Wooden darts are easy for both experienced and first timers to make. They are reasonably priced always available and very durable. Some wooden dart materials that are lighter than ash show promise for target use. Hemlock is very light yet strong. I also like spruce darts. from time to time I make darts from hemlock and spruce but I don’t always have them in stock. The softer woods are easily worked with hand tools so customizing them is easy. A very good dart can be made by splicing an ash shaft to a hemlock shaft using a scarf joint. The splice should be about 1/3 of the length of the shaft with the ash in the front and the hemlock in the back.
One should avoid splicing shafts in the middle or at the quarter points of darts because harmonic motion lead to strange flexing patterns when the dart is shot.
Heavy ash darts are good for accuracy from 1 to 20 yards, (excellent for accuracy at 2 to 15 yards), poor for distance, and excellent for penetration and very durable, require periodic straitening but once seasoned retain straightness well, killing power 10, consistency is 9, authenticity is 8 in the South and 10 in the North, hafting is easy and can be done in a large variety of ways, finishing is easy. Ash darts are very good for hunting. Setting up ash darts for hunting has the advantage of the possibility to make a full set of practice darts that match your full set of hunting darts. One advantage of heavier wooden dart shaft is that they have a greater dampening of the helical undulating harmonic oscillation that is caused by the pattern that the atlatl spur pushes against the dart as it accelerates it forward. In simpler terms it is the corkscrew wobble that is decreased because of the properties of the wood that is caused by the weird way that an atlatl launches a dart.
A good way to keep and maintain a set of hunting darts is to get two identical sets. Put broadheads on one set and field points on the other. As you use up your hunting darts your practice darts can easily be converted into hunting darts.
Cane darts are good for accuracy at longer distances, fair for distance throwing and medium for penetration and not very durable, retain straightness but are difficult to straighten initially; killing power 5 consistency is 1, authenticity is 8 (1 in the north), hafting is more challenging, finish is not necessary but if wanted it is challenging to apply. Cane darts can be made for hunting by using a heavy fore shaft improving killing power and penetration. Cane darts are expensive and difficult to get. We sell raw cane shafts when good quality shafts are available. (call for availability: 800 836 4520) A typical cane dart takes experienced dart makers up to several hours to make because of the time necessary to straighten them. Cane darts vary so much from shaft to shaft that matched sets are sometimes difficult to come up with.
Auminum darts are good for distance, not so good for accuracy and poor for penetration. Dampening of the helical wobble is non existent. Aluminum darts wiggle all the way to the target. They are durable and always straight, killing power on a scale of 1 to 10 rates a 2, consistency on a scale of 1 to 10 is 10, authenticity on a scale of 1 to 10 is 1, hafting is accomplished mechanically, finish is always the same. Aluminum darts can be weighted and improved by filling the front half with wood or another aluminum arrow shaft. Aluminum darts are expensive.
Composite materials like fiberglass and carbon fiber can be made into darts that score a 10 in consistency, straightness, and durability. Accuracy is good. Dampening characteristics of composite materials are poor. Most composite darts I have seen have been very light so they would not be good for hunting or fishing. It would be possible to make composite darts that would be good for hunting and fishing but the obstacle is that they are the most expensive of darts to make and hunting darts tend to get destroyed.
You can have fun with any dart but as for me, I prefer wood darts. If I practice with them I get real good at controlling them. I have shot in the high 80s and once in the 90s in the ISAC with heavy darts for many years so they can be accurate up to the 20 meter distance. The real test of wooden darts is that I have killed 20 or more big game animals with them. Many of my customers have reported success with my wooden darts.
Just some thoughts about the atlatl.