For our 48" dowel, a pair of 8" feathers should
work fine. With less fletching, the dart will travel farther but won’t be as accurate. More fletching means
the dart will be more accurate, but won’t go as far.
Using the Atlatl
Now let’s get out there and throw! The 3 basic steps
are the grip, the stance, and the throw itself.
The Grip Slide your index finger through the hole
from the side opposite the peg, and grip the handle
with your other fingers. Put the point of the dart
on the ground, then fit the atlatl peg into the nock
and hold the dart with your thumb and index finger.
Squeeze them, almost like you’re holding a pencil,
but keep them on the sides of the dart, not over the
back. The dart will come out of your hand at the
proper moment, if you just let it.
The Stance Point your left foot at the target (if
you’re right-handed) and angle your right foot away
from it, about a shoulder’s-width back. You should
feel comfortable and balanced. Turn your body sideways, in line with your left foot, and turn your head
to look at the target. Point at the target with your
left arm to help with accuracy and balance.
The Throw First, aim the dart by bringing your grip
hand up by your ear and sighting along the shaft
to your target. Next, bring your arm straight back
as far as you comfortably can, but don’t twist your
wrist on the way back, which will point the dart off
to the side. Unless you’re a powerful thrower, tip
your hand back so that the point rises up a few
inches. This will give your throw an arc, making it
travel farther. Pause to collect yourself and focus.
And now, the throwing motion itself: using an
atlatl is like throwing a fastball — you need to put
your whole body into it. Lean back, balancing on
your back foot. Then step forward and shift your
weight onto your other foot. Slide your arm forward,
keeping the dart pointed at the target, and when
it’s almost fully extended, snap your wrist forward
hard. It should all be one fluid movement, and the
atlatl should end up pointing at the target. For an
example, watch the video clips of atlatl throwing on
Bob Perkins’ website, atlatl.com.
Practice without a dart until you get used to it.
120 Make: Volume 12
And don’t worry about releasing the dart; it should
come free on its own at the proper moment. Don’t
try to throw it hard — this will just mess you up. Just
concentrate on throwing smoothly, and your speed
and power will develop. Everything will click at some
point, and it will be a thing of beauty.
Throwing the atlatl purely for distance is fun, but
after a while you get tired of chasing down all your
darts. Besides, you’ll want to see what it would be
like to hunt with one. You can use paper archery
targets on hay bales, and 15yds is usually a good
starting distance. If you switch to a heavier dart,
you’ll want to double up the bales.
Standard bull's-eye targets are fine for accuracy
competitions, but I personally don’t like them.
The atlatl is for hunting, so I prefer animal silhouettes; 3D targets, your basic foam animals, are my
personal favorite. You really feel like the “mighty
hunter,” and the first time your dart flies straight
and true into the target, well, it’s indescribable.
You need to experience it.
In a pinch, almost anything will make a decent
target. A friend and I once used some styrofoam
coolers. We ended up hunting those “sheep” for
about 3 hours, until it got so dark we couldn’t even
see them anymore! We were tied at the time (it’s
always about competition, you know), so we had to
keep going, listening to see whether we’d hit them
or not. If I remember right, he won. Barely.
ATLATL SAFE TY — WHERE TO THROW
» When you throw an atlatl, make sure you have
an open area that’s at least 30yds long, with
nothing breakable behind it.
» There should never be anyone in front of you
when you throw.
» In spite of your aim, the dart can and will go out
of control once in a while. It may go off to one
side or go farther than you intended. Make
allowances for this.
Daryl Hrdlicka ( thudscave.com/npaa) lives in southwestern
Minnesota with his wife and four kids. They homeschool,
so making cool stuff is always on the menu. Daryl teaches
the atlatl at the Jeffers Petroglyphs Historic Site.