Mike George looks at the AYA No.1, which would be at the top of his list should he ever want a side-by-side for his game shooting

When I edited the very first issue of Sporting Gun, back in 1977, I asked Fred Buller of Chubbs of Edgeware, then one of the country’s leading gunsmiths, to nominate the best new gun for a newcomer on a limited budget. Without hesitation, he recommended the AYA Yeoman.

In the era it was a tough but well-balanced, sweet-handling side-by-side boxlock – so well made that that many of the guns purchased new in the era must still be in regular use today.

These days, if I wanted a reasonably-priced side-by-side for my game shooting, I’d still be tempted to go for an AYA, but one of their elegant sidelocks – a No.1 if I could find an immaculate example on the secondhand racks. Or, if financial good fortune had smiled upon me, a new one built to my personal specifications.

AYA history

The story of the Basque gunmaker Augirre y Aranzabal, which is what the initials AYA stand for, and their association with the British gun market, goes back around 60 years, to that sad time as the 1950s progressed when the affordable end of English gunmaking was in its death throes.

It seemed that the business was slowly strangling itself, with a failure to invest in new machinery and the industry’s insistence on labour-intensive methods. Highly-skilled labour it might have been, but it certainly wasn’t economical, and it became clear that an alternative source of guns would have to be found.

Fortunately, the spirit of entrepreneurship was very much alive in some quarters and when brothers Peter and Andrew King took a holiday in Barcelona, they were impressed with the guns they saw in the shops. The craftsmanship was good, and the Spanish economy in the era – remember General Francisco Franco’s regime was in power and the European Union hadn’t even been thought of – ensured prices were extremely reasonable.

The King Brothers were so impressed with the guns they saw that they set up a company to import them into Britain and the much-respected firm of Anglo-Spanish Imports – better known simply as ASI – was born.

AYA No 1 wood

The wood on the No. 1 is high grade and the chequering is very sharp, making the AYA look every bit as good as a “London Best” gun

English ideal

The supplier they chose was AYA. It seems that this company was extremely willing to make guns as close as possible to the English ideal and soon a family of guns suited to the UK market was born. No.1 and No.2 are both sidelocks, while the No.3 was a non-ejector boxlock. The Yeoman, which is not to be confused with an O/U of the same name, was a version of this gun. The No.4 is a boxlock ejector. AYA no longer make non-ejector guns.

There were quite a few more guns, although the O/Us were historically never as popular as the side-by-sides. The exception, to my mind, was the Coral – a look-alike for the German-built Merkel, and nowadays the No.37 and the Augusta O/Us are well up in the elegance stakes.

During ASI’s association with AYA, the Spanish company has been generally stable, the exception being for a couple of years in the late 1980s when they joined an ill-fated partnership of around 20 Basque gunmakers. It crashed, but AYA was able to re-form as an independent company in 1989.

Built to order

So what’s the specification as a No.1? Apart to say that it is built on the general principles of a Holland & Holland, it’s hard to be specific in the fine details. That’s because so many of the guns are built to special order and the ideals of individual shooters.

How much does a No.1 cost today? According to ASI, a basic gun is £12,760, while a round-action version is £21,780, and a De Luxe round-action is £22,550. To that, you can add the cost of any particular personal foibles…

That’s not cheap, but it is great value-for-money when you consider it is a fraction of the cost of a “London Best” gun.