Ah, autumn! Summer’s heat has dissipated and autumn tip-toes in with its magnificent change of foliage colors and soothing coolness. Excitement pulses through energized sportsmen and women preparing for wingshooting, the enticing panoply of hunts and luxuriating in Nature’s magnificence. Those seasonal exuberances and luscious anticipations infuse Peter Hofer’s own contribution to the season, his drilling, “Autumn,” bejeweled in multi-colored gold, precious metal alloys and enamel, representing yet another incarnation of Peter’s aesthetic and technical genius.
Peter Hofer’s “Autumn”
The Autumn is a 70 mm 12-gauge side-by-side shotgun with a barrel in the top rib chambered for the .17 Hornady Hornet. The premise of this exquisite firearm is to expand the hunting versatility of a side-by-side shotgun by integrating an accurate and powerful rifle cartridge. The .17 Hornet is well suited for this enhancement because the shotgun’s balance and handling dynamics are not compromised.
The Autumn is designed with two sidelocks for the shotgun barrels and an additional third specially designed inner lock for the rifle barrel. An extractor for the rifle barrel is integrated with the two separated shotgun ejectors. The single front trigger blade fires the shotgun barrels in a right/left barrel sequence. The rear trigger fires the rifle cartridge and boasts a set trigger to facilitate a precise rifle shot. The ejectors and the extractor will remove the cartridge only when a cartridge is fired.
The action, which Peter designates as the “special action,” is designed with a bank vault-like double underlug lock. The barrels are 28 inches (71.5 cm) and the shotgun barrels are choked three-quarter and full. The rifle barrel has an external diameter of 6.5 mm, hidden under the rib between the two shotgun barrels. All parts are polished and fitted like the finest Patek Phillipe watch.
I am compelled to draw attention to the Autumn’s walnut stock because, during a recent visit, I had seen Peter’s selection of blanks and handled several in his climate-controlled sealed vault. His enviable inventory, perhaps even more precious than the finest cellars stocked with rare vintage Bordeaux and Burgundies, originate in the Turkish part of Caucasus. When shaped and finished by his in-house stocker, the stock is unsurpassed in density, complex grain patterns and beauty, often possessing what I describe as a luminosity emanating from within the wood. Hofer’s brochure states the wood blank of the Autumn’s stock is 580 years old, give or take a few weekends.
The Autumn was inspired by the diminutive .17 HMR side-by-side double rifle, named the Butterfly, that Peter built a few years before for one of the world’s most prestigious firearms collectors. With the benefit of proprietary information shared by Hornady, Peter completed the rifle four years after the commission was requested and fortuitously coinciding with the launching on the market of the .17 HMR cartridge. The Butterfly was, and, to my knowledge, still is, the world’s smallest and lightest double barrel rifle.
Peter was enamored by the concept of and the inherent technical challenge of a drilling with a micro-barrel that could enhance a hunter’s capabilities when presented with small game hunting opportunities. The Autumn is the successor to the drilling designated The Peter Hofer Special that has two shotgun barrels and a rifle barrel in the diminutive .17 HMR caliber.
Peter conceptualized and designed the Autumn, which, in this atypical instance, was not built as a custom request. During my last visit to his studio, Peter said to me in a solemn tone, “My computer and my CAD are in my head. My designing is from the heart.” Study the photos of the Autumn and you will conclude his head and heart create a transcendent harmony.
Selecting the Hornet
One of the most anticipated new varmint offerings, Hornady introduced its factory .17 Hornady Hornet ammunition at the 2012 SHOT Show. With some slight changes to the popular .17 Ackley Hornet wildcat, Hornady continued embracing the .17 caliber in its various forms. The impressive specs on the new cartridge attracted Peter’s attention. The 20-grain V-Max bullet is listed as producing a velocity of 3,650 feet per second and about 600 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle. The Hornet has the same inner barrel dimensions as the .17 HMR that Peter had successfully crafted in his Butterfly. The necked-down .22 Hornet case yields a substantial performance increase, including explosive expansion, wind-resistant ballistic design and a flat trajectory, all enabling excellent hunting results out to three-hundred yards.
Designed for the U.S.A. market, certainly the Autumn’s appeal and application impress me as universal. Peter Hofer Jagdwaffen engravers did the sumptuous precious metals inlays and Barbara Krondorfer and Helmuth Kelih executed the engraving. No component of this drilling escapes the gravitational field of its designer. To maintain the handling dynamics of a pure shotgun, as Peter described the characteristic to me, despite the third barrel and the required additional parts, a specially designed scope mount was required. Instead of using mounting bases on the barrel, the scope mount is fixed on lateral slots milled in the rib.
The Autumn comes equipped with a March 1-8x24 mm Shorty scope, the selection being a consequence of Peter ascertaining that the high-performance .17 Hornet, used for the first time in a combination firearm, merited a small yet powerful scope. The gun case exterior is constructed of a strong yet remarkably light carbon composite and its wood and cloth interior is crafted by in-house stockers. Delivery of the Autumn is approximately two and one-half years after placing the order.
Never Say Never!
An “irresistible drug” is how Peter describes challenges that compel him to indefatigably pursue crafting the most unique firearms on the planet. This motto appears on the Peter Hofer Jadgwaffen website: “Impossible does not exist.” An inspirational maxim, to be sure, but even Peter Hofer is constrained by the laws of physics, which influence greatly what is and what is not possible. Several years of development were required to solve the engineering challenges to create the Autumn.
Imagine a barrel with the diameter similar to a straw. It must, obviously, be absolutely straight. Yet, such a barrel cannot be machined normally on the turning lathe because the centrifugal force of the rotation tends to bend the barrel and ruin it. Many of the initial prototypes were hurled into the trash can.
Working on the inside of a barrel this size is technically daunting because the difference between the grooves and the lands is only 0.1 mm (groove 4.37; land 4.27 mm). As with the Butterfly rifle and the other smaller guns, the timing and harmony of the parts must be precisely machined and aligned to ensure long wear and reliability. A slim-shaped sidelock shotgun already offers little space to house all the technology inside, but with this integrated rifle barrel, Peter seems to have made possible that which initially seemed to be impossible.
he fifty-percent increase in parts and technology was achieved without increasing the size of any other component. Here is an example of an engineering challenge: The striker cannot be continuously reduced because it will lose its force. At some point, the miniaturized parts cannot withstand the stress of firing. Yet, attempting to compensate for the lighter striker by making a stronger spring would require strengthening and enlarging other parts, increasing weight and causing an imbalance that would jeopardize the action’s timing and the firearm’s handling dynamics. Years were required for Peter to master the obstacles. With justifiable pride, Peter considers these barrels among his greatest engineering triumphs.
To the casual observer, the Autumn presents an irony: the firearm’s soul-churning beauty deflects analysis of its magisterial engineering. Connoisseurs know Peter crafts the most extravagant and ingenious sporting firearms. They are offered in hundreds of calibers, dozens of barrel configurations and locking and safety mechanisms.
As this article was submitted to the editors, Peter informed me of his newest drilling, a .410 Magnum/.17 HMR/.410 Magnum, boasting a preternatural weight of only 2.4 kg that he describes as a world record. Threatening to violate the laws of physics, Peter developed an action lighter and smaller than the Autumn. Thus, it is appropriate to end this article with another statement on Peter’s website: “You may be assured that no wish, whether of a technical or artistic nature, will remain unfulfilled.” Peter Hofer’s Autumn and its successors prove that assertion.--Michael G. Sabbeth
For more information:
Peter Hofer Jagdwaffen
Kirchgasse 24, A-9170 Ferlach
Tel: +43 4227 3683 Fax: +43 4227 3683 30