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Benefits of Atlatl Weights

I have been experimenting with atlatls well over a decade. In my experiments with the atlatl I have never been able to experience any improvement in speed, power, energy, penetration, or distance using an atlatl weight that couldn’t be attributed to the atlatlist throwing harder. It has, however been my experience that an atlatlist can maximize the energy put into the shot by developing good form and simply putting more exertion into it.

There is in fact a little energy stored in the bending shaft. The amount of energy this represents is so small compared with the total energy of the system that I contend that it is negligible. However, the atlatl weight and flexible shaft in fact do something positive.

My theory is that the atlatl weight adds stability to the cast by slowing it down a bit and keeping everything in line, more or less, depending on the delivery method used by the atlatlist. It all has to do with inertia. The weight slows down the cast at the beginning because inertia has to be overcome with energy. The critical initial moments of the cast determine the direction the dart will fly. Slowing this part down can gain the atlatlist a little time to move the body forward, without changing the direction of the dart too much. It also requires energy to overcome the inertia of the atlatl (including the weight and the weight of the dart) to push the dart out the critical initial alignment. Once the atlatl is in motion the extra mass keeps everything going in that same critical direction.

At the moment when the wrist begins its downward snap at the end of the cast, the direction of the dart has been established and from here out, power added to the system is the critical issue. This is where the flexibility of the atlatl releases the small amount of energy stored back into the cast. It’s not a lot but it’s nice to get it back. It’s a little like the interest they pay you on your checking account. It’s not a lot but it’s nice to get.

You can do a little experiment to see how much energy there really is by bracing your atlatl in a vise, knocking the dart and putting approximately the amount of force against and letting it go. The dart will jump a few inches at most which to me is fairly unimpressive compared to the amount of energy I can add to the system just by exerting myself a little more at the end of the cast.

(By the way, exerting yourself at the beginning of the cast is counter productive as it tends to deflect the initial direction of the dart. It also over flexes the dart and creates a lot of lateral motion which results in a lot of dart wobble.) Others have theorized that there is a relationship having to do with energy stored briefly during the shot in the bending dart shaft, and in the bending atlatl shaft. It is these together with the mystical properties of the atlatl weight, according to the popular theory which creates energy. I don’t think so. This idea defies logic and the laws of physics.

The closer to the distal end one places the weight, or the heavier the weight, the more energy is required to get the atlatl in motion, the weight being mass with inertia to overcome. It can be argued that that inertia gets transferred to the dart through spring tension release, but I submit to you that no matter what you do, you can’t get any more out of the system than you put into it.

Written by Robert Berg.

World’s Last Mammoth Discovered

Big Red, the mammoth
Photo by David H. Peterson of Cottage Grove, MN
Global Warming has caused a thawing in Northern Canada, Alaska and Siberia, releasing from time to time mammoths like the one pictured here from the tundra. This mammoth, named “Big Red” by locals, has been seen wandering around Minnisota.A band of atlatlists has been tracking Big Red for two years trying desperately to get a shot at this dangerous menace. Recently, it was thought to have taken up residence in a Minnesotan pagoda, but upon closer inspection was found to be inhabited by a very large ball of twine.

Ooga Booga Chief Spotted With Atlatl!

Dana Klein, Ooga Booga Chief
Photo by Chris Pappas of Hancock, NY.

Here, his worthiness Dana Klein, chief among chiefs, Evicessor to His Supreme Worthiness, Robbie Robinson, retired of the Secret Ear o’ Corn Ooga Booga Society enjoys an afternoon’s stroll upon the Sacred Element, with atlatl and dart in hand. What do you suppose he carries in his pocket? Could it be the sacred corn?

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.