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PUNTGUNNING AN INTRODUCTION TO THE SPORT AND CODE OF PRACTICE
Wildfowling is the pursuit of quarry species of wild duck, geese and waders for sport with the use of a smooth bore shotgun, either on foot or under certain conditions by boat. This specifically includes the use of traditionally built manually propelled gunning punts.
INTRODUCTION TO PUNTGUNNING
Historical research has shown that the development of puntgunning into the sport that is known today probably took place in the first decade of the 19th century. Before this various methods of attaching guns to boats for the purpose of shooting wildfowl had been used for some time. It therefore appears that true puntgunning has been practised for nearly two hundred years with much of the equipment still being used remaining little changed in design. Although wildfowling has altered considerably over this period, puntgunning is still an important and integral part of the sport.
Today's puntgunners are drawn from a broad cross-section of society and are pursuing their activity on tidal waters for sport, the days of the professional wildfowler having long since passed. Those professional gunners, who operated on both inland and tidal waters, had very different objectives, the principal one being to harvest an important food source.
That it has much interested some of the great naturalists and ornithologists of the past is quite understandable, the opportunities to study birds and their habits being almost unique. Sir Peter Scott was a keen puntgunner as a young man. One only has to read the works of men such as Abel Chapman, J.G. Millais, Frank Southgate, E.T. Booth and other great wildfowl authorities to realise that puntgunning has many more attractions to its devotees than just shooting. In fact, anyone wishing to take up punting purely for the shooting aspect will very soon find himself sadly disappointed.
Puntgunning played a most important role in securing the modern wildfowling of today The BASC (formally WAGBI) was founded by puntgunners, the legendary Stanley Duncan becoming the Association's first honorary secretary and Sir Ralph Payne-Gallway (perhaps the most prolific author on the sport) becoming its first President.
'exceptional skill, strength and physical fitness are required to manoeuvre along a tactical course, so achieving an almost imperceptible approach to the birds'.
Puntgunning is a highly selective and tactical stalking sport involving the use of a combination of the weather, the tides, the light and wildfowl habits, it is a stalking sport that is carried out in full view of the quarry, unlike other
stalking sports (for example, deer stalking) when normally cover or dead ground is used. The puntsman has to propel his craft lying in prone position and exceptional skill, strength and physical fitness are required to manoeutre along a tactical
course, so achieving an almost imperceptible approach to the birds.
In order to obtain success a large bore puntgun, normally between 1" and 1.75" inside bore diameter, is mounted on a low gunning punt of traditional design, (there has been little change in punt design since 1800). There is a general misconception that a puntgun is easy to shoot successfully, but, in fact, considerable skill is needed and an unskilled gunner can easily miss altogether.
Success is achieved when an effective shot is fired often after lesser opportunities have deliberately been allowed to pass, the puntsman sometimes making only one shot, after a number of days' effort afloat. It is important to realise that the puntgunner must get to
within 60 yards of his quarry before making a shot, a very difficult feat on an open estuary. This challenge without doubt renders the sport the most difficult means of bagging wildfowl, for this reason alone has
always in the past, and does now, and will in the future only interest and attract a very small number of wildfowlers.
The shore gunner has to locate a flight line, then endeavours to intercept the fowl and bag a number of birds with a number of shots. The puntgunner has to locate the fowl, then endeavours to stalk them and bag a number of birds with a single shot. The most successful shots are achieved when birds are on exposed sand or mudbanks close to the water's edge. Shots at birds on water are seldom successful. Both aspects of wildfowling involve their own particular skills to bring success.
The puntgunner has constraints imposed against him that do not affect the shore shooter. The type of craft used places great restrictions on his sport as the few inches of freeboard of a gunning-punt can render impossible many a trip in rough weather. In addition, the sport can only be pursued when the tides are at a certain height at a certain time. These restrictions mean that there are only two or three days during the fornightly tide cycle when it is possible to punt in one particular estuary and these days, of course, can coincide with gales. A general strategy is to depart with an ebbing tide, returning with the flood during the hours of daylight.
Wigeon, teal, mallard and pintail are the principal quarry species of the puntsman. Geese are seldom shot as their daytime inland feeding habits render them most unlikely to be in the estuary when he is afloat. The puntsman's actions are always governed by modern sporting ethics and a desire to follow such a traditional pursuit in a thoroughly proper and responsible manner.
A half hour documentary film called "The Puntgunners" explains the full complexity of the sport. Made in the early 1970's, it is introduced by James Robertson Justice and was made on the Wash.
Details available from BASC.
'The puntsman's actions are always governed by modern sporting ethics and a desire to follow such a traditiortal pursuit in a thoroughly proper and responsible manner'
HOW MANY PUNTGUNNERS ARE THERE?
A pre war survey estimated that there were 186 punts still in use in the UK. Post war; the estimated figure was 105 working punts. In 1967 the Wildfowlers Association of Great Britain and Ireland carried out a survey of puntgunners and at that time estimated that there were around 100 punts in use in the whole of the UK. In 1979 fewer than 50 punts where in regular use.
In 1995 the BASC carried out a comprehensive survey of puntgunning in the UK. This showed that 45 dedicated punters are still active, keeping the tradition of the sport alive.
From the above information it can be seen that puntgunners have closely monitored their sport.
A record of puntgunners in the UK is maintained through a Puntgunner Register held by an active puntgunner. The BASC liaises with puntgunners via the register holder to provide advice and information.
HOW MANY WILDFOWL ARE SHOT?
Research (BASC 1995) shows that the average puntgunner has 7 outings each season. During the season he takes four shots. Whilst the number of birds taken with each shot varies, the average is 16.
WHERE DOES PUNTGUNNING TAKE PLACE?
The puntgunner pursues his sport on tidal estuaries around the coast of the UK. Inland puntgunning is no longer practised. Puntgunners pursue their sport, within the constraint of the law, in respect of the foreshore. In England and Wales the foreshore is that part of the shore which is more often than not covered by the flux and reflux of four ordinary tides between springs and neaps. The foreshore may be in Crown or private ownership or a nature reserve.
Historically foreshore shooting was deemed as "free" but this is not the case. On any foreshore puntgunners have to have.authority fiom the landowner or holder of the sporting rights to shoot, this includes land covered by water. The onus is on the puntgunner to establish if he has authority to shoot. The puntgunner does however have the right to navigate on tidal waters.
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, an agreement between the Crown Estate and BASC gives BASC members the authority to have a gun and ammunition on Crown foreshore where the sporting rights remain in the hands of the Crown. Puntgunners who are BASC members cannot be prosecuted for carrying guns on Crown foreshore where the Crown retain the sporting rights.
The BASC and the Crown Estate have, in recent years, been actively encouraging wildfowling clubs to prepare management plans and take sporting leases on Crown foreshore. On leased foreshore puntgunning comes under the management of wildfowling clubs and in several areas clubs promote specific Codes of Practice for puntgunning on their sites.
There are many coastal nature reserves in the UK. Puntgunning takes place on several of these eg Lindisfame NNR and is part ofa strictly managed shooting regime.
In Scotland the foreshore is defined as the area between high and low water marks of ordinary spring tides. Here there is a public right of recreation and this includes shooting (with the exception of Orkney and Shetland). This right can only be taken away by statute e.g. the establishment of Nature Reserves. On many of the reserves puntgunning continues under strict guidance. The onus is on the puntgunner to establish where reserves exist and the regulations appertaining to their sport.
PUNTGUNNING AND THE LAW
The Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) sets out the quarry species that may be shot and the months of the year that they may be shot. In Northern Ireland The Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order applies.
The Act also stipulates that it is illegal to use a shotgun having an internal bore diameter of more than 1.75 inch.
The Wildlife and Countryside Act makes it illegal to use a mechanically propelled boat in immediate pursuit of any wild bird for the purpose of driving, taking or killing it. The traditions of the sport have never involved mechanical propulsion.
Under the Firearms Act (1988) a shotgun certificate is required for a puntgunner to hold a puntgun. It is a Criminal Offence to trespass with a firearm. Thus in gaining access to foreshore puntgunners must use public rights of way, or navigation, unless authorised by the landowner or holder of sporting rights.
Traditionally puntguns are loaded with coarse grain black powder. Cartridges for puntguns are no longer commercially available. The homeloader/user must have a valid certificate to acquire, or acquire and keep explosives before obtaining or holding black powder. The certificate is issued, free of charge, by the police under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and Control of Explosives Regulations 1991.
'it is illegal to use a mechanically propelled boat in immediate pursuit of any wild bird for the purpose of driving, taking or killing it. The traditions of the sport have never involved mechanical propulsion. '
WHY ARE PUNTGUNS SO BIG?
The size of a puntgun has lead to widespread misconceptions that puntguns are indiscriminate weapons which kill at large distances. Their effective shot range is in fact governed by the shot size used and not by the bore of the gun itself. The Pungunners Code of practice recommends the ideal range to shoot wildfowl is approximately 60 yards.
A puntgun is normally loaded with BB but on occasions AAA or No. 1 shot may be used. Puntguns are measured at the muzzle for size, the minimum puntgun size being 1" and the maximum 1.75" bore diameter. In all cases the weight of the shot charge which the gun has been built to handle (known as the service load) will determine the size of the gun. Guns are built on the formula of 61bs weight of ordinance tolerance to each ounce of shot charge which the gun is expected to deliver. A long barrel is also needed to ensure a good black powder burn.
DOES PUNTGUNNING CAUSE DISTURBANCE TO WILDFOWL?
The most recent study ofpuntgunning took place using 5 years of data collected at Lindisfarne NNR. It was conducted by the University of Sunderland for English Nature (Percival 1995) and concluded that puntgunning on the site was not detrimental to bird populations. The level of puntgunning at Lindisfarne can be considered more intensive than at the majority of other sites where puntgunning is practised in the UK.
IS PUNTGUNNING INDISCRIMINATE?
Puntgunning is a most selective stalking sport. It is unlikely that a puntgunner will get more than one shot a day and on many occasions, stalks will be abandoned due to the presence of non quarry species.
The Code of Practice drawn up by puntgunners specifically draws attention to the necessity for the stalker to recognise his legal quarry. If there is a possibility of shooting protected species the shot will not be taken.
WHAT ABOUT WOUNDED BIRDS?
Traditionally puntguns are loaded with large shot, this greatly reduces the likelihood of wounding birds. By the very nature of the sport, practised amongst exposed mudflats and in estuary channels, their is little cover for wounded birds. Any birds not killed instantly by the punt shot are quickly and efficiently dispatched. This maybe with a 12 bore shot gun carried in the punt or as the puntsman is afloat and able to cross channels through collection by hand.
NON TOXIC SHOT
In the UK, the Government programme to replace lead shot over all wetlands, starting September 1995, initially applies only to 12 bore guns. This is mainly because steel (soft iron) shot is not an acceptable alternative to lead for most larger bored guns. The intention, however, is eventually to stop all lead entering coastal wetlands, even from puntguns.
Some trials have begun With non-lead materials, including tungsten and bismuth. Others are being developed. These lead-like materials look promising for puntgunning and will be made available for home loading by their makers in due course.
'Any birds not killed instantly by the punt shot are quickly and efficiently dispatched. '
Puntgunning is solely a sporting activity. High standards developed by puntgunners go much further than the law and relate to safety, concern for the environment, and consideration of other coastal users.
In 1978 the first puntgunners Code of practice was published by BASC's predecessor WAGBI. The code has now been updated and the following 1995 version reflects the growth in concern for coastal environments and increasing public use of the coastal zones.
PUNTGUNNERS CODE OF PRACTICE
- Always remember that your wildfowl quarry are largely migratory and we have an international responsibility to safeguard their over wintering populations.
- Always remember that others willjudge the sport by your behaviour. There is increasing interest in environmental matters particularly in the coastal zone. All coastal activities are under close scrutiny - when you are puntgunning the integrity of the sport depends on your actions.
- You are responsible for your actions on any site visited. If you visit a new site ensure you are aware of the conditions at your launching place. Establish boundaries, location of nature reserves; wildfowling club tenure and management guidelines. Identify any potential hazards in the area such as tidal bores and shipping. Take care that vehicle access is permitted.
- Legislation clearly protects non quarry species and lays down seasons for shooting, beyond this always condemn unsporting shooting eg shooting birds out ofrange. The most effective range for a puntgun is approximately 60 yards.
- Always remember that it is the individual wildfowlers responsibility to correctly identify his quarry and know the dates of the shooting season.
- Set yourself a personal standard as to when it is worth firing a shot, realistically related to the size of your gun, the potential of the area where you are punting and the circumstances of where you go afloat.
- Remember that in many coastal areas there are conservation projects undertaken by wildfowling clubs and other conservation organisations. Increasingly clubs are bringing foreshore into their management.
- At all times endeavour to follow your sport causing a minimum of disturbance to waterfowl, the surrounding area and its users.
- Never follow or fire at birds at high water or when their feeding grounds are covered by the tide. This can disturb the birds from these grounds unnecessarily.
- If during the stalk, wildfowl rise out of range and settle, do not pursue them with the object of taking a shot. This causes unnecessary disturbance, birds once moved seldom present another opportunity during an outing.
- Avoid disturbing geese at roost.
- In harsh weather conditions respect any voluntary restraint called for and be aware that in severe conditions wildfowling can be temporarily stopped by statute.
- A responsible sportsman will have Third Party Liability Insurance, but the best insurance is to avoid taking risks.
Planning the day
Always tell someone where you have gone puntgunning and don't forget to tell them that you have returned safely.
By its very nature the sport of puntgunning takes the wildfowler to remote parts of the estuary. Always avoid taking chances and make sure your equipment will enable you to survive the type of punting conditions and weather which you are likely to encounter.
Always consult tide tables before going afloat remember that the heights and times of tides will be altered by the prevailing weather conditions and particularly by strong winds.
If you are going out all day carry some food and a thermos containing a hot drink.
Wear comfortable, inconspicuous warm waterproof clothing with waders as a pre-requisite.
Equipment and Safety
Make sure your punt, gun and all gear are in a first class state of repair. NEGLECT LEADS TO ACCIDENTS. Carry spare setting poles, rowlocks and oars to cover any eventuality.
Always carry a waterproof torch but remember TORCH FLASHING CAN ONLY BE JUSTIFIED IN AN EMERGENCY.
Always carry a life jacket and distress flares - there is nothing clever in going afloat without such essentials. Always carry a pair of binoculars, they are essential for quarry identification purposes.
Always carry a good marine compass, a baler or hand pump to pump out a punt which has taken in water. Ensure that you have an adequate anchor and length of anchor rope.
Some estuaries contain areas of quicksand and dangerous soft mud; it may be necessary to carry mud patterns to cross these but it is best to avoid them if possible.
On the day
Always arrive in good time to prepare and launch your punt. If it is early in the morning and still dark, do not shine car headlights over the marsh, minimise noise/disturbance and go about your business without disturbing others.
If, when arriving to launch your punt you find there is another punt already there, co-operate and plan your day accordingly.
Remember, puntgunning is essentially a stalking sport and a good day afloat is one in which a single satisfactory shot is fired after the puntsman deliberately allows lesser opportunities to pass.
When stalking wildfowl, only shoot when you are sure the birds are in range (60 yards is ideal). Frequently birds are further away than they seem.
More successful shots are achieved when the birds are sitting on, or just lifting from, exposed mudflats; shots at birds on the water are best not taken.
A shot should only be taken if you are certain that you can effectively and cleanly retrieve all of you bag in safety.
NEVER shoot unless you are positive of the identification of the species involved and that it is safe to do so. Other puntgunners, vessels or shoulder gunners may be in the area. Take great care to recognise your legal quarry; if there is any possibility at all of shooting a protected species DO NOT SHOOT.
Take care of all shot birds, stow them well and NEVER waste them.
PUNTGUNS AND CARTRIDGES
It is illegal to use a puntgun having an internal bore diameter of more than 1.75 inch.
In addition to the puntgun all punting outfits should carry as standard a twelve bore for assisting the efficient dispatch of any wounded wildfowl - cartridges for this shoulder gun should be of a waterproof type and a suggested shot size is number 5. The puntgun is normally loaded with BE and sometimes AAA or No 1 shot, irrespective of the bore measurement.
Puntgunners, along with other wildfowl shooters, are urged to use non-lead shot as soon as acceptable alternative shot materials become available.
YOUR SPORT AND OTHER COASTAL USERS.
Remember if you are sharing your sport with shore gunners, show consideration for their use and safety on the foreshore or marshes and take great care if shooting toward the marsh.
Water based recreation
Puntgunners may encounter other recreational users on the water, be aware that highly mobile sports such as jetskiing and windsurfing now occur in the winter months.
Members of the public
Avoid taking a shot in view of the public where possible, or if you think your actions are likely to be misinterpreted.
PUNTGUNNING AND THE LAW
General legislative provisions are outlined earlier in this web document. Further to this, the following information is important.
England, Wales and Northern Ireland
In England and Wales the foreshore is that part of the seashore which is more often than not covered by the flux and reflux of the four ordinary tides occurring midway between springs and neaps. The foreshore may be in Crown or private ownership. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland the BASC has negotiated an agreement with the Crown Estate Commissioners whereby BASC members will not be prosecuted for carrying guns on the Crown foreshore where the sporting rights remain in the hands of the Crown. This does not apply when a wildfowling club or other body have leased the sporting rights, you need permission from these lease holders to shoot.You need permission to shoot on private foreshore. The onus is on the wildfowler to establish whether the foreshore is private or under wildfowling club or another organisations control. Access must be by public right of way, or navigation, unless otherwise authorised.
The shooting of wildfowl on Sunday is illegal in some counties ie:-
Anglesey; Brecknock; Caernarfon; Cardigan; Carmarthen; Cornwall; Denbigh; Devon; Doncaster; Glamorgan; GreatYarmouth; - County Borough of Isle Of Ely; Leeds - County Borough; Merioneth; Norfolk; Pembroke; Somerset; Yorkshire (North Riding); Yorkshire (West Riding).
In Scotland the foreshore is the area between the high and low water of ordinary spring tides.
In Scotland, whether the foreshore is in Crown or private ownership, the Crown retains in trust certain rights on the foreshore (except in Orkney and Shetland) by virtue of which members of the public may engage in wildfowling. The public right may, in certain cases, be taken away by statute, eg Nature Reserves, the onus is on the wildfowler to establish whether such Reserves exist. There is no shooting of wildfowl in Scotland on Sundays or Christmas Day.
Those who shoot on the foreshore can only legally take the birds listed in Schedule 2 Part 1 of the wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, (unless otherwise authorised), during the open season. In Northern Ireland, The Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985, Schedule 2.1 applies.
SPECIES THAT CAN BE SHOT DURING OPEN SEASON OF RELEVANCE TO PUNTGUNNERS
Tufted Duck, Goldeneye, Pochard, Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Pintail, Canada Goose, Greylag Goose, Pinkfooted Goose, Golden Plover, (Curlew - in Northern Ireland only).
'He is your friend,
You are his life,
He will be yours,
Faithful and true,
To the last,
Breath of his heart,
You owe to him,
To be worthy,
Of such Devotion.'
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