Werewolves always scared the crap out of me when I was a kid, so I’ve been thinking about how to kill one for a good long while at this point.
They would give me incomprehensibly horrible nightmares, yet I couldn’t help but watch every werewolf movie I came across, whether I was supposed to or not. An American Werewolf in London (1981) messed me up as a young child, watched on VHS through the gaps in my fingers. It didn’t occur to me that the movie was a comedy, at all, until years later.
The first half of Michael Jackson’s Thriller video had a similar effect, even though that was more of a werejaguar and the dancing zombies afterward kinda took the punch out of it. The wolfman from Monster Squad (1987) added to it a bit, and so did the giant-eared werewolves from The Howling (1981).
Though it didn’t really scare me as an 80s kid, I also loved The Wolf Man (1941) with Lon Chaney, Jr. and Claude Rains. (The 2010 remake was such a horribly missed opportunity, every one in a while I watch it and just fume about how it could have so easily been a classic, but that’s a different rant.)
What is it about them, you ask? A werewolf hides in plain sight, within a person you may know or love, but the creature they become is relentless. You can’t bargain with it, you can’t appease it, you can’t stop it with conventional weapons. If you know about it, absolutely nobody believes you until it’s too late. It doesn’t strangle you like Frankenstein’s monster or slowly exsanguinate you after charming you like a vampire—it tears you to shreds with teeth and claws and eats you alive, and it comes in the dark. It taps into intellectual fears and deep-rooted, lizard-brain fears at the same time. And worse yet, you could survive, and become one yourself.
As you will see, I’ve thought about this, likely too much.
Defining a Werewolf
First, we have to talk about ammunition, because that’s the whole thing right? And that brings us straight to the “rules” governing werewolves in fiction.
Silver bullets are as synonymous with werewolves as they are with The Lone Ranger, though the idea of silver being a werewolf’s achilles heel has been played with and changed in various movies. The film that can be called the first werewolf movie, The Werewolf of London (1935), doesn’t mention silver at all, and the werewolf is killed by police with normal bullets.
But the aforementioned movie that cemented werewolves in American pop culture, The Wolf Man, established that the monster has to be killed with silver—not necessarily a silver bullet, because that doesn’t show up in this movie either, though it’s mentioned. But the Romani woman Maleva tells Lawrence Talbot that, a werewolf can be killed only with a silver bullet, or a silver knife, or a stick with a silver handle,” referencing the heavy walking stick Talbot used to kill the werewolf that attacked him. The idea of a silver bullet being an ideal way to dispatch a werewolf became canon and quickly made a lot of sense to scriptwriters.
Why are we not talking about all the ancient myths and legends about how werewolves can be killed? The werewolf, as we know it, is a pure invention of Hollywood. There are ancient myths and bits of folklore from all over the world about shapeshifters and people who physically transform into a wolf or into a demonic hybrid of man and wolf, but this often occurs with many other animals and under various circumstances.
In the European myths, werewolves are usually a part of witchcraft or satan-worship lore. It was believed a witch could enter a compact with the devil that would allow them to shapeshift, among other things. Even Bram Stoker borrowed from these old superstitions when he wrote Dracula, in which the titular character transforms into a wolf and a bat (this wasn’t part of vampire lore until it was included in the novel).
Some Native American tribes believed in creatures that resemble werewolves, like shapeshifters and the Wendigo, but the person doing the transforming is usually a partial or completely willing participant, and even seeks the power out.
The “rules” of werewolfery that we all know: the silver, the wolfsbane, the full moon, the curse passed along by a bite, it was all pieced together by Hollywood.
The OG Hollywood werewolf is:
- Bitten by a werewolf and survived, therefore cursed to become a werewolf themselves, through no fault of their own
- The transformations are caused, for some reason, by the full moon and are uncontrollable (sometimes this means the person transforms for three nights in a row on the full moon, in other movies, it’s one night only)
- The werewolf does not remember or experience what he does in wolf form
- In wolf form, the murder lust is uncontrollable and they tend to seek out loved ones as victims, but will readily kill people who randomly cross their path
- A werewolf must be killed by silver. Regular bullets or swords will not do it. Sometimes there is the addition that he must also be killed by a person who loves him.
This obviously makes for some fun dramatic setups, but even these rules were bent and played with in the Universal Studios sequels to the original The Wolf Man. Hell, in the first actual sequel, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), poor Larry Talbot (Chaney), after being beaten to death by his father with a silver cane in the original, is found by some grave robbers to have not decomposed at all in his tomb, despite several years passing since his death. Just the light of the full moon falling on his body is enough to bring him back to life as a man and a werewolf.
So, we proceed with only this—a werewolf is a vicious predator that is extremely smart and can only be killed by silver, and we are totally using a gun to do it.
The Practicality of Silver Bullets
The idea of silver bullets is just cool. There’s something inherently sacred about silver objects. They’re precious, but not as expensive or ostentatious as gold. In olden times, silver objects were often blessed and crosses and holy medals were often made of silver. There’s also something romantic in the idea of some beast suddenly terrorizing a village in, say, the early 1700s, murdering the vulnerable in the night until a local hunter takes the family’s silver spoons or the blessed medals from around their necks and melts them into musket balls, setting out to kill the evil werewolf on the foggy moors.
That brings us to the fact that we’d have to cast our own bullets in this scenario, because I don’t think Hornady has any in their product catalog. The powder load would be a bit of a guess too, and it’s due to density of the projectile, but we’ll get to that. And casting round balls for a rifled musket is one thing, casting modern bullets to run in modern guns is quite another.
Lead has been the primary material in bullet construction for a long, long time for a few reasons. It’s very dense, meaning more mass can be packed into a small projectile. In the case of all-lead bullets, it’s just soft enough to deform from the pressure of being fired and mold itself to the rifling of a bore, and to deform or mushroom when it hits its target, causing major damage instead of boring a clean hole right through it, while being hard enough to withstand being fired from a gun and mostly keep its shape and weight on the way to the target.
Plenty of people still cast their own bullets, more every day, in fact, but they add some tin to the lead, usually in the form of easy-to-find plumber’s solder, so the projectiles are harder and can handle the pressures of modern handguns and cycling in semi-autos. Sometimes a trace amount of antimony is also added to make the bullets even harder. Though plain lead is just fine for casting musket balls, if that’s your thing.
Silver, however, in addition to being a rather expensive material for bullet-making, has somewhat different characteristics from lead. Tin aside, It’s a bit lest dense, but not as much as you might expect—there’s only a 7.5 percent difference. But, it’s still significant.
However, silver is much harder than lead. Lead has a Brinell Harness Number (BHN) of 5, while silver’s is 24.5. So, this means the silver isn’t going to take the rifling in the bore as well, degrading accuracy, and it will likely not deform when it hits the target and just cut a hole right through it—like an FMJ on steroids.
I’m going to assume that just shooting a werewolf with a silver bullet isn’t enough and that it has to be a killshot with a silver bullet, so accuracy matters.
I would also submit that the entire bullet doesn’t have to be made of silver, just part of it. So perhaps we could simply add an amount of silver to lead and create a silver-lead alloy. But that’s the kind of thing you only get to test once against a charging werewolf, so maybe pure silver is the best way to go, casting limitations be damned.
What I Would Choose
A shot on a charging werewolf is probably going to be closer than one would like, because accuracy likely won’t be fantastic with the silver bullets. It should be treated as a dangerous game situation. But I also want some volume of fire if necessary, and in case I miss because of crapping my pants. I wouldn’t want to rely on a large-caliber double-gun. But the cartridge does have to pack punch, because who knows how thick a werewolf’s hide is.
If we’re talking about hunting a werewolf in the days of The Wolf Man, a lever-action rifle in .45-70 would probably do the trick and make the most of the silver bullets, which I would cast in a hollowpoint mold for the most potential expansion, without kicking the hell out of me with recoil preventing good followup shots. I also think I would powder coat them. I’m not worried about fouling or lead exposure, obviously, but polymer jackets may help the hard bullet take the rifling better. It sure can’t hurt. I’d also have to tape a flashlight to the rifle, because this is gonna happen at night.
But, if the hunt is happening today, and I can pick anything I want and I’m a master bullet caster and reloader—I want to say an AR500 chambered in .500 Auto Max with an S&W Model 500 as a backup, but with a werewolf’s speed, I feel like volume of fire is more important than all that wallop.
I would go with a full-auto, belt-fed, AR-10 with a quality, heavy barrel and a 100-round carrier filled a belt of .308 Win. cartridges loaded with .30-caliber, 160 grain, powder-coated bullets. A 1-20x optic would be on top with laser sight and bright red gunlight on the handguard, and, just in case, a silver-dipped bayonet on the muzzle. If I happen to get a shot at distance, a .308 is quite effective in semi-auto, and it would be devastating at closer ranges in full auto.
As another just in case, a SIG P320 with a 20-round magazine goes on the hip, loaded with silver powder-coated hollowpoints.
What Others Would Choose
I posed the question to a few colleagues of mine to see what they felt would be the ideal weapon for werewolf hunting.
Slaton L. White, editor of SHOT Business magazine and an experienced hunter, says:
“Given that werewolves are apex predators, you certainly don’t want to go undergunned. And since the lupine mind allows for fast, explosive movement, I would want maximum ammo capacity as well. That said, my caliber of choice would be the .450 Bushmaster loaded into an AR-15. Silver bullets, you say? Go to the nearest hobby store and buy a jar of Testors silver paint. Dab it on each cartridge and there you go.”
Well damn. The movies never do specify just how much silver has to be used. Hell, you could melt a little silver and fill the cavity of a hollowpoint. Or just paint FMJs?! Have I grossly overthought this?!
I reached out to gun historian T. Logan Metesh of High Caliber History for his choice, and he went the old-school dangerous game route, with a really interesting caveat:
“I’d use a double-barrel Howdah pistol in .577 Nitro Express. If it was good enough to hunt lions and tigers while on an elephant’s back, then it ought to be good enough to hunt werewolves while on an elephant’s back. (Yes, I intend to hunt the werewolves via elephant; I assume all social order has broken down in the age of werewolves and, therefore, the zoo animals have been released, allowing me to utilize one for hunting purposes.)”
Yah gotta respect that. And, with or without elephants, a 750-grain silver bullet going over 2,000 fps is gonna do some thangs to a werewolf. But I have to bring up…with the market price of silver at the time of this writing standing at $24.86 per ounce, each bullet would cost $42.50 to make, just in silver. You won’t get much practice, and don’t miss. But in an elephant-riding post-werewolf-apocalypse scenario, I guess the cost doesn’t really matter
Regular Rang365 contributor and editor of Free Range American, Michael R. Shea, who has killed a fair number of bears, had this to say:
“While part wolf, part man, it’s best to think of werewolves like small grizzly bears. To that end, I’d carry a .375 H&H with a 1×6 optic for the stopping power and ready engagement inside 200 yards. I’d holster a G20, too, with a high-capacity magazine, should more than one arrive on scene and things get hairy up close and personal.”
Former Range365 contributor and current editor of American Handgunner, Tom McHale, went with a .308 like I did, but something a bit more grounded:
“I’m going to choose something that not only has big capacity but the ability to reload quickly. My choice? A Springfield Armory M1A SOCOM 16 CQB. It’s a .308, so there’s plenty of oomph. It’s got a 20-round box magazine so you can carry a bandoleer of spares for quick reloads.
Being ten inches shorter than a standard M1A, I figure it’ll be quick to swing on moving targets and compact enough for close range and indoor work. I’ll stick and Aimpoint PRO optic on the forward rail segment for accurate sighting even in low-light conditions.”
If you had to set out into the night with a handful of silver bullets to face a demon wolf, what would you want to be carrying?