Atlatls or throwing sticks were not on my original “Versus” blog post list, but a “World Atlatl Day” event popped up near my house and I could not resist. Atlatls are sticks with notches cut in them to hold a dart (I always assumed it was a spear, but everyone continuously referred to the sharp, pointy things you throw as “darts,” so that is the term I will use) and add about 10-15 centimeters to your throwing arm. This adds leverage and velocity to your throw and generally moves you a couple steps up the food chain.
Note the variety of designs and decoration. The large atlatl in the center has finger holes to add grip, but many where simply smooth sticks. But an atlatl is useless without a dart, so I took a quick look at the dart selections as well.
Again, the darts come in a variety of lengths and designs, but for the competition the darts were two, modified aluminum arrows simply connected together to increase the dart’s length. This also meant the darts were light, so light I did not feel then would be much of a threat when thrown by hand. Sure, shooting one out of a hunting bow is dangerous but an arm contains far less potential energy than a bow string. Skepticism filled me.
After a bit of a wait (100+ people showed up for this event. I guess there is an interest in ancient weapons) I got to the line for my five-minute tutorial.
Seems simple enough, insert dart in notch at back of atlatl, place arrow in “V” cut at the front of the atlatl, cock arm and throw. My instructor drilled the target (visible on the right of the picture) at about 30 feet.
Looks easy. I got this.
Stepping up I loaded my dart, cocked my arm and let fly with everything I had. The dart flew straight and fast…in an arc about 15 feet over the target. I guess this hunter/gatherer will starve tonight.
I got in a few more practice throws and finally connected with the target. Barely. Feeling worthy of “Clan of the Cave Bear,” I took part in a three person competition. We shot darts from 10/20/30 feet and scored based on accuracy. I got second place but more importantly I got one amazing throw. The rest of my efforts either missed entirely or sort of “stuck,” half hanging out of the cardboard and hay bale target. My one good throw was a real eye opener for me. Not only did I hit the target, I drilled it. When I went to pull out the dart it simply would not come out. After some careful twisting and pulling I got it out. I am far from a strong man and I certainly have no history with a sport that might be me a throwing arm, but my dart was 12 centimeters (5 inches)into the hay bale. Intellectually I understand the physics of leverage and speed. I understand that a longer throwing arm allows for a faster dart but the effect startled me. I shot bows that did not put an arrow that deep into targets. With a stronger arm and some practice an atlatl is a formidable weapon.
“World Atlatl Day” is a yearly event and I highly recommend giving this free event a try. Besides the educational/RPG value, it was a hoot to go out and sling sharp sticks at targets.
So, here is my final report on the Atlatl experience.
Cost: 0. An hour of entertainment for no cost. Bring the kids!
Personal Risk: 0/10. It depends on which side of the atlatl you are on.
Cool: 6. Chucking darts at targets and generally getting in touch with your inner cave dweller is cool.
Gamer Cred: 7. Especially when you give the bad guys in your encounter a “to hit” bump for using atlatls. Remember gamers, DMs with first hand experience just use verisimilitude to kill instead of fantasy!