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The blowgun Where it all began

by B.B. Pelletier

Blowguns are the most primitive air weapons of all – and they ARE weapons, unlike nearly all other airguns. A blowgun is a long tube that shoots a dart powered by the force of air from the shooter’s lungs. It falls into the spring-piston category because the lungs do not compress the air until the moment of firing. About 400 years ago, an airgun using a leather bellows to do the same thing was invented. It was a copy of the blowgun, put into mechanical form.

The blowgun reaches far back into prehistory, so the date or even era of its creation isn’t known, but it is certainly older than 2,000 years. The reason it is prehistoric isn’t necessarily because of its age, but because it was used by primitive cultures that had no written language.

Surprising performance!
As an airgunner, I had read about the effectiveness of blowguns for many years before seeing it firsthand. When I saw what one could do, I was amazed. The first time I tried one, I was hitting a 6″ target from 40 feet! I know some airguns that can’t do as well. Suddenly I had to have one of my own.

The longer the better
Like any pneumatic gun, the longer the blowgun, the faster it propels the dart. Even with the tiny amount of air from human lungs, this remains true. I bought a modern 6-footer, which is in the magnum class, but it certainly isn’t handy! If I were using it to hunt, it would get caught on every branch and weed in the field. As a testbed in a clean environment, it’s perfect. There are 4-foot and even 3-foot models, and you can make your own from simple aluminum tubing bought at the hardware store, so length can be whatever you want it to be.

Blowgun collectors
As airgun collectors become more interested in their hobby, they eventually start acquiring blowguns. Robert Beeman has a large collection of airguns, and he has lots of blowguns, as well. In the first Airgun Digest, he not only showed some of the history of the guns, he even included detailed instructions for making both the guns and the darts! W.H.B. Smith did the same thing in his book, Gas, Air and Spring Guns of the World. In fact, blowguns are such fascinating objects that many Asian countries are now cranking out primitive models in huge numbers for the tourist trade. It’s similar to the current fascination with medieval armor and swords.

Your airguns will be jealous of the accuracy!
Accuracy is surprising. Six inches at 40 feet was just my first attempt. With some practice, I can hit a 3″ target at the same 40 feet most of the time. A skilled shooter can probably hit a 1″ target reliably at the same range. There are clubs that shoot targets at 10 meters. Native blowgun hunters can extend that range up to 80 and even 100 yards, but they use their weapons all the time and become very familiar with their performance.

The commercial blowgun I bought came with a dozen darts fastened to the tube on a dart holder. Over the years, I’ve managed to lose about half of them, but they’re available from any dealer. I see them all the time at local gun shows. The dart is made of a 4″ section of music wire, sharpened on one end and fixed to a colorful plastic skirt on the other end. The skirt fits the inside of the tube to seal the air behind and provides high drag in flight to stabilize the dart. The dart works on the same principle as the diabolo pellet.

Firing behavior
The blowgun is almost silent in operation. Beyond 20 feet, it’s so quiet that it cannot be heard in most circumstances. The dart flies faster than the eye can track (200-350 f.p.s.), so a stealthy blowgunner can wreak some real damage. Darts will penetrate a 1/4″ plywood board with ease and a 1″ pine plank if the shooter has the lungs for it. But penetration isn’t how the darts work in the field. They are coated with a fast-acting toxin that paralyzes the game, allowing dispatch by other means. This is academic for American hunters, though, because blowguns are not an appropriate hunting weapon when better tools, such as pellet guns, are available.

There’s a huge variety of blowguns available on the internet today. There are big-bore guns, guns that will shoot 440 yards (almost as far as a diabolo pellet!) and all sorts of dart types, plus paintballs. Blowgun sites talk about hunting with blowguns, but I don’t advocate it. Having seen birds suffering with darts in their bodies, I can’t think of a more inappropriate thing to do.

Massachusetts, California and Rhode Island restrict their ownership. As far as I know the other 47 states have no laws against them. New York City prohibits their ownership, and there may be counties and other cities with restrictions. In Canada, they’re prohibited except for use on a legal shooting range. The UK outlaws all modern blowguns entirely. Only antiques may be owned. That said, a blowgun is the easiest weapon to manufacture and to conceal.

The science of the blowgun continues to captivate all who fall under its influence. It’s well worth the low cost to have one if you can, just to learn more about your sport.

author avatar
Tom Gaylord (B.B. Pelletier)
Tom Gaylord, also known as B.B. Pelletier, provides expert insights to airgunners all over the world on behalf of Pyramyd AIR. He has earned the title The Godfather of Airguns™ for his contributions to the industry, spending many years with AirForce Airguns and starting magazines dedicated to the sport such as Airgun Illustrated.

32 thoughts on “The blowgun Where it all began”

  1. BB,

    This maybe off topic but I have been wanting to ask this since I have retired. We love airgunning, that is a fact. I wonder, what other hobbies are as close to the heart and soul of the airgunner as one enters retirement?



  2. I really like this blog, has got to be one of my favorited BB has done so far! I have been shooting Blow Guns since i was too little to remember, they arent that great for birds *feathers defelect shots sometime* and its not always humane, they sometimes stick and and the bird simply flys away. I wonder what ancient tribes and even modern tribes use for hunting darts… anyone have an idea?

  3. I’ve always been interested in a blowgun as use for a barrel, powered by an air compressor. plenty more powerful than a human lung. actually, that seems the only feasible way to use them. last time i shot one (didnt know a tube was illegal until now), exhausting the air in my lungs caused the tube to shift off wildly, and i couldnt hold better than 5″ 5 dart groups at something like 10 meters. i wonder how anyone can possibly shoot accurately with still enough power to sink the dart into their game/target?

  4. Robert Beeman seemed to imply blowguns were pneumatic. You compress the air just before firing against a closed epiglottis then “cough” the dart down the barrel.

    Charles Bronson shot up Geneva with an improvised blow gun in one of his movies.

  5. ok thanks for getting back to me.
    i think i will get the hobbys and heres why. i am going to take advantage of pyramyds pellet promotion and buy two tins of JSB .22 Diabolo Exact Jumbo, a box of premiers and a tin of hobbys. this way i will get a $9 tin of pellets free!! if i bought a $3 tin with the others that one would be free and i wouldnt get a good deal. besides i do more plinking than target shooting so i am not that woried about the wieght.

  6. Nice blowgun post; nice blog altogether, in fact. I got here by way of Google, in the process of researching catapult guns, and hung round for a bit to see what else was here.

    Speaking of blowguns (and rubber-powered projectile-throwing devices), I was wondering if you had any experience with the “Megadart” airgun from the 80s? It seems to’ve been a .40 calibre spring piston airgun powered by surgical tubing, meant to fire blowgun darts. The USPTO website has the patent online, IIRC. It sounds as if it sank fairly quickly, but it sounds to me as if it would’ve been great fun for plinking, and possibly all kinds of fun for paintball. I’ve never seen one, alas.


  7. Aelfwine,

    Yes, I’m familiar with the gun you mention. The Mega-Dart MX5 pistol is pictured on page 164 of Airgun Digest, 2nd edition. Besides the caption to the one photo, I could find no other mention in a quick scan of that section of the book.


  8. No I haven’t heard of this one, but undoubtedly Cold Steel sourced it in the Orient, where all of these blowguns are made.

    I don’t recommend hunting with blowguns at all. I’ve seen too many animals with darts through their bodies. Unless you tip your darts with curare, I’d recommend against it.


  9. Suprised you haven’t heard of the Cold Steel BigBore, BB. It’s the only ‘magnum’ blowgun I can think of on the market right now.
    I picked one up right away when they first came out, I was looking for some of the 80’s vintage ones by Jivaro or Stupero. I found out Cold Steel bought stupero (or their later incarnation; JW McFarlin).
    They don’t specifically say if they are made in the US (they do say they are warehoused in Texas because blowguns are illegal in California, where Cold Steel is headquartered!) but these are NOT the common .40 cal blowguns you see all over.
    BB, give oneof the BigBores a try, I think you’ll like them.
    Don’t get me wrong, I like the 40 cal blowguns; I have 4 of them, including a little 18″ model that is great for shooting at a dartboard in my den. In fact it gets suprising penetration for such a short blowgun.
    Also the 40 caliber guns have lots of neat options like ‘exploding’ darts (they have a cap gun cap mounted at the end) or stun darts that you can thwack a buddy with.
    But for target or possible hunting use I think the only way to go is the BigBore.

  10. I just got my 625. caliber bigbore blowgun and killed two squirrels from about 10 yards away.They were both hit with perfect neck shots and dropped on the spot.This blowgun is very powerful.

  11. I am Chairman of a US-based blowgun organization. We shoot competitions at 10 meters based on rules and scoring established in Japan. There are about a dozen or so international affiliate organizations. Japan has over 6,000 people competing. We have about 65 in the U.S. so far. For more info, check out http://www.1asba.com.

  12. Greetings, Mr. Pelletier; (if that is your real name…)

    First, the obligatory stroke: I am currently working myself through your collected works and am enjoying myself immensly! Thank-you for your time, wisdom and sense of humor.

    Liked the blow-gun article, bought one when I was a young man, got bored and experimented. Put the device in a shop vise and used a compressor parts cleaner(blow gun) for propulsion. At the distance I had to work with, abt. 30 ft., it was incredably accurate. Many “Robin Hoods” and all would hit smaller than dime sized targets. Also, it would sink the, what, 2 1/5? in. darts 3/4 of its length into 2X4s!

    Once I have finished, I may have a few questions, but prefer to see if they are answered before becoming a bother.

    Cheers; Gary L.

  13. Fritz,

    You have posted a question to an old report. A new one comes out five days a week at this address:{


    If you will post your question to the current blog the chances of getting a response are much higher. Only a few people see these old ones, except by chance.


  14. I have a Mega Dart MX5 dart pistol. Serial # 10281. It took me quite a while to take it apart far enough to figure out why it wouldn't compress enough air to work and I never bothered to fix it and put it back together. It's an easy fix and I have all the parts. Anyone interested in buying it? email

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