AYA No. 1: London quality, Spanish value
Charles Smith-Jones reconsiders an attractive and reliable high-end Spanish shotgun that’s every bit as good as a London-made piece, but comes at a fraction of the price
If you have always craved a London best shotgun but cannot afford a price tag that will probably exceed £50,000, there is an alternative. True, most of us still need the back-up of a modest Lottery win, but there is a Spanish-made option at a fraction of the price even when new. (Read what does a ‘best’ gun really mean?)
The AYA No 1 has been in continuous production since the 1950s and is considered by many to sit at the pinnacle of the Spanish gunmaker’s art. It is modelled almost directly on a classic Holland & Holland sidelock. As a result its looks are typically English, thanks to a straight-hand stock and elegant, flowing lines. The impression is also boosted by a light splinter fore-end, which compares to the heavier beavertail fore-ends favoured by many continental manufacturers. It would take close inspection by an expert to distinguish the No 1 from a gun produced by an expensive London gunmaker. (Read the AYA No 1 sidelock reviewed by Shooting Times.)
The AYA No 2 is mechanically similar to the No 1 and another superb shooting tool, though somewhat less refined. It is arguably one of the most popular side-by-side game guns in the UK, and only really differs from an aesthetic point of view. But the contrast in finish reflects noticeably in the cost. Construction standards in all cases are high, and AYA does not skimp on the quality of steel they use for any of their guns. Rather than relying on softer steel that can be cheaper and easier to work, that used for locks and springs is the best available. (Read secondhand AYA shotgun advice .)
In addition to this, the barrels of the No 1 are built on the chopper-lump principle rather than the monobloc approach more usually seen in modern guns. Monobloc construction involves the barrel tubes being fitted into a single block machined to form both the chambers and the lumps. In comparison, when chopper-lump barrels are made, each tube and half of the lump are constructed from a single piece of steel before the two are then brazed together.
The method is used by most of the top British gunmakers and results in strong yet light barrels that are narrow across the breech. Barrel convergence is also more easily achieved. The downside is that it is time-consuming – and thus more expensive – to make, which is why many other gunmakers opt for the monobloc approach. All AYA side-by-side shotguns, and even the cheaper ones, have chopper-lump barrels.
Very much AYA’s flagship model since its introduction, the No 1’s features include Purdey-type double underlugs, double locks, a double-locking mechanism, a traditional concave rib and hardened steel intercepting safety shears. In keeping with its role as a game gun, the button safety is automatic and there is an optional self-opener. The front trigger is articulated, with either selective or non-selective trigger options available. The ejectors are based on the ever-reliable Southgate system, which operates on the over-centre principle.
The stock is well designed and has a refined, light appearance. Both the comb and grip are slim, the equally restrained splinter fore-end is not too small to affect a comfortable hold, and the conformation combined with the cosmetic finish is enough to induce light drooling. Only top grades of highly figured walnut are used for the stock, which is finely chequered and oil finished. The metalwork of the action is available in colour hardened, old silver or white finishes. All engraving is completed by hand, and can range from a fine rose and scroll design to the ornate and eye-catching English style bold foliate pattern on the ‘de Luxe’ model. (Read our review of the AYA No 1 de Luxe model.)
But it’s not just a thing of beauty, however. In the field it handles beautifully, coming to the shoulder naturally and performing crisply. The balance is near perfect, with the balancing point sitting close to the hinge pin.
The AYA No 1 may not be cheap, even for a used gun, but when compared to something similar from a London gunmaker it represents fantastic value for money. Anyone who turns up with one for a driven day is likely to attract admiring (and possibly envious) glances, and it could well end up as a valued family heirloom. (Read how to get an inherited gun to fit you.)
AYA No 1 Tech Specs
- Action: Sidelock
- Choke: Fixed
- Chamber: 2¾in
- Barrel length: 28in standard (other barrel lengths available to order)
- Trigger: Double
- Ejector/non-ejector Ejector
- Safety catch Automatic
- Weight (12 bore) 6lb 12oz
- Available in calibres 12, 16, 20 & 28-bore and .410
- Cost new From around £15,400 up to £36,786 (Deluxe Round Action model), plus any bespoke work
- Cost used Expect to pay upwards of £3,000, but much will depend on age and condition