The AYA No. 2 Side by Side 20 gauge Shotgun
By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
AYA shotguns, made in the Basque country of Spain, have been around longer than any of us can remember. Somehow, AYA has managed to survive the roller coaster economics of the Spanish firearms industry longer than most.
Founders Miguel Aguirre and Nicolas Aranzabal joined forces to found Aguirre y Aranzabal (AYA) in Eibar in 1915. Before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, which basically tore Spain apart between July 1936 and April 1939, AYA primarily made receivers and parts for other gun companies.
The Basque country was particularly hard hit during the Civil War, but AYA managed to resume manufacturing in 1938 and began turning out entry level and medium priced double guns, along with a few single shot and over/under guns. Then, of course, the Second World War began in August 1939. Ravished and exhausted from the just concluded Civil War, Spain stayed neutral, despite close ties to Italy and Germany. This at least gave AYA and the other Basque gunmakers the World War II years during which to recover.
By the mid-1950s, the Company began concentrating on higher grade, British style, side by side guns. These were Holland & Holland pattern sidelocks and Anson & Deeley boxlocks. These guns became the No. 1 and No. 2 sidelocks and the No. 4 boxlock, all of which are still in the line today. It is really from this period that AYA became internationally famous, particularly in Spain, the UK and USA, for building fine guns at much lower prices than the remaining Continental, British and American manufacturers.
Unlike the other Spanish best gun makers, which typically were small shops that maybe built a couple of hundred guns a year, by the 1960s and 1970s, AYA had grown into a major industrial concern with hundreds of employees producing up to 20,000 guns a year in a wide variety of grades and prices.
The Fascist dictator Franco (whose forces were victorious in the Spanish Civil War against the Anarchists/Communists) died in 1975 and Spain transitioned into a constitutional monarchy. Democracy was established and times were good. However, as always in gun making and especially Spanish gun making, they did not last.
In 1982 the Spanish Socialist party (PSOE) came to power in the midst of a worldwide economic recession. Like Socialists of all persuasions, they favored a centralized economy planned by government bureaucrats.
Two years later, the disastrous result for Spanish gun making was the formation of DIARM, a government sponsored and subsidized consortium of some 20 Basque firms into a single, modern, factory with a unionized labor force. AYA was the biggest and most important DIARM participant and the only brand name (other than "DIARM" itself) permitted to be stamped on a few, high end, DIARM produced shotguns. It took until 1986 for DIARM to actually begin producing guns and by 1988, DIARM had collapsed.
The AYA brand and guns, however, survived. Imanol Aranzabal purchased the remaining AYA parts from the wreckage of DIARM. Starting over in a small shop with a dozen craftsmen, AYA rose from the ashes, this time modeled on the likes of Garbi, Grulla and Arrieta, Spanish "best gun" makers who had eschewed collectivism and remained specialty makers of fine double guns independent from DIARM.
Today, AYA builds only high quality sidelock and boxlock SxS and O/U shotguns, plus a few sidelock, double-barreled express rifles. The model that concerns us here is the No. 2, a deluxe sidelock SxS shotgun built on the same seven pin Holland & Holland pattern action as the No. 1 and Imperial. These actions use "V" springs for the fastest possible lock time and are protected from inadvertent discharge by safety sears that hold the internal hammers unless the trigger is pulled.
Double Purdy type underbolts lock the action closed, leaving an unobstructed breech face for easy loading. A traditional Scott spindle operated by a top tang lever opens the action. Disc set strikers (firing pins) allow the replacement of a broken firing pin from the front of the breech face.
The Southgate pattern selective ejectors are carefully timed to eject both fired cases simultaneously and to the same spot when both barrels are fired. If only one barrel is fired, the fired case is ejected and the unfired shell extracted and raised for easy manual removal, if desired, when the action is opened.
These days the bespoke, custom order only Imperial is the top of the AYA line, followed by the No. 1 and then the No. 2. The No. 2 is a very fine shotgun with most of the same features and options as the No. 1. It has been the most popular AYA sidelock model for most of its existence. The principle differences are that the No. 1 is entirely hand engraved and stocked in Exhibition grade European walnut, while the somewhat simpler, but very attractive, standard No. 2 English scroll engraving pattern is set by laser and then finished by hand and the gun is stocked in what AYA calls #2 grade walnut.
AYA builds No. 2 guns to standardized specifications, chiefly as upland game guns. However, like the No. 1, they are also willing to build custom No. 2 guns to individual measurements and with a very wide range of options, including custom engraving patterns.
Standard Features and Specifications
As mentioned, AYA will build a No. 2 that markedly departs from the standard configuration and the gun that is the subject of this review is such an example. It was built in 1996 as a 20 gauge skeet gun with 28" barrels bored Skeet #1 and Skeet #2. It has 70mm (2-3/4 inch) chambers, rather than the 76mm (3 inch) chambers typical in 20 gauge field guns, a single selective trigger and a manual safety. The concave rib has synthetic ivory front and middle beads.
It is equipped with a beavertail fore end and a pistol grip butt stock that terminates in a thin, but functional, rubber recoil pad. The bordered, three panel, hand checkering is cut at about 24 lines-per-inch and wraps around the fore end. The fore end latch is the Deeley (pull down lever) type. The side locks are carefully inletted and, overall, the wood to metal fit is excellent.
This gun has the standard square body action with hand detachable side locks, the inside of which are polished. It weighs 6 pounds 9.3 ounces on our digital scale and the overall length is 44-1/4 inches. The trigger pull is crisp and measures 5-1/2 pounds per our RCBS pull gauge, although it feels lighter.
The stock has the long dark grain streaks typical of high grade European walnut and considerable fiddleback. We would call it Fancy (AA grade) wood. The length of pull is 13-1/2 inches and there is a little cast-off for a right hand shooter.
The finish overall is excellent, with highly polished and luster blued barrels, top lever, trigger and trigger guard. The action body and Deeley fore end latch are case colored. The hand rubbed oil stock finish completely fills the wood pores.
Shooting the No. 2
We took our AYA test gun to the Cottage Grove-Eugene Sportsman's Club for a bout of Five Stand sporting clays. This fine facility is located on Highway 99 in Walker, Oregon, which is between Cottage Grove and Eugene. They offer multiple Trap ranges, two Skeet fields and Five Stand sporting clays.
Our sample No. 2 balances about 1/2 inch in front of the hinge pin. This gives it a slightly more forward balance than the typical game gun, as preferred by most competition skeet shooters.
Nevertheless, it still handles and shoulders perfectly. You see the target leave the trap, bring the gun to your shoulder and it is just there, perfectly aligned with the eye so the middle and front beads form the classic "figure 8."
The night and day difference in handling between a typical mass produced repeater and a fine, hand built double gun like the AYA No. 2 is impossible to adequately describe in words. It must be experienced to be believed.
However, it is easily explained. The basic difference, beside the incredibly bulky fore end that houses action parts, the thick, machine-shaped butt stock and a bulky tubular magazine below the barrel on a pump gun or autoloader, is the repeater's action. It is about four (or more) inches longer than a break-open action, making the whole gun that much longer for the same length of pull and barrel length. There is simply no way a long, bulky repeater can handle like a svelte double gun.
The skeet chokes patterned as expected and the gun shot where it was supposed to. We missed an embarrassing number of targets, but this was not the gun's fault. (We shoot Five Stand about once in a blue moon and are unfamiliar with where the targets are actually going or where to hold to break them.)
The only mechanical malfunction was the single trigger doubling once in the course of the 50 shots we fired. The two barrels did not fire simultaneously, but rather very rapidly in succession, indicating that the trigger mechanism did not properly "waste" the inadvertent trigger pull that occurs when a shooter fires the first barrel. In any case, both shot charges hit a "rabbit" target and really powdered it!
Summary and Conclusion
Spanish doubles from the "best gun" Basque manufacturers have been the best value in fine SxS shotguns for many years. Unfortunately, the prices have steadily increased for double barreled guns in general and SxS guns in particular, regardless of country of manufacture. (In fact, the prices have steadily increased for shotguns of any type.) However, owning a personalized Spanish double from a name manufacturer (AYA, Grulla and Garbi probably being the best known) is still possible for a blue collar working person willing to save for one. Our test AYA No. 2 is a prime example.
Turkish doubles have come to dominate the low priced end of the double gun market, as Spanish guns did after WW II. However, Turkish guns are comparatively crude. We know of no "Turkish best" gun; maybe someday there will be one, but not yet.
Spanish best guns have arrived. The indisputable fact is that a gun like an AYA No. 2 can travel in any company and the top of the line guns (AYA Imperial, Grulla Royal, etc.) are among the very best in the world, regardless of price.
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