Written by Neil Harmse
Poor Man’s Double Rifle
It all started when I bought a ‘slightly’ damaged AyA number 2 shotgun from a friend who had burst the one barrel near the muzzle with a bad reload. I paid R100 for it and had the gun sent off to AyA in Spain for a new set of barrels. Somehow, the gun was ‘lost’ in transit and it was only over a year later that it was finally returned – without the new barrels. Instead of going through the whole exercise again, I decided to cut the barrels down to 18” (46cm) and use the gun like that.
After shooting a few guinea fowl and francolin – as well as a warthog and bushpig – with factory slugs, the gun was stored at the back of my safe in favour of other shotguns and rifles.
During 1985, while doing game control work in the Lowveld, I again put the AyA to work as a back-up weapon for lion and leopard, using both buckshot and slug loads.
While employed as a field guide conducting wilderness trails in the Timbavati on behalf of the Wilderness Leadership School, I had a very narrow shave with a lioness and her cubs. It was about midday and I was leading a group of six trailists back to camp after a morning walk. Having seen no game for quite a while, the group had become a bit disinterested and unobservant in the heat of the day. We were all looking forward to getting back to camp and enjoying a late brunch. Our route took us through a patch of fairly thick acacia scrub, where I suddenly noticed a lion cub under a bush about 5m away.
I knew that the mother, and perhaps the rest of the pride, had to be somewhere close by, and I stopped abruptly, causing the rest of the party to literally bump into me. However, I could see no sign of the lions. The cub then ran off and I stared in the direction it was going. Sure enough, there was the lioness asleep under a bush in the long grass, about 25m away. She had her back to me and was so well camouflaged and blended so well in the grass that I would normally not have seen her. I whispered to the people to freeze, which they did.
Mama woke up when the cub reached her and started turning towards us. I could actually see her eyes focus on me. Then, suddenly, she was up and coming with a growl that sounded like a four-letter word! I shouted at her at the top of my voice and she stopped, tail stiff and eyes yellow, growling in a loud, unladylike manner. We stood staring at each other for what seemed like two or three years! I decided to get my party out of there. With my rifle (a .375 H&H, by Whitworth) trained on her, I whispered to the group to back off slowly. This they did, without further encouragement. When they were about 30m away, I decided to move back. I now had a problem: if she charged, she was too close for me to fire a warning shot. I would never be able to reload in time if she still came on. I did not want to shoot a lioness with small cubs.
On about my third or fourth backward step, she decided to encourage me to move faster and began her charge. I shouted, but she had heard that one before and took no notice. In desperation, I flung my hat at her. This did the trick and she swerved at about 5m and ran past, with her cubs in tow.
Then and there, my heart yearned for the Rigby .450/400 double rifle I had recently sold. I needed a double-barrel weapon for that quick second shot which is so essential in these situations.
Out came the AyA again, but I was not too happy with the factory slug loads, so I started experimenting. I bought an RCBS slug mould and modified it to cast a 580-grain lino-type slug. Each slug was annealed to make it harder. I then bought a few Armour Brass 12g cases and experimented with different wads to find the best way of seating the slugs into the cases. I had a friend turn out some loading tools for this cannon and began loading. To the AyA I fitted a set of express sights and after roughly bore-sighting, I zeroed the gun with factory Brenneke slugs.
A friend and fellow PH, Frank Schimper and I then took ourselves off to the range with all the reloading paraphernalia, chronograph, etc. I started by checking the factory loads, which clocked an average of 1 221 fps through the AyA. I began by loading 20 grains of MS200, which averaged 821 fps and slowly worked up to 30 grains, which gave me 1 217 fps, almost duplicating factory ballistics with a heavier slug, giving approximately 1 800 ft/lbs muzzle energy.
The penetration test was amazing. The Brenneke slug went through five water-soaked directories. The 30–grain load went through eight directories and a half-metre into the soft clay bank behind – this from a range of 25m. The slug was un-deformed, apart from a few chips caused by hitting stones. Both Frank and I were impressed by this.
I have since experimented further and have taken loads up to 36 grains, which gave me an average of 1 350 fps and a muzzle energy of about 2 348ft/lbs. Accuracy from these loads was quite acceptable up to 50m.
The AyA became my ‘poor man’s double’ and regularly went with me as a defensive weapon on wilderness trails. At all times I felt safe and comfortable with this ‘cannon’.
Just a word of warning:
I worked carefully with my loads and checked for signs of pressure. Loads that were safe in my AyA may not be suitable in any other gun. Remember, too, that the AyA had no chokes for the slugs to pass through, as these were cut off. Never fire hardened and lino-type slugs through choked barrels.