As I get older I find myself more likely to buy something just because I’m curious, even if I think it’s not very practical. Blowguns always have drawn my interest but in most cases they’re just toys and I already have a dart board and a good set of darts. No one ever goes hunting with darts, but people do hunt with blowguns. For the American hunter, it’s a question of whether American blowguns are actually good enough for effective hunting.
Update! 9/5/2016: Having had this blowgun this many years, I’m still learning it’s tricks and how effective it can be. As with any physical activity, you get better as you progress. Accuracy isn’t difficult to achieve. Penetration comes with experience. Currently I get twice the penetration, ahem, as I did when I began. That comes from an unusual set of muscles most of us never use. Just keep trying.
To explore this possibility, I recently purchased what seems to be the best blowgun on the market today, the 5-foot single-piece Professional .625 Magnum blowgun from Cold Steel. The difference between this blowgun and the standard blowgun from Cold Steel is wall thickness. With the professional model you get a heavier build, with 3mm thick aluminum walls, twice the thickness of the standard. The .625 inch bore allows the use of heavier darts or darts with wider cutting edges. Cold Steel provides four kinds of darts with the blowgun, including blunts, hunting broadheads, mini-broadheads and bamboo darts.
When you buy something like this, there’s what the company says, and there’s what’s real. If anything the company says is real, you’re lucky. With the Cold Steel Professional Blowgun, you’re moderately lucky. If you buy one, set aside the hunting broadheads and blunt darts. Those are junk. Even bundling them together with rubber bands for shipping warps the shafts and they’ll never fly straight, even after you straighten them out. The blunts don’t fit the barrel and usually stick partway down. You could trim the cones down and make them fit, but they’re not very accurate anyway. The hunting broadheads just don’t fly right, and this older Cold Steel version includes a plastic ball at the base of the blade, so there’s no real penetration of the target beyond the length of the blade, should you be lucky enough to hit anything. Cold Steel did redesign this hunting dart, replacing it with a steel shaft dart tipped with a Zy-Ex plastic broadhead. They’re a much better dart than the hunting broadheads that came with the blowgun.
The two good types of ammo aren’t as fancy but work well. The bamboo darts take less force to fire and drop less over range. The steel mini-broadheads hit with far more impact and are the most efficient ammo provided. You can improve them by sharpening the tips.
Whether this blowgun is good for hunting or not, well, you should limit your shooting to really small game. You could shoot a turkey in theory, but you’d have to be really accurate and hit it in the heart or the neck. As much as Cold Steel does tout the accuracy of this weapon, blowguns aren’t as accurate as rifles, they’re more like the old smooth-bore muzzle loaders that hit somewhere near where you’re aiming if you’re good. You’re much more likely to wound something than to make a clean kill. I see a drop of several inches at forty feet down range when I fire the steel mini-broadheads, and the real accuracy comes when you fire from up close, at half that distance or less. You can hunt with the Cold Steel Professional blowgun, but you need good stalking skills and a hunger for very small game like mice, ground squirrels, small birds, and lizards. Anything bigger might run off and take your dart with it.
Traditional blowguns took down big game, not just birds and rats, but primitive hunters only managed this feat by combining darts with poison. That’s where the blowgun shines, because you can hit a large target easily, even if you aren’t very good. With the right poison you can take down a giraffe with a blowgun, although it might require several hits and a day or two of tracking. I’ve seen films of Bushmen hunters doing this with poisoned arrows, and even after two days they had to finish the animal off with spears. In South America, indigenous hunters take monkeys out of the upper canopy with several types of poison darts, but it takes awhile, and you still have to get the monkey out of the tree when it decides it’s very tired. Most South American blowgun hunters used curare, a powerful poison extracted from a vine that grows in the Amazon jungles, but some used the sweat of specific types of poison frogs. These brightly colored little amphibians can be purchased as exotic pets in the U.S., but even though they will exude sweat when handled, the domestic sweat isn’t much good. Poison frogs gain their poison by eating certain types of ants that eat certain types of poisonous plants. If the frogs live on a diet of fruit flies and baby crickets, as poison frog pets do, they don’t have any punch.
If you do depend upon the Cold Steel Professional Blowgun as a survival weapon, for hiking or the bug-out bag, you’ll need to learn to make your own ammo. A couple of dozen darts won’t last long when you’re hunting. Even African lions only succeed about one out of ten tries, and you probably won’t be that good at first. Soon you’ll have a shortage of nails and plastic cones. The last part of Cold Steel’s blowgun video will give you some ideas about how to fashion your own darts, but if you want to survive in the wilderness you’ll need to gather milkweed or thistle down this fall, save some sinew or plant fiber, and learn how to bundle the fluff to the end of a dart shaft. Cold Steel now offers some improved ammo products, like fletchette darts that spread out in a shotgun pattern. It’s still ammo that you won’t recover if you shoot at something in the woods.
Having owned the Cold Steel Professional blowgun for awhile now, and having experimented with making my own darts, I think this is the real limitation of the gun as a survival weapon. The large bore does deliver more hitting power, but fletching has to be extremely efficient to drive a dart of that size. Small bore blowguns might work well with fiber fletching, but this one won’t. Stock up on cheap bamboo darts and save the plastic cones, because those are the essential bits for making your own ammo. You can easily modify those bamboo darts by pressing them into a lead slip sinker, creating a blunt dart that’s much more accurate and effective than the blunts Cold Steel supplies. With a hammer and an anvil and a bag of those plastic cones you can quickly convert ordinary nails into Mini-broadhead darts.
I’m actually very impressed with the power and accuracy of this blowgun, but I think the ammo needs quite a bit of work. In the wilderness I’d step up to a bigger weapon like a bow or crossbow. If I come across something big enough to make a meal, a blowgun won’t slow it down. Kind of hard to stuff a crossbow in your emergency pack, but carrying a breakdown Cold Steel blowgun isn’t out of the question, or you could get a bunch of cane tips and use this one as your hiking staff, carefully. if you want to gather four and twenty blackbirds and make a pie, you could conceivably do that with the Cold Steel Professional blowgun. It would take awhile, and you’d only have the one pie. Lizards, rats, snakes, frogs and chipmunks are all within the range of this weapon, and that’s the sort of game that’s common in the woods. Most people in survival situations ignore anything smaller than a squirrel or a rabbit, but the really small game is lots more available.
Cold Steel does promote the Professional Hunting blowgun as both a self defense weapon and a hiking staff. It comes with a rubber tip that you have to pull off before you fire the blowgun. This walking cane tip protects the end of the barrel if you use the blowgun as a hiking staff, but it won’t last for long. My advice is, don’t do this. Carry the blowgun like a gun, or sling it across your back with a homemade sling. You wouldn’t put a cane tip on the end of a rifle barrel and use it like a staff, and you shouldn’t do that with this blowgun, either. If you’re going to use it as a hiking staff, carry those extra tips and check the tip frequently. It’s really easy to bugger up aluminum.
The same advice applies to the self-defense problem. If you wrap the barrel of the blowgun around somebody or something, it will do damage. Afterwards, it won’t be a blowgun any more, because blowguns need to be straight. The Cold Steel video says it all. Oops, it bent. Well, yeah, it’s an aluminum tube, dude.
Everything considered, it’s a good value and lots of fun. Many balloons have died in my living room since I got the Cold Steel Professional blowgun, but I wouldn’t take it deer hunting, or turkey hunting, or even frog hunting. There are lots better ways to do all of those things. I’ll save this one for the end of the world when I have nothing to eat but rats. It’ll be good for rats. You only need twelve rats for a pie, they’re better than blackbirds.