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A dart gun is a specially designed gun which fires darts instead of bullets, typically with the assistance of pressurized cartridges that propel the darts from the gun. There are a number of different styles of dart gun, ranging from children's toys used to play cowboys and Indians to capture guns utilized by wildlife researchers. A capture gun can be dangerous when it is used by someone who is inexperienced, and access to such guns is usually tightly controlled.
In the realm of toy guns, a dart gun usually fires darts which are soft tipped or tipped with suction cups. The goal is usually to mimic the experience of firing a gun without the accompanying risks. Such dart guns can, of course, be dangerous if fired at the eyes, but they are generally harmless, and they can be utilized for all sorts of hijinks. Even James Bond has been known to use a dart gun occasionally, taking advantage of suction cupped darts to create a high tension zip-line, for example.
A capture gun is used to fire specialized darts which can be used to deliver various substances to the target. A common example is a tranquilizer, but wildlife researchers also use dart guns to take blood samples, deliver medications, and to tag animals with microchips. The big advantage of a capture gun is that it allows researchers to steer clear of animals which could be upset by close human proximity, and it keeps them out of danger.
When a dart gun is used to deliver substances to a target, the amount and composition of the substance must be adjusted for the animal in question. For example, someone who wants to tranquilize and elephant would use substantially more tranquilizer than someone who was trying to tranquilize a rabbit. Several companies manufacture pre-loaded syringes and cartridges for use in dart guns, and it is also possible to devise a custom cocktail. The margin of error is often very small, as the same substance can behave very differently in different animals.
In addition to being used to capture and research wildlife, dart guns are also used in zoos and conservation parks. With dangerous animals like big cats, a dart gun is essential for staff who want to examine and handle animals safely, and the use of tranquilizers also reduces stress for the animal, which can be beneficial. Due to the dangers of using such guns inappropriately, dart guns are often kept secured at the zoo, which can be problematic when animals escape.