Pistol-whipping or buffaloing is the act of using a handgun as a blunt weapon, wielding it as if it were a club or baton. Such a practice dates to the time of muzzle loaders, which were brandished in such fashion in close-quarters combat once the weapon's single projectile had been expended.
The term "buffaloing" is documented as being used in the Wild West of the 19th century. The modern terms "pistol-whipping" and "to pistol-whip" were reported as "new words" of American speech in 1955, with cited usages dating to the 1940s.
The practice of using the handgun itself as a weapon began with the appearance of muzzle loaders in the 15th century. Single shot weapons that were tedious to reload were used to strike opponents directly in close-quarters combat after their projectile had been expended. It was entirely up to circumstance whether the user had time or chose to reverse the gun in their hand and strike a blow with its handle or merely swung the heavy weapon as a club or baton holding it normally.
There are arguments as to the efficacy of either approach, somewhat tendentious. Author Paul Wellman notes that clubbing an opponent with the butt of a gun held by its barrel, as seen in some Westerns, is problematic. First, the danger of an unintentional discharge could fatally wound the "clubber". Second, many handguns, specifically early revolvers of the black powder cap and ball era, were relatively fragile around their cylinders relative to solid single shot weapons. Finally, rotating a gun so that it can be held by its barrel takes extra time, potentially crucial in a conflict.
To avoid the risk of damage or potential delay, pistol-whipping may be done with the gun held in an ordinary manner, hitting the target with an overhand strike from either the barrel or the flank of the gun above the trigger. It was a fairly common way to incapacitate a man in Western frontier days (assisted by the heavy weight of the handguns of the era), known as "buffaloing", with the verb form being "to buffalo". This form of pistol-whipping with an 1870s-style revolver was tested on the Spike TV television show Deadliest Warrior. The testers showed that using the long barrel of a weapon like the Colt Single Action Army revolver (commonly known as a Colt 45) in a whipping motion produced enough force to fracture a skull and could potentially kill a man with a single blow.
Pistol whipping may leave unusual lacerations on the body of the injured due to various protruding details of the pistol. When blows are struck using the butt of the weapon rather than its barrel or flank semicircular or triangular lacerations on the skin may be produced. The magazine well at the bottom of an automatic pistol and its surrounding base produce rectangular lacerations on the skin. These lacerations can vary in depth and severity, but "whipped" fractures are common.