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Poisoned Arrows for Hunting and for War

Aconite Flowers
Poison has not been actively used by hunters in Ontario, Canada, or the rest of North America for a long time. With firearms and bullets, the whole idea of using poison is essentially obsolete.

So why would someone potentially use poison on arrows for hunting - considering that archery is by itself an archaic means of hunting, let alone poison?

Prior to British, French, Spanish and Portuguese colonialism in the Americas (both North and South), the use of poison on arrowheads, spears, darts and even crossbow bolts was widespread for the purposes of hunting, warfare or murder. Globally there are still people in parts of South America, Africa and Asia that continue to use poison.

Notable Examples of Poisons
  • The secretions from the skin of the poison dart frog.
  • Curare (aka Ampi), a general term for a variety of different plant-derived poisons used by the indigenous peoples of South America. There is no one recipe for Curare, rather there are many different kinds of Curare as it is effectively a poisonous cocktail of different poisons. Most Curare victims died of asphyxiation, because the most commonly used poison in the cocktail paralyzes the respiratory system.
  • Strychnos toxifera, a plant commonly used in the preparation of Curare-style poisons. Curare can also contain S. guianensis, Chondrodendron tomentosum or Sciadotenia toxifera, tubocurarine, curarine, quinine, protocurarine and related alkaloids.
  • Aconite or Aconitum, derived from a genus of bluish-purple flower commonly known as Wolvesbane or Monkshood, but also known but lesser titles of leopard's bane, mousebane, women's bane, devil's helmet, queen of poisons, blue rocket. In small doses Aconite paralyzes the victim. Large enough doses however can paralyze their heart, similar to a heart attack, and kill the victim.
  • Cardiac glycosides - sometimes known as Inee or Onaye style poisons - were made from Acokanthera (possessing ouabain), oleander (Nerium oleander), milkweeds (Asclepias), or Strophanthus were popular poisons in sub-Saharan Africa. The poisons would cause the person to go into cardiac arrest, simulating a heart attack.
  • Snake venom - a variety of cultures used snake venom on their arrows. One way to do this was to tease a snake with an animal liver so that it injects its venom into the liver repeatedly, and then dip the arrow in the liver when ready to use.
  • Bacterial "poison" from excrement. Not a real poison, but the bacteria infects the wound and the person or animal dies in a slow painful way.
Archery and Poisons are historically tied. Even the word "toxin" has its origin in the Ancient Greek words "toxon" (bow) and "taxa" (arrow). The Trojans during the Trojan War used poisoned arrows, one such that killed the famed Achilles.

Historically some poisons were used for hunting wolves or bears. Aconite for example was used for bears, wolves and a variety of predators - because the hunter wanted to paralyze and kill the predator, and they were not worried about eating them*.


* Various kinds of poisons got into the blood / meat of the animal, making eating them problematic. Eating the meat of a bear who was poisoned with Aconite could end up paralyzing the person eating it - or killing them if they ate a large enough amount of the poison.

Virtually every ancient culture used poison arrows or poisoned weapons in some form, but what value does poison have today?
Honestly, not a lot.

But if you were in a dire survival situation, say lost in the wilderness in a region with lots of bears or similar large predators, then using poisonous arrows would be useful in case you ran into any predators you were worried you could not take them down with a single arrow.

In a post-apocalyptic scenario where you could end up in a war with rival societies, poison would also be useful too. But it would potentially be a double-edged sword - if you start using poison, your enemies might start using poison too.

So really there would be limited good ways to use it.

Except maybe to kill a Sicilian. Just kidding.


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