Punt guns were originally designed in the 19th century to kill as many waterfowls in one shot as possible. In the early 1800s, mass hunting of waterfowl was largely an accepted practice in order to supply commercial markets with meat. Waterfowl were also used for fashion. By the mid-1800s there was a high demand for feathers for hats. In order to meet these demands, commercial hunters needed a weapon with maximum impact. The punt gun was born.
The name was derived from a small skiff boat, also called a punt boat, and the gun was meant to be fired from these types of boats. These small skiff boats were basically flat-bottomed duck boats. Punt guns were too big to hold – some weighed over 100 pounds and were usually measured over 10 feet – so they were mounted directly on the punt boats. The recoil was so strong that, after firing, the boat would be propelled back across the lake or body of water.
Hunters, usually traveling in groups to achieve more waterfowl kills, would propelled the boat quietly at night. They would stop close to a flock of ducks resting on the water and fire a large load of shot and powder that killed many ducks at once. It was reported that a group of hunters could bring in five hundred ducks per day.
It should be no surprise that this method arose objections. The wild bird population quickly decreased causing most states to ban the practice by the 1860s. Federal laws went further still. The Lacey Act of 1900 banned hunters from transporting wild game across state lines. Market (or commercial) hunting was outlawed by a series of laws by 1920. Today, punt guns are no longer used in the United States for hunting, however, in England there are a few of these guns still in use.