

Some shooters condemn all .22 mini-guns as “mouse guns” or worse, but I beg to differ. A .22 in my shirt pocket sure beats a .45 left at home. Besides, The Earl really isn’t meant as a self defense gun; NAA’s affable president Sandy Chisholm says “it might become your favorite plinker.”
I can see that. (See naaminis.com.)

Charter Arms .357 Bulldog
I’m happy to report that it seems that Charter Arms has really gotten its act together. A few months ago I had the chance to spend some time with their .357 Target Bulldog Stainless and was impressed.

NAA's The Earl
This Charter Arms .357 Target Bulldog did pretty well at 25 yards offhand.

While its double-action trigger pull was a bit stagy until a few hours of shooting smoothed it out, its single-action pull was one of the nicest I’ve ever seen. Its 4″ barrel and neoprene grips made it quite comfortable to shoot even with fast-steppin’ 125-grainers, and it shot right on the money.

With a suggested retail of $449 and a street price substantially less, the five-shot .357 Target Bulldog strikes me as a good buy for the woods bum who wants something small but substantial on his belt. It should serve well as a home defense revolver, too. Those who remember the quality of Charter Arms first Bulldogs back in the mid-70s will find a lot to like in the .357 Target Bulldog.
Welcome home, Charter Arms! (See www.charterfirearms.com.)

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