A captive bolt pistol, or cattle gun as it is more commonly known, is commonly used to stun cattle before they are put to death. It inflicts a forceful strike, generally to the forehead, and stuns the recipient into unconsciousness. This strike can also destroy part of the brain.
The cattle gun was invented by Dr. Hugo Heiss, a director of a German slaughterhouse in 1903. Generally made of a non-rusting alloy such as stainless steel, the bolt is positioned inside the barrel and is usually not visible within. To activate, users must pull the trigger which then propels the bolt forward using compressed air causing a shallow but forceful blow to the animal, with the bold immediately springing back into the barrel. There is no danger of a ricochet with a cattle gun. Typically they use 130 to 190 mg of smokeless powder, more in instances where there is a larger animal such as a bull. The velocity of the bolt is around 55 metres per second.
In popular fiction, as well as The Slaughter Man, cattle guns have been used as murder weapons in Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, Patrick McCabe’s The Butcher Boy and in an episode of CSI: Miami.