Having a hand in the specification of a pair of deluxe side-by-sides makes the job of testing even more of a pleasure, and Michael Yardley is excited to see exactly what the guns can do
Having a pair of side-by-sides to test is a luxury and Michael Yardley, after having a hand in the specification of the guns, takes even more pleasure when he takes them out to put them through their paces.
AYA DE LUXE NO 2 SIDE-BY- SIDE
This month’s test concerns a new pair of AyA No 2 12-bore de Luxe sidelock side-by-sides specifically built for grouse shooting, proofed and choked for steel shot. Weighing in at just over 7lb, an ideal weight for a modern 30in game gun – or, indeed, a vintage one – they were ordered from AyA by ASI of Snape, the British importer that also brings in Rizzini from Italy. I must declare an interest before continuing: I helped specify these guns for a friend, but this afforded me the opportunity not only to consider them in much detail, but to handle and shoot them more than I normally would when testing.
First impressions are of an attractive, classically styled and well-stocked pair of guns. The scroll engraving (which is laser cut but hand finished) looks good. While you can tell the difference under scrutiny, I wouldn’t bother, however, paying more for handwork on guns intended for the field (although nothing beats hand-cut Holland or Purdey scroll). Laser engraving techniques have much advanced and suit medium scroll, as seen here, especially well. The stocks of the test guns are well proportioned, longer than the average at 15 3/4in and slightly deeper in the butt sole (at 5 3/8in) too as requested. They are nicely figured Turkish walnut and well finished in oil with hand-cut chequering. I liked the proportions of the grips and the combs. The grip is slim without being too slim. It was also specified that the combs be made a little fuller than the AyA norm.
The guns dry-mount well and feel secure at the shoulder and well anchored. They also have a bit more cast than is typical. This opens an interesting issue. The man for whom they were made – a right-hander shooting off the right shoulder – has a left eye that cuts in a bit more than it should sometimes (as many of us have). The remedy for this would normally be extra cast, but he also wanted guns that handled without feeling too odd or crooked on the moor. He had shot near-standard measurements for a long time.
So, after considerable thought and a little experiment, a compromise was reached. On clay birds, I had noted he didn’t seem too badly affected by eye dominance issues when he focused hard (indeed, he shot well). On the pattern plates, however, the potential problem became more evident. My final advice was to go with extra cast, but not as much as some old-school gunfitters (who loved specifying bent stocks) might have liked.
Breaking with our precedent to leave shooting impressions until the end, I will also note here en courant that it was really gratifying that when he did shoot with these guns for the first time, he was connecting with 90% or more of what was presented. I don’t think he would have done better with more cast – probably worse – and the guns were mounting beautifully. Generally, I always avoid extremes of cast in over-and-unders, but these guns have made me reconsider cast on side-by-sides too. Watching someone shoot should be the final arbiter, not just the pattern plate.
Back to the main plot. A feature of these guns, and another aspect of them where much thought went in, was the barrel specification. They are chopper lump and fleur-de-lys steel shot proofed at tight 1/4 (15 thou or 3/8) in both barrels for lead or steel. Steel shot does not suit tight constriction, but this choking is most efficient with lead too. Having the same choke also avoids the ‘ballistic thrombosis’ of worrying about constriction (in the old days, meantime, grouse guns were sometimes choked a little tighter in the right barrel preparing for what was expected to be a rangier first shot).
What else to say? Well, these are No 2 guns, albeit deluxe ones. AyA does still make its mechanically similar No 1, which is considerably more expensive, benefiting from better wood and engraving, and a finer finish. But, for me, the No 2 de Luxe meets a very acceptable standard for practical use.
AyA has long used the pattern of the Holland Royal as the inspiration for its sidelocks. Continental manufacturers making side-by-sides tend to copy the Holland rather than the Purdey design because it is more straightforward to make and, critically, simpler to regulate with its Southgate over-centre cam ejector work. AyA has had huge success with its sidelocks. With actions made from forgings, they have proven themselves extremely reliable. The test guns have the usual AyA features, including disc-set strikers, replaceable hinge pins and chopper-lump barrels – in this case proofed for steel shot and choked at 15 thou constriction right and left. Steel shot does not need any more constriction to pattern well. It is a mistake to over-choke it. I also tend to use a pellet one size bigger now rather than two. These guns have a longer forcing cone better suited to steel shot, but will happily digest conventional lead loads as well.
Being involved with the specification, I was excited to actually try the AyAs. Aesthetically, it would be hard to better them at the price. Dry handling was good. Balance was on the hinge pins even with the 30in barrels, and the weight was ideal. The first bird was centred, and, happily, so were the next half-dozen, swapping the guns every few shots. On tougher stuff, the AyAs continued to perform well. The 3/8 chokes in both barrels (near ideal for steel) produced good kills with lead too. Even on the 120ft tower, the guns continued to do the business. The combs, a little fuller than the AyA norm, were fine. The extra cast suited. Ejection was excellent. For the price – which is not insignificant – these offer a lot. They are a 10th of the cost of the English equivalent, but would still stand happily in more exalted company.
AYA DE LUXE NO 2 SIDE-BY- SIDE
♦ RRP: £12,900
♦ ASI Ltd, Alliance House, Snape, Saxmundham, Suffolk, IP17 1SW
♦ 01728 688555