Unable to compete on price, some Swiss gun manufacturers are focusing on novelty and customisation to attract wealthy hunters and hobbyists.
Chamois hunting can be a dangerous sport; chasing the elusive mountain-loving goat-antelope to dizzying heights alone and on foot means that one slip could lead to a fatal fall.
“One of my best hunting friends died on a chamois hunt two years ago,” says Manfred Treutler, owner of the Makura hunting rifle company based in central Switzerland.
Treutler himself was always unhappy about having to lug a gun while keeping an eye on his quarry and his balance at high altitudes. Apart from the personal danger, there was always the risk that his precious rifle could fall and get damaged. One day, he approached master Swiss gun maker Markus Ulrich with his problem.
“I asked him to create a take-down [easily disassembled] rifle that I could put in a rucksack, leaving my hands free to climb,” says Treutler. “There were a lot of take-downs on the market but nothing that met my needs.”
A year later, Ulrich handed him a prototype of a rifle that can be taken apart and put together in a matter of seconds without any tools. Treutler was bowled over by the simplicity and ingenuity of the locking mechanism.
“I felt it was a pity to just have it to myself and I asked Markus if he was interested in creating a company,” he says.
The Makura hunting rifles company came into being in 2003. They enlisted the aid of one of Switzerland’s most well-known brands - that did not want its association with a hunting rifle to be made public - to perfect the mechanism. Their engineers helped Makura solve the dilemma of combining high strength with flexibility. The firearm’s basic design was based on the very successful German Blaser R93 rifle.
The Makura rifle starts at around CHF15,000 ($15,115) and the most expensive model sold for €180,000 (CHF210,132).
“It was ordered by a Russian client. The rifle was made with steel, high-grade wood and had special engraving, as well as three types of gold and gemstones,” says Treutler.
Makura’s clients come from over 90 countries and include actors, politicians and aristocrats. Whenever Treutler hunts in Africa, he takes an especially nice rifle with him and places it a conspicuous location. Most hunters ask about it and he usually sell two or three on each trip. The main selling points are portability and versatility, he says. The rifle box is only 70 centimetres in length compared to 1.5 metres for most hunting rifles, and the ability to take the rifle apart and put it in a rucksack while hunting is handy on big game hunts.
“If you hunt an elephant or cape buffalo in Africa, you have to walk 20 kilometres a day and a real hunter carries his own rifle,” says Treutler.
Those interested in hunting different kinds of game on a hunting trip can take two different calibers and just one stock, effectively getting two rifles in one. Treutler himself always carries .416 and .300-caliber front parts that he uses interchangeably with one stock. But despite the interest in his product so far, Treutler sees a few clouds on the horizon. His take-down patent will expire in ten years, and he says there’s a lack of interest in taking up hunting as a hobby among the younger generation.
“A good rifle lasts for a hundred years and your son or even grandson will use it. However, with increasing restrictions on transporting rifles and trophies, hunting will become more complicated in the next 20 years and fewer people will be interested,” says Treutler.
Small is beautiful
SwissMiniGun is another Swiss gun manufacturer that decided to stand out from the crowd. The owner, a veteran of the watchmaking industry who wishes to remain anonymous, had always been a fan of guns. An encounter with an unusual object made him think about combining his two passions.
“A contact of mine made an arquebus perfume launcher in gold covered in diamonds. I then proposed the idea of making the smallest revolver in the world,” he says. The result is a revolver that is 5.5 centimetres in length made with same equipment and craftsmanship employed in the watchmaking industry.
SwissMiniGun first manufactured the revolver in solid 18K gold, and the main clientele for the tiny guns came from the Middle East. They retailed for over CHF 50,000 for the most expensive jewellery version with diamonds and hand engravings. Later, a steel version was introduced for the benefit of gun collectors who were looking for something special. The basic steel version retails for around CHF6,500, while the ivory-grip, Damascus steel model in the video sells for around CHF17,500.
While the revolver is tiny, the 2.34mm rim-fire ammunition is miniscule and presented an even bigger challenge to realise. Overall, the power of the revolver with the tiny bullets is less than one joule, which is around ten times less than some air or BB guns on the market.
But, small though it is, Swiss authorities consider it a real gun and require all the paperwork associated with a regular revolver.