by Brooke Chilvers
In 1984, a handsome French professional hunter invited me to a remote town on the slopes of the Karawanken mountains in Carinthia, the Austrian province that borders Slovenia. “It’s called Ferlach,” said Pierre–of course he was named Pierre–omitting that it was home to such prestigious gunmakers as Ludwig Borovnik, Johann Fanzoj, Franz Sodia, Herbert Scheiring, and Josef Hambrusch.
While falling in love with the PH, I learned about single-shot Kipplaufs, two-caliber Bergstutzens, and three-barreled Bockdrillings, and developed an affection for the neo-Gothic high-relief engravings of roe deer and oak leaves, or edelweiss and chamois in alpine landscapes, that adorn these handcrafted guns.
When we returned, married, many years later, it was to visit the bold and unconventional Meister gunmaker, Peter Hofer. Peter graduated from Ferlach’s five-year gunsmith college course in 1979 and founded his own business just seven years later, in 1986, making only the most expensive custom guns, embellished with first-rate engraving.
We spent hours in his wood-paneled showroom. His white-gloved hands showed us the fruits of his multifaceted imagination, derived from 300 different calibers, 42 distinct barrel configurations, and an almost endless variety of gun systems
One express Drilling was chambered in 8x75RS and 6.5×65, with a .410 shotgun barrel. A (four-barreled) Vierling combined a 12 gauge side-by-side shotgun with an 8×75 rifle barrel beneath and a .22 Hornet above the shotgun tubes. A double with three sets of interchangeable barrels provided a 9.3x74R, a combination barrel in 8x75RS and .222 Remington, and another in 6.5x57R and .22 Hornet—altogether, five calibers on three barrels! Each combination of barrels in a single gun is regulated to hit the same target at 100 metres. With such ingenious combinations, the hunter can pursue everything from bear, wild boar, and red stag, to fox, hare, and partridge.
Contrary to the prevalence of computers and 3D technology in gunmaking today, Hofer’s works are born from the individual skills of human hands, not the built-in dexterity of a machine. Each Hofer gun is a unique creation taking from 18 months to eight years to produce; the stockmaker alone might invest up to 300 hours working on an 800-year-old piece of burl walnut.
Hofer’s engraver inlays 99.99-percent pure, 1.5mm thick Feingold wire into the design or background, and a bulino specialist does the “banknote” or putini (Italian for point) engraving. More than mere self-congratulatory tributes to the hunter with deep pockets, many Hofer pieces are museum-worthy “instant classics.” Hofer’s imagery is unique and sometimes visionary.
I recall his Lilliputian gold-inlaid .17 HMR varmint rifle engraved with flowers, feathers, and iridescent, green-headed, blue-bellied hummingbirds. Their myriad reds and blues cost his atelier hundreds of hours of secret experimentation with rare electrolytic metals like titanium and zirconium.
Hofer’s most recent masterpiece is his Amazon-themed side-by-side double-barrel “Jaguar,” a .500 Nitro Express that took six years to build. “It is my tribute to the cat with twice the bite of a lion and no natural enemies, roaming the world’s largest continuous tropical rainforest,” says Peter.
“Jaguar” features Hofer’s special action with a double underlug and a third bite.