While rummaging around the fishing/hunting shed the other day, I stumbled across a piece of equipment I’d nearly forgotten about; My old blowgun.
I made the blowgun years ago out of a 1/2″ copper pipe (before copper became 1000$/foot…I’d just settle for aluminum today) and a few PVC pieces. Really, the blowgun itself was simple to build. You just need a 1/2″ pipe, a 1/2″ PVC coupling, and a 1 x 3/4″ PVC adapter.
Stick it all together and “tada”…blowgun. The way I designed mine requires that one remove the coupling and adapter after every shot to load a new dart. For a while, I felt that this was inefficient, but then remembered I’m not rapid-firing my blowgun at anything, so it didn’t really matter.
The most challenging (and fun) part of using the blowgun is constructing the darts. People make darts out of everything imaginable. Chances are that if it’s narrow and fits down the blowgun pipe, someone’s turned it into a dart. For me, the easiest dart designs spawned from bamboo skewers that you can pick up from grocery stores for making shishka-bobs. Note, that you’ll probably have to discard quite a few of the skewers for not being straight. To test this, just roll the skewer on a flat surface and see if it wobbles. If it doesn’t, it’s good and straight and can be used as a dart. The next step is actually the hard part. Creating the ‘fletching’.
Once again, people make fletchings out of everything: paper, plastic from milk jugs, cotton balls, etc. In my opinion, thin foam sheets make quick and easy fletchings. These sheets can be picked up at a hobby store for just a few dollars. By using the blowgun pipe, press the end of the pipe into the foam in order to outline the diameter of the pipe. Next, take a pair of scissors and cut the circle out of the foam. Do this 3-4 times. These disks are going to make your fletching. Now, take one of the disks and cut it into a smaller disk free hand. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just be sure to keep it big enough that it can slide onto the skewer later. Next, take another disk and make a slightly larger disk than the first one. Finally, take the last disk and just -barely- shave some of the outside of it off. Literally just a hair, and don’t even cut all the way around it. Remember, it doesn’t have to be a perfect circle after its been cut. Now, take all of your disks, and slide them onto the skewer from the point, starting with the biggest disk and ending with the smallest. Space the disks out by about 1/4″. When you’re done, it should look something like this:
To test the fit, place the dart into the blowgun and put the muzzle on the floor. If the dart slides out and hits the floor, you’ve shaved too much off of the biggest disk…you’ll need to make a new one. If it doesn’t slide out, the next step is to try and fire the dart out. While pointing the muzzle at something safe (preferably your target) try and blow the dart out. If the fit is good, the dart should fly out and stick the target. If the fit is wrong, the dart may still exit the muzzle, but you will be able to feel that the fit is too tight from the pressure in your ears and jaw muscles. If this is the case, try shaving just a hair off the last disk again. Once you’re happy with the fit, you may want to super glue the fletchings in place
You should now have your fletchings finished and they should look about like this:
What you’ve done is essentially made a cone out of disks. Air flow over the disks will simulate that of a regular cone. I just think that this method is easiest. The dart is finished now if you’re happy shooting targets. If it’s game you’re after, now you get to make broadheads.
I’ve read that a lot of people make broadheads for their bamboo darts with Xacto Knife blades. I personally have never found the right size, so I’ve never used them. Instead I use nails. A full sized nail is far too big/heavy for the dart. Instead, I cut the nail in half and keep the pointed end.
From there, I use a hammer and an anvil and pound out a broadhead on the pointed end. I then take the other end and pound it as flat as possible.
The next step is to take a file and sharpen the broadhead end. Do this on all four sides of the broadhead to get an even sharpening.
Once you’re satisfied with the shape, cut the point of off your bamboo skewer. Using a knife, split the wood straight down the middle for only about a half an inch. Insert the flattened end of the broadhead into the split until it’s tight.
This is where I like to use a fly tying vice to hold the dart, but it isn’t required. By using thread or fishing line, secure the broadhead into the shaft and tie it off. Adding glue afterwards can’t hurt either. If the ends of the bamboo look too high, they can be shaved down at an angle for better penetration too.
You now have a bamboo skewer dart with a broadhead for hunting birds/squirrels/frogs.
Another type of dart I like to use is an all metal dart. These are heavier and offer a little more punch while sacrificing distance. I’ve found it often difficult to remove a metal dart from my fence after it buries itself 1/2″ into the wood. The fletching is still the same as before, but the dart shaft is made from medal. I personally like to use the medal from marking flags for my shafts. They bend easily and the ends can be made into points with just a few hits from the hammer.
If you have access to a Dremel tool, some pretty cool broadhead designs can be made as well. The advantage to these is that you don’t have to attach a separate broadhead…the broadhead is built in.
Finally, we come to the bizarre creation of blowgun fishing. I’ve seen pictures and videos of some people taking bluegill with a blowgun and I even delved into blowgun fishing myself. I built a blowgun out of solid PVC and was able to attach a reel underneath it. The line traveled through a small hole in the bottom of the barrel and was attached to the dart. When fired, the dart exited the barrel and traveled into the water and hopefully stuck a target. From there, I would reel the fish in.
This all sounded grand until I realized how hard it was to get a fish close enough to the surface to stick it. The darts don’t penetrate the water very deep. I was also forced to create new fletching because water is a completely different animal than air. I was able to carve a funnel shape out of a pool noodle and glue it onto a shaft for fishing. Taking a fish with a blowgun is definitely possible, but it takes incredible patience, time, and luck.
Overall, blowguns can be a lot of fun. Whether you’re shooting them for target practice, hunting, or even fishing, there’s still a strange sense of accomplishment when it all works with something you’ve built yourself.
If all goes according to plan, I should start pumping out a few “how-to” videos and step by step instructions for random things such as this. Stay tuned!