History Channel Shoot

In September 2008, we had an interesting experience. We ended up making another trip back to Butte for a couple of days to film a segment for the History channel. They're doing a special on werewolves, mostly centering on The Beast of Gevaudan. They were looking for someone who could talk about making silver bullets . . . and bumped into our little project on line. They were excited to find a bestselling author writing about werewolves, and wanted to see how the bullets were cast. We spent about thirteen hours casting silver bullets, shooting silver bullets and generally having a grand time.

Casting the bullets was relatively uneventful -- other than trying to coordinate all of the action around a film crew, while still keeping things safe. I thought pouring eight or ten ounces of molten, glowing silver on one of the film crew would make a very exciting movie -- but they assured me that wasn't the kind of film they were making.

The shooting portion was . . . interesting. First, we proved that my marksmanship was not the stuff of legend. Apparently, the safest place for a werewolf to be is in my sights. After sneaking a bit closer to the targets, I finally managed to make a few semi-respectable shots into paper targets. I was a little depressed, but everyone else seemed delighted to see silver bullets blasting little holes in the targets. The film crew said that, with a little Hollywood magic, they could make my shooting look like Quigley down under, and offered to take footage of me shooting from a hilltop a half-mile off . . . reluctantly, I declined.

Patty and I had cast up some blocks of ballistics gel for the shoot. Our blocks were about eight inches wide, six inches high, and about fourteen inches long, weighing well over ten pounds. We've never shot gelatin before, but I thought these looked pretty good. I didn't, however, bring a table to set the gelatin on. No worries, necessity being the mother of invention, I set the gelatin on one of the Butte gun club's beautiful shooting tables, figuring I just shoot from a little further back. I actually lined up two of the gel blocks, just in case the bullet should manage to penetrate the entire gel. I put a concrete block behind the gels so they wouldn't slide when I shot them. Then I backed up about fifteen feet, loaded a factory round, took careful aim, and pulled the trigger.

The gelatin block leaped up about five feet in the air, several feet to one side, and landed in the dirt. Gobbets of gelatin flew everywhere, splattering the brave film crew hovering nearby. The bullet had passed completely through the gelatin, tearing a nasty-looking wound channel down the full length. It missed the second block of gelatin (apparently they didn't stay neatly aligned in mid-air), but shattered the concrete block. The bullet was actually found lying on the table, nicely mushroomed. When I've seen the Myth Buster's shoot gelatin targets, they usually just jiggle a little bit. Apparently I need much bigger gels for the elephant-gun I'm using.

We re-assembled the gelatin set-up as best we could, and I backed up a bit more to insure that the muzzle blast didn't reach the target. Then I loaded a silver bullet and shot it again. Once more, everything went several feet in the air, but fewer stray bits went flying. The bullet went clear through the gelatin. And out the other side. And partway through the next gel . . . where it suddenly veered downward. Then it hit that really pretty shooting table, and carved a ten-inch path of destruction through the tabletop, throwing splinters, sawdust and debris all around. We picked the gelatin up from the dirt again, and found a very different wound-channel. This one was laser-straight and showed greatly reduced trauma -- it was so clean you could see where the bullet was spinning as it passed through the gel. I've inadvertently invented armor-piercing silver bullets. They may go right through werewolves, but they kill expensive tables dead!

While the History-channel shoot was fun, I was so busy I didn't manage to take any photos of the event. I'll see if maybe the film-crew can supply a few stills, but they're doubtless very busy folks.

We actually tried the gelatin-shoot again, with similar results. In fact, I even managed to send a second silver bullet into the table top. The bad news is that the table needs to be replaced, the good news is that we were able to recover both silver bullets. I gave the bullets to Dr. Jaansalu to examine, and he was kind enough to take photos of them.

The silver bullets are surprisingly hard, and even after impacting solid surfaces, there's very little deformation. I'm glad we got these sized properly prior to shooting them, because they're harder than we'd hoped. The ideal hunting round flattens on impact, forming a mushroom shape that limits penetration depth and increases the diameter of the wound. Unless we really slow them down or find some way to address the issue, these are going to create a .44 caliber hole right through the target. It's not what we'd hoped for, but it's something that the itenerate werewolf-hunter should be aware of.

Here's a photo of the two recovered bullets (lying down) along with an unfired bullet (standing). Other than some smudging and surface staining, there's not a lot of difference between them.
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.