No one knows for sure exactly when it happened, or where. Some estimate it was sometime in the fifteenth century. Others say it was perhaps thousands of years earlier. Whenever it was, at some point in the mists of time, some intrepid innovator discovered what every kid who has blown the wrapper off a soda straw knows: if you place moveable projectile in a tube and quickly blow into the tube, the projectile will come zipping out of the tube. In an instant, our inventor had discovered the blowgun, the primitive ancestor to all airguns that we use today.
The natives of the Malay Archipelago (Borneo) and the Indians of the Orinoco and Amazon river basins are generally acknowledged to be the heavy hitters in blowgunning. The South American blowguns range from 12 to 20 feet long, and there are those who claim the Jivaro Indians can hit a hummingbird at 50 yards with one. Blowguns are, or have been, used by Ninjas in Japan, various military units and by modern folks wishing to tranquilize wildlife. Blowguns have been used for sport and hunting by native people in North and South America, Asia, Africa, and Europe.
I first became interested in blowguns in my twenties when my Dad bought one, and we fooled around with it one weekend. I forgot about them until I saw them being used by research scientists on the National Geographic channel a few years ago. This piqued my interest, and I started looking into them. The bottom line: they are a lot of fun.
But first, a disclaimer: just because you are the powerplant supplying the energy in a blowgun, don’t make the mistake of thinking they are harmless toys. Even the least powerful blowgun I tested could, at ten yards, stick a pointed target dart into a block of wood with enough energy that it always required pliers to pull it out.
The blowgun is a very simple projectile launcher, but it has a lot to recommend it. It’s virtually silent and requires no movement that would reveal your presence. It’s mechanically simple, highly reliable, light and easy to carry. The only consumable items are the darts, which are inexpensive to buy or easy to make.
Today in North America there blowgun target shooters as well as enthusiasts who hunt with blowguns, taking birds, squirrels, rabbits, pan fish, and snakes. In A Sporting Chance Daniel Mannix successfully hunted a wildcat, woodchucks, and pigeons with a blowgun without the use of poison, and he killed a deer using darts with curare. By all means, check your local laws regarding blowguns. They are illegal to possess in California or Massachusetts.
If you poke around the internet, you’ll quickly discover that modern blowguns are generally made of aluminum tubing and come in various lengths and three common calibers: .40, .50, and .62. On the Internet, you’ll also discover directions for making your own blowgun from electrical conduit or (sometimes) PVC tubing.
Among commercially manufactured blowguns, forty caliber is the most common. The widest ranges of darts are available in .40 and .50 cal. If you would rather purchase a blowgun, I have had good luck with those from Cold Steel. Cold Steel offers several different models of .625 cal. blowguns as well as an assortment of ammunition. I have never hunted with blowguns, but I found that a Cold Steel mini-broadhead dart would penetrate both sides of a tin can a 13 yards.
When experimenting with blowguns, select your targets with care. A pizza box is the right size but must be backed by something more substantial such as an archery target. I like taping small balloons to the target and trying to pop them at the greatest possible range.
Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.
- Jock Elliott