Category Archives: Beginners

Articles for absolute beginners.

Speed & Penetration: Atlatl vs. Hand Thrown Dart

In this short video, Bob Berg shows why using an atlatl is an improvement over throwing spears with your bare hand. See the difference in speed and penetration!

Getting Your Atlatl Equipment Ready for the Season!

Okay atlatlists, spring is just around the corner! It’s time to get that equipment out and get ready to go to some atlatl events or just have some fun on your own!

Check your darts and get them ready. You can easily “fluff” out the feathers on your darts by holding them over a steaming kettle of water. It’s amazing how this simple procedure will put new life into your dart fletchings! Hold the dart over the steam and gently preen the feathers into shape.

Straightening your wood darts you have purchased from Thunderbird Atlatl, can be accomplished by gently bending the dart in the direction you wish to straighten it. For a more permanent fix or for a stubborn bend, apply heat to the dart with a flame such as a propane torch or kitchen range making it easier to bend the dart in the direction you want. After it cools the dart “sets” and will usually remain straight. If you have any questions, just give us a call at 800-836-4520 and we will be happy to help you!

FREE Atlatl Fever DVD with $200 or more in merchandise orders! Order $200 or more (not including shipping) of atlatl merchandise and we will send you a free copy of our Atlatl Fever DVD through midnight March 20 (Pacific Standard Time)

Here are a few photos of Bob Berg’s workshop in Micanopy, Florida with the Florida Outdoors Ministry program. Thanks to Frank Williams for hosting.

Comparison of Various Atlatl Materials

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.

-Bob Berg

Atlatls in America: A Brief Overview

The word “atlatl” is the Aztec word for spear thrower. Our history in North America was greatly affected by the Native Central Americans’ use of the atlatl.

Bernal Diaz’s account of the conquest of New Spain, what is now Mexico, talked extensively of the use of atlatls by the natives, both those on the side of Montezuma and those who allied themselves with the conquistador Cortez.

Archaeologists and anthropologists both have recorded extensive use of the atlatl by Native Americans, who still were using mostly stone tools and stone tipped projectile weapons at the time of European contact. Atlatls continue to be used today in the Amazon Basin as well as in Alaska. Apparently there has been a resurgence in the use of the atlatl among native Alaskans in the Nome area and in the Aleutians and Kodiak Island.

The Conquest of New Spain (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
by Bernal Diaz del Castillo (Author), John M. Cohen (Introduction, Translator) “BERNAL DIAZ DEL CASTILLO

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.