The sound basics and attractive aesthetics on this little AyA impressed Michael Yardley, who found it to be pointable and good value
Michael Yardley is impressed by the AyA Premium 20-bore. It’s pointable, not too light, aesthetically pleasing – and good value for money.
For more on 20-bores, read Michael Yardley’s review of the hotly anticipated Browning B15 20-bore D grade.
AYA PREMIUM 20-BORE
This month’s test gun is an AyA Premium sidelock 20-bore, imported into the UK by ASI of Snape in Suffolk. The model sits between an AyA No 2 and a No 1 and comes in with an RRP of just over £10,000 – not a king’s ransom by modern standards.
First impressions are good. The proportions are pleasing (as is often the case with 20-bore sidelocks) and the finish and style of decoration are attractive. The straight-hand grip stock and bright polished, scroll-engraved action come close to my ideal (although I remain fond of traditional bonemeal colour hardening, which may be struck off to show-case engraving).
The action here is “pinless”. In other words, it has the mechanics of a traditional sidelock but the heads of the “pins” – the screws that attach the bridle, etc, to the lock plates – are not externally visible (only the gold-lined cocking indicators). This is a refinement sometimes seen in deluxe guns intended to create a better canvas for action engraving. To see it in a mid-market sidelock gun is less common.
Bringing the 30in-barrelled, 6½lb gun to shoulder only confirms initial positives. The balance in the hands is good – the action type gives it a little more weight in the middle, which usually benefits a gun. I favour 30in barrels on 20-bores whether they are side-by-side or over-and-under. It makes them a little more controllable without significant loss of handling speed. AyA side-by-sides are available with barrels from 25in to 32in. In a 20-bore like this, however, my advice would be to stick to 28in or 30in.
The barrels of the Premium 20, like those on all AyA side-by-sides, are chopper lump. This has always been the favoured construction method for double guns (called chopper because the barrel and lump in its rough, un-machined form looks like a chopper) and is, arguably, the strongest method of construction. They have fixed chokes – quarter and half (although others may be ordered) – and bear Spanish 1350 BAR marks for 2¾in (70mm) shells and steel shot; 3in chambers are an option.
Generally, the barrels and Southgate system ejectors are well presented. Striking up externally was good, blacking was competent. The rib is of traditional, concave, game pattern. This is efficient and unobtrusive. That said, a narrow flat, file-cut “pigeon” rib also well suits a 30in 20-bore (or, indeed, a 12 provided the pattern does not add too much weight). Although one’s eyes should always be locked on the bird, I find the flat ribs offer a little more precision and control in some circumstances than the classic concave (I am not fond of the fully sunken rib).
The test gun’s straight-hand stock is of Holland diamond pattern grip paired with an equally traditional splinter. Both are made from Turkish walnut (the butt is particularly well figured) and the oil finish and chequering are well done. The fore-end has an Anson-style fastener as one usually sees on AyAs. Length of pull was 15in – ideal for a standard “shelf” measurement. Drop dimensions might, however, have been subtly but usefully improved.
As seen on the Premium 20-bore tested, the measurements were 1⅜in forwards and 2¼in to the rear. This created too steep a comb and there was a tendency for the gun to slip down. With full cheek pressure, moreover, it was possible to lose the bead when the gun was pointed above the horizontal. My prescription, often given, would be to lower the comb ⅛in at the front (to the classic English shelf measurement of 1½in) and raise the heel to 2⅛in or 2in. This would create the classic 1½in and 2in. Of course, there will be individual variation but this fit will suit many. My experience is that most foreign sporting guns – regardless of make – have combs that are a little too low.
The action of this AYA’s, like most of the firm’s production, is, in essence, a copy of a Holland & Holland sidelock. Like a Holland (and the majority of side-by-sides), the gun locks up, however, on the Purdey principle with double lumps and a bolt engaging twin bites. The gun, following the Holland Royal pattern, has a conventional bar action with the springs pointing forward and a recess either side of the action bar to accommodate them (back action guns are also seen, not least those by H&H with springs to the rear). The locks themselves, powered by wire-cut V-springs, are well constructed and incorporate intercepting safety sears (required in a sidelock but not necessarily in a boxlock). The intercepting sears are powered by their own small leaf spring. There are disc set strikers, an articulated front trigger, cocking indicators and quick detachable locks (another Holland innovation, patented in 1908).
This little AyA was pointable, not too light and did not recoil excessively. The basic form was sound and the aesthetics with the pinless locks and attractive Holland-esque deep scroll were all on the money. The gunmaking and finish impressed. I like the diamond-section grip and shapes of the stock. As noted, the stock dimensions were not ideal for me in respect of drop – aggravated by an otherwise attractive and efficient but thinnish comb – but that’s insignificant as it’s a bespoke gun. The weight and barrel length were perfect for a modern 20-bore. If in doubt on a 20, 30in barrels are the way to go. These high-end Spanish guns are not just copies of our classic production, in some ways they may be superior to older guns in respect of specification and durability although they may not be quite as exquisitely finished. This model offers good value, too (the modern English equivalent might cost 10 times more).
It would be my call on the current range of AyA sidelocks.
AYA PREMIUM 20-BORE
♦ RRP: just over £10,000
♦ ASI, Alliance House, Snape, Saxmundham, Suffolk IP17 1SW.
♦ 01728 688555