The punt gun
by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier
A punt gun is huge! The man has a conventional shotgun in his other hand for comparison.
This report covers:
- Market hunting
- What is a punt?
- What is a punt gun?
- The nasty part
- Punt guns in the movies
- Why the punt gun today?
I’m having some fun today, and I want to invite all of you to have some with me. First of all — what do punt guns have to do with airguns?
About the only thing I can say is that both things have the word “gun” in their title.
I will step across the politically correct line now and talk about market hunting. Until the 20th century, market hunting was one of the ways the human race survived. Today we go to the grocery store. In 1875 we either raised our own meat or else we bought it from a meat market that, in turn, bought it from either a local rancher or a market hunter.
A market hunter is a person who kills wild game and sells it to others for money. For the program to work there needs to be lots of game and people need to be affluent enough to be able to afford to pay somebody else to provide it to them. There also needs to be no laws in place that limit the amount of game that can be killed.
Before you start preaching to me about how wrong this is, allow me to present a 21st century equivalent. Wild pigs are fast becoming a problem all across the United States and Canada. In the state of Texas they are considered to be a plague by none other than the Smithsonian magazine. They are out of control and breeding faster than hunters and natural attrition can keep up. They destroy crops and valuable ranchland, ruining it for cattle. There are no limits on the numbers of wild Texas pigs that can be harvested (killed) by hunters. They are even hunting them from helicopters to try to keep the numbers in check!
And yet — wild pigs are edible by all those who don’t have religious restrictions that bar them. I have eaten wild pig meat and it tastes as good as any other swine when it is properly prepared. If a hunter were to start selling meat harvested from wild pigs, as long as the proper care was taken and the necessary inspections were done, there would be few objections.
Well — the same held true for wild ducks, geese and, yes, even swans, in the latter 19th century and earlier. These waterfowl abounded with seemingly no end in sight, and market hunting was a common practice. Enter the punt and the punt gun.
What is a punt?
A punt is a small boat that has a very shallow draft. It is moved about by a pole in contact with the bottom of a shallow river or pond. Punts were not intended for recreation initially, though they are often used that way today. Punts were primarily intended for market hunting or market fishing in shallow waters.
The punt was a one-man craft with a shallow draft. It was essentially just a mount for the punt gun.
Today, punts are used in many places for sightseeing — similar to the gondolas of Venice. But a century and more in the past they were more for business — the business of getting meat from below and above the surface of the water.
What is a punt gun?
A punt gun is a huge shotgun with a bore that’s nominally 2-inches across, though there are smaller examples that could actually be fired from the shoulder. One of these has a bore as “small” as 0.928-inches, so just over 92 caliber. It weighs only 10.5 lbs. and is a flintlock. I am wondering whether it qualifies as a true punt gun, but it’s certainly on the large side for a fowler! And, no flintlock fowler was ever well-suited for birds on the wing because of the delay in the lock. So, maybe the sellers are right.
Most classic punt guns weight in the neighborhood of 250 lbs. and have a recoil that can crack a wooden boat transom. So, there was padding in the form of straw stuffed between the butt of the gun and the boat.
These monsters fire copious quantities of lead shot for the purposes of harvesting great numbers of waterfowl with a single shot. They are loaded from the muzzle like a cannon and most of them fire by means of a percussion lock. The trigger was pulled by the gunner, but he stayed away from the butt. As I just mentioned it was braced against the stern of the boat. The tremendous recoil would move the punt in reverse when the gun fired.
“Brother, can you lend a hand?”
Punt guns were made by hand, one at a time, so there are no specifications. Most bores were about two inches across (200 caliber, if you will), but that’s just an approximation. Since they were loaded through the muzzle and since their smoothbore barrels launched shot instead of solid projectiles, the size of the bore wasn’t that critical.
The nasty part
No doubt by now you have figured out how the punt gun was used. The punt was poled or paddled (by both hands over the side of the boat) slowly toward a large flock of waterfowl that were sitting on the water. When the boat was as close as it could come to the flock without spooking them, it was “aimed” by steering the prow of the boat until the muzzle of the gun was pointed in the direction of the greatest concentration of birds. Then the trigger was pulled. A single shot might take as many as 50 birds that the gunner would then gather and take to shore for processing.
This was not a sport. It was hunting for food and it was done on a commercial scale. If you compare it to sporting conduct it appears cruel. But don’t do that because that opens the conversation to modern meat harvesting techniques that are even less sporting than this was.
Punt guns in the movies
One reason most people don’t know about punt guns is they seldom show up in movies. In fact, the only movie I know of that featured one was Tremors 4-The Legend Begins. In the Tremors series, iconic conservative counterculture hero Burt Gummer is a prepper who leans heavily on his firearms, his military experience and his knowledge of apocalyptic household chemistry to survive. In Termors 4 his ancestor, Hiram Gummer, resorts in the late 1800s to a punt gun to kill one of the Graboids (30-foot-long wormlike monsters that live underground).
Why the punt gun today?
We looked at a most unlikely double barreled air shotgun earlier this week. Writing and thinking about that got me thinking about today’s subject and I thought I should share it with you.
I know that many of you know as much as I do about punt guns. But I’m hoping there are some readers who have never heard of them. Today’s blog is for those people and for their wonderment as they read this!