Atlatlists from the Northeast have been slowly but surely working their way toward getting the atlatl accepted as a big game hunting weapon.
Russ Guthrie of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania has been leading the way. Russ has the unique ability to bring the right people together at the negotiating table. It is an up hill climb as this small special interest group attempts to negotiate governmental hurdles to get the atlatl accepted. Atlatlists want to join with their fellow hunters in the fields and forests of Pennsylvania as accepted members of the hunting community.
Missouri has recently joined the short list of states where atlatl hunting is allowed. Atlatlists are now allowed to hunt small game in Missouri. We atlatl hunters and fishermen and women hope this effort continues and spreads to other states.
There is a rock shelter in southwestern Pennsylvania called Meadowcroft. There is evidence there of continuous habitation for at least 15,000 years. Let’s conservatively estimate the average amount of hunter/gatherers living in Pennsylvania at say 1000 people. If these people averaged 10 deer killed per person per year that would mean 135 million deer killed over the last 14, 500 years with atlatls.
The bow came into existence in PA about 1200 years ago. I’m going to estimate Native Americans may have killed 5 million deer during the next seven hundred years with bows and arrows. Five hundred years ago the first Europeans laid their eyes on what would become Pennsylvania but when William Penn got here in the late 1600s his people started to hunt and kill deer regularly. In 1721 the first game laws were promulgated. Deer became rare in PA by 1900 and hunting them trailed off until 1915 when deer started coming back into PA. I’m going to estimate that during that time another five million deer were taken.
It took a half century to harvest the first million deer using modern weapons.
Then from 1950 to 1970 another million and a half deer were killed. From 1970 to 1990 another 4 million deer were killed. Since 1990 another six and a half million deer were killed. A grand total of 23 million deer have been taken with bows and arrows and guns. By these extremely conservative figures, the atlatl is only ahead by 110 million deer kills in the state of Pennsylvania.
I got these figures from the Pennsylvania Game Commission and estimates of prehistoric habitation in Pennsylvania from a talk by Dr Adivasio at the Meadowcroft Rock shelter in 2003. So tell me now that the atlatl is not lethal enough to kill a deer.
I just got back from an atlatl fishing expedition out in western Kentucky. The first night out, we went with Joe Ewing on his Super Galactic Chronosynclastic Magnatronic Fan Boat. It was a great experience mixing the high tech fishing boat with the atlatl. We went both forward and backward in time to capture living creatures of the deep in the Cumberland River.
Joe piloted the boat over the rippled surface of the dark water then would give us the signal: ďready?Ē When the lights went on, darts plunged into the water usually creating a piscatorial eruption and an instant tightening of the retrieval lines.
Soon there was only the little round red and white float attached to the end of the line in my left hand. When the fish was large enough or strong enough sometimes I had to release the float and retrieve it later after the fish was out of fight. The line made a zinging sound as the fish attempted to make a retreat for the bottom but the barbs of the harpoon did not release the hold until the catch was safely in the boat.
We landed Spoonbill Catfish, Asian Carp, and Buffalo Fish all edible species of top feeding, plankton nourished fish. The Spoonbill Catfish isnít a catfish at all but an ancient fish probably more related to the shark than anything else. It has cartilage vertebrae and no bones. The slimy smooth skin like a catfish and lack of bones makes the Spoonbill far easier than a catfish to clean and prepare for the table. After gutting and removing the head, I sliced the meaty body like a fishy loaf of bread in pieces about an inch thick each. I grilled some of the steaks and deep fried some in olive oil. My favorite Cajon seasonings and a garnish of lemon brought dinner up to kingly status. Glasses of chardonnay rang like small bells over the table as we retold our hunting and fishing stories for the umpteenth time.
I reminisce with great satisfaction the many atlatl hunting and fishing trips Iíve gone on over the years with my friends from Kentucky. The Adams Family and Leggs White who survive my good friend Wendell (better known as Big Wooly) who passed on a couple of years ago form the core of the people I enjoy spending the weekend of the Kentucky Derby with. Itís a tradition I hate to miss.