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Museum Minute: The surprising origin of the phrase, ‘get your ducks in a row'

Two displays show different old rifles. One has five guns hung in a row. The other has three guns sitting on their butts.
Olivia Weitz
Wyoming Public Media
Michael says one of the punt guns on display at the Cody Firearms Museum is around 8 feet tall and weighs approximately 150 pounds.

Danny Michael, curator of the Cody Firearms Museum, says the phrase “get your ducks in a row” is linked to one of the largest firearms in the museum’s collection: a punt gun.

These guns were too heavy to carry, so duck hunters mounted them on shallow boats and tried to get as many birds as they could with one shot.

“You really want to line up all of your ducks, all of your waterfowl, and get all of them in a row, and that makes a really pithy expression for how this whole thing operated,” he said.

Michael says these guns weren’t around for very long because of the perception that they were leading to overhunting in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

“They become very quickly restricted and banned in most jurisdictions that had any kind of governance around hunting laws,” he said.

While it’s still legal to own a punt gun, they haven’t been allowed for hunting in the U.S. since 1918 due to the Migratory Bird Treaty.

Olivia Weitz is based at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody. She covers Yellowstone National Park, wildlife, and arts and culture throughout the region. Olivia’s work has aired on NPR and member stations across the Mountain West. She is a graduate of the University of Puget Sound and the Transom story workshop. In her spare time, she enjoys skiing, cooking, and going to festivals that celebrate folk art and music.<br/>