By Bruce Buck
In the past dozen years the Spanish shotgun industry has been hit hard by rising prices, and some manufacturers have had to close their doors. The price increases have been partly due to Spain’s adoption of the Euro in 2002 and also to gunmakers’ general dependence on more expensive handwork than on computerized manufacturing. But some good Spanish makers remain, because there is always a demand for quality.
When you think of Spanish guns, you often think of AyA. There’s a reason for this. AyA (Aguirre y Aranzabal) was started in 1915 by young gunmakers Miguel Aguirre and Nicolas Aranzabal. Today the company is run by fourth-generation Alex Aranzabal. In the past century AyA has been by turns a small shotgun producer, a large-volume producer and a high-quality producer. Today the firm makes sidelock and boxlock side-by-side shotguns, over/under shotguns and express rifles.
Probably the most popular gun is the side-by-side sidelock AyA No. 2. The company has been making this gun for more than 50 years, and many feel that it is the best balance of affordability and quality. Fieldsport, in Traverse City, Michigan, is one of the US importers of AyAs, and company president Bryan Bilinski was kind enough to send us one to review.
The AyA No. 2 standard retails for about $7,000 and is AyA’s basic side-by-side sidelock. The same gun with a rounded action is $7,500. Our test gun was the No. 2 Round Action but with upgraded wood and a price of $8,000. AyA offers numerous fancier No. 1 side-by-side sidelocks based on the same action and with prices increasing to more than $20,000 depending on wood, engraving and hand finishing. There is also a No. 4 side-by-side boxlock starting at just more than $4,000. The guns are offered in 12, 16, 20 and 28 gauge as well as .410. Our No. 2 Round Action was a 16, a marvelous field gauge.
All the AyA sidelock side-by-sides use a copy of the Holland & Holland seven-pin action, a design copied by many gunmakers. It is proven beyond any doubt and is less complicated to make than the Purdey/Beesley action. The H&H actions come in seven- and five-pin versions. The difference is that the five-pin design is a bit less expensive to make, because it uses a simpler coil-spring intercepting safety sear, while the seven-pin action uses a leaf spring. Functionally, there is no real difference, but the seven-pin always has been considered a step up.
AyA still uses the long-workbench approach to fabricating where each gun is passed hand-to-hand down the bench as it is being built. I saw this during my visit to the factory in 2011 (see “AyA & the Basque Tradition,” Nov/Dec ’11). While CNC machining is used to some extent, much of the work is done by hand by skilled craftsmen.
The weight was perfect for a 16 that is set up for the field.
The standard No. 2 squared action has removable sidelocks courtesy of a hand-turned lever on the left sidelock. While convenient, it is a little busy. The Round Action No. 2 has rounded bottom edges on the receiver and uses a simple screw bolt in place of the lever. You need a fitted screwdriver to pop off the sidelocks, but the action looks and feels smoother.
The inside of each sideplate holds the hammer, sear, bridle and mainspring. In the old days the leaf mainsprings were subject to breakage, hence the necessity of easy access to replace them. Today’s steel alloys are so improved that leaf-spring breakage is rare. But, following the British tradition, “best” guns are usually sidelocks, so the design remains at the forefront. The parts on the insides of the locks on our gun were particularly well polished and clean. Everything fit properly and looked it.
As befits a gun like this, it comes with double triggers, with the front trigger being hinged. The purpose of hinging the front trigger is to avoid it smacking your middle finger when the gun moves back under recoil. Of course, if your gunstock is of the proper length and you mount the gun correctly, that shouldn’t be a problem; but it is a classy touch. The right side of the trigger guard has a rolled edge for further comfort.
Another nice receiver touch on the No. 2 Round Action is the disk-set strikers, or “bushed firing pins.” Theses are the small disks screwed into the breech face through which the firing pins extend. Removing the disks (with a special tool) allows an easy change of the firing pins and springs rather than requiring removal of the stock and action parts.
Hinging of the action is via the almost standard lateral hinge pin at the front of the receiver that engages the barrel hook. When this wears, the gun becomes “off face” and loose. AyA’s hinge pin is removable and replaceable for wear, a nice touch if you are going to use the gun a great deal. Action lockup is by the virtually universal Purdey-style double underbolt.
Finish: Engraved color case-hardened receiver, blued barrels
Barrel length: 28"
Weight: 6 pounds 5 ounces
Chokes: Fixed, Improved Cylinder & Modified
Stock: Straight grip, splinter forend
Accessories: Manual, 5-year warranty
Price as tested: $8,000
The outside of the receiver is fully engraved and color-case hardened. Old silver or bright metal finish is also available on the No. 2. The engraving pattern is similar to the E.J. Churchill Premier’s tight-scroll-and-leaf pattern. No. 1 guns are hand engraved, but AyA told me that our No. 2 was roll engraved by machine and then finished by hand. The tight scroll pattern works well with the case coloring for a modest but attractive exterior.
The automatic ejectors are of the Southgate type usually seen on good side-by-sides. They were correctly timed, as they pitched the empties together about six feet. That’s enough to get the shells well clear of the shooting butt without wounding anyone.
AyA makes its own barrels and also supplies barrels to the Spanish trade. Our barrels were chopper-lump, not monoblock. Chopper-lump barrels are more difficult and more expensive to make, because each barrel tube has to be forged with its own lump rather than just having tubes fitted into the separate lumped monoblock. The advantage of chopper-lumps is that the barrels can be placed very close together, thus avoiding some convergence issues, increasing strength and decreasing weight.
Our 28" barrels were beautifully blued and paired with a flush concave top rib. The solder seams along the top and bottom ribs were flawless, even under my anal-retentive jeweler’s loupe. There was a simple small steel bead at the muzzle.
Inside the barrels, the 16-gauge polished-steel bores were .662", exactly nominal. Chambers were 2¾", and forcing cones were of a traditional ¾" length. Alongside the European CIP proof marks on the barrel flats were the steel-proof fleur-de-lis symbols, so modern steel shells would be fine in this gun. Our gun had fixed chokes. They measured .008" and .016"—Improved Cylinder and Modified for a 16—but you can order what you wish. Like most fixed chokes, they ran longer than screw chokes, measuring about 3½" with 1" of shot-stabilizing parallel at the muzzle.
The gun had a classic English stock with a splinter forend. Broader beavertail forends and pistol-grip stocks are available, if you prefer. Our standard stock’s measurements were: 147⁄8" length of pull, 17⁄16" drop at comb, 2¼" drop at heel and ¼" cast. You can order custom dimensions for $700 or a unique “stock from a block” for $900. The walnut used was a $500 upgrade and well worth it. It was gorgeous. Spend the money for the wood; you won’t regret it. The butt was without a pad and checkered for ease of mounting. The stock and forend checkering patterns were traditional, minimalist and appeared to be hand cut. The stock finish was hand-rubbed oil, and it looked it. It was flawless, with a modest sheen, and the wood grain was completely filled. A genuine oil finish like this is easy to repair after a ding or two compared to a synthetic finish.
Our No. 2 Round Action came with the usual proof-test paperwork, a basic manual and a five-year warranty to the original owner. Bilinski was kind enough to include his Fieldsport AyA custom-order worksheet, which showed the options available. At an extra cost, the gun can be ordered with virtually anything customized to suit your requirements.
This gun was a delight to shoot. The 6-pound 5-ounce weight was perfect for a 16 that is set up for the field. The balance point was just in front of the hinge, which led to a lively but not whippy feel. The wonderfully smooth way the gun fit together reflected the hand fitting. Bilinski checked the gun for patterning, barrel convergence and point of impact, and all were correct. The patterns were typical for the IC & M choke dimensions, barrel convergence was spot on and the points of impact were both 50/50. The triggers were as crisp as could be and set for 4 pounds in front and 4¼ pounds in the rear. With zero play or creep, they obviously had been hand-tuned. As a field gun, our AyA had an automatic safety, but your gunsmith can easily switch it to manual or you can order it that way, if you prefer.
In all, this 16-gauge AyA No. 2 Round Body was a true classic. Classic cartridge. Classic action. Classic appearance. Classic handling. It’s no wonder that these AyA No. 2 sidelocks have been popular for 50 years.