For the shooter who instinctively keeps his eye on the bird, the AYA Premium 20-bore. A delightful new side-by-side which oozes tradition and performs flawlessly according to Lewis Potter
I started reviewing shotguns for Shooting Times in 2006, but now I feel the time has come to hand over to another, younger enthusiast. The years seem to have flown by and have been interesting to say the least. Shotguns tested included anything from a Purdey to a 9mm economy “ratting” gun, high-tech semi-autos to new hammerguns and even muzzle-loaders. My policy was to judge each on its own merits within the price range it was marketed. During that time, I have worked for four Editors and quite early on we evolved a system of testing and review that I believe is more practical and comprehensive than those that appear in most other UK publications.
For my last review, I confess to having indulged myself just a little with the deliberate choice of a side-by-side, “in the English tradition”. Older readers will remember the latter comment as the slogan of ASI, importer of AYA shotguns. Why a side-by-side, you may ask, in a world dominated by the over-and-under? Well, partly because I have a fondness for them and, contrary to popular belief, for anyone who shoots game in that practised but instinctive manner, with their eyes firmly on the bird, using a side-by-side is not a disadvantage.
Glossy and bold
First impressions of this AYA Premium, a brand-new model, are of glossy barrels, darkly veined walnut and a riot of bold decoration around the action. A sidelock in the classic style, the Premium almost oozes tradition. At a shade over 6½lb, it is the right kind of weight for a 20-bore, light enough to have an advantage over a bigger-bore gun when carried but with enough “feel” to mount and swing in a positive manner. This is aided by exceptionally good balance and the 30in barrels: as an old-timer once said to me, “the longer the barrels the closer you are to the bird, my boy”. Something of an over-simplication but long barrels do aid pointability.
With a 15in length of pull from the front trigger, a slim comb and a slightly concave face to the stock, this gun fitted me very well, though my own guns do have a little more cast-off to compensate for a slightly dominant left eye. As for the diamond shape through the hand of the stock, that is a feature I feel is as practical as it is distinctive.
Decoration and finish
The foliate form of decoration on this 20-bore is really eye-catching, with full coverage on the lockplates, action body, top-lever and all the gun furniture. In addition, there is the traditional gold line as a cocking indicator on the tumbler (or hammer) pivot and visible gold lettering for the safety button position as well as the serial number inlaid in the trigger-guard tail (or tang). The chequering is executed in a London-style pattern, and a silver oval fitted into the stock is always a nice feature. Wood-to-metal fit is very good and the panels around the lockplates with carved drop (or bottle) points well proportioned and neatly shaped.
As for the oil finishing of the stock and fore-end, this has been carried out to a high standard, with the grain of the wood well filled but not overdone.
The barrels are beautifully blacked and a bit shinier perhaps than they used to be on AYAs, but without the heavily lacquered appearance associated with some continental guns. Parts such as the barrel flats and lumps are finely struck up and hand polished, as are the mating parts on the action bar and standing breech. The discs for the strikers being finished in black was a natty idea, contrasting well with the polished surround.
The hand-detachable locks of this side lock AYA are of the sought-after pinless variety. There are still screw pins holding the lock work together, but they are not visible as small polished and slightly domed protrusions on the outside of the lockplate. The lock work itself follows what is probably the most popular form of sidelock, a bar lock with forward mounted “vee” main spring.
At the rear of the lock work is an intercepting safety sear, a desirable feature. The safety sear lifts before the main sear under normal use but blocks the fall of the tumbler in the event of the main sear unintentionally slipping out of engagement. Such an occurrence is most rare and often only if a lock has been tampered with, but intercepting sears are a very elegant “belt and braces” job.
The fore-end houses the ejector mechanism, also powered by vee springs, following the well-established Southgate system, which is a model of simplicity and reliability.
The chokes on this gun measured right barrel quarter and left barrel half, though a customer can specify what chokes they prefer. Cartridges used included Eley VIP Game and VIP Bismuth, Gamebore Pure Gold 20, Hull Pro Twenty, Lyalvale Express Special Twenty and SIPE RC20.
The gun proved to be as paintable as expected and the careful shaping of the stock meant it was comfortable under recoil, which is a great con dence boost to good shooting. Mechanically everything performed just as it should with the safety snicking off and on in a precise manner, crisp trigger-pulls and well-timed ejectors.
Usually, for pattern testing, aim is rather deliberate but in this case the gun fitted me sufficiently well that I just brought it up on target and fired instinctively, as one would when checking for gunfit. The results were not too bad with the bismuth shot but much improved when “fed a lead diet”.
Interestingly, the Eley VIP Game with lead shot quite suited this gun. Patterns threw very slightly to the left, indicating that for me just a tiny bit more cast on the stock would be beneficial, but that is always an extra the customer can specify.
PATTERN SHEET 1
Shot at 30 yards, quarter-choke, cartridge Lyalvale Express Special Twenty, 25g No.6 shot, fibre wad and biodegradable obturator. A light recoiling cartridge producing a tight quarter-choke, fairly even pattern in the centre with some scattered pellets.
PATTERN SHEET 2
Shot at 30 yards, half-choke, cartridge Eley VIP Game, 28g No.5 shot, fibre wad. A tight pattern showing good potential for longer-range shooting. Pattern placed slightly to the left due to user’s eyesight. Conditions: bright and frosty.
While I have always appreciated the virtues of a 20-bore, I have never been the greatest fan of this gauge, tending to stick with a 12-bore or even bigger, yet this AYA has given me cause to think. As the years have rolled by, my old guns seem to have grown heavier and this well-balanced medium lightweight was a delight to wander around the woods with after the formal test was over. It handled very well, performed faultlessly and is a handsome piece of work.
ASI, the importer, tells me there are many options that can be included at extra cost, so what would I go for? Well, colour-case-hardening I like, and blacked furniture, and for driven game most choke in the right barrel. Then again, if the hammers were on the outside… Perhaps that is too much to ask for.
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