Spring 2003! Another Atlatl Season Under Way!

Spring Fever is hitting the atlatl world! Atlatl contests started in January but they become more and more plentiful as we move into the warmer weather. Check out the World Atlatl Association website for a complete listing of upcoming contests.

Thunderbird Atlatl had some earlier adventures in Feburary and the beginning of March in Florida, Georgia and Alabama. We will be attending shows in Georgia, New York, Pennsylvania and Michigan over the next few months.

Atlatl Dart Making Instructions

Finished Dart. This dart is made from a 9/16×7′ Thunderbird Atlatl dart shaft, 3 Gateway full length fletches, artificial sinew and Elmers carpenter glue

A properly made dart is the most important part of a spear throwing set. These instructions will take you through the process step by step. Wooden shafts available from Thunderbird are made from straight grained hardwood. However, even the straightest grained wood may need a little straightening. This is accomplished by simply bending the shaft in the opposite direction of the bend. This is most easily accomplished when the dart is relatively new. After several months the shaft will season in and become harder to straighten without heating. If this is the case heat it over a heat source such as a kitchen stove and carefully apply pressure in the opposite direction of the bend (be careful not to burn the wood or your hand). I recommend the use of thick leather gloves for this procedure. Apply light constant pressure, checking often to see if the shaft is straight.

The heat will allow the fibers on the inside of the curve to stretch and the fibers on the opposite side to compress. Cooling will allow the wood to “set” and remain straight. Be patient and work back and forth over the full length of the shaft until all the curves and bends are straightened out. Be careful to not char or burn the wood. The tip of the dart is already tapered for the field points enclosed in your kit. The top of the dart is also finished for using it with your atlatl. Finish the shaft with a waterproof wax or oil. Avoid finish at the tip and where the feathers will be glued or plan to scrape it away before glue is applied.

The best adhesive to apply the field tip with is “amber” hot glue, used in a commonly available hot glue gun. Put the hot glue on the wood, turning the dart shaft to apply it evenly. Heat the field tip at the open end , enough to melt the glue when it is applied to the tapered end of the dart, turning it almost as if you were tightening a screw. The glue will set when it is cool. Wait until the glue is totally cool to the touch before casting it, or you will loose the tip. Do not put the glue into the hollow part of the field tip first as the glue will harden before you can attach it to the wood.

Trim three feathers to the desired length, leaving a ½ ” tab at each end where the vanes are trimmed off. Tie the feathers to the dart with a 4 foot length of artificial sinew or thin thread. The strand of artificial sinew will split into four parts that are perfect for fletching. Be careful to separate it along the natural seams or it will “fuzz up”. Start by determining the location of the front end of the fletching. Allow 1 ½’ from the back end of the dart to the back end of the fletching. Use a dab of glue to embed the thread at the front end of the fletching. Roll just enough of the thread onto the dart until it “catches”. Then place the first feather with the front tab centered over the thread. Wrap it twice and add the next feather the same way, then finish with the third. The three feathers should be evenly spaced around the round dart. After covering the tabs with thread, start wrapping the thread through the vane in a helical fashion. The best results are achieved by wrapping at the same angle as the vane leans back from the quill. Finish by covering the back tab with thread. Whip the end with a loop of thread, pull it through and snip off the excess. Smear a daub of glue on the thread at each end. – Bob Berg


Bob Berg With Several Finished Darts. Here is the result of several hours of dart making by Bob Berg. Two of these shafts were painted black.

Fallow Deer Hunt


The colors of Autumn ornamented the hillsides as seven intrepid atlatl hunters came into a wide open expanse of short grasses and tall goldenrod. The forest on either side of the field sheltered the fallow deer which were our quarry. On our mind was one in particular that Doug had hit earlier with an atlatl dart. The task at hand was to find the deer which was last seen a quarter mile away with the dart in its back. We fanned out to try to find either the deer or the dart which would give us a starting point from which to track it.

Fallow deer can run like the wind and traverse a hundred yards in about 5 seconds when they are alarmed. We had no idea where Doug’s deer ran other than a general direction.. It was by good luck and perseverance that we managed to find the dart near the edge of the field.

Doug mentioned to me that it was the same dart that he had scored the 94 xx in the ISAC a couple of months earlier. This was his lucky dart that we were examining for traces of blood that would tell the story of what had happened. From the evidence I was looking at, things didn’t look so good for
finding that deer soon. The shaft had only penetrated the depth of the 2 inch stone point that was now missing. I looked at the other stone pointed dart that Doug had and noticed that it was not particularly sharp and its hafting had been loosened by the rigors of the hunt. If the other one was like that, the deer would live to see an other day. I guess this was the deer’s lucky dart also.

Never the less we needed to find out for sure what happened to that deer because it is the responsibility of any hunter to do so. Doug said it was a long shot perhaps 40 or 50 yards or more. But the dart only weighed 3 1/2 ounces. For several hours we observed the herd to see if we could locate the deer. On two or three occasions we managed to see a deer with a small patch of dried blood on its side. The dart point was apparently lodged in the meaty part of the loin above the ribcage. This is kind of wound is far from fatal and this deer would heal eventually.

We were just about finished with the hunt and about to go home when a line of fallow does came toward me at full speed trying desperately to avoid myself and Doug who was about 400 feet away. They chose a path exactly half the distance between us. I knew the lead doe’s path will be followed faithfully by the remaining herd no matter what else happens so I quickly closed the distance between me and the line until I was just within range and cast a dart at a high angle and as hard as I could, leading the deer I hoped to hit by thirty yards. The shot, although very long, felt good as I watched the deer and dart converge 55 yards distant. I am sure that Doug had experienced such a scene earlier that day.

The dart severed both jugglers in the neck and the deer went down seconds after it got into the woods. Some would say it was a lucky shot, and so it was if you believe in such things. If you were to calculate the odds of whether a person would hit such a distant target moving at such a speed, the chances would be so small that it would be better to buy a lottery ticket. I have taken these long shots several times before and made them! I have also seen other people do the same. There is something working here that seems to be in the realm of the supernatural, but its not. This phenomenon is something that we as human beings share that is just a small step past primal instinct on the evolutionary scale, which I believe has in part, led to our success as a species. Its not a mental skill that you can turn on or off,like the ability to do massive chess calculations or planing a camping trip to the Grand Canyon, but it is something that is very likely to happen if you let it. Its the stage to which the Japanese martial artist aspires, except with atlatl and darts instead of a yumi.

Doug’s shot was also just such a long one but unfortunately his dart was too light and possibly not sharp enough or fastened to the shaft well enough to deliver a killing hit to the vitals of the deer. The failure to kill the deer had to do with gear rather than skill. Doug would surely have been a successful hunter if he were hunting every day for a living as his ancestors did on the plains of Eastern Europe ten thousand years ago. As far as I’m concerned he was as successful a hunter as I on this particular hunt because he actually hit a fallow deer, which we have found out is not an easy thing to do. Doug is the only one that I know of in the world other than myself who has hit one of these elusive animals with an atlatl dart. I gave the meat to Doug and Lori because they are in fact King and Queen Mother of the meat rack. Besides, Doug needs the protein to help him develop more of that super primal instinct.

Bob Berg

New News Script

A new news script has been added to this website which allows for the owners of Thunderbird Atlatl to update their website without the help of a third party. This will hopefully result in a more up-to-date and enjoyable site for all visitors!

Practice, Perseverence, Patience, Provides Pork

An Atlatl Hunting Experience by Len Riemersma

March 2001

I’ve been throwing darts at various targets for over five years. I am not an excellent thrower by any means. To be quite honest I wasn’t positive that I had reached the level of expertise necessary to successfully hunt with the atlatl.

The scheduled date for the hunt was the last weekend in March. In Wisconsin the months prior to this are not quite favorable to warming up the throwing arm outside. Fortunately the sportsman club I belong to allowed me to practice indoors.

The darts I used for the hunt were made of bamboo. These needed to be straightened for optimal flight. The ends where I insert the points were reinforced so they wouldn’t split upon impact, lessening the penetration of the point. The points I decided to use were made of steel. One style was a home made point measuring 1 1/2 inches wide and 2 1/2 inches long. The other inserted point was a Zwichy four blade point that was purchased. Both proved very effective.

The atlatl I choose to use was made by Victor Ahearn of Michigan. He makes different styles and sizes of atlatls. The one I used is a very flexible thrower made of purple heart wood.

In Wisconsin, the atlatl is not yet recognized as an effective hunting tool. So I was limited to hunting on a game farm in Door County, established by Jeff Kiehnau. He stocks Russian Boar Hogs and other exotic game animals.

The morning was blustery and cold. The temperature had dropped into the low teens and stayed there all day. As I stepped into the woods I thought back on my archery hunting experience and how I am going to find an area clear enough of branches to cast my dart at the target. If I find such a spot, the animal wasn’t just going to walk up and present itself for an easy shot, like the targets I had practiced on. Locating the Russian boar hog was easy, finding an open area to throw from proved to be more difficult. Finally the moment arrived . I had pursued the animal for a hour through the hard woods, onto an open field and back into the pine trees. I was standing along side the edge of the pines when into a small clearing the animal appeared. I made my throw , the dart on its way found a branch and glanced upward and behind my target about 20 yards. My heart sank, I had missed. The animal seemed to smile at me and wander off into the pines.

The Russian boar hog again presented itself a few minutes later. I had one dart in hand and the other sticking in the ground 40 yards away. My stepbrother Chris, who was filming the hunt, volunteered to retrieve the dart I had thrown earlier. I wonder if this is why earlier man group hunted? The dart was cast and made a good solid hit. The pig turned and started to stagger and run. The dart sticking into him crashing alongside trees worked itself loose. The point was still embedded deep inside the animal. Having the second dart returned, I made a second throw this dart also found it’s mark and entered deep into the target. The Russian boar hog staggered and dropped. The dart had entered and traveled 20 plus inches through the cavity, lungs and into the rib cage , a good kill shot. I had done what my ancestor before me had done to survive. Hunting with the atlatl was a rewarding experience and accomplishment.

-Len Riemersma

Atlatl Hunting Boar Kill by Len Riemersma