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Blowgun Weapons and Blow Darts

Updated on February 14, 2013
BLOWGUNS__ Modern aluminum blowgun, Peru wooden blowgun w/ bone mouthpiece, short and light blowgun from the Amazon jungles, European walking stick blowgun (top to bottom)
BLOWGUNS__ Modern aluminum blowgun, Peru wooden blowgun w/ bone mouthpiece, short and light blowgun from the Amazon jungles, European walking stick blowgun (top to bottom)

Power of the Blowgun

The blowgun could be considered the oldest and simplest type of airgun. Depending on the person's lung capacity, bore size of the barrel and ammunition, velocity of projectiles can range between 100 to 400 ft/sec.

Blowgun darts are much lighter and pack less energy than bow arrows. But they are extremely fast and accurate. At 400 ft/sec which is roughly twice the speed of an ordinary arrow fired from a bow, their advantage lie in short distant targets of 100 feet or less.

Although there are claims that the Jivaro Indians can hit a hummingbird at 150 feet. With practice the average person could reasonably hit a grapefruit at 10 yards.

Dart penetration on a wooden board
Dart penetration on a wooden board

WARNING : Blowgun Safety First

Blowguns provide hours of recreational fun but always follow safety rules.

• Use only for target practice or survival hunting.

• Children should be under proper adult supervision.

• Even if the mouthpiece contain a safety ring that prevents the blowgun darts from being inhaled or swallowed, always draw your breath before turning to the mouthpiece to blow. It is not necessary to blow extremely hard. A short, sharp burst of air works best.

• Handle blowgun spearhead darts with care. Store darts in a quiver not only to prevent dulling or damaging the sharp points of the dart but also to avoid self inflicted injuries. Certain blowgun darts have razor edge that can slice fingers and hands.

• Never point a blowgun at anything you do not wish to kill or injure. Treat the blowgun as if it were a firearm.

• Blowguns are considered weapons. Check State and local laws for possible violation by it's use or possession.

Borneo head hunter with blowgun
Borneo head hunter with blowgun

Where were blow guns invented

The Blowgun has been in use in different parts of the world for centuries. Archaeologists believe that this weapon dates back to the stone age.

Blowguns have change little over time. It may have been invented at the same time in different parts of the world because of it's simplicity. But many historians believe that through migration and contact of prehistoric people, the weapon was re-invented and fabricated with the available materials of the area the tribes inhabited.

It can still be found among many primitive cultures and in some of the wildest regions today.

Italian manuscript with illustration of a blowgun
Italian manuscript with illustration of a blowgun

Geographic Distribution of the Blowgun in Early Times

The earliest recorded reference to blowguns are from Rome in the 2nd century mention by the architect, Appollodorus of Damascus. He says" Reeds are put together, such as bird-catchers use after they have bored holes all the way through them."

•Artifacts discovered in Peru illustrating the blowgun in use by the 6th century.

•Written records of blow guns from the Chin dynasty between 265 and 429 AD in China.

•In Europe a 14th century French illuminated manuscript shows a youth shooting a rabbit with a blowgun one and a half times the length of the boy's body.

Blowgun used by Cherokee men in their traditional hunting grounds in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina.
Blowgun used by Cherokee men in their traditional hunting grounds in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina.
Philippine Itneg (Tinguian) native hunting with a "sumpitan" blowgun
Philippine Itneg (Tinguian) native hunting with a "sumpitan" blowgun

• Primitive blowguns made from bamboo could be found in North, Central, and South America, Europe, Asia, and across the Pacific.

• Native American tribes known to have use blowguns include the Cherokee, Choctaw, and Iroquois, among others.

• Seafaring Arab traders in 1250 AD introduced the blowgun to Northern Africa and Europe.

• The Mamelukes of Egypt referred to the weapon by it's Arabic name "zabatana". Derived from the Malay "sumpitan" or "sumpit" which is what natives in the Philippines call the blow gun.

• Various Indian tribes in the Amazon basin like the Yaguas of Peru and the Jivaros of Ecuador still hunt with the blowgun. Their darts tipped with the deadly "curare" toxin.

• In Mexico, the Aztec king Montezuma reportedly presented the Spanish conquistador Cortes with several beautifully crafted blowguns inlaid with gold among gifts for the Spanish king.

• Iron tube blowguns were manufactured during the renaissance in Europe. Leonardo da Vinci was fascinated with the weapon and conducted research on their capabilities.

• Some blowguns made of brass found in India were rig for shooting fish. They had lines with barbed darts attached to it.

• Japanese Ninja assassins supposedly carried short concealed blowguns.The "Fugu" poison of the puff fish coating their blow darts. Use for short distance, blowguns containing fine pepper dust was also employed much like the modern mace.

• Pacific islanders made a blowgun out of several large leaves rolled and bound together to form a tube. Blowguns with two or more inner tubes were also constructed to allow multiple projectiles to be shot with one breath.

• Fourteen century documents in Flanders (A medieval country in northern Europe that included regions now parts of northern France and Belgium and southwestern Netherlands) indicated that the blowgun was known across Europe to as far as Scandinavia. It was called various names. Sarbacane, zerbatana, esgarapatana (Portugal), cerbatana (Spain), soumpetana (southern France) cerbottana ( Italy), Blasrohr,literally "blow tube" (Germany)

Jivaro Indian 8 ft. two-piece blowgun, darts and quiver. Gourd attach on side of quiver contains kapok which is wrapped around the rear area of the dart as an air seal. Cup also contain the curare poison.
Jivaro Indian 8 ft. two-piece blowgun, darts and quiver. Gourd attach on side of quiver contains kapok which is wrapped around the rear area of the dart as an air seal. Cup also contain the curare poison.
Peru Yagua indian loading "curare" poison tipped dart into mouthpiece of blowgun
Peru Yagua indian loading "curare" poison tipped dart into mouthpiece of blowgun

Darts are fletched with feather tips, down, "kapok" cotton or animal fur to provide an air seal that acts as a gasket, preventing the air from the lungs from passing around the dart. It provides compression and stabilize the darts in flight by acting as ballast.

Ornate rattan wrapped Yagua blowgun with quiver
Ornate rattan wrapped Yagua blowgun with quiver

Traditional method of making Blowguns

• The earliest and most widely distributed worldwide were made from bamboo, reeds, canes and other natural tubes of plant origin.

• Natural tubes were split open end to end and their septum or partition remove. Once the inside walls were clean the resulting halves were then glued and lashed back together with cord or rattan. Other wrappings may include bark, leather or cloth. Water proofing materials like wax, gum or lacquer was then applied.

• Small hot coals are repeatedly drop into the tube to burn out the inner partition. Soft sponge like center cylinder like those found in palm stems or elder trees could also be pushed out with a rod. A long shaft tipped with an arrowhead is then use to ream away what remained inside the hollow.

• A platform was erected the height of the propose blowgun. The long piece of cut hard wood is lashed vertically to the edge of the platform. The maker then lift, drop and turn a long iron rod tipped with a triangular steel point in proper alignment with the attached guides. Water was ladled into the bore to float out the wood chips.

The barrel was then planed and it's bore smoothed.This method required skill and took longer to complete. But the resulting blowgun needed no gluing or wrapping and was strong enough to serve as a spear shaft. Many surviving examples were found equip with bayonet-like iron lance.

Blowgun with bayonet-like iron lance
Blowgun with bayonet-like iron lance

Blowgun Showdown in the Amazon

Modern blowgun
Modern blowgun

Blowgun Projectiles

Razor tip broad head
Razor tip broad head
stun or blunt pellets
stun or blunt pellets
.40 cal paint balls
.40 cal paint balls

Modern blowguns

• Modern blowguns are generally made of aluminum or carbon-reinforced plastic tubing. They come in standard size bore (.40 cal., .50 cal., and .62 cal.) and various length (3ft. - 6ft) Two-piece assembly unit comes with an additional threaded tube that could be coupled to the main barrel to increase accuracy,distance and velocity of the blowgun projectile.

• Big bore (.62 cal.) hunting blowguns are capable of dart penetration through a half inch thick ply board at 20 ft.
For the beginner as well as for recreational purposes like target practice or paintball shooting the .40 cal blowguns are the most popular.

• Modern blowguns are relatively inexpensive when compare to other shooting equipment. Some blowguns cost less than $20. Aside from ammunition, accessories includes an anti-inhale safety mouthpiece, muzzle guard, a handy sight and a shoulder carry sling.

• There are different ammunition commercially available like sharp wire darts, spear darts(razor tip broad head), spike darts, stun darts, paint balls (for fun competition or target shooting). One can also make projectiles as well as the blowgun with ordinary hardware items. D.I.Y. instructions are readily found in the internet.

Present Day Popularity of Blowguns

Blowguns are growing in popularity for hunting and sport. As a sporting event, the International Fukiyado Association (IFA) is standardizing the competition style and barrel caliber in hopes that blowgun competition becomes an Olympic event.

In the United States the National Sport Blowgun Association is attracting many blowgun enthusiast.

Blowgun competition in Tokyo,Japan among senior citizens

Blowgun darts


Submit a Comment
  • SilentReed profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Philippines

    MartieCoetser ~ So you were a tomboy as a kid :)We also had those converted pea shooters. I'm smiling as I recall the shooting war inside our classroom. Each time the teacher turn her back on us to write on the blackboard, the classroom turn into a war zone with paper bullets whizzing around. Those who sat at the back obviously had the advantage. I also recall the unpleasant experience of being sent to the principal's office when we were caught in the act. The "spare the rod and spoil the child was being enforce back then. ouch!

  • MartieCoetser profile image

    Martie Coetser 

    8 years ago from South Africa

    SilentReed, this is an extremely interesting article about blowguns. The original natives of South Africa made bows and arrows with poisonous substance on the tips. Other Africans made spears. Making blowguns probably never crossed their minds. Or who knows, maybe it was part of their arsenal.

    And of course, as kids we all converted our pens into p-shooters to shoot each others with bullets of wet paper...

    Voted up, interesting and useful.

  • SilentReed profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Philippines

    Hello Cris, it's been awhile. I'm glad this hub convince you to take up the sport again. I hope your eyesight is still as good as when you were a kid:)Thanks for passing by and good shooting!

  • Christopher Price profile image

    Christopher Price 

    8 years ago from Vermont, USA


    I don't know how I missed this until now but I'm glad I stumbled upon it today. This was well researched and written, and the videos were a great touch.

    I had a blowgun when I was a kid. It was about 4 feet long, red plastic with a white rubber mouthpiece and wire darts about 4 or 5 inches long that could penetrate a pine board up to an inch thick. It was manufactured by Whamo, the same company that sold the frisbee! Child toy safety was different back then.

    I loved using it for target practice, and have wanted to buy another for a long time. I'm retired now and have lots of time on my hands, and you have convinced me that a new aluminum blowgun must be in my possession right away!



  • SilentReed profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Philippines

    prasetio30 ~ Hi:)This hub came about in my interest with the Philippine Cordillera's tribal weaponry and unarmed combat.I was intrigue that they also employed the blowgun. I decided to find out the extend it was use in other countries. Have a beautiful day my friend.:)

  • prasetio30 profile image


    8 years ago from malang-indonesia have fascinating information about blowgun. I learn many things about this weapon, including the history as well. I also enjoy the video above. Rated up and take care!



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