The captive bolt gun (sometimes referred to as simply "bolt gun") is a device for efficient, quick and effective slaughter of livestock. It is used in abattoirs to stun livestock such as sheep, cows and pigs before they are put to the knife for processing and packing. The advocates of bolt gun use claim that it works quickly enough that the animal is unable to feel any pain; the brain function is disrupted so quickly and completely that there is no pain from the bolt gun itself or from the slaughter that follows.

There are two general categories of bolt gun: pneumatic and cartridge-based. The former uses compressed air to drive a short metal rod at great speed out the business end; before firing, the device is placed directly against the skull of the animal. The location is important and varies with the species; the goal, in all cases, is to produce the maximum disruption as quickly as possible. The location is chosen for thinness of the skull, proximity to important nerve centers, and access for the slaughterman.

Cartridge-based bolt guns operate on the same principle, but instead of using a charge of compressed air (which requires compressors, hoses, high-pressure holding tanks, and the like) this version uses a blank cartridge to drive the bolt. After each use, the cartridge is ejected just as in a projectile firearm, and the next cartridge automatically loaded. The mechanism is similar to that of a cartridge nail gun.

The bolt gun allows modern industrial slaughterhouses to process upwards of two hundred and fifty cattle per hour per line. Usually, the animal is driven or conveyed down a chute into a narrow pen; the bolt gunner stands to the side, raised above the beast and reaches over to place the bolt gun. The limp corpse is then moved out of the pen and the next animal slotted. Assembly lines (dis-assembly lines?) come to death and groceries.

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