Atlatl Targeting in the Urban Environment

Hi — Cory writing today …

My dad (Ray) gave me a big foam target back in November and I finally found some time to set it up and throw here in DC.  Posting some pictures that I took with my friend Mark over at his house in Anacostia, across the river from Capitol Hill.

The Urban Atlatl Range

Unlike Mark and I, my dad lives in a semi-rural location where it isn’t too difficult to find a good, safe 100-foot diameter area to throw a dart with an atlatl.  Here in “The Nation’s Capitol,” it’s quite a bit more difficult to get away from the dense, yardless row house scene … and I reckon it’s probably not quite legal!

As you can see in the image below, Mark’s range is a driveway about 70 feet long.  We were very careful not to hit the cars about 30 feet up above.

About the Atlatl Target

I’m pretty sure the target I’m showing here is the kind folks are using regularly in tournaments.  (Correct me in the comments, if not.)  It’s made of a plasticky, black foam at about 50 inches wide by 55 inches tall and 5 inches thick.  It takes a hit really well, is lightweight and bends easily for transport in the back of my Subaru station wagon.

What I don’t like about it is that it’s clearly not environmentally friendly, will need replacing, and requires a little bit of fuss to set up.  It’s better than nothing but my overall sense is that it will probably end up either in a landfill or my back patio with half a dozen others by the end of my atlatl career.  So, if you have other material suggestions, let me know.  I like hay bails too but maybe they’re not as easy to work with, I don’t know.

Setting up the Atlatl Target

Setup requires a frame that my dad built out of 2″X2″ posts and a bit of plywood.  It’s just two independent legs that we balanced with cinder blocks and some sticks nailed through the feet.

Next we poked twine through the target and tied it off.


Hitting the Target

My dad’s a lot better at explaining how to hit a target with an atlatl … but I’ll tell you, a large, legitimate target is much easier and much, much more rewarding to hit than a bunch of crappy cardboard boxes.


PS: We did get a couple bullseyes.  Next time I’ll remember to photograph that part.

Atlatls at Poverty Point, Louisiana

I like this article about the archaeological site at Poverty Point, Louisiana.  It specifies that the people there were a not a “bow and arrow” but an “atlatl and dart” culture … and, simultaneously an advanced civilization — socially organized, specializing tasks, building, earthworking and so on.  This is not something you might expect of a nomadic hunter-gatherer “atlatl and dart” people.

However, the Adena culture in Indiana-Ohio-Kentucky-West Virginia was of the same ilk.

From the article:

Hunters used spears; bows and arrows were unknown. Spears were tipped with a variety of stone points. Some points, like the ones illustrated below, were exclusive Poverty Point styles, but many were forms which had been made for hundreds and even thousands of years before.Spears were thrown with atlatls, or spear-throwers, which gave added distance and power. Shaped like oversized crochet needles, atlatls were held in the throwing hand with the hooked end inserted into a shallow socket in the butt of the spear. Hurled with a smooth, gliding motion, the spear was cast toward the target while the atlatl remained in the hand.

Louisiana Archaeology Poverty Point Food and Tools

The Brooklyn Tribe

Cory here.  My girlfriend, Sara, saw this story in the New York Times today about some boys and girls in Brooklyn who are attempting to benefit from a “caveman lifestyle” by eating and exercising in peculiar ways:

The caveman lifestyle, in Mr. Durant’s interpretation, involves eating large quantities of meat and then fasting between meals to approximate the lean times that his distant ancestors faced between hunt […] Mr. Durant believes the human body evolved for a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, and his goal is to wean himself off what he sees as many millenniums of bad habits.

These urban cavemen also choose exercise routines focused on sprinting and jumping, to replicate how a prehistoric person might have fled from a mastodon.

Ha ha ha.  Well, if they would like to enjoy the sports of the caveman (no hunting required), I encourage them to buy atlatls and some darts from Ray’s Etsy store.

Thank you.  That is all.

An Atlatl Maker’s Birthday Wishes

My son, Cory, just got back from a vacation in Central America.  I begged him to get me a few cords of exotic woods while he was there but, alas, no such luck.  Guess I’ll have to suffice myself with some of the beautiful Osage Orange that grows almost as fence posting here in Athens County, Ohio.

And, with my birthday coming up, I know exactly the perfect gift to help me cut it up!

A portable sawmill!  Just what I never knew I always wanted!

Imagine how many atlatl stocks I could make in just fifteen minutes!

Opochtli, “the Aztec ‘patron saint’ of atlatls”

Maybe a second tattoo?


Opochtli, also known as ‘the Left Handed One’ or ‘He Who Divides the Waters’, was the god of those who made their living in the lakes and marshes of the Valley of Mexico, particularly the southern part of the basin. As such, he is credited with the invention of items associated with fishing and hunting waterfowl, in particular the atlatl and harpoon.

Page for Luther College’s Opochtli’s Challenge Atlatl Competition

Page for Opochtli on Luther College’s site

Hang your darts on antler pegs!

Cory (Ray’s son) here …

I just moved into a new apartment in DC and I thought it would look pretty cool to hang up my darts on the wall in my new office.  First way I thought to do it was to make some hangers out of antlers.  (I don’t hunt or anything but my dad is always finding antlers in the woods and I’m visiting him for Thanksgiving, so…)

Only problem is, I have no idea how to get the antlers onto a screw without ruining them.  So, I asked Atlatl Ray and he said:

The best way to mount the antlers to the wall is to screw and glue a 3-inch diameter disk of wood to the base of the antler and then use screws to mount the wood disk to the wall beam.

Don’t forget to pre-drill holes in the wood disk using a drill bit slightly smaller than the screw diameter to avoid splitting the wood.

We’ll see how that goes.  I’ll be sure to post pics when I get it figured out.  If you have any cool ideas for hanging 7-foot atlatl darts up in your home, please feel free to comment on this post.

Three Atlatl Grip Styles

Atlatl Handle Grip Styles

There are three ways to grip an atlatl handle:

  1. Hammer Grip
  2. Basketmaker Grip
  3. Single Hole Grip



A person holds the atlatl like he/she would hold a hammer; four fingers on one side of the handle, thumb on the opposite side.

Left: Drawing of person gripping an atlatl with a hammer grip style. This atlatl has no dart rest, so the person is holding the dart to the atlatl with thumb tip and first finger tip. As the throwing motion begins and the atlatl is levered up and forward, the first finger and thumb must release the dart and re-grip the atlatl on the fly.

Hammer grip is the most commonly used method of gripping the atlatl, with or without a dart rest.



Mostly found in the American Southwest, but also Mesoamerican. The atlatl shaft rests between fingers one and two. Therefore, finger one and the thumb are on one side of the atlatl, and the other three fingers are on the other side. Basketmaker atlatls may have two holes drilled through the handle, or two loops of leather, or other material. A cross bar may also be used. The atlatl shaft is narrowed, indented, at the place where the loops, holes, or cross bar is located, to about a ½ inch wide, in order to prevent fingers one and two from being pinched during the throwing motion.

Above Left: Note the indentation near the crossbar. Above Right: Note the indentation near the loops. The narrowing or the indentation helps prevent fingers one and two from being pinched during the throwing motion.



A single finger hole in the atlatl for finger number one. The thumb is one side of the atlatl, the other three fingers on the other side. This splits the difference between Hammer Grip and Basketmaker Grip.

Above: Tlingit atlatl, 18th century. Above: Single hole atlatl of my own design as held by the hand.

What is the difference between the three grips? No scientific tests have been conducted to determine which grip style is better or provides more control or assures greater accuracy.

Ray’s Atlatl Grip Style

Ten years ago, I started out with the Hammer Grip style (having a carpenter background, it made sense). I noticed elevation was easier to control than direction. I switched to the Basketmaker Grip for about three years and noticed direction was easier to control than elevation. For the last three years I have been using a Single Hole Grip and have noticed elevation and direction control are about the same.

If I ever find a fourth way to grip and atlatl, I will probably try that out for a couple years just to see if there is any difference. Although I might someday go back to a Basketmaker Grip, I know for a fact that I will never go back to Hammer Grip. The lack of control over direction is the reason. It is just too easy to hook a shot, get lazy and drop the shoulder just a bit during the throwing motion and throw at a diagonal instead of vertical end over end, thus hooking the shot to the right (because I am right handed. If you are left handed, you will more often than you want, hook to the left, using the Hammer Grip.)

I do not experience hooking to the right nearly as much with the Single Hole Grip and hardly ever with the Basketmaker Grip. However, as I said earlier, Basketmaker Grip, for some reason, makes it harder to control elevation, which is why I switched to Single Hole Grip, which is dead center in the middle of Hammer and Basketmaker as it relates to elevation and direction control.

I would encourage every atlatlist to try the different grip styles. Don’t just do it for a couple of throws. Give the different styles a fair chance. No less than 100 throws from three different distances with each style. Try it, you might like it.

Cool Site: Atlatl Dart from Found Materials


I just found this site by Timothy Moyers, an artist from Warren, Ohio, who makes darts from wooden dowel rods with copper tubes coupling them together.  His fore-shafts  are larger than the dart shaft.  This is almost exactly the opposite of what everybody else is doing in the today’s atlatl world.  But, oh my, they are pretty to look at.  It’s like he never went to an atlatl event to see how anyone else does but just sat at home alone and figured out a way to do it all on his own.  I truly admire his work.

“How to make a good dart with easily found materials” at