Tag Archives: Atlatl Hunting

Atlatl hunting featured in new video story

Atlatl hunting is featured in this Playboy Magazine video story. The video features a lot of our atlatl friends. Author Dennis Nishi did a great job on the story.

Look for Brian and Dawn Wagner of Missouri in the beginning of the video. Brian has successfully taken deer with the atlatl. Dawn is working very diligently on getting a deer with the atlatl. We predict that will happen in the fall of 2015.

The video also shows Professor John Whittaker of Grinnell College, Ron Mertz , members of the Missouri Atlatl Association, and World Atlatl Association. If you check out Brian Wagner’s tshirt during the video it is one of David Carrigan’s popular atlatl tshirts. Dave is currently working on a new atlatl design. Some of Thunderbird Atlatl’s hunting darts were in the video. Check out the video and enjoy.
Andy with his gar. That's Micah behind him.
Some of hunting and fishing photos from past years.
Gary's Boar

Thunderbird Atlatl’s Memorial to Friends who Rediscovererd the Arts of Hunting and Fishing with the Atlatl

Wendel Adams, my good friend who passed away several years ago was a fellow atlatlist who helped in the Great Atlatl Hunting Experiment where we relearned how to use atlatls for hunting big game. Wendel was from Kentucky. He was an amazing machinist and an avid outdoorsman.

The art of atlatl hunting had been lost and after about a decade of experimentation we figured out how to do it again. We also shared atlatl fishing trips in Florida and Kentucky.

Wendel helped me build my first dart tapering machine when he and his wife Bobbi came to visit us in New York. I think it was 2001 or 2002. Not to forget, the many times Bobbi and Wendel helped make my life and my family’s life much more comfortable on the road through their gracious hospitality.

Our dear friend and fellow atlatlist the late Wendel Adams.

Our dear friend and fellow atlatlist the late Wendel Adams.

I also remember the late Lou Becker, an atlatlist and boyer from Michigan who was an inspiration for me also in the effort to discover how the atlatl may have been used for hunting. I met Lou in the early 1990s when he was experimenting and making atlatls. Lou was a kind and gentle friend who shared his enthusiasm for hunting and learning with me. Along with his many other responsibilities, Lou served as President of the Michigan Atlatl Association.

Good friend and fellow atlatlist and boyer the late Lou Becker.

Good friend and fellow atlatlist and boyer the late Lou Becker.

The Development of Thunderbird Atlatl Hunting Darts

I have been making and using hunting darts for use with atlatls for a couple of decades. When a few friends and I started doing this in the early 90s we were aware of the fact that atlatls and darts must have been used for hunting in ancient times but we were unable to find information about how darts were made from living sources.

Determining the Diameter of Darts from the Archaeological Record
When I started designing atlatls and darts in the late 1980s I had very little to go by other than a few books and articles I read at the library. At the time there were few if any people with any atlatl hunting experience to ask how to do it. I found a few other people who were interested in the same task and so we joined forces. Who these alatl pioneers were, is the subject of another article.

Bob Berg of Thunderbird Atlatl has been developing equipment for atlatl hunting since the early 1990s.

Bob Berg of Thunderbird Atlatl has been developing equipment for atlatl hunting since the early 1990s.

We were left to gleaning information from the archaeological record. We started by looking at collections of projectile points that belonged to friends and museums. What we noticed was that there was a large variety of different sizes of points and point styles. We measured the space between the notches on many points and came to the conclusion that darts must have been anywhere from 3/8 to 5/8 inches at the point where they were hafted. Using these measurements, I started making darts of many different diameters.

Establishing the Ideal Diameter to Length Ratio of Darts
Deciding how long to make the darts was accomplished by starting with shafts that were 8 foot long and fletching them. I cut off 2 inches at a time from the front end and cast the darts and noted how far they flew by throwing them on a football field marked for yardage. From that experiment I worked out the optimal diameter to length ratio. Beginning at the small end of the spectrum I noticed that 3/8 inch darts made of hardwoods like maple, ash and cherry wood seemed to work best at lengths like 48 to 54 inches. At the large end of the spectrum darts of 5/8 inch in diameter seemed to work best from 80 to 90 inches long.

Experiments with Wood Types, Tapering and Heat Treating Dart Shafts
A good friend, the late Wendell Adams of Louisville KY helped me rig up a large belt sander to taper darts. We experimented with them on hunting trips in Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Alabama, hunting wild boar with our experimental equipment. The tapered darts we were making at that time were quite difficult to make requiring a lot of hand work. From 2000 until last summer our standard hunting darts were a straight 9/16” by 7 feet ash weighing 8 ounces. We only made tapered darts for those who requested them. Two years ago I built a new dart tapering machine that requires less effort by the operator to rotate the darts.

Improved Hunting Darts
The new version of hunting dart flies better than our previous versions. They are made from pine, 7 foot long, tapered from 9/16ths to 7/16ths inch. They weigh about 6 ounces and have a spine of about 7 pounds. They are faster than the old 8 ounce ash darts but have better penetrating power than ultra-light darts. The pine darts tend to stay straighter than hardwood darts and require less maintenance time keeping them straight. Many of my atlat friends in Europe are using pine shafts, so I thought I would give it a try. Further experiments reveled that heat treating the darts improved stiffness. Experiments that I have done in the last few years, revealed new solutions to the complex problem of balancing weight, spine, taper and the type of wood used.

Seven foot hunting darts manufactured in the Thunderbird Atlatl shop. Darts are shipped with field points for practice. Hunting points are included in the package to be attached when ready for use.

Seven foot hunting darts manufactured in the Thunderbird Atlatl shop. Darts are shipped with field points for practice. Hunting points are included in the package to be attached when ready for use.

Dart Points for Hunting and Practice
Thunderbird Atlatl darts have shaped tips designed to accept field points that can be easily switched to Ace Broadheads. This makes it possible to practice with the same set of darts that will be used for hunting. Our Thunderbird Atlatl dart tips are tapered to fit almost any traditional broadhead on the market so you are not forced to use a proprietary type of point you can only get from one source. If they break when you hit hard objects like rocks or trees, they usually break off just behind the dart point so you lose only 1/2 inch in re-tipping your darts.

The Future of Atlatl Hunting
I doubt that the last word on atlatl hunting darts has been written. It will be through the efforts of people like me who have an undying interest in atlatls, who will take on the task of re-discovering an ancient past through experiment and experiential archaeology. The future of atlatl hunting has been and will be forged by many people who will take up the task of learning the skills necessary to accomplish the goal that I and many of my friends, colleagues and customers have had, which is to develop atlatl hunting so it is universally accepted as one of the many choices that hunters can legally make. As for my own part, I produce atlatl hunting equipment that has evolved and improved over two decades and will continue to be improved.-Bob Berg

Atlatl and Dart Sets, unique, memorable and practical gifts! Order Today!

Are you looking for a unique gift that will tie in history, sport, exercise, science and fun? Well, an atlatl and dart set combines all that and more! Plus atlatls and darts can be used by people of all ages!

Atlatls and darts are a great inter-generational sport. People from youth to elders and everybody in between enjoy atlatl competitions and games throughout the United States.

Thunderbird Atlatl is proud to offer our wide variety of atlatls, darts, atlatl kits and dart kits for holiday gift giving. Order now, before November 30 and beat the holiday crunch. We make atlatl sets that have been tailored to various kinds of atlatl users. We offer tried and true hunting equipment and fishing harpoons as well as target equipment designed for individuals at every level of atlatl competition from absolute beginners to advanced competitors. We also make equipment especially designed for group activities like Boy Scouts, 4H clubs or other youth and adult oriented organizations. Atlatl clubs and organizations abound including the World Atlatl Association and many regional groups. And you could always start your own group.

Our atlatls and darts are truly made in the United States from locally grown hardwood and materials. All of our atlatls have been designed by us and made in our shop. We pride ourselves on our over 20 years of service to the atlatl community.

Atlatls, a sister sport to archery are delightful gifts because they tie in so many interests together into one package from flintknapping, competitions, atlatl hunting, atlatl fishing, and survival skills. In the primitive skills arena, atlatls are often part of workshops that combine fire by friction, cordage making, flintknapping and fletching. Atlatls also have an interesting connection to history and pre-history.

Atlatls require a shorter range than archery and it is easy to set up a little competition area in a back yard or field near your home. Atlatl ranges can be set up in areas as small as alleys between buildings or inside larger buildings with 12 feet or more of ceiling height. You just have to make sure that an errant shot will not damage anything behind your target.

Thunderbird Atlatl Bob Berg’s expertise covers over twenty years of experimentation, learning and teaching throughout the atlatl world. Bob has taught hundreds of workshops throughout the United States and Europe.

Check out our various atlatls and give us a call at 800-836-4520 or email us at contact@thunderbirdatlatl.com with questions.

We look forward to hearing from you. Shown below are some of our atlatls and darts. Our darts come in five, six and seven foot sizes. Fletching colors vary depending on supply.

Thunderbird Atlatl offers a wide variety of atlatls.

Thunderbird Atlatl offers a wide variety of atlatls and darts.


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