Doing Freedom masthead

Blowguns: A Silent Defense Option

Locked N. Loaded

Blowguns are very versatile weapons. And for a reasonable amount of money you can own a quality blowgun. A standard blowgun will usually be somewhere between three and four feet in length, and usually costs from around 10 to 30 dollars. With a standard blowgun you can reach velocities of up to 400 feet per second and can effectively hit targets at up to 50 yards. With a longer blowgun your velocities will increase as will your effective range. And of course, with a shorter blowgun--or a weaker set of lungs or poor technique--velocity and effective range will decrease. Blowguns come in .38, .40, and .50 caliber. I suggest the .40 caliber for a beginner, as it is the most widely available.

There are three different kinds of basic designs when it comes to blowguns. First is the standard one-piece gun, which can come in lengths ranging from 24 inches to 48 inches. There's a two-piece gun, which will be from 48 inches to 72 inches long. Finally, you can buy a breakdown or backpacker style blowgun. The backpacker style blowgun will usually break down into three or even four pieces so you can store it in your backpack.

blowguns sketch
Various Blowguns

You can also buy extensions, which attach to any kind of gun. The purpose of an extension is to increase the length of the gun. When you increase the length, you increase its range and effective accuracy. Modern blowguns are usually made out of aircraft aluminum tubing, and you can sometimes purchase them in different colors.

Where to Acquire Blowguns

Acquiring a good quality modern blowgun is usually very simple. All it should take is few minutes of shopping and a bit of money. The best line of blowguns and blowgun accessories that I have seen is at Blowguns Northwest Inc. I also recommend an extremely informative book called Blowguns: The Breath of Death, by Michael D. Janich. Other options for acquiring a quality blowgun are Cheaper Than Dirt, which has a good selection of blowguns. Their "Warrior Blowgun" model was my first blowgun, and for $12.97 it is a very good deal. Editor's note: This model appears to be no longer available, but there are many others, beginning under $6.] Brigade Quartermasters also has a selection of blowguns. And finally, Cabela's has a few different blowguns and accessories. Be advised that some of these sources may refuse to ship blowguns to Kalifornia and Taxachusetts, as blowguns are "illegal" in those states.

Shooting the Blowgun

Blowguns are easy to shoot. Before you start shooting however, you need a target. It is possible to buy a foam target from Cheaper Than Dirt, and that is a very good option. If you don't want to wait for delivery, then it is very easy to construct a target. All you need is a piece of plywood and some cardboard. Just staple a couple of pieces of cardboard to the plywood, and shoot. Another option is a stuffed animal; they are good targets, as they are 3 dimensional. However, it's a good idea to put a piece of plywood behind the stuffed animal so as to catch the missed shots.

Now as to shooting the gun, you simply hold the gun a few inches down from the mouthpiece with your dominant hand, and hold down toward the middle of the gun with your non-dominant hand. Draw your breath--away from the gun!--then place your mouth onto the mouthpiece. Sharply blow into the mouthpiece of the gun. You should hear a "pop" sound. It is possible to purchase a sight that goes on the end of the gun, but I have never found it necessary. Your eyes will naturally align the gun to the target with a little bit of practice.

Basic Blowgun Darts

Versatility in its ammunition is one of the finer qualities of the blowgun. There are five basic designs of blowgun darts. Different blowgun manufacturers have different names for their darts, but the basic design is the same. There's a "target" dart, which is just a piece of straight steel wire with a very pointy tip, and a stopper (which catches your breath when you fire the gun) affixed to the back end of the dart; it is usually around 4 to 5 inches in length. Then there's a "spearhead" dart, which is essentially the same, except that instead of a sharp pointy tip, it has a wider flat-edged tip. This dart is very accurate and the tip is very sharp, making it good for hunting small game, like birds and mice. Then there is the "broad-head" configuration. Like the "target" and "spearhead" dart, its main body is made out of straight steel wire. Instead of the tip being an integral part of the shaft, however, it has a piece of plastic which is affixed to the end of the dart. This piece of plastic is larger and it makes a bigger and more effective wound channel when it hits game. Next comes the "wallop" dart. This dart is only around an inch and a half in total length; however, it is much heavier and more rugged. There are also a few types of "stun" darts. The stun darts are designed to not penetrate their target. They are small, heavy, and dull, and when they hit small game in the head, it can crack the skull. Its uses aren't limited to hunting, however; it can also be used to get rid of security lights, traffic cameras, and similar nuisances. Stun darts are usually either made out of either a solid piece of hard plastic or a piece of plastic with a metal screw in the end. Other types of darts exist; however, I haven't had any experience with them. I leave their evaluation up to you.

different types of darts
Different types of darts

Homemade Specialty Darts

It is also possible to make your own blowgun projectiles. Although I don't suggest making the standard type darts (simply because it is easier to buy them) it can be very fun and potentially useful to fashion some less conventional darts yourself. One type of dart that I have found useful is designed to blind your potential target. The way this is done is very simple. Take a single ply of toilet paper, and place some black pepper and red cayenne pepper in the center of it. Fold the corners up so as they act as a stopper, then simply put it in your gun and shoot it at a wall and see if it works. After a bit of practice--on exactly how much pepper to use, and exactly how to fold the toilet paper--you will be able to really shoot this dart. It may not blind a person, but the stun of the dart hitting them in the face by itself is enough to distract them; and if the cayenne gets in their eyes, it can really sting. Since the only things they are going to find after being shot are some toilet paper and maybe some pepper, they aren't going to know what hit them.

Another homemade dart that I have had some success with is an incendiary dart. The way to make it is by taking a "strike anywhere" match, and tightly tape it to the end of a target dart. You want it to protrude past the end of the dart tip by about a quarter of an inch. Then, tape a little bit of lighter-fluid-drenched gauze to the shaft of the dart. If you do it right, when this dart hits a hard surface the match will usually (about 70 percent of the time) catch the gauze on fire. This dart will actually stick in its target and burn. I have almost burned down my garage a couple of times, so I know it works.

Hunting with the Blowgun

With a good blowgun and a practiced user, hunting of small game is very practical. I have personally taken out a small bird, and a couple of lizards, as well as a squirrel. It also possible to kill much larger things with poison-tip darts.

Basic Ideas for Poison-Tip Darts

Traditional poisons for the blowgun are normally strychnine based. Curare is the favored poison; it can be acquired from the wourali vine. Another option is the sap from the upas trees (Antarias toxicaria), a member of the mulberry family. If you, like me, haven't the faintest idea how to find the woulari vine, or the upas tree, some other poisons are more easily found. The easiest and most practical idea for poison-tip darts that I have heard, is to take some rat poison and grind it up into a powder. Using either a target or spearhead dart, tape some masking tape around its shaft, and lightly coat the shaft of the dart in vegetable shortening. Then dip the dart in the powdered rat poison. When this dart hits its target it should get at least some of its poison in. [Editor's note: Many rat poisons are based on an anticoagulant, or "blood thinner", that is in common medical use. Hitting a healthy person with this type of poison-tip dart is very unlikely to have any noticeable effect; however, if there's enough of the poison, it could eventually kill small game.] It's a good idea to be cautious when you are using poisonous darts. You must remember that you are going to put your lips to the mouthpiece of your blowgun, so you don't want poison on the mouthpiece. A good technique for safely loading your poison-tip darts is to make a paper funnel and load it through that. If you are interested in using poison-tip darts, the previously mentioned book, Blowguns: The Breath of Death, is an excellent resource.


For a relatively inexpensive weapon, the blowgun more than stands up for itself. They are inherently accurate, and very easy to use. With about 20 hours of practice you will be hitting targets at distances you would not have thought possible. The potential uses of a blowgun in resistance to tyranny are many. Blowguns are very good for hunting small game. For example, if you were being pursued in a forest, a blowgun would give you the ability to kill fresh meat quietly. With some of the darts described, you have the capability to distract. And with proper poisons it is even possible to kill a person. Buy one, give it a try, and get creative with some darts, to add this useful, fun tool to your self-defense equipment.

(c) 2001


Please rate this article! Knowing what you like will help us provide the content you want.

bad poor average good excellent

If there's anything specific you'd like to say about this article, please do so here. Comments may be used in an upcoming Letters to the Editor.


Table of Contents

Comment on this article
View all comments on this article