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In my world there are humans living in rainforests near the coast. In the depths of the forests live giant apes, similar to the extinct Gigantopithecus. Something like a 3 metre tall 300kg orangutang with large canine teeth like a chimpanzee:

enter image description here

I'm trying to keep my humans from crafting weapons, and experiment with other ways to hunt. The only weapon for now is the ape's canine used as a ceremonial dagger, a symbol of strength.

The question is, how can the warrior kill the ape, without any weapon (except poison and their own body)?

So far my only idea is strength of numbers. The warrior coordinates a large group of unarmed warriors, who together take down the ape.

However I would prefer if a single warrior could somehow take down the ape without help. Do you have any ideas?

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Worldbuilding Meta, or in Worldbuilding Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Apr 7, 2023 at 8:53
  • $\begingroup$ Convince it to choke to death on its own tongue. $\endgroup$ Apr 7, 2023 at 12:59
  • $\begingroup$ Clarification: is rope a weapon? $\endgroup$
    – mcalex
    Apr 7, 2023 at 16:08
  • $\begingroup$ @mcalex nice image. No, I've just decided that rope is not a weapon. $\endgroup$
    – lollo259
    Apr 7, 2023 at 17:58

15 Answers 15

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Touch of Death

So I know that this particular term as been WAY over emphasized in popular culture, but it is an actual Ninjitsu move that can kill a person without a weapon. First, lets separate the fact from fiction here by clarifying that it is not a "touch" so much as it is a really hard, and specifically aimed punch that takes a lot of training to be able to deliver with fatal force... but it is an actual thing non-the-less. There is also a similar attack you see in some Brazilian martial arts that involves a knee-kick, but kills by the same mechanism.

These attacks are aimed at about a 30-45 degree upward angle into the xiphoid process. If this strike lands properly, it can break off the xiphoid process which then travels through the pleural cavity puncturing the heart or major arteries... or in some cases, it can even kill just by triggering a heart-attack caused by extreme chest compression. Getting hit here also causes major distress to the diaphragm which can trigger an immediate and debilitating state of shock and momentarily paralyze a person's ability to breath; so, even if the injury actually takes a couple of minutes to kill, the debilitating effects of the strike can be instant. This means that a fast, well trained fighter could (if he gets the first hit in) kill a larger, much stronger ape without getting ripped limb from limb.

Yes, it is true that other great apes are going to be way stronger than a human, but this does not mean they are way more difficult to injure. In fact, in this exact case, it is probably going to be easier. When you look at the skeletal structure of our stronger great ape cousins like Chimpanzees and Gorillas, you will notice that the Xiphoid process is proportionally longer and skinnier which should make an uppercut to it even more deadly than it is in humans.

Side Note

While I do not think a weapon is absolutely necessary to kill a Gigantopithecus, I do agree with objections that your humans will not have weapons. There are a lot of things about human proportions that are the direct result of evolving to use weapons. Yes, it is well known that humans are proportionally weaker than chimps, bonobos, and gorillas, but what is less well known is that we did not loose this strength because we were not using it, we lost it because we traded our strength for something more important to us: flexibility. Humans are WAY better a throwing things than other great apes because we have proportionately more shallow shoulder sockets which give us a better range of motion, but makes shoulder dislocation much easier. If we were as strong as an ape, we'd be constantly injuring our shoulders, but because we have our shoulders, we can do a way better job of swinging a club, thrusting a spear, or throwing a rock... and evolution says that these abilities are more important than brute strength. But if we never started throwing weapons, we'd have never increases our shoulder flexibility, and we would have never been so incentivized to become upright animals. In other words, it is weapons that made us become homosapiens, we did not become homosapiens and then realize we needed weapons. So if your story has humans, or even humanoids, then the absence of weapons seems very suspicious.

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    $\begingroup$ @lollo259 Something similar you will find in the real world would be the Taíno. They did not go completely weaponless, but they fought wars with sticks that were made to such thicknesses as to hurt like hell when hit but not kill. They hunted with lethal weapons, but fighting other humans to the death was seen as so immoral, that they resolved tribal wars without resorting to killing. So, one solution to your problem may be that they see Gigantopithecus as too human to fight with a weapon. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Apr 5, 2023 at 18:30
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    $\begingroup$ Depending on your plot, it could be that your human killed the Gigantopithecus bare handed not because he set out to kill it with his bare hands, but because he was resolved to defend himself without breaking the great moral code. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Apr 5, 2023 at 18:32
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    $\begingroup$ Since this is worldbuilding, the weakness could also be similar, but more suited to your story. Like a certain vertebrae in the neck, or some spot you have to hit multiple times., since the biology of the primates doesn't have to be exactly like ours, just similar - Whatever suits your story. $\endgroup$
    – Falco
    Apr 6, 2023 at 17:12
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    $\begingroup$ Great way to kill an animal.... except it won't work... ANY martial artist will tell you that getting into melee with an opponent 1m higher and 100 kg heavier (and here the difference is much higher) is a big no no. Not to mention this tribe will not have ANY martial artists at all. Judging by the description this is not highly developed society so they won't have very sofisticated agriculture, so people won't have time to master martial arts as they will be buisy getting food. Hell, ignoring that, art wouldn't get developed if every master got killed trying to manfight a giant ape. $\endgroup$
    – Negdo
    Apr 7, 2023 at 8:47
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    $\begingroup$ Unless the dangerous spot is a cliff/pit-trap or something in that vein (and thus you won't need to "strike the fatal blow") you would still need to go in melee with a being that WILL kill you. And even luring an ape is a difficult proposition, as apes are quite smart. There are documented cases where group of apes went on a revenge driven rampage, which is a clear indication of high level of intelligence $\endgroup$
    – Negdo
    Apr 7, 2023 at 9:39
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Frame Challenge

They can't. Or at least, not with Martial Arts. A Chimpanzee is between 3-5 times as strong as a Human. Fighting a Gorilla, even as a skilled martial artist team of warriors - would look the same way that a bunch of toddlers fighting a fully grown man. That's just the bog-standard Gorilla - if you have a Giant Ape, their strength is likely to be higher.

How I would deal with this: Make things like Stones and Metal deposits extremely rare in your region - this removes the ability to make things like flint daggers, metal cutting weapons etc.

You still have trees - and a wooden club is very effective. So are dead-fall drops, Punji traps etc.

The issue is that if you have the means to make a deadfall drop or a spring spear type trap, then you have sufficient skills to make wooden weapons.

The most obvious being the Bow, Arrow and Spear. I'd address this by making your jungle extremely dense - to the point where it's so dense - there's little to no advantage to having a Ranged weapon.

Secondly would be a cultural thing - Make it a part of their Warrior culture to be unarmed at all times - something like 'If the strength of my arm is not sufficient, then it is time for the Jungle to claim me so that the strong survive'.

This will allow them to have all the skills and expertise to build traps (which is the only way you are taking out a Gorilla) - but without having them build weapons.

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    $\begingroup$ Alternatively, your cunning lone warrior may find one that is old and is on its way out anyway, and track it until it quietly expires from old age. :) After all, the best warrior is one who knows when not to fight. Of course everybody returning to the village with a trophy maintains they had fought the beast when in fact none of the warriors had. At least none of the ones who returned... $\endgroup$
    – biziclop
    Apr 4, 2023 at 21:59
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    $\begingroup$ @lollo259 Putting out poisoned bait is probably slightly less risky. $\endgroup$
    – biziclop
    Apr 4, 2023 at 22:31
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    $\begingroup$ @TheDemonLord: Gorillas don't live in trees. Adult gorillas are not better than humans (and usually worse) at playing monkey. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Apr 5, 2023 at 17:30
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    $\begingroup$ I'd also frame challenge around the idea that you have anatomically modern humans with no tools. The human hand is evolved for tool use, and the way our arms work arguably evolved for spear use. Without those things, there's no reason for the creature to be designed like a human. $\endgroup$
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 5, 2023 at 19:34
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    $\begingroup$ @Falco - No. Any of my kids could jump on my back and cinch in a really tight and deep chokehold.... until I grab their arm and break their grip. A Gorilla could simply grab my arm and crush it. A choke hold works between 2 adults, even if one has a pretty large strength advantage - but the strength difference between a man and a Gorilla is too great. $\endgroup$ Apr 6, 2023 at 19:10
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Assumption #1 No weapons, tools, or manufactured items other than the ceremonial dagger. No poisons, herbs, plants, minerals, or toxic soils. No traps, pits, or constructs. Picking up a branch on the ground and using it as a club or throwing a rock from the high ground would shame our warrior to the point of suicide.

To a degree, my ideas skirt that assumption of your rules. What's a tool? What's a weapon? If what you're looking for is some form of kung fu then, frankly, your question is wasted. You can research any martial art you want to rationalize overcoming the apes and explaining how to specifically attack an ape is story-based. Therefore, I'm also proceding on the presumption that there's a reason to attack apes without tools — because the fundamental nature of both evolution and intellect is to solve problems — and that inevitably means tools.

Worse, your civilization uses an ape's fang as a ceremonial dagger. Which means some overworked wife tired of hearing her warrior whine and bellyache about late meals grabs it to help prepare dinner. Suddenly the concept of kitchen knives is born — unless there's a cultural reason to never use that fang.

Assumption #2 There is a cultural reason to embrace Assumption #1.

Therefore, allow me to introduce some weaponless (from a certain point of view) solutions that are rationalized as some form of Tests of Bravery that utilize the circumstances of nature without handling any aspect of nature as a weapon.

The Test of Intellect

The indigenious peoples of the North American continent had an efficient way of providing supplies for large groups of people — they herded buffalo off a cliff. This was called a Buffalo Jump and sites have been identified in the U.S. and Canada. They used cliffs as tools to overcome a creature much larger and stronger than themselves.

Buffalo, being a herd animal, could be considered simple to slaughter in this manner. Get them running in the right direction and they'll pretty much bring the doom upon themselves. But your giant apes are a different matter. An individual fighter must either frighten the ape or bait it. The clever warrior must use the environment to distract the ape from realizing it's been led to the cliff edge. Thus, this is the test of the warrior's intellect.

The Test of Agility

If I can use a cliff as a tool, can I use a broken branch? This test doesn't test intellect as much as it tests agility. It could be called "The Dance." The warrior can easily lure an ape to a location where can be found a broken branch on a tree. The goal of the dance of combat is to cause the ape to lose its balance and fall onto the branch. While one could point to any number of Hollywood movies that show this kind of demise, if you really want to see something along the lines of what I mean, go watch Grand Sumo — but the superior warrior can do that without touching the ape!

The Test of Endurance

Everyone knows1 that the wild nature of the great apes means they really don't know how to hold their breath. Your warriors, on the other hand, train for months to embrace the risk to overcome the beast. Having found a suitable river or lake with exposed tree roots at the proper depth. Luring the ape into the water, your warrior holds the panicking and struggling ape under water. The struggle is brief, but intense, and the warrior must hold his or her breath throughout the ordeal.

The Test of A Fistfull of Dollars

Finally, the truly elite warriors combine intellect, agility, and endurance, to lure not one but two great apes into territorial conflict! The warrior must keep the two creatures engaged while not becoming a substantial interest to either. By egging on both apes, continually raising the stakes for both animals, eventually one or both are dead.


1The Ministry of Meaningful Messages has been researching the veracity of this statement and can neither confirm nor deny that it is true.

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  • $\begingroup$ Awesome answer! I could make the ape live mostly alone, and make warriors lure them into each other thus causing fights. The Test of Endurance sounds impossibile to me: no human can dream to hold a large ape underwater without sinking with the ape; it still has enormous arms and hands that can make humans suffocate even underwater. I really like and prefer the Test of Agility (maybe because I'm a big sumo fan) for its requirement of technique and agility. $\endgroup$
    – lollo259
    Apr 5, 2023 at 16:21
  • $\begingroup$ Talking about Endurance, humans have a much stronger ability to recover from physical exertion than larger animals like apes. A drawn out, hit and run, fight lasting 24 hours could tire out the ape, while the human might be able to recover with short breaks and snacks. Even more plausible if the humans work in groups to give each other more time to rest. $\endgroup$
    – Toddleson
    Apr 5, 2023 at 16:41
  • $\begingroup$ @Toddleson but if there's just one individual against an ape, the ape is going to kill the human underwater, even if it drowns itself. The Agility parts seems way more realistic to me, and I can watch more sumo just for thinking about techniques. $\endgroup$
    – lollo259
    Apr 5, 2023 at 17:04
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    $\begingroup$ @lollo259 I wasn't suggesting underwater, I meant, run into its home, scare it, run away. Repeat every 15 minutes so it can't rest. Eventually it is too tired to fight back. Humans can last longer than apes if they're both in a contest of stamina and recovery. We have more efficient bipedal movement than apes and less weight to carry around. $\endgroup$
    – Toddleson
    Apr 5, 2023 at 21:49
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    $\begingroup$ @lollo259 Most creatures, so long as they have oxygen in their lungs, are naturally buoyant. It's when the air is expelled that they sink. Thus, the test. Who will expel their air first? The warrior? or the Ape? $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Apr 5, 2023 at 23:23
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The warrior never fought the ape - he found an old equivilent of a greyback that had lost a fight for dominance and performed the coup de grace on the big, old dying creature.

It could either be told as a story of putting a honourable opponent out of his misery, or the tale of the ape grew with the telling. While your warrior might lack weapons, you'd still need tools, to skin or at least remove the canine, which would mask the poor condition your late ape was.

That said, I don't think teeth are generally used as weapons for a reason - even things like ivory. They're generally brittle and not really as useful as say a sharpened stick.

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Poison. Find a bunch of the ape's favourite bananas. Spike the bananas with poison. Put the bananas in a visible location. Wait for the ape to eat the bananas. Follow the ape until it drops out of the trees dead. Quickly butcher the ape before the poison spreads to the meat.

Traps. The same. Except instead of poisoning the bananas, you dig a pitfall trap underneath. The ape goes to get bananas and falls into the trap. Maybe there are spikes in the trap. Maybe there are no spikes and a long drop.

Since they live in the rainforest, one variation of the pitfall trap is the Tree trap. Find a tree standing on its own and put the bananas near the top. Chop the tree most of the way down:

enter image description here

Wait for the ape to climb the tree to get the bananas. Then rush in and chop the rest of the tree down. Tree falls over. Ape goes splat.

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  • $\begingroup$ This. Seems like a perfect match for the requirements. $\endgroup$
    – Vilx-
    Apr 5, 2023 at 19:17
  • $\begingroup$ The spikes at the bottom of the trap could be seen as weapons. You could throw burning objects down there, however. Fire is a tool, not a weapon. ;-) $\endgroup$
    – mcalex
    Apr 7, 2023 at 15:51
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Persistence hunting?

It's a common thought that humans can only defeat any animal because we are smarter and can build weapons, and we are otherwise much weaker in every aspect than even animals of comparable size. However, there is one big exception, something where humans are physically better than any animal: endurance. A fit human can jog basically all day long, as we can cool ourselves while on the run. Animals can't, they have to stop to cool down, else they overheat and collapse from exhaustion.

If a big enough crowd of humans starts herding an isolated lone animal, so big a crowd that the animal is afraid of attacking them, then no matter how fast that animal is, if the humans keep up the pace, they will be able to chase the animal until it collapses from exhaustion. Don't get too close or it might lash out and attack, but always stalk it so it can never rest. Humans can outlast any land animal in that regard, until the animal will be too tired to fight back.

This has been used by our ancestors extensively, and there are some small tribes which hunt this way even today.

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  • $\begingroup$ There's not much jogging in the jungle. And apes are clannish, too; their friends would help attack the humans. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Apr 6, 2023 at 11:34
  • $\begingroup$ That relies on the animal running away when the hunter approaches. So the author would have to make it seem plausible that a giant ape would flee from a human. Also might not make for a compelling story. $\endgroup$
    – nasch
    Apr 6, 2023 at 16:26
  • $\begingroup$ @nasch : from one human, no. From a whole bunch of humans, all making lots of noise, yes. $\endgroup$
    – vsz
    Apr 7, 2023 at 0:22
  • $\begingroup$ @RonJohn : this was not about humans regularly hunting these giant apes. It was about one specific instance of one of them being hunted down. In this case they could pick one who is separated from the group, or lost a dominance fight and is searching for a new territory, etc. $\endgroup$
    – vsz
    Apr 7, 2023 at 0:23
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    $\begingroup$ Or you can run away from the ape. As long as you keep it moving and not resting, you can harass it until it passes out, when killing it gets much easier. $\endgroup$
    – fectin
    Apr 7, 2023 at 12:51
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You can't kill without weapons.

weapon [ˈwɛp(ə)n] NOUN a thing designed or used for inflicting bodily harm or physical damage

If you want to further classify, you can make a split between

  • proper weapons, which are designed with the primary goal of inflicting damage. Think of a shotgun or a spear,
  • improper weapons, whose primary design scope is not inflicting damage, yet they end up doing it because of the way they are used. Think of a broken bottle neck used as a blade, or the fists of a karateka.

It follows that anything you use to kill becomes a weapon the moment it is used for that purpose.

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  • $\begingroup$ FYI, in some countries, martial artists of a certain level are legally required to register their bodies as deadly weapons. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Apr 5, 2023 at 17:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki which countries? $\endgroup$
    – fectin
    Apr 7, 2023 at 12:52
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Go for the eyes

I agree with the frame challenge. This is going to be a serious problem for the would-be ape-slayers. However, a platoon of men all armed with daggers with one aim - to go for the eyes - might have a chance. Two lucky hits and then the battle odds get far, far better.

Or the balls

A stabbed scrotum is not only disablingly painful, but is very likely to get infected. In terms of ritually endowed prowess, pointing out that the ape you stabbed died whimpering with pus oozing out of his nuts isn't great, but it's better than the bragging rights you get from it killing you in an instant.

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Something like a 3 metre tall 300kg orangutang with large canine teeth like a chimpanzee:

Befriend it

Orangutan happily co-exist with humans if they are allowed to. Simply befriend the ape by bringing it gifts of food until it comes to trust you. Each time temporarily tie it with a rope while it is eating. Make the bonds more complete as you learn to do them quicker and the ape gets used to them. Always untie them fully at the end of a session.

On the final day bring an especially large and delicious treat and gradually bind the ape until it is immobilised except by you feeding it morsels by hand.

At this point, the ape is at your mercy and you have innumerable ways to kill it. Suffocation or lack of water are just two. If you are particularly sadistic you can pummel it with your fists.

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Give the Ape Wine

That's it - bring wine to the giant ape. A few gallons should be enough. Ape will drink the wine, then pass out. Then, strangle the passed out ape. Alternatively, can just make sure the ape is sleeping face down so it will suffocate on its own vomit.

Other intoxicants would work fine as well.

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Left-field pitch, but why not.

War of the Worlds style; use germ warfare.

Directly the Invaders arrived and drank and fed; our microscopic allies attacked them. From that moment – they were doomed!

The strength aspect is here. Your finest warriors are those who carry the most deadly diseases, and the biggest variety of them. They're absolute germbags, positively infested. Some folks have resistance, some folks just get by through determination and grit as the diseases destroy them.

By getting into prolonged chases with the giant apes, their heavy breathing alone is enough to transmit plenty of nasties. Eventually, the apes just drop dead. Cooking their flesh is enough to make it safe for the rest of the village. The warrior class live apart.

As an added bonus, when these "warriors" fail and are killed and eaten by the giant apes, that will often cause their killers to in turn be killed. Sometimes many apes feed from the same carcass. Great warriors are thus remembered by their heroic deaths, and the sheer number of apes they "defeated" like this.

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What is a weapon?

If you mean literally with his bare hands then no, that isn't going to work. But as soon as you are allowed to use found items from nearby, even ones entirely natural and not crafted, then it becomes possible.

  • Hit it with something heavy. A rock or a log should work. The hero can just happen to find the thing close to his hand in the middle of the fight. It's pretty likely that the ape would do the same, so it's not like it's an unfair fight.
  • Strangle it with a vine. Tripping it might also work. I'm not sure if natural vines are really strong enough for that, but it never seemed to bother Tarzan. Your vines are probably stronger than Earth ones.
  • Trick it into rushing off a cliff. Entice it to rush at you then dodge out of the way so it falls to its death. Again pretty far-fetched for a fairly smart ape, but it's a fantasy right?

Incidentally, if you are writing a work of fiction you may be in trouble if you are looking for bizarre ways to have your plot go exactly the way you want it. It's going to seem unbelievable to the audience. Maybe you should consider exploring what would happen if the protagonist actually did use a weapon, or a t least a tool, in this fight, but kept it secret for reasons of honour.

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Insult the Gorilla

If you insult it enough, it won't be able to handle it anymore and it'll either die of stress or commit sucicide.

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    $\begingroup$ Immediate upvote. $\endgroup$
    – lollo259
    Apr 6, 2023 at 17:15
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Kill them while they're sleeping

While the ape is asleep, hit them with one of the many bare-hands techniques that can kill a person, e.g.:

  1. UPPERCUT – An upward strike to the bottom of the jaw with the heel of the hand, causing the enemy’s head to snap backward. May shatter vertebrae. Fatal.
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Scare it, run it down, exhaust it until it makes a mistake, then choke it to death.

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