Guns from the Spanish makers became very popular during the 1970s, with AYA, Arrieta, Lanber and Laurona (to name but a few) being imported into this country to meet the ever-increasing demand for sporting shotguns.
They filled the gap for an affordable sporting shotgun left behind by the steadily shrinking presence of British gunmakers.
During this period my father would order side-by-side ejectors and non-ejectors in sets of 50 at a time.
I remember the first time I went to Eiber in 1978 to visit different factories and to order guns to our own specifications.
Back in this period there were numerous small makers, which I ended up visiting (the owners being very hospitable, especially with the local tipple), and that culminated with my ordering of 50 folding .410s named Elchimbo, which I later found out meant ?the monkey?.
My father found this very amusing.
EXPLOITING THE MARKET
At the time, the AYA factory employed over 400 people – unfortunately this is no longer the case as they have been victims of their own success.
In general, Spanish guns last at least as well as the best-built English guns, so they make an excellent investment. The likes of their sidelock guns copy the very best London nine-pin sidelock designs and incorporate the Southgate ejector system, which made owning a ?best? gun a much more realistic and affordable prospect.
By concentrating mainly on production of these good quality copies of London sidelocks, and thanks to their durability, turnover was low.
Also, unlike Italian manufacturers such as Beretta, the Spanish gunmakers failed to follow the popular rise of over-unders, and subsequently did not make them in any great quantities.
By failing to take account of the sporting zeitgeist, many manufacturers fell by the wayside.
Those gunmakers which are left now tend, with one or two exceptions, to produce fewer guns, many of which are built to very high specifications.
They are effectively bespoke guns which are a match for any modern gun.
As a result, new Spanish guns have been steadily increasing in cost over the last few years, which has been exacerbated by the change to the Euro and local labour costs coming in line with ours.
As such, a lot of guns built during the 1970s and 1980s, like the AYA Number Two, have become excellent investment pieces. The second-hand value of a gun from this period is now probably three times more than its original cost when new.
If you can get hold of one of these excellent older examples then I can heartily recommend you snap it up – but do not ignore the current output from this historic gunmaking region.
Any new gun from one of these makers will be extremely well built and a pleasure to shoot with, and importantly will survive many long seasons in the field.
They may not have the draw of an English maker?s name on the lockplates, but you would be a fool to ignore one of these guns for the sake of a name.
Lanber Field Deluxe
Though perhaps not as well-known as other makers, Lanber have been producing over-unders for over 40 years, and have made many a sportsman?s first gun.
These guns have been designed and upgraded with the help of Barry Simpson, the ex-world champion clay shot.
He helped alter the style of the woodwork, shape and fit when working for GMK, the UK distributor for the brand.
This 12-bore gun comes with 28″ barrels chambered to 3″, with multi-chokes. This makes it an ideal gun for game or clay shooting.
The single selective trigger works on an inertia mechanism, which is robust and reliable.
Though not the highest standard available, the woodwork on this gun is very acceptably finished, with an easy to maintain oil finish which is good at this price point.
The wood is well sculpted, including a Schnabel style fore-end which makes the gun surprisingly elegant.
The action is lightly and tastefully engraved. With a price well below £1,000, this is a new gun I can heartily recommend.
This is another excellent gun built on the Holland & Holland-style self opening mechanism.
These guns are imported by GMK and are finished to the same high specification as an AYA Number One, featured below. Arrieta are based in the town of Elgoibar, a small industrial town just 10 miles from the northern coast of spain and about 25 miles east of Bilbao.
Their Number One and Two ranges were developed specifically for the English market, and their popularity has been growing among British buyers ever since.
We currently have one of these, their best quality guns in stock which is approximately 15 years old. It has 28″ barrels chambered to 2½” and choked to quarter and half.
The highly figured walnut stock is 15″ long and contrasts beautifully with the nine pin sidelock, which is engraved to the Purdey style.
These guns weigh in at 6lb 10oz and you would be hard pressed to notice any difference in its balance when compared to a best English sidelock.
The main difference is the wrist of the stock and the fore-end are not quite as slender as the finest hand-built guns.
These are effectively a really high quality copy of a best English sidelock, and their new guns of this quality today cost over £10,000.
So a good secondhand example at around £3,000 offers remarkable value. In this case the gun would be approximately double the price of when it was made.
AYA Number One Deluxe
AYA are Spain’s largest gunmaker, producing over 750 guns a year from their factory in Eibar.
They are probably the best known of the Spanish makers, for their Number Four boxlock and Number Two sidelock, both guns I have recommended in the past.
We recently worked on a superb pair of these guns in 20-bore with 28″ barrels and 2¾” chambers. This particular set of barrels were made with special chrome steel, which enables the manufacturer to keep the balance and feel on the hinge pin of the gun, meaning handling is absolutely superb.
These guns were a special commission, and were built with Holland & Holland-style spring-opening mechanism.
They were completed in 1992 and were deluxe hand-engraved by Casbard, one of London?s finest bespoke engravers, with bold acanthus scroll and vignettes of game scenes on the lock plates.
The present owner had us re-stock the guns with long exhibition-grade best Turkish walnut. We also fitted the barrels with Teague multi-chokes.
As a pair of game guns these offer the best of both worlds, having the best Spanish workmanship and the unique English finish and design.
A new deluxe pair by AYA finished to these same specifications would set the buyer back in the region of £40,000.