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The biggest shotguns ever made—outdoors of artillery firing grapeshot—punt weapons had bores measured in inches.  Mounted within the bows of the small gunning punts they had been named for, punt weapons had been sculled or rowed into vary of resting flocks of waterfowl and discharged, typically killing 50 and even 100 with a single shot.

Primarily utilized by market hunters within the years when promoting wild sport was authorized, punt weapons achieved reputation amongst sport hunters within the British Isles within the 19th century. Though blasting geese and geese with a cannon appears as unsporting as searching can get, the truth is, the large baggage solely occurred when circumstances had been proper. Typically gunners returned to shore after a protracted evening of paddling, sculling, and, typically pushing punts in bays and marshes with out having fired a shot. And, navigating coastal bays and marshes in a small boat with a 200-pound cannon on board was onerous, harmful work. 

The Early Days of the Punt Gun

Each searching and sporting punt weapons first appeared within the early 19th century. The primary punt weapons appear to have been utilized by market hunters within the British Isles. These weapons had been one-of-a-kind fashions made by native gunsmiths to order. Earlier than lengthy, market searching with punt weapons had unfold to America and Europe. With bores sometimes measuring 1½ to 2 inches, punt weapons measured 12 to 14 toes lengthy, weighed 150 to 200 kilos, and fired a pound or extra of shot. Too heavy to be carried, they had been mounted within the bows of punts (and infrequently on carts), and glued within the boat so it may take in the recoil. With gunners mendacity down to stay unseen, punts had been paddled into firing place with short-handled sculls. The gun was aimed by aiming the boat, though some weapons might be traversed barely. Gunners gathered and offered the birds they shot to feed the populations of rising cities within the 19th century. 

Punt gunning would have remained a blue-collar commerce if not for Colonel Peter Hawker. Invalided out of the military because of wounds obtained within the Napoleonic wars, and born to a rich household, Hawker had the money and time to pursue his love of taking pictures, together with wildfowling on the south coast of England. By means of his writings, Hawker popularized punt gunning among the many moneyed courses. His personal gun, an enormous double he purchased for the equal of almost $300,000 at this time, was constructed by well-known gunmaker Durs Egg, and modified by a who’s who of London gunmakers. It featured one flint and one percussion lock. The concept was the percussion barrel would fireplace instantly, then the slower flintlock would ignite to fireside within the flock because it rose off the water and the boat rocked again beneath recoil, tilting the muzzle upward.

A punt gun made by Beretta. Phil Bourjaily

Peak Punt Gunning

As punt gunning turned a fad among the many well-to-do, wildfowlers ordered weapons from a few of England’s most prestigious makers. The biggest of these weapons, the well-known “Irish Tom” fired over three kilos of shot, and was as soon as credited with killing 100 birds in a single go. Like smaller shotguns, punt weapons made the transition from flint to percussion to breech-loading actions. Most of these latter weapons had a screw-in breech they usually fired shells 9 or extra inches lengthy. 

Sir Ralph Payne-Galway succeeded Hawker because the main promoter of the gentlemanly artwork of punt gunning in England. He hunted and wrote concerning the sport by way of the late 19th and first a part of the 20th century. His private gun was additionally a double, made by the celebrated Holland and Holland of London. 

In the meantime, throughout the Atlantic, market hunters sculled the jap seaboard with punt weapons, and with their smaller cousins, battery weapons, consisting of a number of 12-gauge or typically bigger barrels rigged to fireside directly.  A Chesapeake Bay market hunter named Ray Todd reported that 4 punt weapons charged with a complete of seven kilos of shot amongst them as soon as killed 419 redheads with a single volley. Todd’s group completed the evening with 1,000 birds price $3.50 a brace within the Baltimore market. The 4 hunters needed to make three journeys to shore and again and enlist the assistance of their mates to choose up all of the birds.

The Punt Gun: A Brief History
The strict of a gunning boat made by Beretta. Phil Bourjaily

Market hunters in Europe made adequate use of the punt gun that each Manufrance and Beretta provided of their catalogs. A gun and elaborate punt sits outdoors the Beretta museum in Brescia, Italy.  Made within the early a part of the 20th century, the boat has three units of oarlocks and distinctive hand-cranked twin propellors for sneaking near resting birds. 

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The Finish of the Period

Market searching devastated North American waterfowl populations. In response, Congress banned the sale of sport with the Lacey Act of 1900. The Migratory Fowl Treaty of 1918 outlawed weapons bigger than 10-gauge for migratory fowl searching, making punt weapons unlawful for any sort of searching. Some outlaw hunters stored their massive weapons hidden, however the reality is, a semiautomatic 12-gauge with an prolonged journal had already made the punt gun out of date.

On the Continent, Beretta, Manufrance, and probably others provided punt weapons till the beginning of WWII, and didn’t resume manufacturing afterward. Punt gunning does cling on in England and Scotland, practiced by a handful of hardy wildfowlers. The Countryside Act of 1981 restricted their weapons to bores no bigger than 1¾ inches, and people only a few punt gunners nonetheless ply the coastal waters, hoping for a shot and protecting the custom of searching with the largest weapons ever made alive.

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