The 2 gauge shotgun, also known as a punt gun, is the largest hunting shotgun in the world. These firearms were common in the late 19th Century, but they’ve fallen into obscurity over the last 100 years. Take a closer look at this incredible piece of history.
A man standing with a 2 gauge shotgun, aka a punt gun.
(image source; Wikipedia)
History Of The 2 Gauge Shotgun
The punt gun was used for commercial hunting of waterfowl. Measuring up to 13 feet in length, these massive shotguns were too large to hold. The bore diameter could exceed 2 inches and a single loud could fire more than one pound of shot. The recoil was so powerful the shotgun needed to be mounted on a small boat known as a punt.
This illustration of a 2 gauge shotgun, or punt gun, was first published in the October, 1911 issue of Science and mechanics magazine.
Illustration of a punt gun published in Science and Mechanics magazine, 1911 (image source; Wikipedia)
The weapon was permanently mounted to the bow and shooters had to maneuver the entire boat to line up their shot. A hunter would slowly steer his boat into position with small oars then lay prone to fire the mounted shotgun. The force of the discharge was so powerful that the entire boat would be launched backwards with each discharge.
Commercial hunters would work in small fleets of 5 to 10 boats. A single blast from the punt gun could kill as many as 50 to 90 waterfowl sitting on the water’s surface. Commercial hunting was so effective that the waterfowl population became severely depleted in many parts of the United States. By the late 1860s, most states had banned the use of 2 gauge shotguns for commercial hunting.
These custom weapons could exceed 13 feet in length and could hit over 50 ducks with a single shot. They couldn’t be held and fired by one person and were often mounted to punt boats (hence the name) and required the entire boat to be moved in order to “aim”.
Modern Use Of The 2 Gauge Shotgun
Passenger pigeons, which once flew in flocks dense enough to blot out the sun, were hunted to extinction by the end of the 19th century. As several other species of bird were exterminated, the United States, Canada, and Great Britain collectively enacted the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 to end the commercial hunting of specific bird species without a permit. As a result the need for punt guns all but disappeared.
In 1995 a survey conducted in the United Kingdom showed less than 50 functional 2 gauge shotguns still in use.
In the video below, Eddie Nickens of Field & Stream’s Gun Nuts takes a closer look at two of the few remaining punt guns. These rare firearms were gifted to the Aiming For A Cure Foundation, a non-profit charity that raises money for children with cancer. The weapons below are relatively short compared to similar punt guns of the 19th century and could be shouldered if necessary.