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The AYA No. 2 Sidelock Shotgun

The AYA No. 2 Sidelock Shotgun

Built on the time-tested Holland and Holland design, the AYA No. 2 is the affordable sidelock shotgun

For those of us out there who have not yet heard of AYA (Aguirre y Aranzabal) fine guns, the short version of the story is a Spanish gunmaker specializing in side-by-side shotguns, although their offering also includes over-and-unders and side-by-side rifles.

Founded in 1915 in the famous Basque region of Spain, AYA is one of the last active shotgun makers in that area. Most famous of all these guns is its AYA No. 2, “the pre-eminent ‘affordable’ sidelock double gun” which is built on a Holland and Holland design. This article explores the most iconic of their offerings with an in-depth investigation of this fine example of handmade craftsmanship.

The design of the AYA No. 2 sidelock

When it comes to side-by-side shotguns, Gregg Elliot of Dogs and Doubles is always my first call. And although I had personal experience with the shotgun, I wanted to know where it stood in the world compared to other guns, as well as exploring technical aspects well outside my pay grade. As Gregg points out only about a tenth of 1 percent of all the shotguns produced each year are a sidelock. It’s a way gunmakers showcase the skills of their craftsmen.

In fact, according to Alex Aranzabal, CEO of AYA, the sidelock cost is driven up by the complexity and time consumption of fitting the action to the wood. “Only a true craftsman can do this correctly,” he said.

A look at the Holland Holland sidelock design
The Holland Holland design is still the most popular sidelock design in the world.

The AYA No. 2 is based on a Holland and Holland design. The Royal side-by-side was released by Holland and Holland in 1885 and the design has remained virtually unchanged since the 1800s. The simplicity and elegance of this design have become something many gunmakers still cling to. It stands as the highest production sidelock design in history.

In the case of the AYA No. 2, it is the most popular of all its shotguns. The barrels are made in the classic demi-bloc (chopper lump) fashion and forged together with silver. Most double guns as we know them are mono-bloc design, which in more recent years has become an effective production method with computer precision. But this story is about handmade craftsmanship, not machine engineering.   

Making a barrel for an AYA no 2 sidelock shotgun
The barrel maker of AYA in Eibar, Spain.

The AYA factory is something special in and of itself. For the week I spent there, I watched as master tradesmen and tradeswomen worked tirelessly to perfect each gun by hand. From a hand-checkered stock to a hand-fitted action, the gun truly is an exceptional group effort. As Alex Aranzabal (the fourth generation of the AYA family) would say, “In each one of our guns there are the names of all those workers that did their best to finish that gun.”

These truly are shotguns with a soul.

A bespoke shotgun that is somewhat affordable

The first AYA shotguns I shot were in Minnesota hunting over my friend Nick Larson’s English setter. On the first day, I took out a No. 2 in 20-gauge custom fit for someone else. I did well with it. Nick carried a 28-gauge, making short work of some difficult shots. But on the last day of filming, I got the chance to take out the 28-gauge which was owned by someone of similar height and build—questionably the shotgun closest to my personal measurements I’d ever shot.

An AYA no 2 in 20 gauge
An AYA No. 2 sidelock in 20 gauge

Over the last 100 yards of our hunt, I took that gun for a spin on a flight of American woodcock. I fired two shots (one in the film above) at two birds. I took both home. I was in love. At that point, I felt like a custom-fit shotgun would solve all my problems. Sure, there’s some truth to that; it makes some things easier, but there’s a lot more that goes into being a great game shot.

I certainly hesitate to call a shotgun with a starting MSRP of $7,000 “affordable” because although I own one, it is well out of my budget. Put that in context with British sidelocks that start around $100,000 and we start to get an idea of how intense this market can be. As Gregg points out, although those guns are nicer the AYA No. 2 is 70 percent of what those guns are at a far greater price. This is part of why Spanish shotguns have enjoyed popularity in the United States with previous generations.

Time and space allowed me to acquire one and I jumped at the opportunity. If you would have asked me a year ago if owning a bespoke shotgun would have been part of my life I would have said no. I’ve never cared for the word “bespoke” because of its level of exclusivity. As someone who grew up far removed from wealth, I have a tough time connecting to that idea. That’s probably the most candid thing I will ever write, but it’s part of this narrative of expectations.

Selecting wood for an AYA No. 2 sidelock shotgun
Alex Aranzabal of AYA helps select the wood for the authors No. 2 sidelock shotgun

A truly custom shotgun can mean a lot of things. But in this case, it includes a full-gun fit, selected wood, fixed chokes, barrel lengths, and even finish options. Mine is 28-gauge, with 27-inch barrels, choked with skeet and improved cylinder. Because of my 5-foot-5 stature, it looks like a youth model side-by-side if there ever were such a thing. Who knows. I did not get a rounded action which was my only regret on this shotgun.

The other thing acquiring this shotgun takes that many of us lack—myself included—is patience. It took nine months for my shotgun to come in, but as AYA would say, “a true work of art does not just simply appear out of thin air.”

What comes standard with the AYA No. 2?

The AYA No. 2 can be ordered in 12-, 16-, 20-, 28-gauge, and .410 bore. Barrel length and fixed shotgun chokes are selected by the user to customize to your shooting applications. It’s important to note that this is fundamentally a game shotgun, and some time on a skeet range with hot barrels will show you that firsthand. I was looking for the Cadillac of a woodcock gun and I certainly was not left wanting.

The English scroll engraving on the gun comes standard. Unlike the AYA No. 1 however, the No. 2 is laser-engraved rather than hand-engraved, cutting labor costs and significantly bringing the price and time of production down. The action finish has three options: case-hardened, old silver, or white finish. The case-hardened option is tough to pass up. The action also can be made with a round action; the “No. 2 RA” on mine however is the standard shell design which I do love but would certainly opt for the round action if I had a second go at it. I truly understand its popularity in the United States.

The English scroll engraving on an AYA No. 2
The AYA No. 2 comes standard with English scroll engraving.

Wood grade options can also be selected by the individual for their shotgun. Finishes include oil and gloss offerings (I went with oil). The stock options include just about anything you can think of from Monte Carlo to straight English stocks. I went with the straight English option as my double gun collection has expanded and I’ve developed a profound love for the design. The fit of the shotgun can be either to your specifications, or someone at their stateside distributors can do the measurements for you—length of pull, comb, cast, all fitted to your personal build.

AYA No. 2 secondhand market

If you are willing to compromise on the custom fit of a bespoke shotgun, there are still ways to get below the MSRP with used side-by-side shotguns. I have stumbled across AYA No.2s for as low as $3,900, and with some as tempting as $8,000 with a three-barrel set. Reasonable prices usually come in around $5,000 for a gun that’s in good shape.

There are a fair number of AYAs on the secondhand market as they have been a very popular gun over the years. The other common model you will certainly stumble upon is the AYA No. 4 boxlock which fetches a lower price. If you keep in mind the fact that a custom order would take months anyways, patience can play a big role in finding the right No. 2 at the right price. Keep in mind that these are fixed choke guns and not all will make sense for everyone’s applications. But in the right market, at the right time, you may just end up with your dream shotgun.

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