In folklore, a bullet cast from silver is often the only weapon that is effective against a werewolf, witch, or other monsters. Sometimes (not always) the silver bullet is also inscribed with Christian religious symbolism, such as a cross or the initials "J.M.J" (Jesus, Mary, & Joseph).
- The idea of the werewolf's supposed vulnerability to silver probably dates back to the legend of the Beast of Gévaudan, in which a gigantic wolf is killed by Jean Chastel wielding a gun loaded with silver bullets. However, the claim that the Beast of Gévaudan, an 18th-century wolf or wolf-like creature, was shot by a silver bullet appears to have been introduced by novelists retelling the story from 1935 onwards and not in earlier versions.
- In the Brothers Grimm fairy-tale of The Two Brothers, a bullet-proof witch is shot down by silver bullets, fired from a gun.
- In some epic folk songs about Bulgarian rebel leader Delyo, he is described as invulnerable to normal weapons, driving his enemies to cast a silver bullet in order to murder him.
- Silver bullets also act as a calling card for The Lone Ranger in his adventures. The masked man decided to use bullets forged from the precious metal as a symbol of justice, law and order, and to remind himself and others that life, like silver, has value and is not to be wasted or thrown away. In the 3rd episode, his friend, who will be making his bullets for him, mentions killing bad guys with the bullets and the Lone Ranger explains that he won’t shoot to kill; he will let the law dispense justice. The silver bullets will be as symbols of justice. Whether he actually used silver bullets in his guns varies depending on story and medium. In the radio series, the Lone Ranger used only lead bullets as weapons, while the silver bullets were used symbolically. In the 1981 feature film The Lone Ranger used silver bullets in his guns as he was told that silver was far more solid than lead slugs and provided a straighter shot. The Lone Ranger's usage of bullet made from valuable metal like silver is satirized in an episode of Robot Chicken where after expertly shooting a tin can in the air, the Ranger's sidekick Tonto laments that the amount of silver the Ranger thoughtlessly wasted could have bought enough food to feed Tonto's entire village for a year.
The term has been adopted into a general metaphor, where "silver bullet" refers to any straightforward solution perceived to have extreme effectiveness. The phrase typically appears with an expectation that some new technological development or practice will easily cure a major prevailing problem. It is quite possible, however, that this usage derives from a confusion of "silver bullet" with "magic bullet", the popular term for Dr. Paul Ehrlich's newly discovered cure for syphilis in the early 20th century. The medical breakthrough was the subject of the 1940 film, "Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet", and prompted the metaphorical use of "magic bullet" as a powerful cure for a pressing societal problem. The idiomatic term golden hammer also exists, by analogy with "silver bullet".
Silver bullets differ from lead bullets in several respects. Lead has a 10% higher density than silver so a silver bullet will have a little less mass than a lead bullet of identical dimensions. Pure silver is less malleable than lead and falls between lead and copper in terms of hardness (2.5 Mohs) and shear modulus (30 GPa). As a result, a silver bullet would have no difficulty accepting the rifling of a gun barrel as both lead and copper are common bullet materials.
The terminal impact is somewhat speculative and will depend on a variety of factors including bullet size and shape, flight distance, and target material. At short ranges, the silver bullet will most likely give better penetration due to its higher shear modulus, and will not deform as much as a lead bullet. A 2007 episode of Mythbusters demonstrated a greater penetration depth of lead bullets vs. silver bullets. Results cannot be considered conclusive, however, as the show utilized a 250-grain lead slug in a .45-caliber Colt long shell vs a lighter (190-grain) silver slug fired at closer range. Later in a 2012 episode, it shows that silver bullets are less accurate than lead bullets when fired from the M1 Garand. Michael Briggs also did some experiments with silver bullets compared to lead bullets. After making a custom mold to ensure that the sizes of the silver bullets were comparable to the lead bullets, he fired them. He found that the silver bullets were slightly slower than the lead bullets and less accurate.
- Jackson, Robert (1995). Witchcraft and the Occult. Devizes, Quintet Publishing. p. 25. ISBN 1-85348-888-7.
- Robert Jackson (1995) Witchcraft and the Occult. Devizes, Quintet Publishing: 25.
- Стойкова, Стефана. "Дельо хайдутин". Българска народна поезия и проза в седем тома. (in Bulgarian). Т. ІII. In the 20th century they use silver bullets in action:fantasy movies and modern TV to show they are used to kill creatures known to be: werewolves; witches; vampires; other close related monsters. This is done because others are scared of any supernatural being in presence and differences would be unbalanced and so they display this for any person with unusual social responses to simply think its odd and silly. Therefore supernatural existence is not yet classified to be fantasy but to be unknown. Хайдушки и исторически песни. Варна: ЕИ "LiterNet". ISBN 978-954-304-232-6.
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