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COROLLA, N.C. (Sept. 22) - An old-timer is making a special homecoming to Currituck Sound after a 99-year absence.

The N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences has temporarily loaned a flintlock punt gun - used in the earliest days of market hunting - to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission for a month-long special exhibit at its Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education. The display will be unveiled on Oct. 1 as part of Excursion Day, an annual celebration at Currituck Heritage Park.

"Market hunting" is the term used to describe large scale commercial hunting. The methods of market hunting in America included firearms that more closely resembled artillery than shotguns.

"This huge gun is a unique part of Currituck history and we are excited and proud to welcome it home," said Sharon Meade, curator of the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education.

Standing nine and a half feet tall and weighing more than 100 pounds, the punt gun began its northeast North Carolina career in 1853, blasting dozens of waterfowl from the sky with a single shot. That was very much the gun's purpose, to effectively kill as many birds as possible, which then were shipped to be sold in distant cities.

"The name comes from the fact that these guns were often mounted on punt boats," Meade said. "A boat could be maneuvered into place close to ducks and geese. At a time when there were no season restrictions or bag limits, these guns provided a very efficient harvest of what was thought to be an endless bounty.

"This punt gun was loaded with a couple of ounces of gunpowder and about a pound of shot," she said. "There are families here who have heard about this gun and who are connected to it, but this will be their first time to actually see it."

The museum's first director, H.H. Brimley, acquired the gun in 1907 from E.E. Walker of Currituck County, following its display at the Jamestown Exposition in Virginia.

According to Roy Campbell, museum director of exhibits, at the time of purchase Walker noted that his "big duck gun" previously belonged to his father, who had bought the gun secondhand in 1853.

"Apparently this particular gun was last used in the late 1850s," Campbell says. "It's an impressive artifact of a time when hunting restrictions were almost nonexistent."

By 1870, with the support of sportsmen and conservationists, laws were introduced in North Carolina to protect migratory birds from punt guns. The federal Lacey Act of 1900 banned the transport of wild game (or feathers) across state lines, and a 1918 treaty protecting migratory birds effectively ended the practice of market hunting. As a result, there are few punt guns remaining.

The Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education is located at Heritage Park between the Whalehead Club and Currituck Beach Lighthouse. Admission is free. For more information, go to www.ncwildife.org or call (252) 453-0221.
 

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