Holding and Throwing Atlatl Darts

I was thinking about throwing and holding style recently and happened upon a couple of good articles I wanted to share…

The image above is a pretty good representation of the problems of teaching people how to throw with an atlatl without a dart rest. As you can see in the picture, as the throwing motion begins, the dart flexes upward. The most common mistake people using an atlatl without a dart rest make is to hang a finger over the top of the dart (like a saddle on a horse) and not let go soon enough. Even a person who rightly just holds the dart with the tips of a finger and a thumb can hang on too long. The person above waited to long to release the dart. She should have let the dart loose before her elbow passed her face or more to the point, just as soon as she started the forward throwing motion. To the good, she is not dropping her elbow.

Source: http://heritageedu.wordpress.com/

The “Right” Way to Hold a Dart with a Non-Dart Rest Atlatl

Hold Dart Atlatl Rest

Note the dart itself is resting on the three fingers and held in place using the tips of the one finger and thumb. The trick is to hold just tight enough to be able to keep the dart on the spur until the forward motion begins … then let go, let the dart slip out from between the tips of the finger and thumb as soon as the forward throwing motion begins.

Source: http://www.lancasterarchery.com/index.php?cPath=38_77

The Atlatl and Dart Throwing Sequence

Below is a sequence drawing of the relationship of the dart to the spur of the atlatl during the throwing motion. Here, the launch is pictured from right to left.

How to Throw Atlatl - Atlatl Throwing Sequence
How to Throw with An Atlatl - Atlatl Throwing Sequence

At the start of the throw, the tip of the spur is inside the cup in the rear the dart. As the atlatl is pulled forward and levered upward, the spur rotates out of the cup in the rear of the dart and the dart is connected to the atlatl only because the atlatl is moving faster than the dart.

The rear of the dart actually slides across the top surface of the spur tip until that brisk, downward, wrist flick simultaneously, with great torque, pushes the dart away and the dart slides off the back of the spur.

This is why I have advised people making their first atlatl to:

  1. Think ball and socket as it relates to the tip of the spur and the cup of the dart. A sharp pointy spur is not a good thing. The tip of the spur should be dull and rounded. Small enough to fit inside the cup of the spur but blunt enough to easily rotate into and out of the cup without digging into the inside wall at the rear of the dart. When a sharp pointy spur tip digs into the wall of the dart, it can cause a misfire (hooking the shot) and split the dart open like a can opener.
  2. Trim excess wood beyond the end of the spur. The rear end of the dart needs to slide right off the end of the spur and not get slapped by any excess wood sticking out beyond the spur during that brisk downward wrist flick at the end of the throwing motion.

I would go so far as to advise that the top surface of the spur should be flat rather than rounded. If the spur is round, there is a possibility that the rear of the flexing dart may slide off one side or the other during the throwing motion. I actually have carved a groove in the top of my spurs to guide the rear of the dart straight off the back of the spur. This eliminates that one in ten misfire.

If you have any questions about atlatl or dart design, contact Ray Strischek.

How to Cast a Dart with an Atlatl

(Video is best at full-screen with volume up all the way.  Watch with amazement as Ray nails an old tree stump … Instructions assume you are right handed. Reverse instructions as appropriate if you are left handed.)


1. Stand up straight and tall, facing the target, feet spread shoulders width apart, left foot slightly in front of the right, left toes pointing at the target.

2. Hold the atlatl and dart horizontally close to and just slightly above your head, with the handle of the atlatl slightly behind your ear.

3. Aim the whole dart (not just the point) at an imaginary vertical line running up and down through the center of the target.

4. Raise the point end of the dart up at an angle appropriate to the amount of travel and drop the dart will experience over the distance to the target, due to your force of cast. You will need to cast (throw your elbow) into that angle.

5. Prepare to cast. Your right elbow should be as high as your shoulder. Your right elbow will need to stay as high as your shoulder all the way through the cast.

6. Rock back slightly, draw the atlatl and dart back slightly. Step off with your left foot, move your entire body forward. Pull the atlatl and dart forward, then start pushing and levering the atlatl upward and forward and keep your elbow above your shoulder as you go. Gather momentum as you go. At the end of the cast with your elbow still above your shoulder, quickly flick your wrist until the dart separates from the atlatl.

(Think: pull, push/lever, and flick)

What not to do:

1. Don’t bend over at the waist during the cast.

2. Don’t drop your elbow below your shoulder during the cast.

(Image from John Wittaker’s “Coaching the Atlatl”)