Dr Strangelove goes gunning – H C Folkard’s scary wildfowling boats

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Folkard’s remarkable shooting boat with a gun on its bows – click on the thumbnail for a bigger image

A few days ago a correspondent named Graeme reminded me that H C Folkard’s 19th century book The Sailing Boat includes a fair number of pages about boats used for shooting wildfowl, and commented that some of them seemed a little extreme.

So I looked out my copy, and sure enough I found the illustration above – a sailing punt of what must be 40ft fitted with a gun on a swivelling mount. The sharp eyed will note a group of ducks wisely flying out of range, that the helmsman has brailed up a section of sail to allow him to spot the quarry, and, of all things, what seems to be a lateen-rigged gunning punt in the background. (Is that really a lateen?)

Folkard makes some memorable points.

The advantages of two-handed punts are, that they carry a larger gun than others; sometimes a full-sized stanchion gun that throws from one and a half to two pounds of shot at a charge, making fearful destruction among large numbers of wild-fowl, and, when loaded with mould-shot they sweep the water from sixty to one hundred and twenty yards, spreading terrible slaughter among the feathered tribe.

It sounds more like a kind of madness than a sport, at least to me. Sailing the small gunning punts does sound like fun, however, but Folkard issues a clear warning about what they can and cannot do safely.

‘But the inexperienced are warned of the peril of carrying sail on a punt in any but smooth water. The effect of venturing into rough water with such a long low craft, whilst pressing her ahead under sail would be to drive her bows under water; and the weight of the gun at the head of the punt must tend to increase the danger. If the punter moves forward to lower the sail, his extra weight thrown suddenly forward would, in such a case, inevitably send  the punt under water head first; and independently of such a glaring indiscretion, it is impossible to prevent the water flying over the gunwales in a heavy sea. Therefore, the wild-fowler is cautioned not to venture into rough water with the sailing punt, for a sportsman’s life is supposed to be of more value than a duck.’

I have a feeling that this is the voice of experience, and that Folkard may have had had to swim for it on at least one occasion in the past…

For an intheboatshed.net post about gun punts in the East of England including a splendid quotation from Victorian scholar and man of the cloth Sabine Baring-Gould, click here.

For a little on a gun punt in Ireland, click here.