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A single shot could kill over 50 waterfowl resting on the water's surface. They were too big to hold and the recoil so large that they were mounted directly on the punts used for hunting, hence their name. Hunters would maneuver their punts quietly into line and range of the flock using poles or oars to avoid startling them.
Generally the gun was fixed to the punt; thus the hunter would maneuver the entire boat in order to aim the gun. The guns were sufficiently powerful, and the punts themselves sufficiently small, that firing the gun often propelled the punt backwards several inches or more. To improve efficiency, hunters could work in fleets of up to around ten punts.
In the United States, this practice depleted stocks of wild waterfowl and by the 1860s most states had banned the practice. The Lacey Act of 1900 banned the transport of wild game across state lines, and the practice of market hunting was outlawed by a series of federal laws in 1918. In the United Kingdom, a 1995 survey showed fewer than 50 active punt guns still in use. UK law limits punt guns to a bore diameter of 1.75 inches (44 mm) (1 1/8 pounder).
It should be remembered that those of days of old who used these methods were not sportsman as we consider ourselves. They were market hunters and cared little about the balance of nature and no concept of conserving the resource. It was an attitude that prevailed at the time and resulted in the near extinction of many animals including our beloved bison.
A note in passing: it was Teddy Roosevelt who understood the dangers of this type of market slaughter and warned of the follies of such practices and worked diligently to stop market hunting. In that respect, he was one of the vanguard conservationists to whom we modern hunters owe a tremendous debt of gratitude.