# What would justify hunting dragons that are made with real physics, with melee weapons?

In many depictions of dragon slaying, we often see people fighting dragons toe to toe with melee weapons, like swords or axes. But in real life, we kill actual gigantic animals, like elephants or buffaloes, using ranged weapons like throwing spears, bow and arrows, or firearms. Even when not hunting directly, we can still kill animals by using traps.

If dragons were living, breathing animals (as in, no supernatural elements or magic involved), what kind of reason could force the usage of melee weapon against them?

• Stupidity? Lack of experience? In real life no animal was hunted with swords or axes. (An axe may be useful in an emergency, but I cannot see the reason for carrying a sword when hunting animals.) Before firearms hunters used spears, javelins, bows, crossbows, lances, etc. and the occasional dagger for emergencies. Not to mention various kinds of traps, nets, nooses and so on. Swords are only for killing men. – AlexP Aug 2 '17 at 17:23
• @AlexP For most of history, swords were a backup weapon. Spears and polearms were the dominant melee weapon. – sphennings Aug 2 '17 at 17:27
• @sphennings: For most of history, yes. But the iconic Roman infantry (as shown in movies, at least) carried their trusty gladii, and that's the image many people have. In many actual real pre-firearms battles most soldiers didn't even have swords. – AlexP Aug 2 '17 at 17:28
• Bravado... but have you ever noticed that there's no video? :-) Oh, no, we don't want proof that what actually happened was our brave knight pushed a big honkin' rock onto the sleeping dragon. That wouldn't make good press! – JBH Aug 2 '17 at 22:46
• @AbstractDissonance This is not a forum, it is a question/answer exchange. Comments are primarily to request clarification from the OP, not start a discussion. Since you've given four, FULL, paragraphs in the comments, please (please!) consider making an answer so that we may up or down vote it, which by using comments, you've successfully negated. – CGCampbell Aug 3 '17 at 12:41

Bows are not as useful against dragons. The dragon’s fire breath gives it a superior ranged attack as well. A one-on-one ranged duel with dragon usually ends in the dragon's favor, save in the case of the most skilled bow man. Even massing a large body of archers is not the best. The dragon will either close the gap and enter melee combat with the poorly equipped archers, or simply fly away. In addition, many of the arrows are turned harmlessly away by the thick hide.

Pikes and spears also fare poorly. Again the dragon’s breath attack is perfectly suited for this. In addition its tail (and many of its limbs) give it a reach superior to these melee weapons.

The best bet is for one or two skilled fighters to step within the reach of the dragon. A breath attack at this range may also harm the dragon. The tail becomes useless. You only have to worry about the limbs and the body itself. If the dragon tries to crush you with thier body, simply pull a Samwise/Shelob and let the dragon's own weight impale itself on your sword.

At this range the softest points of the dragons hide become exposed, and you get close enough to target major arteries to the limbs. Most dragon casualties come from loss of blood after the battle itself. The close range also allows for greater precision, for sometimes the hide is still thick enough to blunt a blade's strike. If the warrior can strike the same spot several times they may finally strike deep enough to cut that artery.

If you can get to this range, a bold but unskilled warrior might even be able to slice the aforementioned artery. Perhaps performing a suicide attack, letting the dragon grasp his body with a deadly claw, just to be let within range to swing an axe/pick or other blade in such a way that will lead to the dragon bleeding out.

• what are they made of that a bullet or crossbow bolt will not pierce but a sword will? – John Aug 3 '17 at 4:59
• @John Precision is easier with short range melee vs ranged. The repeated attacks to break through armor is noted. Also easier to find small weak points if you are closer. – jaxad0127 Aug 3 '17 at 5:30
• Sounds like an axe or falchion would be better suited for the job than a sword though. But this does not invalidate this as an answer to the question asked – Jacco Aug 3 '17 at 10:10
• @John Maybe it's not so much the piercing but rather getting around it - imagine medieval plate mail, it's pretty much impossible to pierce - blunt trauma to the wearer, sure, but your not getting through the plate directly - however, a knife or dagger wedged between the plates could deal damage - similarly scales could suffer a similar weakness where they overlap, but can be pried apart from melee range & thus exposed an unarmored surface. – user2813274 Aug 3 '17 at 13:37
• Nope, nope, nope, nope. They will be dead way before getting into range of entering melee with the dragon. A single tail sweep can cover so much ground that this tactic becomes infeasible. Also, you are trying to hit up with a sword - this is the worst possible way to use a weapon like that. A dragon need only to drop to the ground and roll - and your men are dead. – T. Sar Aug 3 '17 at 14:49
1. Small dragons? You did not specify how big the dragons are. If they are small and move fast they would be hard to hit with a spear or arrow. A sword would be ok, or a big stick, or a tennis racquet.

2. Forceful blows. It is possible to apply more force if you put your body weight behind a blow. You have all of your own mass as well as that of the weapon and the force you generate. With a projectile you have only the mass of the projectile. The other thing is that if you are holding the tool you can bear down and exert continuing force; the projectile expends its force and bounces off. You could hold a spear or sword and drive it in. Likewise a heavy axe exerts more force per hit and you can deliver multiple hits once you are close.

If you have something with impenetrable armor then the large mass weapon is the option: an axe or mace. Plate armor is great against edges but if you hit a guy in the helmet with a 8 pound maul that energy is going somewhere. Likewise the dragon: crushing blows will hurt even through armor. The extreme case: Hercules could not hurt the Nemean Lion with any weapon and had to strangle it to death with his arm.

1. Sawing action. If something is extremely tough, to cut it you might want to lean into it and saw at it. There is no way to do that with a projectile. Consider why saws are used to cut trees instead of flat sharp blades, or why steak knives are serrated. I am not sure a saw is considered a melee weapon but you could definitely have a serrated dragon sword, which would be fairly badass as well. The serrated sword would be a slashing weapon.

2. Poison delivery. Poison arrows and spears are great, but if you have a very limited amount of the poison available you might not want to risk the arrow bouncing off and failing to deliver. If you have a weapon like a thrusting spear you can be more sure of getting the poison where it is supposed to be.

3. Fearless. You are not afraid to close in. As usual @AlexP puts good stuff in the comments; stupidness or cluelessness are excellent reasons you are not afraid to close with the dragon. But maybe you are very quick and very cocky and you think you can move quick enough to not get hit.

• Little-known fact: tennis was originally training for hunting fist-sized yellow dragons. – David Richerby Aug 2 '17 at 20:40
• I stepped on a dragon once.. It didn't resist much.. Actually, it might have been a mosquito – Totumus Maximus Aug 3 '17 at 9:30
• +1 for #3. I can just imagine a special "dragon sword"! – dalearn Aug 3 '17 at 23:32
• +1 for #1. We already contend with legless dragons. Some can even spit venom. – Jammin4CO Aug 4 '17 at 14:23
• " I am not sure a saw is considered a melee weapon" You've clearly never met Ash Williams. – Pharap Aug 6 '17 at 1:48

Three options, perhaps one of them helps:

• Dragon hunters live longer if they wear full knightly armor. Knights are trained to use the lance and either a sword or a warhammer or mace. Horses are easily spooked by dragons, so the lance is out. That leaves the sword.
• Dragons are smart and agile for an animal. Hunting them involves a trek through the wilderness where they make their lairs. That can be difficult with a long spear, or a heavy matchlock arquebus.
• Bagging a dragon is reserved for high-status individuals, not masses of common soldiers. It wouldn't do to have a random ruffian save the kingdom and marry the princess. And high-status dragon hunters carry a sword. No artist would ever depict a commoner killing a dragon, if that were to happen.
• +1 for the last point. Killing dragons in a swordfight (or merely facing one and surviving) may be a rite of passage for knights and such, even in a high tech setting. – AmiralPatate Aug 3 '17 at 9:41
• I like the last point. The sword is chosen because it is honourable and knightly, not because it is practical. An elegant weapon, for a more civilised age. Perhaps it is easy to shoot a dragon with a projectile weapon, which is precisely why those seeking fame and glory choose to do it the hard way. – anaximander Aug 3 '17 at 15:53
• plate mail is not going to help you against an elephant sized animal, if anything it will just make crushing damage worse since it will stay crushed. – John Aug 4 '17 at 14:33
• @John, perhaps the dragons dribble flammable gobs that can be stopped by plate armor, but not by leather. – o.m. Aug 4 '17 at 15:27

Historically speaking melee weapons were used by rich and wealthy people, while ranged weapons were reserved for lower classes.

Since one wants to praise the nobility and courage of the high classes (paying for having the story written or chanted) it makes perfectly sense that the valiant chevalier slaying the dragon uses an expensive sword for rich people and not a slingshot which could be afforded by even poor farmer.

• Not true. Swords were used by the rich; the peasants used farming implements: flails, sticks, sharpened sticks, sticks with nails in, bills, pikes, scythes, hammers, etc. most of which were melee weapons. Archers were professionals, because a crowded battlefield is not the place for amateur hour. The only exception was English yeomanry, where everyone of a certain class was expected to be proficient with a longbow. – nzaman Aug 3 '17 at 10:11
• @nzaman How misguided the details may be, the main point, that the dragonslayers are portrayed equipped like a noble, stands. – Agent_L Aug 3 '17 at 16:44
• @Agent_L: I was objecting to ...ranged weapons were reserved for lower classes. Medieval lords wouldn't trust lower classes with ranged weapons lest they take pot shots at them, e.g., William Tell – nzaman Aug 3 '17 at 17:07

Dragons are proud

If you try to kill it with a bow or a trap you had best finish it off before it knows you are there or it will come for you and your people using all its formidable weapons, and since they are fast, clever and tough you aren't very likely to succeed.

But if you challenge it to a limited fight you may have some chance, and it won't take it's wrath any farther than yourself.

*This pretty much requires dragons to be sentient which contradicts the 'animal' in the question.

Dragons fly

A hurt dragon is willing to flee and there is little chance a human can stop it. The only option is to get close and hold on. This means you need weapons usable in one hand like a sword or axe.

Dragons have armor

The weak spots are not exposed except from close range and even then only when it moves in a certain way. This requires active melee fighting to attempt, and the speed and precision of a sword to succeed.

• Pretty much the only reason a sword would do(apart from a scenario in which a sword is used to finish off a secured dragon.) The dragon is overwhelmingly powerfull but can be reasoned to a challenge(assuming he would listen to your reasons in the first place). – Nick Dzink Aug 2 '17 at 23:39

Dragons, in addition to being extremely dangerous, are usually described as having some sort of natural armour, with the exception of the wings. As with late medieval armour only extremely powerful ranged weapons will have any hope of penetrating and given the extra mass of the dragon these weapons are less likely to to do it harm.

With that in mind a dragon hunt would likely involve a large party and have stages. All this is assuming pre-gunpowder, as once you things like reliable, powerful, elephant guns the situation shifts to "just bring a gun".

The first stage is to grounding the dragon. Ideally you want to sneak up on it while it's on the ground, if it is you can skip straight to the next stage. But if it's flying you'll need to bring it down. At this stage you're using bows, slings, scorpions and similar ranged weapons to punch holes in the wings and bring it down. There's always a chance that a lucky shot or the impact of (likely controlled) crash will kill it but that's not something you should count on.

Stage two is where the melee weapons come in. You'll be throwing nets, ropes, and the like to foul the movement of its limbs and tail. At the same time you'll be on the side shoving spears in its face so it has to point its head away from you or lose an eye. You'll also be using long spears with an armour piercing spikes to hit it in the flanks and bleed it.

Stage three begins after the dragon has been bled and exhausted. Now that the dragon is weaker and less dangerous. At this point the bravest among you will move in with warhammers, maces, and maybe axes. The objective will be to break limbs and take them out of the fight. Finally you'll go after the neck, and for the kill.

Essentially if the dragon follows the usual pattern of having armoured scales except on the wings only a lucky shot with a pre-gunpowder ranged weapon will do significant damage. Armour piercing melee weapons would be the order of the day.

• Or just use 20mm or .50 cal rifles. – Efialtes Apr 19 '18 at 10:14

The classic way to kill a dragon was the way that Beowulf and Sigurd (Fafnirsbane) Sigmundson used. First, dig a pit in the dragon's usual tracks and hide therein. Wait for the dragon to come by, walking or slithering over your pit. Stab upwards, ideally killing the unsuspecting dragon. This stab may be done with a short spear, but oddly a good sword is probably better, as it will not break as easily and can be found short enough for a shallow hole.

A lindon shield supposedly helps against dragon fire. Wood is a good insulator, and doesn't burn fast enough that you cannot get it off before you are burned, especially if the shield is particularly thick.

May The Allfather Be With You.

• Welcome aboard. I think I see where you're going with this but to answer the question properly it is not enough to point out the tradition but you also need to explain or justify why it's a useful, and even essential, way to hunt dragons in the first place. – Ash Aug 3 '17 at 15:37
• Yes, please elaborate, this answer has potential! – Flummox - don't be evil SE Aug 4 '17 at 7:15

Status-seeking

Killing dragons isn't (mostly) about getting rid of them. It's about risking your life doing impressive things for social status. The dragon hunt, then, goes something like a bull-fight. The dragon is drawn into prepared ground, harassed and weakened by archers, traps, and nets, and then well-armored warriors with melee weapons head in to finish off the beast in an appropriately glorious fashion, while admiring crowds look on and artists prepare to immortalize the moment. Particularly brave knights might even face off against the smaller sorts of dragons without all the prep work (solo or in small groups). Of course, you could use different weapons, but then they wouldn't be proper knightly weapons, and if you don't think that matters, then you're missing the point entirely.

• Similarly, it could be all about the thrill. In a world without wing-suits, fast cars, and gnarly hills for skateboarding, killing dragons is the extreme sport of the times. – Charles Burge Aug 4 '17 at 1:43
• The two often go hand-in-hand. – Ben Barden Aug 7 '17 at 13:14

If we focus more on the firearms aspect of the question, one area in which there is a large disparity between the effectiveness of firearms and melee weapons is with 'bulletproof vests' vs 'stab resistant armor.

The two behave quite differently, as bulletproof vests are designed to disperse the (relatively small amount of) kinetic energy present in a bullet, whereas stab resistant vests are designed to catch the weapon and snag it so it can't penetrate much deeper (Article linked goes into much more depth). Knifes, swords, and clubs all have substantially higher kinetic energy than a bullet. It's possible that the scales of the dragon could have an structure similar to that of a bulletproof vest - meaning that the most effective way to kill it would be either stabbing or blunt force attacks.

However, depending on the technology level of the dragon-slayers, explosives and mounted machine guns may make this a moot point.

Not hunting, but killing with melee weapons.

The answer is to tire the dragon out. While my mind is a bit hazy on the details, let's start with that this ain't a sprint, but it's a marathon. And we are going to need lots of manpower for this.

All creatures need to rest, and as a dragon is probably an ambush predator, it will not that unlimited endurance.

Stage One: Grounding, use every ranged weapon you have to make it stop flying. Aim for the wings. Big bolts, small rocks, don't matter, bring it. Unleash it. Don't get killed.

Stage Two: No Sleep, No Rest (For the wicked) Now use horsemen with ranged weapons, bows will work, but slings will do, to keep the dragon awake. And if can, moving around. Keep this up for several days. Yes, days. Maybe a week or more. I don't know, just keep it up. Do this till it can't move anymore due to fatigue.

Stage Three: Hold in place with wires, nets, anything to stop it moving. You want to control the beast.

Stage Four: Aim carefully Depending on your outlook of live and willingness to look awesome, you can kill the very tired dragon.

Ranged: Use a large bolt thrower. Aim carefully, shoot to kill. More is better.

Close Up: Bring your sword if you must. This here creature has lost the will, or the energy, to fight. I'll bring my axe if you don't mind, better for chopping necks.

Stage Five: Mount the skeleton some where you can boast about it. And make a nice painting of you slaying the dragon. Don't mention the details of just tiring out the dragon. Or the use of nets and ropes. No, in the end it was just you against a mighty dragon.

The lack of anything better to use, assuming it isn't because of cultural stupidity. Any other reason would be a handwave grasping at straws.

Every depiction of a dragon I've ever seen breaks the square cube law, so having scales that a ballista can't penetrate would break it even more.

Your universe is going to need to have not invented so many things (for there to ever be a situation where you have an understanding of metallurgy, but absolutely no projectile weapons of any sort - because if you have any, we'll adapt them to make it work), it's not even funny.

Nobody hunts large animals with bows and arrows. All that would do is annoy them. Same with javelins. They simply don't have enough force behind them. You'd need hunting spears at the very least to do enough damage.

Arrows and javelins are used, but only to drive the animal, either into a trap or more often to wear it down so that the coup de grâce can be delivered safely.

With a giant, flying, fire-breathing reptile, that isn't going to work. It can fly out of any trap you set and can simply fly away if you try driving it, assuming, of course, it doesn't simply turn around and roast you. The dragon's ranged weapon beats your ranged weapon, and it can move faster. Unless it's attacking a fortified town with wall mounted ballistae, ranged weapons literally won't cut it.

Your only option is to get in close enough to stop it flying away, regardless of how many men you lose in the attempt. Preferably in a cave or some other constricted terrain, so it can't simply leap over their heads and take flight. And of course, you want to maximise damage per blow, since the longer the fight drags on, the more of your people will die. Hence, axes and swords--even if they can't kill it, they can at least cripple it, so that the next lot can finish the job.

• Just did a quick google search for "bow hunting elephant" judging by the number of responses plenty of people hunt large animals with bows and arrows. I know personally I'd rather shoot at a large animal with a bow, from a safe distance, than get up in its face and hit it with a sword. – sphennings Aug 2 '17 at 17:45
• I searched too. Most seem to refer to the same incident where a woman shot and killed an elephant from a distance of 12 yards. Hardly a safe distance, unless you're facing a herbivore minding its own business. – nzaman Aug 2 '17 at 19:19
• Y'all should check out what Fred Bear hunted with bows and arrows. Not sure on Elephant, but Grizzly and Polar bears are on the list... Might not weigh as much, but I'd rather face an elephant than a bear... – ivanivan Aug 2 '17 at 23:45
• But is that due to the technological constraints on those people? Someone hunting an elephant would have been an African Tribal, who would not have a longbow, compound bow, crossbow, or gun. Once the people who had those reached Central Africa, they had guns (or made them) big enough to do the trick. So if that large animal whether it is an elephant or dragon could still be hunted with ranged weapons, provided they existed. I think you would have seen more elephants hunted with bows if you shifted their habitat further north to a region with larger and more organized people groups. – user2259716 Aug 3 '17 at 15:45

## Location, location, location

There are two primary locations one might be fighting a dragon:

1. In the open

Here the dragon has all the advantages: its strong hide protects it from arrows, it's tail can swipe any spearmen out of range, if hoarded on all sides it can set the entire area around it on fire, if wounded by a weapon like a ballista it can fly away and recoup. Even any attempts to trap it with nets or pits will fail due to the dragons strength and cunning. The vast and insurmountable advantages of a large dragon against all conventional weaponry in the open field are the reason attacking it cannot be compared to hunting large animals and will always be able to avoid close encounters by attackers with melee weapons.

1. In the dragon's lair

For this reason a much better strategy is attacking the dragon at it's weakest: when asleep or resting in its lair, after it has burnt and ravaged the surrounding countryside and is no longer met with open resistance. Sending a group of assassins to kill a gorged, sleeping dragon in the enclosed space of its lair with melee weapons gives several advantages:

• Other weaponry unweildy: In the close quarters and stealthy approach to a dragon's lair, teams of soldiers carrying heavy nets, chains or rolling up a ballista would alert the dragon before our approach. Similarly with firing weapons we might be able to fire a single shot, but will have to rely on melee weapons to finish the job off. And the more the assailants carry, the less likely they are to complete a silent approach.
• Night time approach: assuming the dragon has to sleep, and flying at nighttime can be dangerous, humans will have the advantage of being able to approach its lair under cover of darkness. This allows them to get much closer than when it is rampaging in the open and allows for the use of melee weapons in a close encounter.
• Information: a close inspection of a sleeping dragon may allow us to discover any potential weak spots. Even if the attack fails this information may help in future attacks and a precise hit with a close-range weapon is most likely to exploit such weaknesses.
• First strike: if the dragon does not wake, we are able to attempt a single possibly fatal or at least crippling attack with a strong melee weapon.
• Reduced space: when surprised inside its lair a dragon lashing out may become disoriented: any fire it starts will fill the air with smoke, whipping its tail about will raise dust. As it focuses on a primary attacker, the dragon may not notice others hiding behind pillars or waiting underneath/behind the dragon. In the confusion there may be many opportunities for a direct attack with a melee weapon.
• Lair destruction: If a dragon is repeatedly attacked in its lair at close quarters and forced to fly away and sleep elsewhere, the dragon could be convinced to leave the region entirely. Even if not killed, repeatedly attacking and wounding a dragon in its lair may convince it to fly over the closest mountain range and continue its rampage elsewhere.

Might not be historically accurate, but in The Once and Future King they hunt a boar by surrounding it with men armed with (non-throwing) spears, ready for it to charge. If they certainly need to get this dragon without it running and have enough men, they could adopt a similar strategy

While one of the most highly upvoted comments states that swords aren't used for hunting, they are incorrect. Swords & knives are used for killing prey that has been trapped and is either so badly wounded / poisioned it is unable to fight back, or constrained to the degree that it is unable to fight back.

Thus a good reason to attack a dragon with a sword or other melee weapon is that it is now safe to get that close; and one does not have a ranged weapon on you, or have the requirement to preserve ammunition.

One might ask how the trap might be prepared to capture or poision the dragon, but this is somewhat out of scope of the question since one could use mechanical traps (eg nets / falling objects etc), poision darts or any other means; and the question isn't how to trap, but why would one be forced to use melee.

• You are insinuating a finishing blow on an already crippled or trapped foe. While you might use a knife or sword for that they are not necessary or even wise to use. Better to use a spear. You also skipped how to even get the dragon to that state. If you are bringing it down to this state with ranged weapons why not just shoot it again instead of walking inches to maybe 3 feet away. While you might do that to a deer(again not wise) or a rabbit, doing it to a dragon is just plain stupid. I don't think this answer meets the question as you have not answered why this would even be necessary. – user2259716 Aug 3 '17 at 15:38
• @user2259716 I'm insinuating nothing; I'm stating it outright. in any case please see updated answer. You state that doing this to large animals is just stupid, but used to be common place for very large animals - mammoths for example. – UKMonkey Aug 3 '17 at 15:54
• My point was the question is what would force the use of melee weapons. You said why they might be used. I say those are niche cases, not good choices, and not why one would be FORCED to do so. Saying one does not have a ranged weapon or wants to conserve ammo somewhat sidesteps that. Though I don't think that is quite what the question is asking for I removed my downvote but still think this answer is lacking. The question does include traps and ranged, so presumably they exist and are at hand. When mammoths were still around we likely did not have very advanced ranged weapons. – user2259716 Aug 3 '17 at 16:30
• why would you wan't to conserve ammo if you have an M2HB .50 cal Ma deuce with a 200 round belt? That would be my choice for a dragon hunt. – Efialtes Apr 19 '18 at 10:20
• @Efialtes If you can't think of why you need to conserve ammo then you probably will have a short life expectancy in this world with dragons. – UKMonkey Apr 19 '18 at 10:44