Here’s a bit of an outdoor challenge for you; a Missouri hunter took a 15-point (Eastern count) whitetail with an atlatl. Excerpt:
Missouri is a great place to hunt deer. In fact, it’s a place that makes it possible to harvest a trophy 15-point buck only four months after taking up one of hunting’s most challenging methods.
When Paul Gragg set out to bag a buck with an atlatl, his buddies gave him a hard time. “I heard all the jokes,” said Gragg of Defiance. “My friends were all laughing and teasing me about it.”
Gragg, age 49, is no stranger to hunting. He grew up on a farm where he was chasing deer with a bow and arrow by the age of 16. During his adulthood, pursuing trophy bucks has become his passion. Using various methods including muzzleloader and archery, Gragg has managed to bag some big bucks at places like Peck Ranch, Eagle Bluffs and Howell Island Conservation Areas. “I’ve been fortunate enough to have good places to go and a lot of time doing it,” he said. “I think my top five bucks have an average score of 183 altogether.”
This time though he wanted a new challenge, which is why he took up the atlatl a mere four months before. The atlatl predates the bow and arrow. It is used to throw a 4-to-6-foot long, spear-like projectile known as a dart. The atlatl is a wooden shaft approximately a foot-and-a-half long with a socket or knock at the rear to engage the dart.
The dart is placed along the shaft with its back end resting in the socket or knock. The hunter grips the atlatl near its front end and performs a forward throw using the upper arm and wrist. The flipping motion of the atlatl creates angular momentum that propels the dart with greater speed and power than can be achieved with the arm alone. Darts thrown from the weapon can achieve velocities of nearly 100 miles per hour. The method is legal throughout all portions of Missouri’s deer season, from Sept. 15 through Jan. 25.
This really makes the challenge of hunting in blackpowder season, as loyal sidekick Rat and I did last September, kind of pale in comparison.
Seriously, Mr. Gragg deserves kudos for not only building an effective model of this most primitive weapon, but learning to use it effectively. The atlatl is the simplest of weapons, using the very basic principle of leverage to basically extend the length of the throwers’ forearm, and in so doing launch a dart – longer and heavier than an arrow, but not as heavy as a javelin – at great speed and force.
So now another project idea has arisen.
When I was a little tad, I actually fashioned crude atlatls from short pieces of wood and used them to launch equally crude darts made from sticks. I don’t remember ever achieving any particular accuracy with them, nor did I ever take any of my intended quarries with them, even though I aimed my efforts and woodchucks, rabbits and squirrels rather than trophy whitetails.
Still – could one take an elk with an atlatl? Or a moose?
I think I’ll have to get in some serious practice first.
Primitive weapons have an interesting appeal to those interested in hunting and the Manly Arts in general. It takes a considerable amount of practice to master shooting a high-powered hunting rifle; more, in fact, than the uninitiated would suspect. Archery tackle takes more practice still, and an atlatl? Well, that’s a matter requiring a great deal of practice and dedication. What about other primitive weapons?
I have a high tech, aluminum tubing blowgun kicking around the workshop someplace. A few years ago I put in a good amount of practice with that, and found I could place steel darts into a pop can at fifteen to thirty feet pretty reliably. And the six-foot blowgun would sink those steel darts into a tree so soundly that one needed a pair of pliers to remove them. And how about a sling? The Old Testament David is rumored to have used one to good effect in bringing down old Goliath, and Roman slingers are known to have had pretty good results in rapping Gallic and Carthaginian heads with cobbles at some distance. I am pretty confident my blowgun would kill grouse or rabbits, and with a bit of practice a good slinger could probably do likewise.
It’s fun to mess around with this sort of stuff.