Bob Berg of Thunderbird Atlatl invited me to go on an atlatl hunt for fallow deer. I’ve hunted whitetails in New York with both bow and gun for over twenty years, and hunted the Rockies for mulies, too. I have been competing with the atlatl for the last three years, but never hunted with it. When Bob told me this hunt was on the house, I couldn’t say yes fast enough! Bob is starting a guiding service for atlatlists and traditional archers, and he wanted to use a guinea pig (me) to make sure everything was ready for paying customers.
The hunt took place on an ex-dairy farm near Candor, New York, the town where Bob lives. The main purpose of the farm is to raise venison for restaurants. The 400+ acre farm is surrounded by a fence 10 feet high, with interior fencing dividing the land in to smaller parcels. The hunting parcel is about 125 acres. Only atlatls and bows are allowed. I’ve never hunted inside a fence, and did have some reservations about doing so. Any notion that this would be too easy was soon erased, however.
Bob took me to stand number one. It utilized some standing trees, with branches piled up for concealment. After I got settled in, Bob left to start the drive. It wasn’t long before the first deer came in to view. Man, were there a lot of eyes! These fallow deer travel in groups, from two to twenty+, with the larger groups being more common. Each group is led by an older and very wary doe, and they travel in single file. I was hunting for a doe, as the bucks are considerably more expensive and my free hunt wouldn’t be so cheap if I took a buck! Some of those racks were mighty tempting, however. Anyway, it didn’t take long for the first group to spot me, and make tracks. When the next group arrived, I was already in the throwing position (and spent the better part of the hunt like that!). It took a few minutes before a doe presented me with a reasonable opportunity, and I took it. I don’t know if it was the feeling of claustrophobia that I had in the blind, or just a fear of being spotted, but I didn’t get the throwing arm all of the way back. The dart fell short (and I got a dandy flute to run from the tip back to the base on the burlington snyder point when it hit a rock). The second throw was deflected by a branch, but the point on that dart survived. Bob came in, and it was time for plan B (after Bob and I built a new blind at another location).
Bob led me to a spot in a hedgerow. I was concerned about the cover being a little sparse, but I have had good results with the camo pattern I was wearing, so gave it a try. Bob conducted another drive. I saw dozens of deer, but my concerns about being exposed were valid, and I wasn’t presented with any real good shots. I may have been able to throw at deer over towards the fence, but there is a gentleman’s rule forbidding that, as it certainly isn’t sporting. So the next idea was to use the new blind that we had constructed. We sacrificed some concealment for more throwing freedom with this stand, but it was in the woods and was better than the hedgerow stand for remaining unnoticed. Bob again drove deer to me, and after a time a doe gave me another chance. Once again, my dart was deflected by a branch, and the deer ran off. It wasn’t long before another group wandered in, and a doe became a target. This time I hit a tree just a few feet out, at a surprising height! Then I remembered photos of atlatlers in action which show that the dart is quite high early in its trajectory. The photos also show considerable flexing of the dart as it flies. This flexing means that a dart needs more room without obstructions than one would think. I learned that it is very difficult indeed to effectively use an atlatl in wooded conditions. Each of the four throws would have been very reasonable archery shots. I didn’t get a chance to make a bigger fool of myself, as it was starting to get dark, and the hunt was over.
I didn’t get a deer, but I learned a lot about using the atlatl in earnest. And I had great fun! There was very little time when there weren’t deer around. It was the most fun I’ve ever had afield. I highly recommend booking a hunt with Bob. With atlatl hunting being illegal almost universally, this type of preserve hunt is about the only option for atlatl hunters. But it is very challenging option! Yes, the deer are in a fence, but they are mighty wary and tough to get when using primitive equipment. While the 125 acres gives the deer plenty of room to evade and escape the hunter, the fence does make it possible for your guide to keep you in the action throughout your hunt. And should you get a poor hit, the confined area will allow your animal to be found very quickly, which is more humane than a similar situation on free ranging animals. Keep in mind that I just hunted for part of an afternoon. Paid hunts will offer more time afield and plenty of opportunity for success. Atlatlers should practice in the woods beforehand, and not just in the open like many of us do for competition practice. Also, if you can’t stand to risk your knapped points, modern broadheads are allowed. Bob offers a wide range of prices (you can save some money by hunting in a group) and has some lodging opportunities that range from camping to bed and breakfast. He also has some combination atlatl workshops and hunts. Contact Bob at this email address!
Written by Scott Van Arsdale