By Mike Yardley of The Field
Monday, 18 February 2008
AyA shotguns are known to British sportsmen for their looks, reliability and competitive pricing. The No.1 sidelock side-by-side ticks all these boxes and more.
This month's test gun is an AyA No.1 sidelock. It has a classic specification: 28in barrels, double triggers, concave rib, colour hardened, tight rose-and-scroll engraved action, and weighs just over 6.1/2lb.
First impressions are of a good-quality, well-finished, game-gun of traditional form. Indeed, one has to look quite hard initially to confirm that it is Spanish.
Bringing the gun up to face and shoulder dispels none of the positive first impressions. It points naturally and feels well balanced with a centre of gravity a fraction forward of the hinge-pin.
AyA guns are, of course, well known to British game-shots.
Available in side-by-side sidelock form, in a variety of grades and bore sizes from 12-bore down to .410, they are known and liked for their looks, reliability and competitive pricing. The No.2 model - recently offered in sleek round-bodied form - is one of the most popular game-guns in the country and costs something in the region of £3,500.
The more upmarket No.1 is a bit over £7,000 these days, but it is still about a sixth the price of a best English or Scottish side-by-side.
Even the English-finished 'de Luxe' model, my favourite AyA, with the new round body No.2 coming a close second - is a relatively modest £13,750. It has an elegant, coin-finished action and deep scroll engraving by Geoff Moore.
The test No.1's action is an assisted-opening, square-bar sidelock with hand-detach-able locks.
Like other AyA sidelocks, and most sidelocks made in Spain, it's essentially a copy of the Holland & Holland design. Most gunsmiths I know prefer the Holland action because of its relative simplicity and well-proven reliability.
The well struck-up and blacked barrels of the test No.1 are chopper lump and made from chrome nickel steel. They have fixed chokes (quarter and half) and slightly longer forcing cones than earlier AyAs, (a positive development better suited to the ballistics of modern cartridges).
The gun is 2.3/4in (70mm) chambered and bears Spanish proof marks. It was made in 2006; since last year, however, all AyAs have been steel-shot proofed and bear the distinctive fleur-de-lis marks.
Bores are marked at 18.5mm which is AyA's standard (but a little tighter than my preference) and equivalent to the old English norm of .729in. A concave rib has been fitted - and is well laid - but any other pattern is available to order: Churchill, flat file-cut Pigeon or sunken Purdey.
The traditional straight hand stock on the No.1 is made from exceptionally figured walnut and is well proportioned, too. You would be very demanding if you wanted better wood, but Edward King of ASI comments that many ASI clients choose to upgrade the wood on their guns: "This costs £1,200 but the wood we use is of real exhibition quality and comes from the same suppliers that cater to the London Trade."
The test No.1 had shelf dimensions. It was a gun built for stock (bespoke measurements cost £488). The length of pull was 15in from the middle of the trigger to the middle of the butt sole with 1/8in more to heel and 3/8in to toe - all very sensible.
Drop was 1.1/2in at comb (measured at the front of the comb from the axis of the rib) and 2.1/8in at heel. There was 1/8in cast-off at heel for a right-hander. Any stock dimensions or grip type may be ordered, but the straight grip on this gun was especially well done and nicely blended into the comb without ugly flutes as one often sees on Continental guns.
The chequering was neatly cut by hand in the time-proven manner, and the oil finish was extremely good. I liked the form of the splinter fore-end, too.
AyA and ASI still offer cross-over and semi-cross-over stocks, beaver-tail fore-ends and all sorts of other options (such as single triggers). They note, however, that: "We don't do so many [crossover and semi-crossover stocks] any more."
The fashion for them seems to have passed. Most cross-dominant or central-vision shots today seem to prefer to close an eye.
The test gun shot well but it did not sing to me. It was a good gun, and predictable in use - and would, no doubt, give years of sterling service - but it lacked the handling finesse of the Holland Royal upon which it's based (though, of course, it is much less expensive).
Felt recoil was a little higher than average; trigger pulls were good.
Mechanically, the No 1 was impeccable.
Everything functioned as it should - I liked the button-style auto safety - and the kills on artificial birds were impressive with the fixed chokes.
I don't wish to damn the No.1 with faint praise. It is a very good gun for the money. It is soundly made, elegant and well presented.
If I bought one, I think I would opt for a 20-bore with a file-cut rib, and I might pay the extra for the English-finished de Luxe model which is an outstanding gun by any standard - the aesthetic equal of guns costing many times more.
In the words of Dale Boast, who has worked on these guns at ASI for 26 years: "Compared to an English gun, you have 90% of the finish for a fraction of the price. Many people are retiring vintage English guns in favour of a new No.1 or a pair - they really are a credible alternative."
A 10% surcharge is payable for pairs - twinned from conception with much more than just consecutive numbers.
One may even order a 10-bore No.1! One already exists in the white and Edward King is itching to finish it with a Prince of Wales stock and traditional colour case-hardened action.
The strength of these excellent Anglo-Spanish guns is that so many options are available at prices mere mortals can afford.
The action, like the barrel, is made from chrome nickel steel. It is a Holland & Holland-inspired, nine-pin (including the tumbler boss and mainspring peg) sidelock, with intercepting safety sears.
There are hand-detachable locks (a feature dispensed with in the round body No 1) and gold-line cocking indicators.
Removing a lock from the gun reveals no unpleasant surprises. On the contrary, inletting is expert and the lock mechanism well crafted. The inside face of the lock plate is engine turned and the bridle is engraved, with tumbler, bridle and both sears gold-washed to prevent corrosion.
As on most AyAs, the gun has disc-set strikers and the thumb piece of the automatic safety is of the Purdey button-style rather than the Holland ramp.
The hinge-pin is replaceable and there is a beaded edge to the trigger guard, and a hinged front trigger. The ejector mechanism is of the well-proven Southgate type which works on the over-centre principle and is the favourite of the British gun trade because of its simplicity, reliability and ease of regulation.
Are these guns as good as an English gun?
I have seen many English guns that are far worse than the average AyA No.1 or No.2.
But how does the AyA No.1 tested compare with a best London gun of modern manufacture?
The simple answer is, well. There is not quite the same effort put into finish, but how could there be at the price?
You will discover a mark or two if you look very hard in the recesses of the action body. Screws may not be
individually made. The action and barrels may not be quite as exquisitely made as the wonderful productions of Holland & Holland, Boss or Purdey, and there may be some subtleties missing from the form and finish of the stock.
But it will take an expert eye to spot the differences.
Contact ASI on 01728 688555.
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