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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

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

Bob Berg’s Boar Hunting Saga

Humans have been using atlatls for thousands of years to hunt and fish. The following is a story about my adventures using replicas of this anchient weapon to hunt wild boar:

I have been hunting with this ancient style weapon for several years and have developed modern boar hunting equipment for the purpose using designs inspired by the cultures who used it in the past. click here for more information, on hunting equipment. I have become an avid wild boar hunter using atlatls.

The atlatl is a hand thrown archery weapon that has surprising killing power, in spite of its simplicity. It consists of a five to seven foot dart, which is like a large arrow that is cast using the assistance of a two foot long stick that has a handle on one end and a hook on the other. The hook engages the dart in a small cone shaped dimple in the back end. The stick or atlatl adds propulsive force to the dart by force applied to it by the shooter’s arm and hand. It is about seven to ten times more powerful than a spear thrown by hand. It is also more accurate than a hand thrown spear, accurate enough out to about 25 yards to kill wild boar.

I believe it all started in ernest in 1993 at an atlatl contest in Apalachin N.Y. when I met Lou Becker, a fellow atlatl enthusiast who had come down from Michigan to compete at the Eastern Seaboard Contest. We were all pretty green then and knew very little of the potential of the atlatl. I was experimenting with all sorts of dart materials and atlatl designs. I hadn’t yet developed a good form nor much of my instinctive shooting abilities. I couldn’t yet make a very good dart point out of flint, though I tried, desperately almost every day.

Little did I know that the weekend of the Eastern Seaboard Atlatl Contest would become my epiphany, as I had started to fall into stride with several other atlatlists, including Gary Fogelman, an alatlist and Indian artefacts collector and the author of Indian Artefacts Magazine, and of course Lou Becker of Bow Sport Archery. Before this weekend the primitive weapon thing for me was still just a passing fancy. I have gone through many passing fancies in my life which included fly fishing, boat building, and black powder hunting, but this atlatl thing was way more than a smoldering ember in my tinder bundle. This little hobby eventually was to become a roaring bonfire, consuming whole trunks of mighty ash trees, herds of wild boar, and flint boulders.

One of the embers that kindled that fire was that Lou invited me to go to Georgia with him and several other Michigan atlatl enthusiasts on a wild boar hunt. Man what an idea! Hunting wild boar with an atlatl really appealed to me. I think what made it so appealing was the fact that I could put all the primitive skills that I had been learning into one experimental package and really find out what it would feel like to hunt like paleo man.

Another one of those embers formed when I was probably about ten years old. I found an arrowhead on the newly seeded ball field at the Apalachin Elementary School. I remember taking that arrowhead to bed with me. I couldn’t let it out of my hand it had such a hold on my psyche. I was awe struck by its simple rough beauty. I truly felt a kinship grew between me and the maker of that artefact. Years later a wild boar hunt would let me see into the mind of the maker of that point.

At the wild boar hunt in Vidalia, Georgia I met Norm Blaker and Steve Coleman. Norm was the first real master flintknapper, and Steve was the first truly instinctive atlatl shooter I had met up to that point. What I learned from them I would incorporate into my atlatl and dart designs, as well as my style of shooting and hunting.

My dart bounced out of the little fifty pound boar that I hit with my dart. The flint point was way too dull, and the shaft too light to achieve the penetration needed to kill. After I went home from that hunt, I adjusted and re-tooled. I made better points and heavier shafts, this time of split ash rather than spruce. I made them a little larger in diameter and a little stiffer. After more practice with flint knapping my new points were sharp, and thin enough to haft properly, and they were hafted using hide glue and dogbane fiber for the next time I would go boar hunting.

The hunt at Cold Brook was more of a test of my equipment than a test of my hunting skill. The guys I took with me did the real hunting. I just did the shooting. Jim Shuler and Herb McDowell made sure wild boar ran by me. The equipment worked and my aim was good.

The next hunt at Turtle Creek was a lesson on what it is like to wound an animal and run out of ammunition. Now I know that you can’t make too many darts when you get ready for a hunt. Several hunts at Tioga taught me that a wild boar is a dangerous animal and can kill or hurt you don’t pay it proper respect. I learned there that wild boar are a formidable creature who not only have a will to live, but is vengeful animal with no sense of humor.

It wasn’t until Wendell Adams, Leggs White and I went to Florida to hunt along the banks of the Oklawaha River that I really learned anything about how to hunt those wild beasts. There are perhaps a million acres in that habitat, and if you don’t do the right things, you will not even see a hog. I also learned that you can make a really excellent shot and still loose your quarry in a cane break.

Things have changed in the last twelve or fifteen thousand years. It used to be that if you wanted to hunt in Florida ( or what ever they called it back then) you had to hunt with an atlatl because that was all there was available at the time. It would be another ten thousand years before they even had bows and arrows around there.

You had to make your own ammunition too. The wild game was a lot different then. Mammoths, giant ground sloths and camilids roamed the peninsula. It would be another twelve thousand years before the Spanish would bring the first swine to Florida.

Florida was much larger then than now. During the ice age sea level was much lower. Much of what is now under water was dry land.

There were good habitat for game and plenty of materials for building atlatls and darts. Flint, bone shell, and ivory were plentiful in Florida and so was cane. Those raw materials were the back bone of the hunting equipment makers of the day. All you needed beyond that was a great deal of knowledge skill and instinct to use such weapons and tools.

It has been my quest to recreate the kind of hunting that was done back then. In the process I have had to learn how to knapp flint, how to make and use an atlatl effectively, how to track wounded animals, and how to use stone tools to skin and butcher. I know that it is impossible to recreate the species of animals that existed at the time so the wild boar we have now would have to do.

I would say without hesitation that the best thing I did during this process was to make some great friends who share the same interest, including the friends that went with me on this hunt, and all the hunts I went on, not to mention the people who taught me non hunting related skills.

Just after we got to our camp in Silver Springs Florida, Wendell, Leggs and I met with Micah and Andy, two graduate students in the field of archaeology who live in north Florida. Our plan was to make some flint points to tip our atlatl darts for the wild boar hunt. Atlatl practice was also on the agenda.

Micah is a real talented flintknapper, so we were pleased to have his help and expertise in generating some primitive weaponry for this hunt. In addition to atlatl darts we also made a couple of thrusting spears out of some local wood that we harvested in the hedge row next to camp and two large stone points that Micah and I had made. Sometimes during a boar hunt a heavy thrusting spear is needed. Rarely, you will encounter three hundred pound and larger pigs in the wild. When they charge you, you will need something a little stiffer than an atlatl dart to fend them off. I know from experience, but that is another story.

Big Wooley and I hafted points that I had made earlier for the purpose, while Micah made some new ones. Meanwhile Leggs put in a good bit of atlatl practice. Andy took many shots too and became a fair atlatlist in just a couple of hours. I think Micah, who was already pretty good also improved a bit.

We got started early the next morning. We went out to the land we planned to hunt which is a parcel of several thousand acres along the banks of the Oklawaha River in the neighborhood of Ocala, Florida. The terrain consists of recently cut pine forest, cane break, and virgin cypress swamp, in roughly equal measures, depending on its elevation above the Oklawaha. The property is contiguous with tens of thousands of acres of similar land along the Oklawaha, offering incredibly good habitat for wild boar.

There are also plenty of deer and other wild life in the area including black bear, which we were able to see two years ago in this same location. We have seen osceola turkeys, alligators, squirrels, and monkeys in this location. It was easy to imagine oneself in this setting to be back in the days when atlatl hunting was an every day event.

Warm spring winds blew gently through the palmedows and cane. In the distance I could see a vulture in the tree tops drying its dew soaked wings, outstretched to catch the morning sun and breeze. I hunted from a ground blind that I had hastily constructed out of forest debris that morning in a relatively sparse part of the cane break.

I heard the crackling of wild boar approaching though the dry thatch of dead palmedow leaves. I had been hearing them for a while. But they were now on the other side of the boundary beyond where we were allowed to hunt. My hope was that they would eventually come my way.

Those gentile winds were, however, not blowing in the right direction.

The swine started to put up a squall. I thought they must be fighting over something. I decided to go over and investigate.” The figured the worst thing that could happen is that they would run away.

The squealing became more intense as I got closer. I don’t think they ever noticed me as I approached . The wild pigs were now about fifty yards behind my ground blind in a cane break thicker than the weave of a picnic basket. Atlatls don’t work that well in brush that thick, but you never know, you might get a shot in anyway. My heart pounded as I got closer.

I bent to look under the palmedows and saw the first pig only twelve yards away. I was looking at him looking at me. The jig was up. That pig and the rest of the wild boar herd with it melted into the underbrush. The first sighting of wild boar was getting me excited about the hunt.

We hunted for a few days without much action until one evening on the way out of the woods we encountered a herd of small wild boar crossing a logging road. Normally I don’t think I would have shot at such a small animal but predatory instinct got the best of me. I took a shot at fifty yards and connected— with a little fifty pound pig. I had to shoot the dart at a high angle to get it there. The fact that it hit was either incredible luck or a case of predatory instinct taking over my mind and body. In any case the little boar turned out to be the finest meat we had eaten in a while.

Our next encounter with a boar was the next morning. We had made extensive plans the previous evening, which fell apart as soon as we reached the hunt site. The elusive wild boars were slinking into a large clear cut just as we walked up to it. We put our plans on the back burner and went to plan omega three.

I started out by taking a shot at about thirty five yards but missed. I pursued the boars into the field, knowing Big Wooley and Leggs would get into action and form up a triangle around them. We had talked it over many times in the past about what we would do in a situation like this, so I knew I could count on them. As we closed the triangle in we knew that our quarry would have to go by at least one of us to escape. Leggs signaled me that they were coming my way so I crouched low behind some tall saw grass.

They came out in two groups of three or four each. I stayed low until the first group went by. I had my dart knocked and laying against the back of my left hand which now held five darts. Those five darts were across my knees in the proper position for a quick reload. I stood up and chose the last of the first group of boars as my target.

I shot, leading the running boar just enough. I hit it right behind the left shoulder. The dart drove the three inch flint point deeply into the vitals of the boar. The half inch ash shaft bent but did not break as the boar beat its final retreat toward the row of pines and palmedows.

We even butcher the hogs we kill like cave men. We use stone blades knapped from flint blade cores that we carry in our pockets or leather pouches. At the hog hunt at Cold Brook three years ago the guides were amazed at the efficiency of our stone tools, but they are actually sharper than typical metal knives.

Big Wooley and I spent the next day hiking down to the Oklawaha river through the cypress swamp. We made believe we were hunting but we were really sight seeing. It has been dry for the last few years in North Florida so we were able to walk on dry hard ground all the way to the river. This untouched wilderness is truly the same as it was thousands of years ago.

We saw an otter, pileated woodpeckers, several species of ducks and fish, as well as thousands of bivalves upon which the wild boar were obviously feeding. This helped to explain why we didn’t see as many boar in the cane brake and savanna areas as we expected. This was a good way to end a great hunt, for the next day we would be going to Paynes Prairie to a knapp- in where we would roast up some wild boar and share it with our friends. Many of whom are at the highest level of craftsmanship and art in the flint knapping field.

Fallow Deer Hunt with the Atlatl and Dart


Brian Goodsell, Owner of Fallow Hollow Deer Farm was slightly amused by the nest of debris that I was accumulating for my blind. I had tried several times before to ambush a fallow deer to no avail. They tended to be a lot more aware of their surroundings than I thought at first . I finally hit upon the idea of making a blind large enough to hold me, my atlatl, and dart in the loaded position. I had discovered that any movement of the dart gave my position away. In fact if these fallow deer were to see me blink, they would be gone when my eyes were open again. The only way around this problem was to become totally invisible. I had checked the hardware store for invisible spray but they were fresh out. So it left me with no alternative other than dragging in as much forest litter as it would take to bury Brian’s tractor. I left a few look out points in my giant nest, taking advantage of natural shooting lanes. Brian asked me if I thought I was ready and I said “yea, to lay eggs”. We were using atlatls and stone pointed darts, all of which, I had made myself. I thought to myself; with this primitive gear I really would be laying an egg if don’t eventually get a deer with them. I have killed wild boar with atlatls before but they are a much slower moving creature than these fallow deer. “Lets do it ” Said Brian as he walked off in the direction he had last seen deer. His plan was to slowly drive deer in my direction, which was deep in the woods. He could easily locate deer out in the fields where they are visible from over a quarter mile away. Its been my experience that if you can see them they can surely see you. If you move in their direction they seem to melt away into the woods long before you get there, which would work nicely into our plan today. Earlier, Jim Shuler and his daughter Carrie had tried to ambush deer but they had little success, not because they didn’t see any but because when they did see them, hunter and hunted were looking into each other’s big brown eyes. Jim is a wild life management biologist and I invited him to hunt with us to get his opinion on this kind of hunting. This is the first time this kind of hunting has become readily available, thanks to the Goodsells who have looked at Atlatl hunting as one more way to market their product, the fallow deer which they raise on their farm. One fear I had at first was that hunting in an enclosed area would be too easy, but the hunting area is so large and the deer so skittish that that fear proved to be without substance, especially since we plan to hunt mainly with atlatls. Jim had secreted himself a few hundred feet away from me on one side and Carrie hid in some thick pines on the other side about the same distance away. I heard deer coming but when I strained to see them they were scampering along the edge of the woods about two hundred feet away. I hoped that Jim would get a shot. Meanwhile, Carrie stood quietly While a couple of does crept up the creek between us. Three came within about 15 yards from me and started drinking from the creek. The deer closest to me was obscured by some brush so I chose to shoot at the one in the middle, besides she was the largest of the three. There was a branch between me and the doe but with an atlatl you can arch over obstructions. I drew an imaginary line in the air with my eyes just as the deer presented a nice quartering away shot. I let the dart fly with just the right amount of force to clear the top of the branch. As the dart reached its apex, the doe turned toward me. She had completely flipped around when the dart struck. The seven foot ash shaft sank deeply into her flesh and protruded out the other side. She dashed by me with the dart obviously transfixing her vitals. As she went past a large oak she suddenly turned into it to break the dart off as she past it by. The 9/16 th inch hardwood shaft snapped like a toothpick as she bounded toward where Carrie stood. I listened intently as the deer crashed through the underbrush. Then silence. I knew it was all over but not exactly where. I stayed where I was until Brian came walking slowly toward me. I gave him the thumbs up signal. We followed the blood trail to the oak tree, then off into the pines, and across the creek collecting Carrie as we went. Somewhere along the way Jim also appeared and we fanned out in the direction of the blood trail. It was only moments later and Brian yelled “Here she is.” I was glad to prove to myself that I could harvest a fallow deer with “sticks and stones, and horns and bones” I guess I knew it all along but I didn’t realize how really challenging it would be. You see, this was the fifth time I tried to accomplish this task, with no success until now. Both Jim and Carrie said that they enjoyed the hunt. I think we all agreed that it was a little trickier than anticipated. What we liked best was the fast action of the hunt, with plenty of chances to see deer. The challenge was to stay absolutely still until you got your shot. Jim did indeed get a few shots but he unfortunately missed. Jim’s hunting skills far exceed mine but I had more luck with the atlatl that day.