Shooting Michael McIntosh’s Legendary AYA at the Southern Side by Side

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The 12th Annual Southern Side by Side Championship & Exhibition Spring Classic provided an extraordinary opportunity to shoot a round robin of highly coveted shotguns, of which Michael McIntosh’s AYA Nº 2 was certainly the most prominent.
Conceivably the best writer about fine shotguns of his generation, Mr. McIntosh forged a path of elegant and insightful books and magazine articles that made his readers gush with pride as fellow shotgun owners.

Then on August 14, 2010, at his home in Iowa, he passed away at 66 years old. In an article for Shotgun Life called Remembering Michael, another great gun writer, Terry Wieland, wrote of Mr. McIntosh’s soaring accomplishments, secret demons and mounting health issues. 

Now, Mr. McIntosh’s estate is up for auction on the Internet. The online auction is being held on the web site of Fieldsport, in Traverse City, Michigan. Fieldsport is owned by Bryan Bilinski. Mr. McIntosh gave shotgun lessons at Fieldsport, leading to a deep and lasting friendship with Mr. Bilinski. 

And so it was Mr. Bilinksi, who was exhibiting at the 12th Annual Southern Side by Side Championship & Exhibition Spring Classic, who allowed me to shoot a round of 5-Stand with the AYA Nº 2, which was perhaps Mr. McIntosh’s go-to bird gun.

Held April 29th through May 1st, the 12th Annual Southern Side by Side Championship & Exhibition Spring Classic was once again held at the Deep River Sporting Clays & Shooting School in Sanford, North Carolina. It drew some 1,500 entries and 77 exhibitors – making it the most successful, according to Bill Kempffer, owner of Deep River. Best of all, the weather was ideal: sunny, breezy and dry.

The large turnout of exhibitors gave us the opportunity to tap the most prominent gunmakers and dealers for a round of 5-Stand with their prized shotguns. Over a period of two days, we revisited the 5-Stand to shoot a pristine Winchester Model 21 exhibited by Bart’s Sports World, a two-barrel Arietta 931 being sold by Griffin & Howe, a Kevin's Plantation Collection Over and Under, a beautifully restored Purdey hammer gun from Heritage Guns in the UK, a heavenly Famars Leonardo, the lovely Boswell Pendragon, and the first ever 12-bore Holland & Holland round action built for sale.

We turned to Classic Shotshell Company for their RST Best-Grade brand of ammunition. RST has developed a solid reputation for their low-pressure shells with incredible stopping power specifically designed for vintage shotguns (and even contemporary models owned by adherents of the sporting life.)

Michael McIntosh’s AYA Nº 2
Mr. McIntosh had waxed eloquently about his Spanish AYA Nº 2. He had the 12-bore, side-by-side built to his specifications and took possession of it in 1991. He prided the gun for its reliability. He shot more than 80,000 rounds through it, replacing only a single firing pin while shooting doves in Argentina. By his own reckoning, the gun had accompanied him “on at least 14 shooting trips to Europe, five or six to South America, traveled with me from Alaska to Mexico, and from Minnesota to the pinewoods of the South.” 

In shouldering the gun, the first impression is the cast off at the face. It’s 3/8-inch at 5 inches and seemed a bit extreme. Mr. Bilinski attributed the dimensions to Mr. McIntosh’s famous beard and robust health at the time he had taken possession of the gun. The other unusual attribute of the gun was the choke constrictions. The right barrel measured .726/.000 Cylinder while the left barrel came in at .727/.039 Full. For American bird shooters accustomed to IC/IC or IC/Mod, the CYL/F configuration would raise some questions. But Mr. Bilinski explained the chokes on Mr. McIntosh’s AYA Nº 2 as closer aligned to an English style bird gun.

AyA1Michael McIntosh’s AyA Nº 2.

Otherwise, Mr. McIntosh’s AYA was just another Nº 2 sidelock with the standard detachable sideplates, double triggers and splinter forend. Still, holding and shooting a gun with this kind of narrative does cast a spell on you that is not to be denied – especially when his initials are engraved in the gold oval on the stock. 

For ammunition, we used RST’s 12-gauge, 2½-inch MaxiLite rated at 1,125 feet per second packed with 1 ounce of #8 shot.

AyA3You can see here that the recoil pad received plenty of use by Mr. McIntosh. The gold oval on the stock has his initials on it.

In addition to the cast, the gun featured a high, straight comb – providing good view of the targets. It had an accurate point of impact, building confidence over time on the 5-Stand. The AYA Nº 2 shouldered nicely, although I did have to struggle a bit with the cast off. Did the gun kick hard? Not bad really. Our experience shows that RST shells in general yield low recoil, but the shape of the stock also contributed to the manageable felt recoil by channeling kick through the density of the higher stock before exiting in your shoulder. The triggers were smooth and intuitive. But then again, what else would you expect from triggers on this particular shotgun? 

If you are thinking of buying Mr. McIntosh’s AYA at the Fieldsport online auction, bear in mind that unless you have a bushy beard and a stout chest the gun probably won’t fit you. On the other hand, if you’d like to keep it as a source of inspiration and wonder (and conversation piece), it won’t disappoint you in the least. You could even tell your wife the shotgun would make an excellent investment.

FAMARS Leonardo
In 1967 Mario Abbiatico and Remo Salvinelli formed FAMARS, Fabbrica Armi Mario Abbiatico e Remo Salvinelli, in Gardone Val Trompia, Italy. Upon starting out, the men built boutique small-bore shotguns to the highest order of the art form. The mission hasn’t changed, although the number of models has grown. Recently, FAMARS established an American presence with the formation of FAMARS USA in Coventry, Rhode Island, under the stewardship of entrepreneur, Paul Mihailides. FAMARS USA handles orders, service, customer service and expedited delivery of these fine firearms, in addition to developing a line of luxury accessories.

FamarsTwo views of the Famars Leonardo.

Currently, FAMARS makes seven over/unders, three side by sides, two rifles and the remarkable four-barrel, single-trigger Rombo.
Mr. Mihailides arranged a 20-bore Leonardo for us to shoot. 

One of the things we frequently get asked goes along the lines of “What’s the difference between a $100,000 shotgun and $3,000 shotgun. They both go bang, right?”
Yes, indeed, they both go bang, but the real question to ask is “What’s the difference between a Ferrari 458 Italia and a Pontiac Solstice?” Put that way, you’ll immediately understand why the Leonardo cost $110,000 (or about half the price of that Ferrari).

When it comes to shooting premium shotguns like FAMARS, Purdey, Holland & Holland, Boss and a handful of others, they possess a singular quality that lesser guns lack: intuition. They are lively, manageable and will do exactly what you expect of them in a smooth and coherent manner. See target, shoulder gun, pull trigger, end of story. They are less of a tool and more of an appendage. 

In the case of the Leonardo, we had a single-trigger sidelock with exhibition-grade Turkish walnut, gold oval, removable side plates (the screws are virtually invisible), chopper lump barrels, hand-cut rib and other extraordinary details that spoke of flawless workmanship. Engraver David Volpe applied a beautiful ornamental scroll that adorned every piece of steel. With only a single bead on the muzzle, the Leonardo clearly was meant for bird hunting.
We loaded the Leonardo with an RST 2¾-inch shell filled with 7/8 ounces of number 8 shot and rated at 1,125 feet per second (a very nice load, by the way). 

First off, the Leonardo’s trigger was magnificent: short, crisp pull. The slightest forward bias in the balance promoted a smooth mount and controlled swing along the line of the target. The Prince of Wales forend fit your left hand in a way that reminds you of those ballroom dancing lessons: how the instructor tells you to place a gentle touch on the woman’s back to glide her across the floor. Yes, in fact, in its own way this gun becomes your dancing partner in the upland theater.

Winchester Model 21
Jack Bart of Bart’s Sports World handed over the immaculate Winchester Model 21 Field Grade in 12 bore. Of all the Model 21s, we gravitate to the Field Grade. Its plainness and simplicity speak to the integrity of the American field gun. The stark blue receiver, short barrels and nicely figured furniture convey an honesty and integrity that once epitomized American workmanship. 

In production for nearly 30 years, this singular American side-by-side classic has achieved cult status with soaring prices for good specimens as proof. Approach a legend like the Winchester Model 21 and expectations run high. Yet have a go with it, and your opinions may change.

Model21The Winchester Model 21 we shot in the tent of Elizabeth Lanier’s GRITS group. The GRITS (Girls Really Into Shooting) served up the best food and spirits of the event, replete with a battery-powered, frozen-margarita maker.

Once again, we used RST’s MaxiLite shotshell on the Winchester Model 21. The shotgun was fitted with 26-inch barrels choked M/F. It cost $6,000. The stock was somewhat long and didn’t fit well, although the single trigger remained a joy. 

The handling, though, gave the most disappointment. The gun felt clucky and big; inelegant, if you will. In terms of an automotive analogy, it was like driving a post-war Buick. In defense of the Winchester Model 21, however (if it needs one), Elizabeth Lanier took top ladies in the competition at the event with her Winchester Model 21.

Arietta 931 – Two Barrel Set
Griffin & Howe had priced this pre-owned Arietta 931 at $35,280. The side-by-side Arietta exemplified the high art form that the Spanish gunmakers have achieved in their ongoing quest to equal the British best, but at a reduced price. The coin finish on the receiver was lavished with 100% coverage in an elaborate scroll and rose that was repeated on the forend hardware. It featured double triggers. It had a semi-pistol grip and checkered wood butt plate. The figuring on the stock was understated and graceful.

Two barrels came with the shotgun: a 20 bore and a 16 bore, both 28 inches in length. We shot the 16-bore barrels using RST’s Lite shells with 7/8-ounce of #8 shot. The 2½ shells were rated at 1,125 feet per second.

ArrietaBoth barrels of the Arietta 931 we shot.

On the 5-Stand, the Arietta shouldered easily, benefitting from superlative balance and a svelte weight of 6¼ pounds. The swing was lithe and swift. The double triggers felt crisp and after you pulled them recoil was negligible. If we had been shooting live birds, it would seem as if the shotgun inherited the instincts of a skilled flushing Brittany – almost leading you directly to the bird. And with that in mind, this luxurious two-barrel Arietta would be all you’d need for nearly every variety of upland quarry. 

The Kevin’s Plantation Collection Over/Under
The Kevin’s Plantation Collection is privately labeled boxlocks produced in Italy. Shotguns represent part of the wares sold by Kevin’s Fine Outdoor Gear and Apparel through their stores in Tallahassee, Florida, Thomasville, Georgia, their catalogs and web sites. 

Kevin’s has been family owned and operated since 1973. It was established by now President, Kevin Kelly and his mother, Betty Kelly. Kevin, his mother and his wife, Kathleen are actively involved in the daily operations of the business. Perhaps the best way to think of Kevin’s is of a regional Orvis.

KevinKevin Kelly with one of his Plantation Collection over/unders.

The Kevin’s Plantation Collection was introduced in the Fall of 2010. The gun we shot was a 20-gauge over/under with 28-inch barrels and three-inch cambers, interchangeable chokes, wood butt plate and oil-finished Triple XXX Exhibition Grade Walnut with a straight, English grip. The sideplates featured full coverage ornamental scroll by Diego Bonsi, celebrated for his work on super-premium shotguns such as those from A&S Famars. Priced at $5,995, it was quite a handsome shotgun. Other guns in the Collection include a side-by-side. They can be ordered in different gauges with a variety of features.

Out on the 5-Stand, we loaded the Kevin’s Plantation Collection shotgun with RST’s 7/8-ounce load of #8 shot. This Lite load was rated at 1,125 feet per second.

In terms of handling, the gun straddled the dynamics between a Caesar Guerini and a Browning. It was lively and elegant, but at the same time it never ran away from you. There was a deliberate, measured feel to the swing – masculine if you will. Shouldering the shotgun was quite a pleasure, indicating that the balance was spot-on. The trigger performed like a quality field-grade action, giving you that extra heartbeat to measure the shot and then respond with authority.

James Purdey “Thumbhole Underlever” Hammer Gun
If you’re a regular at the Vintager Order of Edwardian Gunners or the Southern Side by Side, you’re bound to see Toby Barclay, proprietor of Heritage Guns in the UK. Mr. Barclay is most affable and quite knowledgeable about antique British shotguns.

Heritage Guns is an interesting business. Mr. Barclay scours the English countryside for the best late 19th and early 20th Century guns by lesser-known gunmakers. That may have been his original charter, but you’ll find extremely nice shotguns from Purdey, Boss and Holland & Holland in his exhibit and on his web site.

After locating a candidate in the UK, he will restore the gun to a high quality. But here’s the beauty of Mr. Barclay’s shotguns. They are not returned to pristine collectible condition, but perhaps a notch down to where they make wonderful everyday shooters at a reasonable price. For example, once a Damascus barrel is sleeved, the value of the gun will depreciate. For Mr. Barclay, however, that only means the barrels will be easier to proof for modern cartridges. Most of the shotguns from Heritage Guns are destined for the US market, filling a welcome niche for American shotgun enthusiasts.

PurdeyUnderlever2Toby Barclay’s delightful Purdey Thumbhole Underleaver hammer gun.

At this year’s Southern Side by Side Championship & Exhibition Spring Classic, Mr. Barclay let us shoot a beautiful 12-bore Purdey Thumbhole Underleaver hammer gun. Manufactured in 1871, the back action was based on James Purdey's famous 2nd Patent Thumb Hole design, in which you inserted your thumb in the bottom of the very wide trigger guard to reach the lever that opened the gun.

The 28-inch Damascus barrels had been sleeved, and accommodated 2¾-inch shells. The hammers were of the Dolphin variety. There were double triggers, of course. The coin-finished sideplates boasted a fine foliate scroll still in excellent condition on the round-body receiver. It had been reproofed in London in 2011 for 70-mm nitro powder cartridges.

With that in mind, we were off to the 5-Stand packing RST’s Falcon Lite shells. They were 7/8-ounce loads of #7½ shot and rated at 1,200 feet per second.

The first thing that strikes you about this Purdey is how wonderful it shot, not just for a 140-year-old shotgun, but as compared to any shotgun. Period. The felt recoil was very low, even more remarkable when taking into account a weight of about 6½ pounds. The gun handled completely neutrally. Given the opportunity, I would say that Mr. Barclay’s Purdey would rank as among my favorite bird guns. It was a delight to shoot.

The Boswell Pendragon
In December 2009, Shotgun Life ran a story about the Boswell Pendragon. Noted British author, instructor, gun fitter, guide and gun maker, Chris Batha, had purchased the operating assets of Charles Boswell, the 19th century English company that made bespoke best shotguns. 

In the spirit of best British gunmakers, Mr. Batha worked with veteran craftsmen from Holland & Holland, Purdey and others from the London Gun Trade to build Pendragons in both side-by-side and over/under configurations. 

At the time of publication of our original Pendragon story, none were available to shoot. However, at the Southern Side by Side Championship & Exhibition Spring Classic we lucked out. Mr. Batha had a mildly shot model that he made available. We were immediately off to the 5-Stand bearing both gun and RST’s 2¾-inch shell filled with 7/8 ounces of number 8 shot rated at 1,125 feet per second.

PendragonInsideGUNThe Boswell Pendragon 20-bore over/under.

The Pendragon we shot was a pinless, sidelock, 20-bore over/under with a single trigger. Naturally, the craftsmanship was flawless. The trigger felt responsive and intuitive and the swing was well-balanced and quite smooth. The gun always seemed to be where it was needed with little effort. It was one of those guns that always made you look good as a shooter by letting you hit more targets than you may have been accustomed.

Case in point, there was a teal on the 5-Stand that just gave me fits. It quartered away, showing mostly edge. I could not hit it with any of the other shotguns. However, with Mr. Batha’s Pendragon I broke it twice. Nice gun! Price? $34,000.

Holland & Holland Round Action, Back Action, Sidelock
David Cruz of Holland & Holland let us shoot a very interesting bird blaster made by the esteemed British gun maker. This 12-bore back action sidelock was the first round body production model of its kind available for public sale. Made in 2003, the only gun before it in this model lineup was the prototype. Being a sucker for round-action shotguns, we immediately took a shine to it. It was a back-action sidelock ejector with double triggers, of course. The 28-inch barrels were chambered for 2¾ inch shells. The case-colored receiver was graced with a modest border scroll and the famous Holland & Holland imprint in gold.

Holland HollandThe Holland & Holland round action, back action, sidelock.

We relied on RST’s MaxiLite shotshell rated at 1,125 feet per second packed with 1 ounce of #8 shot.

On the 5-Stand, the gun handled like a big double. The recoil was normal for a 12-bore side by side. Overall, there were few surprises with the gun. The trigger was pure Holland & Holland – crisp and sure. The gun is available in the company’s New York Gun Room for $49,000 and would assuredly scratch a particular itch for a sportsman in the market for such a quality shotgun.

Wrap Up
Our experience at the 12th Annual Southern Side by Side Championship & Exhibition Spring Classic really showed how much fun you can have at this event. If you don’t feel like paying for all those 5-Stand sessions, a trap machine for trying guns was available. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better venue for great shooting, wonderful people and serious shotgun shopping.
Irwin Greenstein is the Publisher of Shotgun Life. You can reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Useful resources:
The Fieldsport web site
The Famars web site
The Bart’s Sports World web site
The Griffin & Howe web site
The Kevin’s Guns web site
The Heritage Guns web site
The Chris Batha web site
The Holland & Holland web site
The RST Shotshell web site

The Deep River Sporting Clays & Shooting School web site

Irwin Greenstein

Irwin Greenstein is Publisher of Shotgun Life. Please send your comments to