Silver bullets are legendary for their effectiveness. However, they exist firmly in the realm of metaphor. Obviously, the price of silver makes bullet production cost-prohibitive, but is that the only factor? In the next few blog entries, we’ll review both the refining and ballistic properties of silver bullets to see if they live up to the legend.
The concept of silver bullets gained traction after the events of the 1760s in Gévaudan, France. During that time, the Beast of Gévaudan attacked and killed multiple people living in or near the town. The deaths were recorded in detail, but historians still cannot say with 100% certainty what kind of creature the beast was. Records refer to the Beast of Gévaudan as a wolf-like creature; common theories are that it was either a wolf, wolf-mastiff hybrid, or possibly a now extinct species of Asian hyena that had been imported into the region. Whatever it was, it attacked people so frequently (neglecting cattle and other animals) that major efforts were made to hunt the beast down. The beast was finally killed by Jean Chastel. Hunters had shot the beast many times before, but the legend is that Chastel did the deed with a blessed silver bullet of his own manufacture. Why silver? Silver had long been believed to be supernatural in some way because its lustrous surface resisted corrosion unlike any other ancient ore and it had medicinal properties.
It’s possible that Chastel’s silver bullet may have existed, but it’s unlikely. While we melt and cast silver all the time, it’s because we have the technology and metallurgical know-how. When it comes to making bullets, silver and lead don’t have much in common. We’ll explore the properties of these metals in the next blog post.