There Has to Be a Better Way
|Silver Bullet Pages|
Casting a functional silver bullet is apparently not a task for the faint of heart. The idea that the average country boy, when faced with a killer werewolf, can run to his shop, bar the door, and quickly transform grandma's locket into a lethal bullet is looking very shaky. There must be a better way
I first posted comments about the silver bullet problem several months ago. If casting bullets is busted, what could a protagonist do? A number of people have written in with suggestions. If you're considering writing a werewolf novel, consider one of the following:
A shotgun presents a workable, quick and effective solution. In a normal rifle, the bullet fits the bore very tightly, and the expanding gasses evolved from the propellant accelerate it down the length of the barrel. A shotgun basically blasts a bunch of loose junk down the barrel. The bullets don't seal against the barrel, and after the initial explosion there's not much contained pressure. That's why shotgun barrels are so much thinner than rifle barrels.
For the werewolf hunter, this presents several advantages. Most importantly, there's no need for the bullet to fit the bore. A moderately-skilled redneck could probably pry open a standard shotgun shell, dump out the shot, and stuff a chunk of silver chain, or even his class ring into the case. The resultant shell would almost certainly be functional, and at close range, deadly.
If the hunter had a bit more time, it would be fairly easy to prepare silver shot in any size deemed appropriate. To make shot, a piece of steel screen is suspended over a tub of water. When molten silver (or another metal) is poured through the screen, droplets will form, surface tension will pull them into (more or less) spheres, which will harden when they hit the water. There's a real danger from steam burns and metal splatter, which may add spice to the story.
I've had at least on reader write in to tell me that fine-silver beads are commonly sold at craft stores, and another recently sent me a link to a place that sells silver shot.
Finally, shotshells are available for many popular pistol calibers. These are essentially shells loaded with shot rather than a conventional bullet. The shot is retained by a plastic cap, or by crimping the case. While the materials to reload these bullets are not commercially available (at least, not that I found), they could be very easily improvised. For example, brass for a .444 Marlin is identical to brass for a .44 Magnum, except that it's an inch longer. That extra inch could easily be trimmed and crimped to produce a functional .44 Magnum shotshell. Pistols loaded with birdshot are going to be close-range weapons with fairly limited stopping power, but that actually makes for interesting story telling.
Taurus is now producing a revolver capable of chambering .410 guage shotgun shells. The pistol is called the Judge. This would be a pretty stout pistol round, but it might be just what the intrepid werewolf hunter is looking for.
Amalgam or Composite Bullets
How pure does a silver bullet need to be? Does it need to be cast from pure silver, or is sterling good enough? What about 50% silver? There's no definitive answer to this problem, of course, but there's room for an author to play. If it's not critical that the bullet be of high purity silver, then an amalgam bullet may be a workable solution.
So lets say our protagonist is locked in the proverbial tool shed, with the hungry werewolf prowling outside. There's an old gas stove and a bullet mold sitting around. OK, that sounds unlikely, but in werewolf novels there's always a reloading bench in the shed, trust me on this. Our hero pulls some lead wheel weights off the classic mustang (also a de rigueur requirement for the shed), and fires up the gas stove to melt them. Then he pulls off his sterling silver class ring, and digs up a metal file, and begins filing the ring like a madman. The silver dust goes into the molten lead (which won't be nearly hot enough to melt the silver, thus producing an amalgam not an alloy), and the resultant slurry goes into the bullet mold. It's not pure silver, but the werewolf may still get a nasty surprise.
Naturally, there are many variations on this theme. The silver can be any size from powder to bearings, as long it fits in the bullet mold. I'd be a bit scared to actually fire something like this. A bullet needs to be fairly strong to withstand the forces of firing, and these bullets might have a tendency to fragment . . .
Belted rounds or Paper-Patch bullets
The military has occasionally used "belted" rounds to allow for a very hard armor-piercing bullet to engage the rifling in the gun's barrel. Basically, the round is formed with a slightly pinched "waist" in the middle, and a copper or lead "belt" is subsequently cast around the shell, bringing it up to the final diameter. When the bullet is fired the softer belt engages the rifling and spins the projectile. In fact, a similar technique is used in paper-patch bullets, where a thin piece of paper is rolled around the projectile to insure a tight fit and proper spin. There are a number of experts who know how to cast and use paper patch bullets with good effect. There's no reason that this wouldn't work for silver bullets as well, and it would be an interesting avenue to explore. I've chosen to try to just cast a solid bullet, but that's mostly laziness, not any inherent flaw in this technique.
A Sabot is a "wrapper" for a bullet that allows a smaller, lighter bullet to be fired from a higher caliber firearm. There are several types of sabos, but for our purposes the expanding cup is probably the most useful. Assuming we wanted to fire a 30-caliber bullet from a .44 caliber gun, we could get a plastic "cup" with a .30 caliber cavity and a .44 caliber diameter. When the projectile was fired, the plastic cup would fly down the barrel, engaging the riflings and spinning both it and the bullet it holds. As the assembly exits the barrel, wind resistance will cause the sabot to open up and fall off, leaving the bullet on course. Sabots are usually used to get a small bullet moving at very high speed, resulting in increased kinetic energy at short ranges. They're most commonly used with muzzle loaders, which otherwise have a tendency to lob huge chunks of lead at very low velocities, but sabos can and have been used with modern centerfire rifles.
A sabot could be very useful for the itinerant werewolf hunter. Suppose the hunter casts a .30 caliber silver bullet in a conventional mold, making it from an old silver coin. As we'll see, this bullet will be several thousandths of an inch undersized and far too hard to shoot accurately. However, if the hero puts this in a sabot, suddenly neither the size difference nor the hardness is significant. Sadly, his friends may laugh at him for the funny-looking bullet, especially since sabots are usually made from brightly-colored plastic. Enduring the mockery of his friends will, one hopes, build character.
I've had a number of people suggest boring or melting a conventional copper jacketed hollowpoint and casting or gluing a silver core in place. Without going into an exhausive treament of the possible methods, I think the end result would be similar to either a sabot or a composite round, depending on whether the silver core was intended to come free of the jacket or travel with it to the target. Most of the plausible variations on this theme require skills and/or equipment that I don't possess.
CNC Lathe Turning
Shooters looking for super-accurate performance have found that solid bullets turned from rods of metal may offer better performance than cast bullets. There are a couple of companies making such bullets commercially (usually for big guns like the .50 BMG or the .338 Lapua). There is some debate on whether these bullets can be stabilized effectively by a standard barrel, and whether or not driving rings are required to reduce the engraving pressures etc. However, it is certain that with some silver stock and a decent lathe a functional bullet could be produced. Unless the werewolf is to be dispatched at 1500 yards, the details of twist rates and bore diameter can be left to the hyper-accurate crowd. This would probably be a more practical method than casting bullets, as long as the protagonist has access to the equipment, the knowledge to use it, and some time on their hands. Since Mercy is supposed to be a mechanic, this would have been a great option for her, if only Patty had thought of it in time.
Silver Nitrate Bullets?
I've received several letters from people suggesting I use silver nitrate rather than pure silver. Most of these letters have been polite, but several have strongly questioned my intelligence for missing such an obvious solution. While the sanity of anyone trying to make silver bullets is certainly suspect, I couldn't understand where the silver nitrate crowd got the idea that this was the perfect bullet material.
Silver nitrate is a common silver salt that's been used as the photo reactive component of black-and-white film for many years. In its pure form it's a somewhat soft white solid which looks much like sugar. It's only about half as dense as pure silver, and not strong enough to make a functional bullet. Even if you could make a functional bullet, you'd still have problems. It's highly caustic, and is still used to remove warts and similar blemishes. Having a bullet that burns (and stains) your skin and corrodes your firearm is not ideal. It's highly toxic, and readily soluble, so you wouldn't want to eat one, or let them get damp. Silver Nitrate is also photo reactive - breaking down to metallic silver particles when exposed to light. In short, developing a workable bullet based on silver nitrate would be very difficult task. Not impossible, perhaps, but much more difficult that a normal silver bullet, and nothing I'm interested in pursuing. So where did this idea come from?
The source of this particular myth was apparently a movie called Underworld. In the movie, werewolves are able to expel metallic silver bullets from their bodies. By these rules, getting shot with a silver slug isn't fun for a werewolf, but it's not fatal. The vampires, who are warring against the werewolves, develop silver nitrate bullets. Because silver nitrate is highly soluble, the bullet dissolves into the bloodstream carrying the silver throughout the body and killing the werewolf. The bullets are very pretty, with a silvery liquid that looks like mercury in a glass capsule. The werewolves, meanwhile, have a similar glass bullet filled with an "irradiated liquid" that glows a beautiful purple, and is lethal against vampires.
The best thing that can be said about the silver nitrate bullets is that they were pretty. The movie's science is pretty shaky, but the special effects people earned their pay. The bullet above looks somewhat similar, but it's just a cold capsule stuck in a .40 caliber casing -- rapid cold relief anyone?
There are several plausible ways of building a lethal silver weapon without the headaches associated with a cast bullet. However, nothing captures the imagination like the Van Helsing special: a traditional cartridge tipped with a gleaming silver bullet. Since Patty already wrote that sort of bullet into the story, our quest lies in that direction. If we hope to succeed where others have failed, we're going to need to know a little bit about the silver, and what problems we face in using it as a material for cast bullets.