Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The "Punt Gun"

In the early 1800's the mass hunting of waterfowl to supply commercial markets with meat became a widely accepted practice. In addition to the market for food, women's fashion in the mid 1800's added a major demand for feathers to adorn hats. To meet the demand, professional hunters developed custom built extremely large shotguns (bore diameters up to 2") for the task. These weapons were so cumbersome that they were most often mounted on long square-ended flat-hulled boats called punts. Hunters would typically use a long pole to quietly push their punt into range of a flock of waterfowl resting on the lake and, POW. A single shot from one of these huge guns could kill as many as 50 birds. To increase efficiency even further, punt hunters would often work in groups of 8-10 boats. By lining up their boats and coordinating the firing of their single shot weapons, entire flocks of birds could be "harvested" with a single volley. It was not unusual for such a band of hunters to acquire as many as 500 birds in a single day. Because of the custom nature of these weapons and the lack of support by the weapons industry, they were often rather crude in design. Most were sturdy hand-built muzzle loaders fired with percussion caps.

Market waterfowling quickly depleted bird populations in the United States and many states banned the practice by the late 1860's. Public outcry and the persistence of the Audubon Society led to the ratification of the Lacey Act in 1889 which prohibited the shipment of wild game or feathers across state lines. The federal government eventually stepped in with another series of laws to completely outlaw market hunting in 1918.

One in action...(0:43)



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