Poisoned Darts and Arrows: Effective Weapons from a Bygone Era

J5 Tactical Flashlight

Poisoned Darts and Arrows:  Effective Weapons from a Bygone Era


Poisoned darts and arrows have been used for hundreds, if not thousands of years as a highly-effective way to neutralize a target.  These weapons were primarily used by warriors from various tribes around the world, and many of the poisons were obtained from sources that were readily-available in their natural environment.  Let’s take a closer look at this simple, yet effective weapon and how it could still be used today under the right conditions.

Arrows or Darts


It is thought that most Native American tribes used a bow and arrow as they were easier to make and deploy in the field.  However, a few tribes, including the Cherokee, incorporated blow guns into their arsenal.  The most widespread use of blowguns occurred in South America, probably because the dense jungle provided warriors with the material they needed to make highly-accurate and effective weapons.

In both cases, the tips of the darts or arrows were usually dipped into a poison right before being fired.  This helped to ensure that the toxin would be at its maximum potency when it hit the targeted.  It was not uncommon for warriors to carry the poison in a small, sealed container that was attached to the bottom of their quiver.  This minimized the risk of coming into contact with the harmful substance as they moved about or stalked their prey.

Obtaining Poisons


South American tribes relied heavily on the venom from a few species of highly-toxic toads.  It could be easily extracted and stored until needed, and the toads didn’t bite like snakes or other venomous reptiles.  Plants were also used when tribes had an alchemist who could prepare and process potions for use in battle.  In North America, most poisons came from the venom of snakes, reptiles and plants.  The Gila monster was one popular choice among desert-dwelling tribes, but rattlesnakes, scorpions and water moccasins were also commonly-used.

Getting the poison from a fanged creature was not a safe or easy task.  One technique that was widely-used to minimize risk was to have the reptile bite into some rotten meat or liver.  They would be enticed or provoked into attacking the meat and injecting it with venom as they bit down.  The poison-laden juices and blood would be allowed to drain into a container, or warriors would stab the meat with their arrows or darts in order to extract the poison. 

Poisoned Plants


There was no shortage of plants for warriors to choose from, and toxic species exist to this day in various parts of the country.  The yew provided an abundance of sap that is toxic to humans, and the bark could be processed in order to create a lethal extract.  Apache Indians in the Southwest would dip the heads of arrows into the poisonous sap of yucca plants.  Other common plants included the golden poppy, corn lilly, bloodroot and datura.  All of these represented readily-available sources that were easy to obtain or process.

Unfortunately, a lot of the knowledge associated with extracting poisons from natural sources is disappearing with the passage of time. Bullets and guns have replaced these primitive, yet effective weapons.  However, it’s still possible to find information about this lost art, and this is a good reminder of how we can turn to nature for almost everything that we need to survive. 

Just imagine the possibilities that could exist if you were in a wilderness survival situation and you knew how to make good use of these resources.  Take some time to learn more about poisoned darts and arrows, and see how they may be more relevant in today’s world than many people think.