How This Cartoonish-Looking Gun Decimated America’s Duck Population

Published May 8, 2018
Updated April 20, 2021

The use of the punt gun resulted in the duck and waterfowl populations falling tremendously in a short period of time.

Punt Gun

Wikimedia CommonsA hunter sits with a punt gun in a punt boat.

Throughout history, people have been trying to make bigger and better weapons in the hopes that more size will yield more power. Occasionally some attempts have been successful, but usually the result is a comically large and ineffective weapon.

In the case of the punt gun, however, the results were shocking. Rather than a comically large gun that had almost no power, the punt gun held so much power, it was outlawed because it did its job too well.

The Demand For Duck Leads To The Development Of The Punt Gun

Hunter Shooting From A Punt Boat

Wikimedia CommonsA drawing of a hunter in a punt boat.

In the early 1800s when the punt gun was invented, duck hunting was common practice. Demand for meat had risen as well as the demand for feathers for women’s hats. So in order to make hunting easier, hunters began looking into ways to kill multiple ducks at once, and with much more ease.

Enter the punt gun.

Custom built and clocking in at over eight feet long and two inches in diameter, the gun packed a punch. Firing over a pound of ammunition at once, the gun could kill 50 waterfowl with one shot, and leave their bodies floating on the surface for the hunters to collect.

The gun looks like a commically large version of a normal hunting rifle, but with a single barrel instead of a double. Double barrelled versions did exist, though they didnt fire nearly as powerful shots as theri single barrelled counterparts.

The problem with the punt gun was that even though it was wildly effective, it was too big for one hunter to use by himself. So, the hunters developed boats that could hold the weight and size of the gun. Known as “punts” (hence the gun’s name), the boats were long and slender with enough room inside for one gun and one man. The guns were so powerful that when fired, the boat would actually be blown back several feet.

Soon, hunters had developed a method that resulted in maximum hunting profits.

Working in groups of eight to 10 boats, the hunters would circle around an entire flock of waterfowl. Coordinating their shots, they would fire at once. In under a minute, a handful of hunters could take out an entire flock of birds, sometimes 500 at once.

Too Good For Its Own Good

Man With Punt Gun

Wikimedia CommonsA man with a punt gun.

Unfortunately, the punt gun wasn’t destined to last. The weapons industry didn’t support the oversized, cumbersome design, not to mention the destruction it caused.

Before long, waterfowl populations in the United States began to fall.

Their numbers had dropped so much due to the effectiveness of the gun, that the U.S. government worked to pass legislation that would make both market hunting and the transport of game across state lines illegal. Between 1900 and 1918, a series of federal laws were enacted that effectively outlawed the punt gun, along with punt boats. The gun had been so powerful it decimated duck populations, and the government was trying to rectify the problem.

Today, punt guns are a novelty item, with less than 100 in use around the world. In the United States, they exist mostly as a collector’s item or a piece of history for gun collectors with a penchant for the unusual. In the United Kingdom, however, they get a little more use.

Less than 50 of the guns are still in use in the U.K., and when they are it’s usually ceremonial. There are restrictions on punt gun usage across the country, most of which insist upon smaller barrel sizes and less ammunition. In ceremonies, the guns are used mostly to celebrate royalty.

Upon her 1897 Diamond Jubilee, Queen Victoria requested a punt gun salute. Since then, every coronation and jubilee in the United Kingdom has been honored with such a salute. During the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in 2012, a 21-punt gun salute was fired.

After reading about the punt gun, check out the killdozer, another oversized weapon of mass destruction. Then, read about some of the craziest Nazi weapons ever created.

Katie Serena
Katie Serena is a New York City-based writer and a staff writer at All That's Interesting.