All posts by Pete Berg

Making Cane Atlatl Darts: Straightening Georgia’s World Record Setting Bamboo

Mark Bracken, Four Time Atlatl World Champion

By Mark Bracken
Four Time Atlatl World Champion

This tutorial by Mark Bracken was originally posted at our sister site, Atlatls.com. It’s one of the best overviews of how to make cane or bamboo darts.

Step One

You can do this by storing the cane in tied bundles of twelve or so. In the winter, I dry my cane in the house where it is warm and dry. In the summer, the attic is the place of choice. Drying the cane should take about three to six months. In my opinion, I usually use FULLY SEASON THE CANE before attempting to straighten it. The method you use should not be one that uses extreme heat, This might crack the cane unexpectedly.

Once it has been seasoned, it may have a green color to it; this is ok, exposure to the sun will brown them. Now that your cane is dry, sand or cut off the little buds at each node. Take caution in removing the buds from the skinny end, as not to gouge the shaft as the bud is removed. You could leave a little extra material here for added strength. The reason is this area is a weak point and can break when you’re straitening it.
This next step is for extremely dry cane only.

Now, trust me on this, soak your cane shafts in water for 12 to 24 hours before straitening them. This rehydrates them and makes the process almost “risk free” – as far as unexpected breakages. If you try to straiten dry cane with heat, they will scorch quickly and unexpectedly break! The added moisture will evaporate very quickly as you straiten them leaving them as dry as the were before! I soak my cane in a PVC pipe. Where you soak yours is up to your imagination. Trust me, this is the way to go!

The next day, take your cane out of the water and wipe it off with a cloth while it is still wet. This makes cleaning the cane a “snap”. Use dry heat not steam!. I use a propane heater turned down very low.

Step Two

First working on every other section between the nodes, (look at the picture below for my definitions of “nodes” and “segments”.) Then as it has cooled, do the remaining segments. (It really helps here to work on more than one shaft. This gives each shaft a chance to cool before you monkey with it – if it’s still warm, you will screw up what ever you just straitened.

Straightening Cane Darts

Step Three

Straighten every other node.

Step Four

Straighten the remaining nodes.

Step Five

This is the step where you’re fine tuning and hitting those stubborn spots again.

 

 

Now let’s get started. Start by working on the areas between the nodes. Lightly and evenly brown the crooked area with a twirling motion being careful not to scorch it. The cane will take on a rubbery consistency when enough heat has been applied. Carefully bend it over your thigh, gently work the bend out with a rolling motion, this will prevent kinking. Use a leather pad on your leg to prevent burning your leg (the cane will be that hot!) You can slightly over bend it and return the shaft to a strait position. This may help to keep a finished dart from returning to it’s original shape. Some bends are just to severe to do this, use your best judgment.

Now getting back to where we were. STRAIGHTEN BETWEEN THE NODES DOING EVERY OTHER ONE, don’t panic if it looks like a BANANA after the first step is finished… It should.

The reason for doing every other node is to prevent rebending a warm area, previously straitened. You must give the shaft time to cool before fooling with bends that are “too close” to the recently straitened area. A good tip is to work 3 or more shafts allowing each one time to cool between steps. IT IS ALSO IMPORTANT TO WORK ON THE SEGMENTS FIRST. IF YOU DO THE NODES FIRST,THEY WILL TEND TO BEND BACK AS YOU STRAIGHTEN THE ADJACENT SEGMENTS. TRUST ME ON THIS

As you reach step five, you can test your progress by holding the nock end and rolling the dart with your fingers. The dart should rotate with a balanced attribute. It should not “lope” as you turn it. Sorta like a cam shaft on a motor. They are not straight but they are balanced. You may not be able to get your first shafts perfect. You should be able to get a good “balance”. How perfect you get them is up to you, but remember that they must have balance.

 

HERE ARE SOME MORE HELPFUL HINTS.

  • It is best to start on your worst piece of cane. If you break it, keep it for practice and learn the limitations of the cane Don’t worry about small kinks in your finished darts, they generally have no affect on performance.
  • Huge bends that you are unable to get strait, you can correct by working the areas up or down from the problem spot to achieve a “balanced” dart.
  • Don’t scrape the natural wax coating off the dart. This offers good natural protection from the elements. The exception to this is the area to be fletched, I scrape it off and dip or spray this portion of the dart with a varnish or varathane to aid the fletching cement’s adhesion to the shaft. I use a cement called DUCO Household Cement. I think “wally world” or “came-apart” has it.
  • Your new darts do not have to be fore shafted. I glue in copper or stone points with five min. epoxy or “J-B Weld”.
  • The points do not have to fall on a node to be strong. I use unwaxed dental floss to wrap the shaft and the base of the point. I wrap them about 2 inches up the dart from the point, THIS PREVENTS THE SHAFT FROM CRACKING IN THE EVENT YOU HIT A CONCRETE WALL, AUTOMOBILE OR MASTODON SKULL.
  • Finally I coat the whole haft with epoxy.

THANKS, I HOPE THIS INFORMATION HELPS!!

– Mark Bracken

Fishing With Atlatls On The Rainbow River In Florida

Fifty-five inch gar landed.

The sun turned the sky to brilliant red as it sank beneath the tree line along the western shore of the Rainbow River. In the evening calm the clear water was glass smooth. I held my atlatl and harpoon dart ready in hopes I would get a clear shot at a fish. We could see occasional ripples cross the water around us, telling of fast moving small fish attempting to escape the clutches of some of the larger predatory species. But the sun reflecting off the top of the water kept everything below the surface hidden from view.

We talked for a while, waiting for the darkness to settle in. In the distance vultures coming in from every direction landed in a giant cypress tree that grew out of the shallow water of the flats. A symphony of alligators chortled in every tone belying their various sizes from small to very large. Earlier that day we had seen several large alligators sunning themselves on fallen logs. We weren’t here for alligators but anywhere you see gators you will see gar.

To spear gar with an atlatl you have to be able to see them well and they need to be in reasonably shallow water. At night with the Colman lanterns we have rigged to the bows of our boats you can see the gar as deep as twenty five feet swimming along like submarines barely wavering from their characteristic straight line course. The skin of a gar is like armor with the texture of rough sandpaper. To get a dart through this you need sharp points and enough energy to break through a quarter inch of bone like skin. It can be done with a bow but the arrow looses energy much faster than a harpoon dart. The added length and weight of the dart allow deeper penetration of the water, with enough energy left to penetrate the thick hide of the gar.

Leggs spotted the first giant gar as we entered a lagoon. He was not ready for it but I was. I had to cast at just at the right time to make the shot. I hit it right in the middle of its five foot long body and it took off. I let the line go as it retreated until I had nothing left but the float at the end of my line. I hung on as the fish dragged the boat several hundred yards. As the fish tired I pulled it closer to the boat. Leggs, being the bravest of us gaffed it into the boat. It slashed with its razor teeth just scratching the back of Leggs’ hand. He stowed it under the deck where it could not hurt us after we took several pictures.

It is an annual event for us to go to Florida in the middle of February to enjoy our atlatl adventures. We meet at Payne’s Prairie Campground where the annual Knap-in occurs. The park has great facilities and is perfectly situated for us to be able to go to the various places in North Florida to hunt and fish with our atlatls. Also Florida’s fish and game laws allow the use of the atlatl.

The sun drops below the treeline.
The sun drops below the treeline.

Red sky at night, sailor's delight.
Red sky at night, sailor's delight.

First atlatl shot with a harpoon...
First atlatl shot with a harpoon…

And first big gar, harpooned with an atlatl.
And first big gar, harpooned with an atlatl.

Fifty-five inch gar landed.
Fifty-five inch gar landed.

Andy with his gar. That's Micah behind him.
Andy with his gar. That's Micah behind him.

Introduction to Atlatls

Welcome to our introduction to atlatls! This is a quick introduction to atlatls for absolute newbies.


Atlatls are devices used to throw darts (spears). These devices were developed throughout the world by such civilizations as the Aztecs, Aborigines of Australia and Indonesia, the Incas, Inuits and many more. It is unknown exactly where the atlatl originated but archeological evidence shows that it has been in use for at least fifteen thousand years. It is possible that it was invented and reinvented many times over hundreds of thousands of years by countless cultures. The atlatl is a device that is used to lengthen the arm, adding a greater mechanical advantage than throwing a spear with one’s bare hands, which makes the darts able to fly much faster and with much more force, with less power provided by the thrower. Above is a picture of Robert Berg demonstrating the use of the atlatl.

The atlatl is usually about 15″ to 30″ long, and on one end has a hook of some sort, and the other end has some sort of hand hold. The hook on the end of the atlatl is typically made out of bone, wood or horn, and is designed to connect to the back end of the dart. Each dart has a small dimple at the end that fits the hook. The dart lays parallel to the atlatl, and at the handle end it is held in place by the fore finger and thumb. Some atlatls, such as the one in the picture above have rests for the dart, others don’t. The varieties and types of atlatls are almost endless, and each has different features.

The atlatl is held in the thrower’s preferred hand, with the dart parallel to the atlatl. The thrower points the dart at the intended target, steps into the direction of the shot, while the end of the atlatl swings around in a flipping motion, pushing the dart forward. As soon as the cast is started, the dart is released by the fingers holding it, while the atlatl itself is retained in the hand. Centrifugal force keeps the spur in contact with the knock dimple. Then, it is simply a matter of following through until the dart leaves the atlatl. Many different types of throwing styles have been developed by different atlatlists but they all are something like this.

One of the many atlatl designs available from Thunderbird Atlatl

Atlatls and darts vary in size, shape, material and quality. There are as many styles of atlatls and darts as there are atlatlists. The equipment of atlatlists varies from the simplest stick-like atlatls to elaborate, decorated atlatls that are pieces of art as well as deadly weapons. Weights are often used both to decorate atlatls and to improve their stability, balance, and accuracy. No atlatl is complete without a good set of matchinng darts. Darts range from 5 feet to 8 feet, but average about six feet long. Competition and hunting darts tend to be longer. Usually, the longer the dart, the more accurate it is — but the longer it is, the shorter the distance is that it can be cast. Atlatls, darts and parts to them have been made from many different kinds of materials including, wood, metal, stone, bone and cane. (Check out Thunderbird’s many different designs) Each has its purpose, form following the function of each of the various designs.

Atlatls are used by many enthusiasts for both target shooting and hunting. Atlatl hunting is legal in several states, including Missouri, Alabama, Nebraska and Alaska, but the majority of states do not yet allow it. Wild Boars are most often hunted, but many animals, from Fallow Deer to Caribou have been killed by the atlatl in recent times. Many Atlatl enthusiasts are lobbying their state governments to legalize atlatl hunting and fishing just like bow and firearm hunting is allowed. If you live in a place where atlatl hunting is illegal, contact your local state legislature and voice your support for legalizing atlatl hunting and fishing.

For those of you who are not into the hunting or fishing aspects of the atlatl, there are dozens of atlatl contests held throughout the world (See the shows section). There also is a World Atlatl Association, which we encourage you to join. Among the many benefits of the World Atlatl Association is the news letter that will help keep you abreast of the latest information about atlatls and events in the world. They also keep track of the top atlatl scores throughout the world in a contest called the International Standard Accuracy Contest (ISAC) that measures the skill level of each contestant, relitive to all the other contestants.With more and more atlatlists taking their first throws every day, and ever increasing interest being expressed , the sport is one of the fastest growing pastimes around.

Thank you for reading this introduction to atlatls!

Written by Peter Berg, 1999.