Dart guns and blowpipes are categorized as firearms
in the UK. For the sake of clarity, from hereon all
types of blowpipe and dart gun are described under
the term ‘dart gun’.
- Dart guns are commonly used in the chemical
capture and/or medical treatment of wild
or dangerous animals, especially in zoos, or for escaped animals such as
- The practical applications of dart gun use need
careful consideration. Repeat injections using
a dart gun are not practical, unless the animal
is restrained in a confined area. Similarly, using
a dart gun for the chemical capture of animals,
such as rogue dogs, is not practical because
in the time it takes for the drugs to work, the
animal could well have disappeared over the horizon.
- Prior to purchase, careful thought should be given as to whether a dart gun is
really required. If it is, then further consideration should be given to the size and
type of darts needed, as this will determine the specifications of the dart gun. It is
logical to ensure that the dart gun purchased is not only powerful enough for the
job, but also one that will be able to fire darts of a sufficient size. A larger gun is
needed for firing darts carrying 10 ml of a drug.
- There should be training for individuals in how to use dart guns safely: this may be
provided by the supplier of the dart gun.
- It is an offence to purchase a dart without having a licence, so the first step in
getting a dart gun is to get a firearms licence.
|Courtesy of N. Masters & J. Lewis (IZVG)
||Courtesy of N. Masters & J. Lewis (IZVG)
Firearms licences are obtained from the local police force, under the Firearms Act of 1968.
The licence needs to be renewed every 3 years. In general, police forces will require the
- The gun cabinet. The dart gun will need to be kept in a gun cabinet. For the
cabinet to be acceptable it will need to be manufactured and kite marked to British
Standard BS 7558:1992. The cabinet should be kept in a protected part of the
premises and hidden from public view. The keys should be available only to those
people who have a firearms licence
- Proof of identity and photographs of licence holder
- Ammunition. In this case meaning the darts, needles and sleeves, should be
kept in a locked cabinet, either within the gun cabinet or in a separate cabinet
- It is important to remember that only those people with a firearms licence can
have access to the gun cabinet contents. If there are a number of people involved
it is sensible to appoint a firearms officer, who is in charge of the whole process
- If a number of dart guns or other firearms are to be kept, then consideration
should be given to having an alarm system.
- If there is likely to be a requirement to borrow or hire a replacement dart gun
(e.g. from a local zoo or wildlife park) in the event of the practice weapon being
sent for repair, then this must be stated on the gun licence.
Drugs used in dart guns
- Any drug can be used in a dart gun; however, the viscosity of the drug and the
volume of the drug needed should be taken into account in the decision-making
process. The dart gun supplier will supply notes on the correct procedure for
loading, priming and cleaning of the darts. They will also advise on the pressures
required for firing darts of different weights and over varying distances.
- Many drugs used in darts are anaesthetics, and can be very dangerous. Suitable
standard operating procedures (SOPs) should be developed for the loading, firing
and cleaning of darts. For example, LA Immobilon is still commonly used in darts
for anaesthetizing escaped cattle or large zoo animals. In these cases, handling
such a dangerous drug in a loaded dart should be done with extreme care, with
antidotes available and drawn up in a syringe ready to use. Note: it has been
suggested that darts that have contained LA Immobilon should not be cleaned for
re-use but placed into a sharps bin as soon as they have been retrieved.
- It is illegal for any animal which has been given Immobilon to enter the human food
chain, and any animal (e.g. deer, cattle) that has been darted with this drug must
be marked with a special ear tag.
- Apart from veterinary use of dart guns, there are a number of other establishments
and groups that use dart guns and may request drugs. Most commonly this
is either zoos, when the drugs are being used under the direct direction of a
veterinary surgeon, or private individuals. In these cases, it is often LA Immobilon
that is being requested, e.g. for use on deer farms or for escaped beasts. Before
dispensing drugs, the veterinary surgeon should check the legality and correct
procedure with reference to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) Code of Professional Conduct.
Standard operating procedures
Use of a dart gun (and all other firearms) is restricted to people who have been approved to
use them by the Firearms Officer at the local police station, who will ensure compliance with
the UK Firearms policy. No one else is allowed access to or use of a dart gun.
Nitrile gloves and suitable eye protection must be worn when charging/uncharging the darts.
Dart gun safety
- The dart gun must be kept locked in a secure place unless its imminent use is
expected or required.
- The dart gun (whether loaded or not) should never be deliberately pointed at
anyone, or anything that is not intended to be shot.
- When the dart gun is being carried, it should be done in a way that will not alarm
people, i.e. it should be kept pointed at the ground or sky with the bolt (if fitted)
clearly open so people can see that it is not in a ‘ready-to-fire’ state.
- The dart gun should not be loaded with a dart until the target has been identified
and is in range, and it has been deemed safe to shoot with respect to the area
around and behind the target. Thought must also be given to the possible
occurrence of ricochets from objects around and from the chosen target.
- Charged darts should be kept in a purpose-designed container and not carried in
a pocket or loose in a bag.
- If available, the safety cap must always be kept on the needle of charged darts
and only removed when the dart is being loaded into the chamber of the dart gun.
- After use, the darts should be recovered as soon as is practical.
- Dart gun (e.g. Dan-Inject)
- Darts appropriate for species
- Gun cabinet (this must be securely attached to a solid wall with bolts)
- Anaesthetic or other drug
- Bound dart gun usage book.
Preparation prior to use: Before the dart gun can be used, the darts are made ready
with the desired quantity of anaesthetic for the animal. The choice of anaesthetic will be
determined by the availability of drugs and other factors decided by the veterinary surgeon
(and the scientist in charge of the study where appropriate).
Charging the dart
- Remove the hypodermic needle from the protective case (if applicable). Slide the
green/red silicone sleeve on to the needle so that the injection holes are located at
the centre of the sleeve. This can be achieved by rotating the needle whilst exerting
pressure on the sleeve. The green/red silicone sleeve must only be used once.
- Remove the red stabilizer from the dart; if necessary, using a venting pin, release any
retained air from the dart syringe air chamber.
- Hold the dart with the air chamber uppermost. Using an air-filler syringe fitted with a
coupling adapter connected to the drug chamber, position the black plunger at the
rear of the chamber.
- Reverse the dart so that the drug chamber is now uppermost. Using a suitable
syringe filled with the required drug, slowly inject the drug into the chamber. Ensure
that a sufficiently small gauge needle is used to allow air from the drug chamber to be
expelled without displacing the drug.
- Mount the hypodermic needle on to the dart syringe boss using pliers and locate it
firmly by rotating it slightly whilst applying pressure.
- If available, apply a safety cap over the needle and seat it firmly on the dart.
Pressurising the dart
- Hold the dart horizontally with the needle/protection cap uppermost. Mount the
coupling adapter on to a clean, dry syringe of suitable size to charge the dart in a
single go. Introduce the correct amount of air into the syringe (see below). Connect
the syringe securely to the air chamber of the dart and with a smooth continuous
action, inject the air into the dart air chamber.
- Now the same amount of air is let in to the syringe though the coupling. The red
plunger will act as a non-return valve and retain the air, under compression, within the
WARNING: the dart is now pressurised and extreme caution must be exercised
at all times.
- 3. Place the red stabilizer firmly on the rear of the dart.
Correct air pressures for dart types
||Drug volume (ml)
||Volume of air injected (ml)
Procedure after use
Discharging an unfired dart:
- Remove the red stabilizer from the dart.
- Holding the dart vertically, depress the red plunger to release air pressure using the
- Remove the protection cap from the dart.
- If using proprietary medication/drug bottles with rubberized seals, insert a plain
hypodermic needle, directed away from the operator, into the seal before proceeding
to the next step. This will allow excess air pressure to vent from the bottle.
- Holding the dart with the needle pointing downwards, insert the needle into a suitable
receptacle as far as possible. The silicon sleeve will slide along the needle shaft
exposing the injection ports.
- Hold the dart with the attached bottle. Using a coupling adapter on an air-filler syringe,
steadily and smoothly insert 12 ml of air into the dart air chamber. The air pressure will
slowly force the black plunger forwards and inject the drug into the bottle.
Note: drugs must not be kept in dart syringes for prolonged periods. The extreme pH of
most drug formulations will adversely affect the plunger and dart barrel after 3–4 days.
Cleaning the syringe:
After releasing any remaining air from the air chamber, hold the dart vertically with the black
plunger upwards. Fit a coupling adapter to a filler syringe and flush the drug chamber with
warm water. Repeat several times.
Note: syringes must not be sterilized by steam or have heat applied to them.
Cleaning the needle:
- Remove the green/red silicone sleeve from the needle and discard it.
- Remove the needle from the syringe using pliers. Removing the needle after use
can prolong the serviceability of the dart, as the mounting hub will remain in better
condition and retain its shape for longer.
- Rinse the needle by passing warm water through it several times (giving free
passage), so that the two injection ports are free from debris and foreign material.
- Sterilize the needle by a suitable method.
Note: it has been suggested that darts that have contained LA Immobilon should not be
cleaned but discarded directly into a sharps bin.