In folklore, a bullet cast from silver 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 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.
Silver bullets also act as a calling card for Lone Ranger in his adventures. The masked man decided to use bullets forged from the precious metal as a symbol of justice, law and order, and to remind himself and others that life has value and the decision to shoot someone is not to be taken lightly. In the 3rd episode, his friend, who will be making his bullets for him, mentions killing villains with the bullets and the Lone Ranger explains that he will not shoot to kill; he will let the law dispense justice. The silver bullets will be as symbols of justice. Whether he actually used silver bullets in his guns varies depending on story and medium. In the radio series, the Lone Ranger used only lead bullets as weapons, while the silver bullets were used symbolically. In the 1981 feature film, The Lone Ranger used silver bullets in his guns as he was told that silver was far more solid than lead slugs and provided a straighter shot. The Lone Ranger's usage of bullet made from valuable metal like silver is satirized in an episode of Robot Chicken where after the Ranger expertly shoots a tin can in the air, his sidekick Tonto laments that the amount of silver the Ranger thoughtlessly wasted could have bought enough food to feed Tonto's entire village for a year.
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 vs. silver bullets. Results cannot be considered conclusive, however, as the show 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 the 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.
- 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). Т. III. Хайдушки и исторически песни. Варна: ЕИ "LiterNet". ISBN 978-954-304-232-6.
- 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.
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