This month, courtesy of the Oxford Gun Company, we examine a pair of AyA De Luxe No 1 assisted-opening 20-bores, finished in England with engraving by Geoff Moore and colour hardening (struck off on actions and fore-end irons) by Ray St Ledger. They sit right at the top of the AyA range as imported by ASI of Snape and cost a not insignificant £44,000, including the chancellor’s 20% cut. They are not cheap. Are they good? One is laying out a sum that might buy a pair of second-hand English guns in good condition. We must set the bar quite high in consequence.
First impressions are positive. Geoff Moore’s deep-scroll engraving is pleasing. Barrels are best English blacked. You would be forgiven for thinking at first glance that these AyAs really were English guns of recent manufacture (partly because of the decoration and partly the trendy and useful specification, which includes 29in barrels).
The form of the guns is classical with straight-hand stocks of good proportion and splinter fore-ends. They weigh about 61⁄4lb and have pretty standard modern “shelf” stock dimensions with a length of pull of 15in. There is the usual 1⁄8in extra at heel and 3⁄8in at toe. Fine. Drop is an ASI/AyA standard measurement of 11⁄2in and 21⁄8in with about 1⁄8in of cast-off at heel. Stocks may be bespoke at no extra cost in most cases with AyA sidelocks and De Luxe guns provided measurements are not extreme. A supplement must be paid for such things as full cross-over and central vision stocks as one might expect.
The proportions of the Holland & Holland-type actions are harmonious. The ball fences are elegant with a subtle sculpturing to their bases. The actions are square bar but have rounded bellies with wing-like side protrusions (viewed from the base) as seen in many English guns. These are, in fact, no more than the bottom edges of the action bar subtly filed up. There is a beaded edge to the trigger guard. The hand-detachable locks are a practical and useful feature. The back of the lock plates show colour and the engraved and colour-hardened bridles are a nice if usually invisible touch. The gold-lined cocking indicators on the front of the lock plates are a quality detail, too. There are gold “1s” and “2s” on the top lever, rear of rib and tip of fore-end irons, a necessity in a pair to prevent mixing up the bits.
The special AyAs come to shoulder well, with a good balance a whisker forward of the hinge pins. The grips, combs and fore-ends are well sized and shaped, the grips being oval cross-section rather than diamond. The walnut is of reasonable quality but not spectacular (it may be chosen by the customer). The oil finish is competent and the chequering, which is cut at 24 lines to the inch (on the No 2 model it is a little coarser).
Functionally, these longer-barrelled 20-bores feel good. They have normal concave ribs, which are perfectly adequate. One detail that does not especially impress is the triggers. The front blades are articulated, but some file marks are notable above and the blades would benefit from more filing up. To my eye, they appear a little thick and would look better polished than blacked. These are small matters but details that might significantly enhance the overall aesthetic effect of what are otherwise exceptionally attractive guns.
The actions are of Holland pattern with Holland-type plunger and spring-assisted opening mechanisms. The locks have seven pins. There are disc-set strikers as one sees on most AyAs but not usually on Hollands. The guns have intercepting safety sears and, unlike Arrietas, which use a tiny coil spring, these are activated traditionally by small leaf springs. The ejector mechanism is of classic Southgate pattern as on almost every side-by-side gun out of the Basque region.
AyA is trying to bring more and more work in-house – the Spanish gun trade is under considerable pressure at present, as are many manufacturers in Italy. Towards this end, its guns now have wire-cut (spark-eroded) mainsprings, which most of the London makers have now adopted and may be deemed an improvement, too.
Barrels are chopper lump, as ever, and well presented, with chokes fixed at quarter and half – sensible constrictions. These AyAs are proofed at 1350 BAR and are steel-shot compatible (though I would not throw steel shot down the barrels of any traditional side-by-side myself).
The guns cannot easily be faulted functionally. They are particularly well finished, look good and the handling is quick but precise, with good pulls. They are not too light.
I have to say that I think a lot of Spanish and upmarket Italian guns are becoming expensive. But I note also that ASI is trying to go the extra mile with customer service. Apart from the genuine English finish on these guns, it can offer interesting services such as matching an existing gun (English or AyA) to create a pair (or a spare) that might be better suited than the family heirloom to high-performance modern loads. Standard No 1s begin at about £11,000 and No 2s (my call) at just over £5,000. Guns are available in all bores from .410 to 12, and with barrels from 25in to 30in.
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More gun reviews in The Field