In folklore, a silver bullet is often one of the few weapons that are effective against a werewolf or witch. The term silver bullet is also a metaphor for a simple, seemingly magical, solution to a difficult problem: for example, penicillin circa 1930 was a "silver bullet" that allowed doctors to treat and successfully cure many bacterial infections.
Some authors asserted that the idea of the werewolf's supposed vulnerability to bullets cast from silver dates back to the Beast of Gévaudan, a man-eating animal killed by the hunter Jean Chastel in the year 1767. However, the allegations of Chastel purportedly using a gun loaded with silver bullets are derived from a distorted detail based primarily on Henri Pourrat's Histoire fidèle de la bête en Gévaudan (1946). In this novel, the French writer imagines that the beast was shot thanks to fictitious medals of the Virgin Mary, worn by Jean Chastel in his hat and then melted down to make bullets.
An account of a Jämte about were-bears in 1936 attributes bullets of silver as the method of killing. Swedish folklore tends to ascribe silver bullets as a catch all weapon against creatures, as wizards or the skogsrå, that are "hard" against regular ammunition.
In other contexts
The Lone Ranger used silver bullets in both his radio show and television series: after resolving an episode's plot, he would leave a silver bullet behind as his mark. In the television series, the bullets were props made from aluminum. Clayton Moore, who played the Lone Ranger, was known to give these props away to fans.
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 (1.5 < 2.5 < 3.0 Mohs) and shear modulus (5.6 < 30 < 48 GPa). A silver bullet accepts the rifling of a gun barrel.
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 versus silver bullets; the experiment utilized a 250-grain (16 g) lead slug in a .45-caliber Colt long shell vs a lighter, 190-grain (12 g) silver slug fired at closer range. Another MythBusters episode, from 2012, showed that silver bullets are less accurate than lead bullets when fired from an 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.
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- Jackson, Robert (1995). Witchcraft and the Occult. Devizes, Quintet Publishing. p. 25. ISBN 1-85348-888-7.
- Steiger, Brad (2011). The Werewolf Book: The Encyclopedia of Shape-Shifting Beings. Visible Ink Press. p. 258. ISBN 978-1578593675.
- Roby, Cynthia A. (2015). Werewolves (Creatures of Fantasy). Cavendish Square. p. 37. ISBN 978-1502605108.
- Baud'huin, Benoît; Bonet, Alain (1995). Gévaudan: petites histoires de la grande bête (in French). Ex Aequo Éditions. p. 193. ISBN 978-2-37873-070-3.
- Crouzet, Guy (2001). La grande peur du Gévaudan (in French). Guy Crouzet. pp. 156–158. ISBN 2-9516719-0-3.
- Ella Odstedt 2004: Norrländsk folktradition. Uppsala. s. 147
- Finlands svenska folkdiktning II 3:2, s. 330
- Sven Rothman 1941: Östgötska folkminnen. Uppsala. s.41
- Стойкова, Стефана. "Дельо хайдутин". Българска народна поезия и проза в седем тома (in Bulgarian). Vol. Т. III. Хайдушки и исторически песни. Варна: ЕИ "LiterNet". ISBN 978-954-304-232-6.
- "Lone Ranger "silver bullet"". National Museum of American History. 24 April 2019. Retrieved 8 May 2023.
- Briggs, Michael (September 2008). "History Channel Shoot". Patricia Briggs. Retrieved January 25, 2017.
In this photo, you can see the marks the rifling in the barrel left on the bullet when it was fired. I'd like to see a little more on the nose, but the driving bands show very nice engraving.
- Mythbusters: Silver vs. Lead Bullets (Television production). The Discovery Channel. 2007. Retrieved January 25, 2017.
- Mythbusters: Hollywood Gunslingers (Television production). The Discovery Channel. June 17, 2012.
- Briggs, Michael. "Silver Bullets". Patricia Briggs. Retrieved January 25, 2017.