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Lieutenant Mainwaring pistol-whips a pirate using an unloaded pistol, in Howard Pyle's illustration for his 1897 story, Captain Scarfield

Pistol-whipping or buffaloing is the act of using a handgun as a blunt weapon, wielding it as if it were a club or baton.[1] Such a practice dates to the time of muzzle loaders, which were brandished in such fashion in close-quarters combat once the weapon's single projectile had been expended.

The term "buffaloing" is documented as being used in the Wild West of the 19th century. The modern terms "pistol-whipping" and "to pistol-whip" were reported as "new words" of American speech in 1955, with cited usages dating to the 1940s.[2]


The practice of using the handgun itself as a blunt-force weapon began with the appearance of muzzle loaders in the 15th century. Single-shot weapons that were tedious to reload were used to strike opponents directly in close-quarters combat after their projectile had been expended. It was entirely up to circumstance whether the user had time or chose to reverse the gun in their hand and strike a blow with its handle or merely swung the heavy weapon as a club or baton holding it normally.

There are arguments as to the efficacy of either approach. Author Paul Wellman notes that clubbing an opponent with the butt of a gun held by its barrel, as seen in some Westerns, is problematic. First, the danger of an unintentional discharge could fatally wound the "clubber". Second, many handguns, specifically early revolvers of the black-powder cap and ball era, were relatively fragile around their cylinders relative to solid single-shot weapons. Finally, rotating a gun so that it can be held by its barrel takes extra time, potentially crucial in a conflict.

To avoid the risk of damage or potential delay, pistol-whipping may be done with the gun held in an ordinary manner, hitting the target with an overhand strike from either the barrel or the flank of the gun above the trigger. It was a fairly common way to incapacitate a man in Western frontier days (assisted by the heavy weight of the handguns of the era), known as "buffaloing", with the verb form being "to buffalo".[3][4] This form of pistol-whipping with an 1870s-style revolver was tested on the Spike TV television show Deadliest Warrior.[5] The testers showed that using the long barrel of a weapon such as the Colt 45 in a whipping motion produced enough force to fracture a skull and could potentially kill a man with a single blow.


Pistol whipping may leave unusual lacerations on the body of the injured due to various protruding details of the pistol.[6] When blows are struck using the butt of the weapon rather than its barrel or flank, semicircular or triangular lacerations on the skin may be produced. The magazine well at the bottom of a semi-automatic pistol and its surrounding base produce rectangular lacerations on the skin.[7] These lacerations can vary in depth and severity, but "whipped" fractures are common.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Pistol whipping", Random House Unabridged Dictionary
  2. ^ "Fifty Years Among the New Words: by John Algeo, p. 142, from vol. 30 (1955), no. 4 of the American Speech, the journal of the American Dialect Society
  3. ^ The Trampling Herd: The Story of the Cattle Range in America by Paul Iselin Wellman (1988) ISBN 0-8032-9723-8, p. 196.
  4. ^ The True Life Wild West Memoir of a Bush-popping Cow Waddy, by Charley Hester, Kirby Ross, 2004, ISBN 0-8032-7346-0, Chapter 14: "Buffaloing".
  5. ^ Deadliest Warrior, Season 2 Episode 3 "Jesse James vs Al Capone".
  6. ^ "Pistol whipping", in Forensic Pathology, by David Dolinak, Evan W. Matshes, Emma O. Lew, 2006, ISBN 0-12-219951-0, p. 185
  7. ^ "Gunshot Wounds: Practical Aspects of Firearms, Ballistics, and Forensic Techniques", Vincent J.M. DiMaio, 1999, ISBN 0-8493-8163-0, pp. 270-271