What’s your go-to shotgun during hunting? Maybe your gas-driven Beretta AL 390? Remington 870 Wingmaster with butter-smooth action? How about a big-ass one that could instantly kill fifty ducks in one shot? If you think that was quite impossible, perhaps you haven’t heard of this ridiculously large shotgun used in the 19th and early 20th centuries yet called the Punt gun. The name might not sound as appealing as those two shotguns mentioned above, but its power and size were sure impressive, at least for its purpose. Maybe it was the idea that the bigger the weapon, the higher the power, which was not always the case, but for the punt gun, it sure was. If you think hitting two birds with one stone was pretty neat and efficient, then you might wanna check this one out.

Waterfowl Hunting Was the Name of The Game

Before we talk about the punt gun and why it was invented, we have to understand first how the 1800s was in terms of hunting. In the early 1800s, before certain laws and policies were passed to protect the animals, waterfowl hunting was a common practice— ducks, geese, or other waterfowl were shot down not only for food but also as a sport. During hunting seasons, different ducks and geese were usually found in crop fields or near bodies of water like rivers, lakes, ponds, coastlines, or swamps. Soon, the demand not only for their meat but also for their feathers used for women’s hats had risen, and the hunters had to make something that would enable them to mass-harvest these ducks quickly and efficiently. The solution, as you might have guessed, was the punt gun.

One Heck of a Gun

Punt Gun was crafted by German gunsmith August Herfurth of Madison, Wisconsin. It measured 63-inches long, plus a Remington octagonal barrel that was 46-inches long and one inch in diameter. The shotgun weighed approximately 26 pounds, which was light compared to its other variants. This one was the smallest, which was called Herfurth’s Cannon.

Snowden Slights with a punt gun.
Snowden Slights with a punt gun. (Yorkshire Museum, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

On the other hand, the largest was called the “Irish Tom,” which could reportedly take down around 100 birds with just one shot, according to its original owner. Although, the usual haul per shot was only around 50 birds, which was still a lot. Now for the measurements: the single barrel measures more than 14-feet long, and the whole gun weighed a whopping 300 pounds, so one has to be pretty strong if he’d want to lift it by himself. There was also a double-barrelled version, but it did not fire as powerful as the single-barrelled one. It could fire a shot of over three pounds with the help of roughly 10 ounces of black powder. Imagine how much recoil that size of a gun has, so naturally, it had to be mounted on something. In this case, it was on flat bottomed hunting boats called punts (thus, its name.)

Snowden Slights in punt under trees. (Yorkshire Museum, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

These slender boats could accommodate the humungous gun and one hunter. The recoil was so powerful that the boat would be blown back several feet once fired. Usually, hunters would work in groups of 8 to 10 boats circling around an entire flock of waterfowl. They would coordinate their fire, and in under one minute, they could take out an entire flock of some 500 birds.

Death of the Punt

The punt gun didn’t last long for two reasons: One, the weapon industry didn’t support such a huge and cumbersome design. Two, the population of the waterfowl unsurprisingly fell so that by the 1860s, most states banned hunting with them. The Lacey Act of 1900 was signed, officially banning the transport of wild games across states. In 1918, the practice of market hunting was already outlawed through a series of federal laws as part of the government’s ways of rectifying the decimated duck populations.

Today, there are only about 100 of these guns all over the world, mostly as collector’s items. In the UK, its smaller variant was usually used during royalty celebrations.