AYA Best Quality Boxlock
“The best quality boxlock is the most English of the AyA English range, and arguably the best handling,” Edward King of ASI the AyA gun importers told me the other day. Of all the guns his firm imports, Edward has a particular soft spot for this one; I have heard him praise its qualities many times over the years. “It really looks and feels like a an English gun,” he continued enthusiastically in our most recent discussion, “the action is of a very English shape – you just won’t see anything like this being made on the Continent save from AyA.”
Passion is what drives us in the gun trade – if we wanted to make real money we would do something sensible – so, it was nice to see Edward so committed and connected to this particular product. It consequently encouraged me to put it through it’s paces. The opportunity arose at the West London Shooting Ground. They had the AyA in stock in their gun room, and, as ever, they were kind enough to let me examine it and shoot it on their excellent shooting layouts. I have said it before, but I will do so again, West London is a great place to shoot - part of our heritage as a sport. If you have not been there yet, you should (and, I might say much the same of Holland & Holland).
First impressions of the upmarket AyA boxlock are certainly positive. The styling is good, I liked the silver polished and scalloped action (colour case hardening is a no cost option). The straight-hand English gripped stock is classically styled and ergonomically efficient. The scalloping gives the gun a quality look – if you look in the catalogues of English makers like Thomas Bland, you will see the deluxe guns often had scalloped actions and more engraving coverage. The scroll in this case is especially attractive and well executed without being over the top. I also liked to see the articulated front trigger – another quality touch.
Bringing this neat 28” chopper lump barrelled, 20 bore, gun to the face and shoulder, I noted above average balance characteristics. The 28” barrels seemed to suit the gun, although I tend to favour 30” on 20 bores (whether side by side or over and under). As a general rule, it makes them a little more controllable without any significant loss reactivity. Comb and splinter forend, meantime, felt comfortable, the 15” stock suited me well too. The drop dimensions – about 1 ½” and 2 1/8” – seemed ideal as ‘shelf’ measurements (of course, with AyA there is a bespoke option too). Sometimes continental guns have stocks which are too short and too steeply inclined – this is rarely the case with AyA’s in my experience because the firm that has imported them for so long, ASI, understand exactly what is needed in a British game gun. Indeed, they have helped significantly in the development of the AyA gun as "the logical alternative [to a British gun]".
The internal finish of the 2 ¾” chambered barrels was good and they were straighter than some (this can occasionally be a problem with Spanish production). Striking up externally was good too, blacking was competent and had the depth and lustre expected in an extra finish gun. The rib is of classic pattern – concave, game, pattern. I have always found this to be the most efficient and unobtrusive for game shooting. When shooting clays with a side by side, though, I usually prefer a flat, file cut, ‘pigeon’ rib. And, this style can work well on a game gun as well if correctly concieved. Vic Champan used to have some of his 20 bore Ariettas made up with 30” barrels and a fairly narrow flat but tapered rib. They pointed and shot very well. Such a rib would be an option on this gun too with 30" barrels.
Generally, the barrels and the Southgate style ejector work of the test gun are well presented. The bore diameter was marked at 15.8 in both barrels. Average wall thickness was above 30 thou. Guns today tend to be a little thicker in the walls than those of yesteryear – we have all become more safety conscious and manufacturers tend to vere on the side of caution. It is interesting to note, though, that many old London guns were made at 25 thou or less. This is a very thorny issue when considering secondhand guns. Generally, the trade (and the market) likes to see guns that have not crept below 20thou at any point. The problem is that some old guns were made with very thin tubes to save weight. Assessing barrel condition and original bore size at manufacture is a job for an expert. The mere fact that old gun is in proof is not a definitive guide to its condition. Take advice if in any doubt. One way to avoid it, however, is to buy a modern gun like this from a respected importer.
Moving on to the action of the AyA, the great thing about the Anson and Deeley, conceived in the 1870s by Westley Richards and one of the first truly successful hammerless designs, is its simplicity. The lock work literally fits into the box of the action without any need for lock pates (as on a hammer gun or sidelock). In its early form the Anson and Deeley action used Westley Richards own Doll's Head as a top bolt. I have one of these first model guns and it is a beautiful thing. This arrangements has long since been superseded by combining the original A&D with Purdey's 'Double Bite' bolting system. The Anson and Deely with Purdey system locking must now be one of the world's most popular shotguns, Thousands, if not millions of guns have been made to this pattern. Its simplicity is its genius.
I love to shoot a good side by side – which this was – and I love to shoot the simulated game birds at West London. The AyA ticked all my boxes. Its beauty was not skin deep. Weighing only about 6 pounds it was fast handling but controlled recoil well and pointed naturally. Triggers were crisp, function of the auto safe positive, and ejection well timed. This might be an even better gun with 30” barrels, but the gun as tested would be ideal for a partridge day or walking up. It would also be very useful in a pigeon hide where its fast handling qualities and compact dimensions would be a real benefit. The gun is not cheap, nor is it over-priced in today’s market where our poor old pounds seem to buy less and less. If you were looking for a pair of guns for partridge these special AyAs might be well worth considering too.
Model: Best Quality boxlock
Barrels: 28” (other length available at a supplement)
Chokes: ¼ and 1/2
Rib: concave ‘game’
Weight: 5lbs 15oz. (6lbs 10 typically in 12 bore, 28”, form)
RRP.: £4,760 (20 bore).