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Blowgun – “The BreathOfDeath” | Poisons, Ninja, Hunting | Trigger Happy Tuesday ep. 8

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Kirsten takes on a unique weapon in this episode: the Blowgun, also called “The Breath of Death.” It’s something Indiana Jones and ninjas have in common, she says, and were widely used in traditional cultures, such as the peoples of the Amazon jungle. They’re still used in many places today, both to hunt and to kill.

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Throughout history, the blowgun has been used for a wide variety of purposes, from putting food on the table to carrying out dangerous missions. It dates back to the pre-historic era and is found in almost every continent and culture, Kirsten says. There were many blowgun poisons employed by those who used it the most, ranging from dart frogs to gila monsters to puffer fish toxins. All of these were found in nature, and were meant to paralyze or incapacitate the enemy. Blowguns were often used on dark missions by ninjas, Kirsten says.

The blowgun was, and remains to be, surprisingly effective in its simplicity. It’s a tube that makes use of a strong puff of air from the user to push a projectile out one end with unexpected velocity, propelling it through the air to hit a target. Projectiles ranged from seeds to clay pellets, but the more popular ones were darts or needles. Most useful for short ranges and small game, blowgun projectiles can travel up to 400 feet per second.

Three cultures stand out in unique blowgun methods and poisons: North American tribes fashioned blowguns from canes and tipped the darts with poison from boiled toxic plants like cassava and golden poppy, or snake and gila monster venom. They favored backing their darts with feathers, rabbit fur or cotton. In Japan, the fukiya was used in the art of Ninjutsu, and the darts were dipped in concoctions of wolfsbane or puffer fish toxins. The blowpipe could even serve as a breathing apparatus in emergencies. Arguably, the most famous blowgun users are the Amazonian tribes, who used frogs or plants to poison their darts. The tips were crafted from metal, stone and even piranha teeth, and the blowpipes were decorated with carvings.

The humble blowgun made of bamboo and other rudimentary materials has transformed into more modern models like laser-assisted blowguns and nerf blow guns. Blowgun darts have evolved as well, from piranha teeth to exploding tipped darts. Events such as blowgun hunting, blowgun fishing, blowgun competitions and so on have risen in popularity, making the blowgun’s comeback even more exciting.

Oddly enough, blowguns are banned in the UK, California, and many other places, but remain very much alive, thanks in part to movies such as “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “The Mummy,””Apocalypto” and the like, that have kept this weapon in the mainstream.

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