If you buy a custom shotgun from gunmaker Peter Hofer for $200,000 or so, I reckon you can shoot all the Bud cans you want. Be that as it may, businessweek.com (a fresh addition to New York Mayor Michael “Gun Show Loophole” Bloomberg’s media empire) reports that Herr Hofer’s high end guns are still in deep demand. “His products are so expensive and his customers so flush that his business enjoys the rarefied position of being immune to the economy.” Oh really? Show me the money. Our contacts at the Purdey-level part of the gun biz report that the recession has taken its toll at the top end of the food chain. But the media loves that Fitzgeraldian “the rich aren’t like you and me” meme long time. And so we get a look at the Hof’s inner sanctum . . .

He also offers moguls something many seek when it comes to their gun collections: anonymity. Unlike Gulfstreams, fancy firearms are a form of conspicuous consumption that the rich paradoxically keep private, in part out of concern that some in polite society view the hobby as, well, nuts.

Again, I don’t think so. I mean, have you seen the chazerai in The Robb Report? Pu-lease. Hofer owners probably keep their engraved weaponry secret so that stockholders don’t rise up in revolt. So Robb Report reading robbers don’t target Hofer owners’ guns.

Or they don’t keep it secret at all. What’s the point of having something hideously expensive if someone doesn’t know about it?

“Like art, this is an investment,” Hofer says. “This is not like the houses in America—what you call it, subprime? Every year the price does go higher.” Because of the small supply and the cult-like devotion of collectors, the best Ferlach weapons tend to appreciate in value, making them a sound acquisition for those with the cash, confirms Gardiner, who handles the discreet resale of expensive weapons.

“Tend”? And do I sense a small conflict of interest in the discreet dealer’s comments? I do.

Still, the Ferlach guild has dwindled to only 11 independent shops. Hofer has done his part for continuity, marrying Daniela Fanzoj, whose family has made guns in Ferlach for 300 years. Lisa, Hofer’s 20-year-old daughter, obtained a degree in industrial design from the Ferlach institute this June. Her father hopes she and her three siblings will one day take over the business: “I want to see this tradition survive.”

I guess all those independent shops got tired of counting the money. Free market cynicism aside—something is worth exactly what some one will pay for it; no more, no less—Hofer guns are art works. And our world is better for having them around.

And if any of our wealthier readers have a Hofer (heads up Steve Hornady), we’d be delighted to post a video of you shooting a beer can with same, to celebrate the joys of capitalism.

During my stay, Hofer invites me to try a bolt-action rifle decorated with gold-accented antelope and zebra cavorting through an African dreamscape. Chambered for .270 Winchester Short Magnum rounds, the gun ought to have a potent kick. I squeeze the trigger. Bam. To my surprise, the recoil feels friendly, even gentle. Then again, for this kind of money, a firearm should be polite.

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