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How does a Blowgun Work?

By Ron Marr
Updated May 23, 2024
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A blowgun is one of the oldest weapons on earth, and very likely the very first that was capable of firing a small projectile at prey. The first blowguns are estimated to have originated over 40,000 years ago, perhaps in China, and consisted largely of a hollow reed and a hard-carved dart. The hunter simply placed a dart into one end of the gun, placed his mouth over the opposite end, took aim, and blew. A strong puff of air forced the dart through the tube, hopefully in the direction of a small bird or animal. The velocity of the dart was dependent upon the length of the tube and one’s lung capacity.

Indigenous tribes in South America and parts of Asia were especially proficient in the use of the blowgun, and to a far lesser degree still use them today. Blowguns do not possess the killing power of a rifle or bow, but their extremely sharp darts can easily pierce skin. Thus, blowguns were typically a tool for hunting small game. To take larger game, many of the tribes coated their darts with poisons. Via this technique the blowgun was effective against larger animals, and even against humans during times of battle and warfare.

Modern blowguns have progressed light years from the hollow reed and hand-carved dart of ancient peoples. A state-of-the-art blowgun may be crafted from wood, plastic, or aircraft quality aluminum tubing. The weapon is generally sold in sizes ranging from 18 to 72 inches in length (45.7 centimeters to 1.8 meters), and is precision manufactured. The same is true of blowgun darts, which are factory produced and consistent in both quality and aerodynamic properties.

The modern blowgun is often seen as a sporting instrument for target shooting and paintball games. At times it is used as a tool by veterinarians and zoo personnel, and loaded with a tranquilizing dart. Far less powerful than a tranquilizer gun, and thus less capable of causing injury, a tranquilizing dart fired from a blowgun can pacify agitated or dangerous animals that require medical treatment.

An expert blowgun aficionado can fire darts that travel as fast as 300 feet (91.4 meters) per second. Expert accuracy is usually limited to approximately 60 feet (18.3 meters) but the dart can travel as far as 250 feet (76.2 meters). Special mouthpieces that concentrate air pressure generally assist velocity and accuracy of this sort, but a huge amount of practice is still required to acquire such expertise.

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Discussion Comments
By Veruca10 — On Oct 23, 2011

I got my daughter a marshmallow blow gun when she came for her weekend with me. She's six, and she loved that thing! Spent the weekend target shooting, chasing the dog around, chasing me around, and generally causing mayhem and also burning off energy, so when bedtime came around she was fast asleep.

My ex wife was *not* happy when I sent her home with that thing. Seems their dog does not have a sense of humor. Oh well, not my problem.

By winslo2004 — On Oct 23, 2011

I have used a paintball blowgun, and it's tons of fun to splat people when they don't expect it. That said, I don't know why people use the blowgun rather than a normal paintball gun, which fires a lot faster and farther and holds a lot more ammo. I guess the blowgun is cheaper.

By bigjim — On Oct 22, 2011

They sell these things at flea markets and online, and you would be surprised at how powerful they are. Some of the better ones can put the dart through a piece of plywood with relative ease. Which means it go through someones skin, neck, or eyeball with relative ease.

I am not one to restrict ownership of weapons just do to do, but this is something that I think should be sold only to adults, and it should be stressed that it is not a toy.

I remember watching Bugs Bunny and other cartoons as a kid, and people would get shot with a blowgun, usually in the butt, they would jump up and scream, and hilarity would ensue. If you did that to someone with a real blowgun, they might just need a trauma surgeon.

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