If you see an old-timey picture what looks like a shotgun that’s either being held by two people, with one shouldering it normally, and the other having the barrel resting on his shoulder, or a similar gun that’s the size of an entire boat, you’re not likely being fooled, and what you’ll be seeing is a punt gun.
In simple terms, a punt gun is a massive shotgun that is attached to the front of a small skiff boat, also known as the punt. It was used by hunters in the 19th and 20th centuries, mostly in the US and UK, for hunting waterfowl in market hunting operations that unsurprisingly decimated duck populations.
The gun, affixed to the punt of the boat (hence the gun’s name being a punt gun) was typically a single shot shotgun that could kill multiple ducks with a single shot, which made it popular for both hunting ducks, and, more importantly, in commercial harvesting operations. If you want to see one, you’re fairly unlikely to these days, as they have become exceedingly rare firearms.
As the 20th century dragged on, hunters began taking conservation much more seriously, and it became a lot less popular to hunt ducks in large numbers from a punt boat: the use of a punt gun is one quick way to decimate waterfowl populations, and their use in duck hunting has, thanks to a series of federal laws, has fallen out of favor and made them mostly a curio for gun collectors in the US since the 1930s.
Punt Gun Specs
Typically, a punt gun was a custom-made, one-shot shotgun, either flintlock or percussion cap in style, that was made for specific punt boats and hunters. Since these were one-off creations rather than commercial production firearms, we have to be fairly general when describing their specifications.
|Bores||A gauge, 1 gauge, 1.5 gauge, 2 gauge, 4 gauge, 8 gauge +|
|Barrel Diameter||Up to 2 in|
|Barrel Length||5 ft +|
|Weight||30 lbs +|
Most punt guns were at least five feet long and often weigh upwards of thirty pounds on the light end. In terms of caliber, we’re using shotgun measurements. Thus, a one-gauge (also called “1 bore”) punt gun would have a barrel diameter of 1.69 inches, a 2-gauge of 1.33 inches, and the more common, 8-gauge, with a barrel diameter of .84 inches. It’s a good thing that punt guns are both heavy and fired from a mounted position because the sheer amount of powder and number of balls in each of the loads fired from a punt gun would have generated a tremendous amount of recoil
The largest punt guns we’ve heard about were “A-Gauge” with a diameter of 2 inches! They were designed to massacre whole flocks of birds at once – sometimes as many as 90 birds in a single shot.
These days, you’ll see them occasionally used in a punt gun salute in boat parades in the UK, but their practical use as hunting implements has long since expired over the years, as a matter of federal regulations in the US and UK.
Punt Gun Shell Cartridge
Due to their custom nature, most punt guns were muzzle loaded with black powder. They did not typically fire “shells” as they were not breech loaded nor was there a need for a fast and easy reload. They were typically single shot and would be reloaded on shore before boating out to hunt.
Some more modern punt guns do use massive shells as you can see below compared to a normal size 12 gauge shotgun shell.
Uses For A Punt Gun
Historically, punt guns were used to hunt waterfowl, as we’d mentioned before, mostly in the context of commercial harvesting operations. This practice depleted stocks of waterfowl, ultimately leading the federal government to pass legislation that has disallowed their use in hunting.
While it might sound fun to hunt an entire flock of birds at once, the fact that commercial hunters could kill that meany birds with one gun and a single pull of the trigger, in our view, is a sure way to keep people from being able to hunt in the future, so we likely wouldn’t do it now even if it means hunting easier.
Because these reduced waterfowl numbers so severely, several countries, including the US and UK have more or less outlawed their use except as ceremonial or museum pieces.
If you have a punt gun today, we expect that it’s as a historical relic, as if you cannot hunt with them, there’s not much use to one hunter trying to go out into the woods to stalk a deer with something that has the bore diameter of a small infantry cannon. Instead, we imagine most of these exist on the mantlepieces of people who have enough room to display them, and it’s fairly unlikely that a shotgun mounted to a small boat is going to become popular again any time soon.
The punt guns, then, is a massive, and interesting historical relic at this point in the weapons industry.
Are Punt Guns Legal?
Yes, in the US punt guns are generally treated as shotguns, and (barring state laws) if you can own a shotgun you can own a punt gun. With that said, you might not be able to take them across state lines if you plan on taking them to a state that specifically prohibits them. As far as hunting goes, several federal laws such as the Lacey Act, prevent you from using punt guns for hunting in the U.S. Today, the largest shotgun you can hunt with legally is a 10 gauge.
In the UK, punt guns are generally not legal for private ownership, although there are some exceptions. For instance. Queen Elizabeth II requested a punt gun salute for her at her Diamond Jubilee, wherein several punt guns fired simultaneously to celebrate her birthday.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, there were single barrel one gauge punt guns that were used to take out entire flocks of birds at once. This would likely leave several bodies from birds still floating on the water’s surface from the blast.
Yes, there was such a thing as a 2 gauge shotgun. Overall the 8 gauge punt gun was a lot more popular since it was a lot more portable, but punt guns in all shapes and sizes were used to hunt waterfowl.
George has been an avid shooter for twenty years. He began shooting when he was gifted a Browning SA-22 for target practice. Now, as an academic, he combines his love of firearms and knowledge of history to write for firearms blogs and is still a frequent sight at the local range.