Buyer’s brief: “I started club clayshooting last year with an old AYA No.3 side-by-side, which was given to me by my grandad. To be competitive I need an over-and-under, but, being a student, I have a very limited budget.”
Mike George’s tips on buying a first clay gun
I can understand you wanting something better than the old AYA. It’s not that there was anything wrong with it in its day, but it’s a non-ejector and it is many years since AYA stopped making non-ejector guns. So, not only is it getting a bit long in the tooth, but it is also a gun for field shooting, and you need a proven claybuster.
As a field-shooting gun it will also be lighter than the average Sporter and therefore – if you haven’t noticed it already – the recoil will get a bit tiring over long strings of shots, such as you might encounter over a 50 or 100-target competition.
Make no mistake, the old AYA No.3 was a tough gun, but all were fixed chokes and most that I have seen have been choked ½ and full, which is far too tight for club clays. So, you are right in wanting an O/U, and, despite my personal quirk of preferring fixed-choke guns, a multichoke is the way for you to go.
That said, if the AYA is in good condition, I’d keep it. One in reasonable condition now costs around £190 in a gun shop, and you would get much less than that on a trade-in. You could have a lot of fun with it if you are offered any pigeon shooting or pest-control duties, and over-tight chokes can always be bored out. The gun must have some sentimental value to you, too.
Finally, don’t worry over the fact that you have such a limited budget. There are plenty of guns you can afford on the second-hand racks. All I would say is; don’t fall for the first gun you fancy and, if you are concerned about your lack of experience, persuade one of the experienced members of your club to accompany you on your shopping expeditions.
Option 1 – Mike’s top choice
In 1977, Britain’s Beretta importers were Gunmark – a company which re-styled itself as GMK in 1998. They realised that all of the Beretta break-action O/Us were beyond the means of shooters with a tight budget, so they searched Europe for a reliable gun that would fill the gap.
Unlike many importers looking for a reliable, well-priced O/U, they went to Spain rather than Italy and struck a deal with Lanber. It was an excellent partnership because Lanber was prepared to listen to Gunmark’s ideas for a British-market gun. And when clay-shooting champion Barry Simpson joined the Gunmark team, the Lanber Sporter became just about the best gun of its type in its price range.
The gun had come a long way from earlier importing attempts by smaller rival companies, who hadn’t done themselves any favours by giving the guns weird names such as Eibargun (after the city of Eibar in Spain’s Basque Country) and, if you can believe it, Animo Express!
Under Gunmark’s guidance, 20,000 guns were sold in the first 20 years of importing, and sales of new guns continued to go well until a few years ago, when the Lanber suddenly went out of production. Whatever caused the company’s failure, it certainly wasn’t the quality or design of the gun, and GMK were quick to point out that their spares stock was such that there wouldn’t be a problem for many years to come.
The general advice is to avoid guns from the early 1980s. The first multichokes came out in 1983, and the first Sporters, with the Simpson-designed woodwork, came on the scene in 1987.
All guns have low-profile actions with barrels hinged on stub pins. Hammers are driven by coil springs on guide rods and are hinged from the bottom of the action, while sears hinge from the top strap. All guns have single selective triggers, with the barrel selector incorporated in the safety thumbpiece.
Woodwork is either varnished or oil finished, depending on the age of the gun. Most newer guns have 14.in stocks, with drops at comb and heel of 1.in and 2⅜in respectively. Later guns also have 76mm (3in) chambers and magnum proof. There’s a choice of 28in or 30in barrels, and there are a few guns with left-handed woodwork if you search around.
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Thirty and more years ago Sporting Gun received quite a number of calls from readers seeking spares for Franchi semi-automatics. The old Franchi auto was quite a tough gun, but, as with all autos, occasionally it needed small spares such as springs, firing pins and extractor claws, and none were available. There were a few Franchi O/Us around, too, and spares for them were equally hard to find.
The guns had been imported by ASI of Snape, the AYA importers, but the arrangement seemed to fizzle out and the Franchi company seemed to be in trouble.
Then, in the 1990s, Franchi’s fortunes took a turn for the better when they were taken over by Beretta. This gave them not only financial stability, but access to world markets and, in the UK, put the guns in the hands of Beretta importers GMK.
Bettinsoli Diamond Line
The Bettinsoli Diamond Line Sporter, despite a name suggesting top quality, is very much an entry-level clayshooting gun. But it’s none the worse for that. In fact, the gun is quite a good looker and many examples have the best wood you are going to get at the price. The same goes for the engraving pattern.
The gun is a multichoke with no unsightly bulges at the muzzles. Chambers are three inches, and the tubes have been subjected to steel shot proof. Typical of most Italian guns, the Diamond Line’s barrels are hinged on stub pins, allowing for a shallow action, and ejectors are spring-loaded.
Internally, the mechanism is about as simple as you can get, with hammers hinged at the bottom and the sears hanging from the top strap. Coil mainsprings run on guide rods, while an inertia-driven system resets the single trigger to the second barrel.
The weight is just about right for a Sporter, and it could be used for occasional game, pigeon and wildfowl forays.