In the days of market hunting, cannons roared in the marshes and waterfowl dropped in droves. The punt gun was effective, to say the least.
Waterfowling has come a long way since the 1800s. Market hunting (hunting birds just for market meat at cash value only) was eventually banned, as waterfowl populations were in heavy decline.
The big piece of hardware used to take out whole flocks of birds while setting on the surface of the water was called a punt gun. These punt guns were not of the average sporting shotgun variety. They started as oversized black powder shotguns in which well over a pound of shot could be fired at once. They could be made, usually at special request, into some gigantic flock slayers of different gauges.
Gone are the days of these lead-belching behemoths, but here is a video of someone unleashing one vintage punt gun on some unsuspecting clay pigeons.
With the advent of the self-contained cartridge, they were made in single-shot long gun form in huge sizes, such as 4 gauge and even bigger at 2 gauge!
I recently had a chance to handle a gun auction item punt gun in 4 gauge. It was around 5 feet long and was a single-shot, break-action shotgun that had a standard buttstock, but a hole in the forearm presumably used to mount to a boat. The shells were enormous.
These punt guns were usually mounted to a small boat, called a punt and paddled toward an unsuspecting flock of waterfowl resting on the water. The boat was aimed by paddle so the punt gun was lined up and in range. With one loud boom, dozens, if not more, ducks were killed.
Unsporting as it was, it was extremely effective. Punt guns were sometimes used in groups so many guns would hit as many birds as possible upon command. By 1860, the practice of using punt guns was banned mostly at the state levels. Federal laws in 1918 finished market hunting for good.
Modern waterfowl shotguns are required by federal law to be at most 10 gauge, while many hunters use 12-gauge magnum loads that exceed the standards of the old shells of yesterday.
Game conservation, including the ban of duck cannons like the punt gun, has brought waterfowl numbers up to an all-time high.