Setting the standard by which almost every new side-by-side is measured, can this unashamed English imitation really cut the mustard? Alex Flint investigates.
Any sportsman or woman looking to buy a new side-by-side will almost inevitably find a gun from Aguirre & Aranzabal entering their thoughts whilst perusing the shelves of the local gun shop. Yet there is plenty of competition for a side-by-side at this sub-£10,000 price point. There are a vast number of second-hand English guns on the market, and recent years have seen a number of English gunmakers jumping into bed with continental manufacturers to produce a range of affordable shotguns, such as William Evans’ Connaught built in conjunction with Grulla, or E.J. Churchill’s Regal, built with Arrieta.
However, the name AYA has a sense of permanence about it – its guns somehow stand apart in a crowded marketplace. In a sector seemingly dominated by highly competent guns marked with English names and trading off their historic heritage, the standing of this Spanish firm is an impressive achievement.
The entry of AYA’s guns into the British market was not dissimilar to the current trend of English gunmakers reaching out to European manufacturers to produce relatively low-cost guns. In the late 1950s Andrew and Peter King of importer ASI worked with AYA to produce a range of side-by-sides specifically built to meet the demands of British game shooters. The concept was a huge success and ASI remains the importer of these guns to this day, with AYAs generally used as the yardstick against which to measure any new European side-by-side.
The AYA No.2 de Luxe is very clear in its execution; it is a Spanish-made gun closely modelled on a best English sidelock and retaining much of that quality but at a fraction of the price. First impressions are very good indeed as the gun looks every inch the classic side-by-side with delightful proportions thanks to the classic Holland & Holland-style nine-pin design allowing for a shallow action.
The wood used is of the same grade one would expect to find on the more expensive No.1 and is extremely attractive. On our test gun the stock had plenty of figuring on display, with a lovely, tightly packed grain flowing through the unfussy straight-hand stock towards some pleasant drop points accentuating the shoulders surrounding the lock plates. Engraving takes the form of a bold acanthus pattern with a fine impression of depth. This work is carried out by laser and then hand finished, giving a clean overall appearance.
The gun also has plenty of fine details, as one would hope for a gun of this price, with the dark trigger guard and extended tang being a particular highlight and acting as a pleasant framing device for the bright action body, along with the well-blacked barrels and top-lever above. Chequering has been very well executed, and the push-rod fore-end release, diamond inlay and plain silver oval all add to the gun’s restrained good looks.
Finishing is excellent overall, and the AYA really does stand up well against much more expensive competition. Anyone who turned up with this over their arm on shoot day would be sure to receive plenty of attention, and at a distance one could be forgiven for mistaking it for
something much more expensive.
The No.2 is also a joy to use, with simple operations such as the short throw of the safety catch and the firm, responsive movement of the top-lever being particular highlights. The gun has a certain correctness in the hand, feeling solid and secure without ever being tight. At just a shade under 7lbs 5oz, it is certainly on the heavier side, though this doubtless aids the handling characteristics and certainly contributes to the impressive way it deals with recoil.
The No.2 de Luxe from AYA is an impressive, good looking shotgun. It is a pleasure to use, would undoubtedly be a pleasure to own and looks remarkably good value for money. The gun is seemingly effortlessly competent at just about every conceivable level and it is not difficult to see why AYA guns have become such a mainstay in the British gun buying market.
AYA No.2 de luxe in the field
Bill Elderkin’s prediction that the gun would shoot tighter patterns than you would expect from the standard quarter and three quarter chokes was borne out, and I found the AYA simply demanded my attention on avery blustery day at Grange Farm Shooting School.
The balance is right at the front of the hinge-pin and it feels surprisingly lively in the hand considering its weight.
Mounting was fast and consistent and the gun moved beautifully fluidly, feeling quick but very easy to keep on the line of the target.
The slim straight-hand stock is extremely comfortable and allows for easy access to the double triggers. The front trigger has a pleasing weight to it and I found the rear trigger to be usefully snappy when going for a second shot at one of several errant clays.
The automatic safety catch was also a highlight, with a lovely dome providing plenty of grip and being extremely satisfying to operate.
The gape of the gun when opening was consistently good, allowing for fast reloading where necessary, and the Southgate ejectors provided a very strong kick indeed when dispensing spent cartridges.
Recoil was dealt with remarkably well, thanks in no small part to the gun’s not inconsiderable weight, and muzzle flip was kept under control similarly impressively. I would have to say that, like the rest of the gun, its handling characteristics are essentially faultless.
That this AYA No. 2 de Luxe gun can even enter into the same conversation as some guns I have tested which cost three times as much as its relatively modest asking price is impressive indeed. And I can only imagine that enjoying a day’s pheasant or partridge shooting with it would bring much happiness.
View from the gun shop, by Bill Elderkin
This is a fine example of the AYA No.2 de Luxe. The 30” chopper lump barrels have 2¾” chambers and choke set at ¼ and ½ – though you will probably find this a little tighter than equivalent English guns and it will throw a smaller, denser pattern. There is a nice, flat concave rib braised onto the barrels, meaning you can shoot the guns very hard but keep the ribs sound.
The gun is a copy of the nine-pin Holland & Holland sidelock action, with further Holland & Holland influence found in the diamond inlay in the fore-end. These guns have a 15” stock as standard and wood-to-metal fit is very good.
There are discset strikers with locking screws at the side – all very straightforward and easy for any good gunsmith to repair. AYA guns had problems in the past with firing pins breaking, but better quality steel is now being used and this seems to no longer be an issue.
This being a 12 bore with 30” barrels, it is certainly a weightier gun, which makes it ideal for heavier, faster loads. It will certainly cope with a long day of high-bird shooting with ease. One could also probably use it on a busy simulated clay day at no detriment to the user or the gun.
Really, this is a pretty difficult gun to fault. Though there are other similar shotguns out there from the likes of Arrieta and Grulla, its nearest competition is probably its luxurious bigger brother the No.1, starting at £12,760. You will get slightly more refinement aesthetically but for many the No.2 de Luxe will be as good a gun as you could wish for.
The very pretty round action version can also be had for £9,240 and depending on your taste of course that could be a real showstopper. AYA is still the foremost Spanish gunmaker and not without good reason, as this gun very clearly demonstrates.
It is hard to pick up a new equivalent quality gun at this sort of price