By Donald Dallas
“Saltwater, webbed feet and blackpowder” was a traditional wildfowler’s toast. The book by the same name, by John Richards and artist Julian Novorol, is a history of punt-gunning and big-bore shooting over the UK’s rivers and estuaries in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The adventure and social history of punt-gunning began around 1814, when Lt. Col. Peter Hawker’s book Instructions to Young Sportsmen gave the first detailed advice on wildfowling. Until then wildfowling had been regarded as a lowly sport designed to supplement the family diet. Hawker introduced an element of intellect to the sport and thus interested gentlemen in it.
Richards and Novorol describe in detail wildfowling with muzzleloading punt guns loaded with 10 to 16 ounces of shot. They relate many punting exhibitions in the the 19th Century and the great effort and danger that gunners experienced.
Beginning in the 1850s, breechloading punt guns and shoulder guns were built in large numbers. By the close of the 19th Century punt-gunning and wildfowling were at their zenith. The book gives fascinating details on punts, shooting yachts, duck decoys and legendary wildfowlers.
A large section is devoted to Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey, who practiced wildfowling from 1874 until his death, in 1916. The authors had access to Payne-Gallwey’s diaries, which included descriptions of his expeditions and his role in building a 1½” Holland & Holland double punt gun of his own design.
This book is a wonderful read packed with anecdotes and is the first in-depth history of wildfowling in the 19th and 20th centuries. The many period photographs are complemented by Novorol’s stylish paintings of wildfowling scenes.
Saltwater, Webbed Feet and Blackpowder is available for £40 from Coch-y-Bonddu Books, anglebooks.com.