Can the latest side-by-side from AYA prove itself more than just another tribute act? Alex Flint investigates.
Recent years have seen the rise in influence of vintage style on modern culture. From clothes and hairstyles to interior and product design, the replication of an idealised past is a phenomenon seen throughout history. From Hesiod, Plato and Ovid envisioning a rustic, rural world free from toil or grief in the golden age of man, to the Elizabethan era as the pinnacle of English history driven by classical ideals, we continually look to the past for our best days.
This is even true of the shooting world, where the inter-war period is looked upon as the very greatest time for best British guns. A casual perusal of the latest sale catalogue from the likes of Holt’s or Gavin Gardiner shows guns built by the best London makers in this time hold a significant premium, particularly pairs. Guns can be bought from these same makers today built on the same action and decorated exactly as they were 100 years ago, yet these ‘golden age’ guns are still highly sought after, with their unique handling characteristics often cited as a major reason for their desirability.
A very pretty side-by-side
With this in mind, the retailer Sportarm of Dorchester together with importers ASI have
developed a new gun with Spanish manufacturer AYA, already famous for building guns inspired by the best London names. Seeking to recreate the feel of the classic 1920s game gun, the AYA English Game gun – a very pretty, side-by-side is the result. Featuring detachable sidelocks, double triggers and ejectors it offers all the features you would expect of a modern gun, together with classic styling, and perhaps most importantly, the reliability you would expect of an AYA.
Most immediately striking is the light weight of the AYA English Game gun, clearly the single most important factor in giving such sweet handling. Listed at 6lbs 7oz on the tag, our 12 bore test gun with 28” barrels tipped
Elderkin’s scales at just over 6lbs 5½oz. The gun looks very slim to my eye, especially in the barrels where clearly much work has been carried out in development. Indeed, it is so diminutive one might easily have mistaken our 12 bore test gun with a smaller bore.
A multitude of bore sizes
It is available in a multitude of bore sizes, including 16 bore, with the action appropriately scaled for each. Given there is almost as much reverence for 16 bore guns amongst game shooting aficionados as inter-war guns, one imagines this gun will be very well received indeed. For the more casual observer, it is difficult to ignore just how pretty a gun it is.
Our test gun featured some lovely, well figured wood with a delightful oil finish in the English style. A particular highlight is the very fine chequering on the straight-hand grip, with a beautiful wave effect in the grain over the rear of the lockplates and out over the lovely carved tear drops.
The gun is the beneficiary of plenty of engraving in the form of foliate scroll work with a floral vignette, with work carried out extensively over the fences of the gun, the top strap and the extended trigger guard tang.
Wood to metal fit is excellent and it is clear it has had careful hand finishing applied. Blued hardware, including the trigger guard and top lever, provides a pleasant contrast to the coin finish of the body and attention to detail even extends to a subtle ringed effect on the steel sight bead. Visually the action is rather square; given the gun is a sidelock one might have expected these hard edges to have been slightly toned down.
As to whether or not this gun succeeds in replicating a classic inter-war best English gun I cannot really attest, since I have never had the pleasure of owning one, but I can’t help thinking it comes pretty close. I can, however, report the gun is very good to shoot.
It is interesting to note all three gentlemen who tested the gun at Grange Farm Shooting School came away with very different observations about the gun, perhaps indicative of the specialised niche this gun has been built to fill.
AYA English Game in the field
First impressions do count on shoot day, and I am regularly surprised at the number of expensive guns I receive for testing which turn up in a simple cardboard box. However, this AYA English Game gun comes in a lovely oak and leather case with a canvas cover as standard.
It looks a very expensive item indeed and certainly goes a long way to making a good impression and justifying a little pride in your purchase. Out of the case, the light weight of the gun is immediately noticeable and makes the gun a real pleasure to handle. There is plenty of
grip thanks to the excellent chequering, and the gun mounts and moves very positively.
The balance of the gun was quite neutral, with a lack of weight felt particularly in either hand going some way to making the gun feel quite lively. The gun had a good run through its paces at Grange Farm Shooting School, with instructors Ed and Steve each taking a turn with the gun alongside myself. Interestingly, we all came away with some different observations.
Whilst I found the gun extremely pleasing and natural to shoot, I found the felt recoil
to be noticeable. Ed, meanwhile, was surprised by how much pressure was required to operate the front trigger. (Ed. One would imagine this can be altered to taste, being so subjective.)
By contrast, Steve was absolutely enamoured with the gun and could find little to fault – given his seeming inability to miss while using it, this is perhaps unsurprising. But one common factor for all three of us was that this gun noticeably rewards instinctive, natural and high speed shooting.
Certainly, anyone looking for a new side-by-side would do well to give the AYA English Game a very good look.
View from the gun shop, by Bill Elderkin
This is an interesting gun in that it has been tuned to handle like a pre-war best London sidelock. They are trying to elicit the feeling of a bygone age whilst using modern manufacturing techniques and building a gun capable of handling the very great variance in cartridge loads now commonly used by game shooters.
Much of the work of making the gun lightweight can be seen in the barrels, which have been very finely struck off. Although built in connection with two British companies, it is clear this gun is an AYA based on their Holland & Holland-style nine-pin detachable sidelock action. It features a lot of the things you would expect to see on a high quality gun, including disc set strikers, an articulated front trigger and a beaded trigger guard. This is an interesting concept, and one which has been attempted before – indeed, Elderkins did something a bit like this in the 1970s.
Where this gun differs, however, is in just how much lighter the gun is with the equivalent AYA No.2 looking a little bulky in comparison. It looks very competitive in value, being slightly cheaper than the top of the line No.1 but slightly more expensive than the AYA No.2 De Luxe. It also looks competitive when compared with a top of the range Arrieta, but is set apart from these guns thanks to its special looks and unique feel. If you’re looking for a modern, reliable gun but with the same feel and character as your grandfather’s gun then this would be a good place to start.
If you're looking to invest in a new best quality sidelock this is a great buy