In the early 1990s, after Terry Wieland let the rest of us know how good Spanish guns really were, I had Aguirre y Aranzabal build a gun to my specifications, a Nº 2 sidelock ejector made in the image of an English gun I owned at the time. As my reasoning went, the AYA would serve as a traveling version of the London gun that I could in no way afford to replace. Now, almost fifteen years later, there aren’t many London guns you could offer to trade even-up that would tempt me to part with my AYA Nº 2.
Shotgun aficionados have long known that the Eibar region of Spain produced quality shotguns inspired by the British greats. Among these Spanish gems, AYA stands tall as the largest.
AYA and its brethren in Eibar must be doing something right. After all, England now ranks as the top market for Spanish shotguns. And so we took the opportunity to evaluate the AYA Model Nº 1 Round Action at Griffin & Howe’s Hudson Farm – the closest thing Americans have to a full-blown English Shooting facility, but located in Andover, New Jersey, about an hour south of Midtown Manhattan.
Englishman Guy Bignell, President and CEO of Griffin & Howe, accompanied us to an area designated on their breathtaking sporting class course for the Griffin & Howe Shooting School. It is here where the instructors show Americans how to hit the high-flying driven game birds favored in England.
For example, when I shoulder a shotgun my stance reflects the American bent toward clays and walk-up shooting – meaning that the muzzle points straight ahead. By contrast, Mr. Bignell demonstrated that the appropriate way to shoulder an AYA (and other upland shotguns) is to draw the gun at a minimum of a 45-degree angle upward in preparation for the driven flurry.
Shooting the AYA Model Nº 1 Round Action in turn becomes a history lesson in the symbiotic exchanges between the Spanish and English, dating back to the Peninsular War, when Napoleon’s troops were driven out of Spain. The Duke of Wellington’s officers returned with gun barrels made of Spanish steel that were used to make guns for hunting fowl. By the 1800s, commerce between Spain and England was brisk, deepening the exchange of the gun trade.
Come the Second World War, Spain had declared neutrality. After Armistice, the English gun trade lay in ruins. Returning soldiers from both the British and American armies brought home shotguns from Spain to resume their passion for hunting – giving AYA and other Spanish shotgun makers a toe hold in those markets.
As Great Britain rebuilt, two English brothers who were vacationing in Spain toured the gun makers of the Basque region. Peter and Andrew King immediately recognized the similarities with the English best, but at a fraction of the price. They set out to open England to Spanish guns. It turned out that AYA had the largest factory and most accommodating outlook in building shotguns for foreign sportsmen.
The King brothers and AYA collaborated on a new family of shotguns for the UK, where all shotguns were inevitably compared with Purdy, Holland & Holland and Boss. Ultimately, they decided to pattern AYA shotguns after the Holland & Holland sidelock and the Westley Richards boxlock based on the ubiquitous Anson & Deeley action.
The Second World War had little direct impact on AYA, since Spain was officially neutral. Afterward, it even had a beneficial effect, since Spain in 1945 had one of the few functioning civilian arms-making industries left in the world. The British and American industries had been converted to war production, while those in Italy, Belgium, Germany, and Austria had been devastated by war, looting, and occupation. Returning servicemen, especially in America, were anxious to take up hunting and sport-shooting once again, and needed rifles and shotguns with which to do it.
Today, AYA makes the top selling side-by-sides in the U.K. AYA’s Nº 2 sidelock and Model 4/53 boxlock satisfy demand for discriminating shooters accustomed to best English firearms, but are delighted to pay only one-fifth the price.
In fact, many experts will tell you that the used best-quality English shotguns are the primary competitors in the UK in AYA’s price range. Of course, the trade-off under consideration is whether you want pedigree that may be somewhat shabby with age or a new bespoke shotgun that’s a near facsimile of the new one.
AYA is best known for its side by sides, which come as sidelocks and boxlocks in bores ranging from 12 to .410. Their three over/unders are certainly not as well-known but follow the company’s creed of English-inspired designs. AYA’s prices can seem pricey for their top-of-the-line shotguns, but it’s all relative when compared with the British royalty of the shotgun world.
For example, a 12-bore AYA Augusta over/under sidelock with exhibition grade wood, full coverage engraving, gold-washed action and other amenities can cost about $40,000. But a Holland & holland over/under Royal would set you back more than $100,000.
AYA’s breathtaking Anniversary hammer gun starts at approximately $31,000, less than half the price of the new Purdey Hammer Gun.
At about $8,500, an AYA Model 53 sidelock side by side (available in 12, 16 and 20 bore) arrives with full scroll engraving on a case-hardened receiver, double articulated triggers, grade 2 wood and gold-washed internals. By all accounts, the Model 53 would be your classic English bird gun made to your specifications, but with a price tag at about 60-percent less.
Here in the woods of Hudson Farm, the AYA Model Nº 1 Round Action proved to be a lovely shotgun at home in its elements. This seven-pin sidelock was most certainly a gentlemen’s bird gun.
The 12-bore side-by-side was adorned with a coin finish and sideplates that served as a canvas for a Purdey-style rose-and-scroll engraving that flowed up to the fences. The sideplates were removed with small levers that matched the receiver to reveal the gold-washed, sidelock actions. However, if 12-bore is a bit vulgar for you, the shotgun is also available in 16, 20, 28 and .410 bore – all deeply influenced by the British elites.
AYA’s Model Nº 1 Round Action is closely based on the classic Holland & Holland-style sidelock. Model Nº 1 Round Action featured Purdey-type double underlugs, chopper-lump barrels, 2¾-inch chambers, detachable locks, automatic safety, brass front bead, articulated front trigger, oil-finished fancy-grade walnut and the optional self-opener, which is highly recommended for driven birds.
Paul Chapman, Griffin & Howe’s Vice President and Director of Gunsmithing, examined the gun and reported the following:
- Barrels proofed to 1370 BAR, suggests they are proofed for steel shot
- Balance ¼” ahead of hinge pin, bbl weigh more when proofed for steel shot
- Barrel length: 28"
- Weight of complete shotgun: 6lbs 14ozs
- Weight of BBL with forend: 3lbs 8.2ozs
- Weight of BBL without forend: 3lbs 3.0ozs
- Weight of stock & receiver: 3lbs 5.9ozs
- Stock Dimensions:
- Drop @ Comb: 1 ½"
- Drop @ Heel: 2 ¼"
- LOP @ Heel: 14 13/16" to checkered butt
- LOP @ Center: 14 11/16" to checkered butt
- LOP @ Toe: 15 1/16" to checkered butt
The invoice price for this particular AYA was $13,475.
In terms of fit and finish, how did the AYA Model Nº 1 Round Action compare with Britain’s best? Upon close examination, Mr. Bignell and I agreed that it scored about 75 percent compared with a Purdey for overall finish, opening and closing, balance and dynamics, barrel finish in the striking and case-color hardening. On the other hand, you’re also saving at least $80,000.
The slight inconsistencies were apparent in the inletting of the forend iron, the points on the checkering and other minor details really only noticeable to a trained eye. But you should bear in mind that while Purdey makes approximately 100 guns per year, AYA’s annual production is close to 750. AYA’s guns may mirror the British, but their business model is more egalitarian.
We rode in Mr. Bignell’s Suburban up the hill to the shooting school station. When he removed the AYA Model Nº 1 Round Action from the gun slip, it made a favorable first impression. You could quickly see that the fit between the stock and receiver proved flawless, while the forend wood and stock matched perfectly with its seductive figuring. Checkered butts always speak to a classy shotgun, certainly the case with this AYA Model Nº 1 Round Action. The silhouette was slender and graceful – the engraving catching your eye with its fine detail that harked back to 19th century England. You realize the AYA Model Nº 1 Round Action is clearly a legacy shotgun – one that you could, in good conscience, leave in trust for your heirs to enjoy.
With the AYA Model Nº 1 Round Action in hand, we walked to the glen ready to shoot. The weather was ideal. In addition to the sporting clays station, there was ample space in the clearing to try the multitude of shots thrown by the different traps hidden among the trees on the hillsides.
Mr. Bignell took the controls. Presentations included a fast crosser about 50 yards high that headed for the tree tops; another high-fast crosser perpendicular to it; a high incomer that showed its belly just over a lone tree in the clearing; and one high chandelle that dropped quickly – giving only a brief window at the apex over a tree.
Mr. Bignell also furnished standard upland loads.
My initial surprise with the AYA Model Nº 1 Round Action came upon loading it: moving the top lever, the barrels gently dropped open – revealing that this particular model was equipped with the optional self-opener. It’s engineered with two telescoped tubes housing a helical spring. Priced at about $2,500, the self-opener is ideal if you shoot driven birds, such as the non-stop clay target flurries that Mr. Bignell pulled to heat up the barrel and stress the gun’s accuracy.
That came later, however. We started slow to get acquainted with the AYA Model Nº 1 Round Action. Compared with other field guns, the triggers felt smooth and predictable. Some manufacturers crank up the pull on field guns in the interest of safety. The AYA Model Nº 1 Round Action, though, lets you match target speed without worries of yanking the entire gun in an effort to fire off a round.
You can imagine that shooting a 12-bore side-by-side with a wood butt plate would cause one to brace for the worst after pulling the trigger. But I would challenge anyone to find a gun of this configuration that produced less felt recoil – especially at the suggested price. Naturally, luck was on my side as the measurements imparted a near-perfect fit for my average frame. I can say that as the pace of the day grew fast and furious excessive recoil never factored into my performance.
The shotgun was choked the equivalent of improved cylinder and modified. These constrictions worked wonders on the high shots at the Griffin & Howe Shooting School. After about 30 minutes, my consistency grew to the point where I could really smash one target after another with the AYA Model Nº 1 Round Action (it also helped to have Mr. Bignell provide instant feedback). If there’s a telltale target for accuracy, it would be the dropping shot, and again very few of those birds escaped unscathed; the gun swung down smooth, swift and predictably through the line of the target to the break point.
Unlike a sporting clays evaluation, our ability to take up any position around the stand itself afforded a close facsimile to the upland experience. Time after time, the AYA Model Nº 1 Round Action shouldered well and shot with composure. Next stop, Swindon Hall.