Was the Beast of Gevaudan wearing an armor ? This question has been made popular by investigators who think that the animal could have been a mixed race between wolf and dog, bred by one or several criminals, which would explain its so-called immunity to firearms witnessed by several people through the historical records.
To explain this repeated failures at a very short distance (a dozen steps), where the Beast was hit and fell, but always stood up to finally escape, some authors developed the theory that it might have been protected by an armor, maybe from a wild boar skin, which would also explain the dark line seen on its back by several witnesses.
This theory has been accepted by several authors, including Michel Louis in 1992, to finally gain a dominant place in popular culture and become one of the very characteristics of the case in everyone's mind. Without suprise, this theory was found in the Brotherhood of the wolf movie script by Pierre Pelot in 2001.
Such a fondamental theory about this case, whith deep meaning regarding a human intervention, must be proof tested. Much to our surprise, it wasn't done by Michel Louis, nor was it by Jean-Marc Moriceau, his main opponent on the case, to either validate or invalidate it.
As a hunter and a black powder shooter for many years, we have dedicated a full chapter of our own investigation on the Beast of Gevaudan to this topic.
We used a replica of a french Fusil de Tulle for this purpose. This royal manufacture in Corrèze was established circa 1690 on the already existing network of local arquebuse manufacturers, and its initial production was intended to go to the overseas troops. Facing difficult conditions at the beginning of the 18th century, it maintained a production of hunting guns. This model was used because it is a good example of gunsmithing of the era of the Beast, and its simple and rough finish is accurate for a modest hunter or rural landlord of the time, ase were the brothers de La Chaumette or M. de la Védrines, or the gamekeeper Jean Chastel.
We shot pure lead bullets, cast by ourselves as was the habit two and half centuries ago. They weight 325 grains and their caliber is .60. They were shot « patched » (pushed down the barrel centered on a lubed cotton disk which overlap them and fill up the space in the .64 smoothbore tube). Powder load was 65 grains, which is inferior to the maximum load authorized by the proofing. Its is in any case an inferior load of what was used by the time of the Beast, were the archives tell us that double or triple load against the predator were common.
The target device
We built a 4 feet target with drawer which allowed us to test the bullet penetration through different combined materials :
- a 2 inches clay block, to witness the shockwave born by the muscles of the Beast,
- a layer of artificial leather simulating the Beast skin,
- a layer of short hair artificial fur simulating the Beast fur,
- a layer of genuine thick leather (1/8 inches) simulating a leather armor,
- a layer of long hair artificial fur simulating the boar skin hiding the leather armor.
After this first shooting test, our friend Clément who was hosting us this day gave us a genuine wild boar skin. We repeated our shootings on the boar skin alone, and then on the boar skin backed by a layer of genuine leather (1/8 inches), thus simulating an old boar thick skin.
The author in shooting position at twelve feet
The target deviced was furbished with a genuine wild boar skin
We finally shot at a modern S235 steel plate (1/16 inches) set up in our target device, so as to see how the pure lead bullet was behaving against it.
The results of this shooting session were clear and let nothing to the imagination regarding 18th century firearms abilities and the theory of the armored Beast of Gevaudan. We hope to share those results with our readers very soon.