Humans have always made more prominent and better weapons, hoping more size would equal more power. It has sometimes worked, but the result has been a comically large and useless weapon more often than not. A punt gun was designed to be fired from a punt (a small skiff boat). These guns were used to kill large numbers of waterfowl efficiently. A single Punt gunshot could kill 90 birds at once.
Duck hunting was a common practice in the early 1800s when the punt gun was invented. Meat demand and the feather market for women’s hats both increased. So hunters began looking into ways to kill multiple ducks simultaneously and with greater ease to make hunting easier. This custom-built gun measured over eight feet long and two inches in diameter, and it packed a punch. Using over a pound of ammunition at once, the Punt gun could kill 50 waterfowl with one shot, leaving their bodies floating on the surface for hunters to collect. A single barrel is used instead of a double-barrel on this gun that looks like an enormous version of a standard hunting rifle. The double-barrelled version was also available but had a much lower power output than its single-barrelled counterpart. The punt gun was wildly effective, but it was too large for one hunter to use alone.
Punt Gun Boat
To carry the size and weight of the Punt gun, the hunters-built boats. Punts (hence the gun’s name) were long and slender boats with enough room inside for one gun and one man. When fired, the guns were so powerful that they blew the boat several feet back. Hunters soon devised a method that resulted in maximum profits.
The hunters circled a flock of waterfowl in groups of eight to ten boats. Then, they would fire at once, coordinating their shots. A handful of hunters could take out an entire flock of birds in less than a minute, sometimes 500 at a time.
However, the punt gun did not last very long. There was no support for the oversized, cumbersome design, not to mention the destruction it caused. As a result, the number of waterfowl in the United States began to decline. Due to the effectiveness of the gun, their numbers had dropped so much that the U.S. government worked to pass legislation that would illegalize both market hunting and the transportation of game from one state to another. In a series of federal laws passed between 1900 and 1918, the punt gun and punt boat were effectively banned. The gun had decimated duck populations, and the government tried to resolve the problem.
Punt Guns Today
There are fewer than 100 punt guns in use in the world today, making them merely a novelty item. These rare firearms are much sought after by gun collectors interested in the unusual in the United States. However, they are a little more common in the United Kingdom. In the U.K., fewer than 50 guns are still in use, and when they are, they are usually ceremonial. Across the country, punt guns are subject to restrictions, most of which insist on smaller barrel sizes and less ammunition. During ceremonies, guns are primarily used to celebrate royalty.
Queen Victoria requested a punt gun salute for her Diamond Jubilee in 1897. From then on, every coronation and jubilee in the United Kingdom has been honoured in this manner. In 2012, the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II was marked by a 21-punt gun salute.