Ithaca's new Phoenix: the Return of the Knick Shotgun
It's all "thumb's-up" and a-okay after a test drive of a pair of Ithaca Phoenix shotguns in the rainy desert.
Ithaca Gun Company's roots go back to 1883, when Ithaca shotgun production started. Ithaca introduced their single barrel trap gun in 1914, the Flues Model Single Barrel Trap. In 1922, it was replaced by a new model designed by Frank Knickerbocker, affectionately known as the Knick. As documented by noted firearms historians Ned Schwing and Walter Snyder, the Knick was the gun of choice for many champion shooters for many years, winning the Grand several times. The Knick was in continuous production until 1988, with the Grade 7, the $1000 grade of 1936, the $2000 grade of 1952, the $3000 grade of 1965, and the $5000 grade model of 1974 some of the most impressive trap guns ever produced. Today, a used $5000 grade SBT model regularly fetches $10,000 and up-- the price more than doubling for a new in the box SBT if you can find one.
A look at a vintage, used, Ithaca "$5000 Grade" Knick.
From the championship ashes of the Knick rises the new Ithaca Phoenix O/U, scheduled for release third or fourth quarter of 2010. The base retail price is going to run $2500 or so and this is the first new all-American mass-produced O/U shotgun released in over 30 years, since the Ruger Red Label made its debut. It takes a long time to introduce a new vertical double; the folks at Ithaca have been torture-testing their prototypes for some time now to try to get them to break. At this year's Shot Show in Las Vegas, I had the chance to shoot a pair of them.
As I joked with the folks at Ithaca, it goes bang, breaks clay pigeons, and even ejects spent hulls. Final stock checkering and other details are yet to be finalized, but it sounds like the initial offerings will be in the very similar platforms of skeet and sporting clays, with trap and field versions to follow.
According to Ithaca, the contouring on top of the Phoenix receiver and mono-block has indeed been taken from the classic single shot Knickerbocker. The Phoenix also gets its top bolt from the Knick.
At the muzzle the barrels are free floating with a dovetail joint. At the breech end, the barrels are fastened to the mono-block without the use of soldering or brazing. Each barrel is threaded at the end and drawn tight to the mono-block by recessed sleeve nuts. This method eliminates any potential distortion to the barrels and provides 100% reliability to the joint. No heat is applied to the Phoenix barrel set; this Ithaca "solderless" technology is why they are able to show that their barrels are the straightest shotgun barrels possible with no warping during manufacture and no restraightening after brazing.
On top of the Phoenix's upper barrel is a removable vent rib allowing a shooter to use an optional raised rib when desired. A positive stop built into the barrel at the muzzle end removes any possibility of shedding the rib.
The box lock has a rack of three massive lugs at the bottom of the mono block that precisely lock up with three mating grooves in the Phoenix's receiver. For maximum strength and durability the combined area of the mating surfaces of these lugs exceed that of the typical hook shaped lug found in conventional box lock double barrel actions.
The Phoenix has a manual safety that incorporates a pendulum type barrel selector. The inertia triggers are factory set to 3.5 - 4 lbs. With a 30" barrel set, the Phoenix weighs approximately 8.5 lbs. This combination along with barrel forcing cones of 1.5 degrees are designed to give the Phoenix low recoil and keeps the barrels on target for an instant second shot. The trigger assembly on the Phoenix drops out quickly with the removal of just two screws.
The Ithacas I shot were soft shooters, swung smoothly and steadily, and had excellent triggers. It is apparent that the Phoenix is designed to be an O/U that can take high-volume shooting with no hiccups. My understanding is that the Knicks of days gone by all required a goodly amount of hand fitting. The metal-working experts at Ithaca have high-precision equipment along with tool and die making expertise, all that is being brought to bear on this new model that promises to be the most precisely, uniformly made O/U shotgun ever made in the United States.
One of the original Phoenix prototypes from over an year ago at the SHOT Show in Orlando, still in the testing phase at that time.
The folks at Ithaca have made it clear what direction they are going in-- all-American steel and craftsmanship with no compromises for the sake of expediency or just to get a new model out. Their new models are going to meet Ithaca standards, period, or they won't be released. Those who long for the return of America's best quality firearms have already found it in the current Ithaca Model 37 production (with the 16 gauge coming out by June, 2010 to fill out the line) and they can expect more of the same with the Phoenix and the Ithaca M1911 .45 that are both appearing by the end of this year.
It should be an exciting year for Ithaca fans. You can expect full-blown reviews of these new Ithacas as soon as they become available.
Copyright 2010 by Randy Wakeman. All Rights Reserved.