AyA No.1 shotgun
Price: £3000 & upwards
Around 40 years ago the ‘affordable’ end of the English gun trade was in the doldrums, yet the traditional side-by-side upon which its fortunes had been founded still had a great following. Over-and-unders were considered right for top-level clay shooting, and little else. It was importers ASI of Snape, Suffolk, who took the bull by the horns (if you will excuse the awful pun), went to Spain, and came back with the AYA.
Looking back, it was an incredibly shrewd business move, the benefits of which are still being felt today. The Spanish had shown they could build an English gun, and British sportsmen soon took the AYA to their hearts. Its popularity, particularly among game shooters, has never waned.
There are AYA over-unders, but they have never caught on in the same way as have the side-by-sides. The No.1 sidelock, featured on this page, is their hand-made best, but there are also boxlock ejectors and non-ejectors in a wide range of prices.
Who makes it?
The Spanish gunmakers Aguirre y Aranzabal were established in 1917. They are based in the legendary home of the Spanish gun trade, Eibar, in Spain’s northern Basque country. The town is also the home of Spain’s proof house and as a member of the CIP – the international organisation of proof houses – its testing standards are acceptable in the UK. AYA guns enjoy a world-wide market, and are well-respected as traditional-style game guns in the USA as well as Britain.
How adaptable is it?
This is a pure game gun. If you want an AYA to shoot clays, then look elsewhere in the company’s extensive range. Apart from other considerations, the gun is too light for repeated strings of shots on the clay ground, but it has just the right weight and balance for driven and walked-up game.
How does it work?
As with all successful guns, the AYA sidelock action is comparatively simple, but very well designed and finished. The lock plates are hand-detachable, thanks to a screw with a finger-tightened tab on the left-hand plate. Hammers are powered by V mainsprings with the sears directly behind them and also driven by V-springs. The hammers, sears and springs are retained by engraved steel bridles. The bridles and hammers are also gold-plated, while the inner faces of the lock plates show the neat, small-circle marks of engine turning. The mechanism also features intercepting safe sears, so if the gun is dropped or jarred sufficiently to dislodge the sear, the hammer cannot fall on the firing pin and cause an accidental discharge.
Unlike most barrels built these days, those on the No.1 are built on the chopper-lump principle. In other words, instead of separate tubes being sleeved into a forging which forms the breech ends and lump (the monobloc principle), each complete tube and chamber, and half on the lump, is forged from a single piece of steel. The two halves are then soldered together, and finally the ribs are added to form the complete barrel set. This is the traditional way of building barrel sets for English ‘best’ guns, and was always considered the strongest option. With modern manufacturing methods this may no longer be so, but it gives an extremely smooth, uninterrupted line to the barrels, all the way from breech to muzzle, with no obvious join in components just ahead of the chambers.
Nowadays, with most No.1s being built to order, customers can have any barrel length, rib style, chamber length and choking they please, but most guns on the second-hand racks have 28-inch tubes with 2.3/4in (70mm) chambers and concave top ribs.
Unless ordered otherwise, woodwork is in the true English style with a straight-hand stock and splinter fore-end. This stock style makes sense on a double-trigger side by side, and the shooter can slide his hand slightly rearwards when pulling the back trigger.
However, a single-trigger version is available, so other stock styles are a possibility for those who prefer them.
Wood quality is superb, featuring finely-figured walnut, and elegantly-cut drop points behind the lock plates.
Obviously the buyer of a new gun dictates his own preferred stock dimensions, but typical is a length of 14.1/2 (one half) to 15in, with drops at comb and heel of 1.5/8in and 2.3/8in respectively. Chequering is in the English style and very well executed.
Weights will vary slightly with barrel length, but a typical No.1 weighs about 6.1/2lb.
What the tester thought
Sporting Gun tested a used version of the No.1 in August 2006. The gun scored 9 out of 10 in three categories – build quality, handling and styling. Value-for-money score was eight.
The gun was praised particularly for the quality of its woodwork, the general standard of finish, and the fact it is a serious alternative to an English gun.
The tester described it as: “A lovely gun to own – pretty, well-made, and elegant in the way it handles and shoots… AYA always have had an enviable reputation for reliability.”
There are many options to consider when ordering a No.1, and all affect the final price. However, expect to pay at least £6,700.
There are cheaper but equally well-made guns, both sidelocks and boxlocks, in the AYA range, including some very fine-looking round-action versions. Rival guns are made by Arrieta and Garbi.
UK importers are ASI, Snape, Suffolk, on 01728-688555.
The complete AYA range can be viewed at www.aya-fineguns.com.