Atlatl “One-in-Ten” Problems

Atlatl “One-in-Ten” Problems refers to any problem that can come up during a throw that will cause a miss one time out of ten. There are many problems that can come up during the throwing motion. The way to a good score is first recognizing that a problem exists and that it will recur over and over again if you do not do something about it.

1. Dropping the elbow: The elbow of your throwing arm controls elevation. If during the throwing motion, you let the elbow drop below your shoulder before the dart separates from the atlatl, the dart will hit the dirt in front of the target or very low on the target, every time. You can try to throw harder, but if you keep dropping that elbow during the throwing motion your dart will just impact deeper into the ground in front of the target.

Related problems: Bending forward during the throwing motion creates the same problem as dropping your elbow; you lower the dart’s elevation in the middle of the throwing motion. Stand up straight and tall, like a proud American. Keep that back straight all the way through the throwing motion.

Dipping the shoulder of the throwing arm at the start of the throwing motion; same effect, lowers the dart’s elevation. Bending forward and dipping the shoulder most often occurs towards the end of a day’s throwing. People get tired and they lose concentration. Dipping the shoulder most often occurs at the very start of the throwing motion. People just seem to drop their shoulder as they make that step forward into the throw.

2. Bad Spur design: Think ball and socket. A good spur sets just inside the rim of the darts cup and easily rotates in and out of the cup. During the throwing motion as the atlatl is levered up and forward, the spur will rotate out of the cup and the butt of the dart will ride on the top surface of the spur tip just before the dart separates from the atlatl.

A sharp pointy spur tip will scratch a Panama Canal into the cup of the dart and eventually cut its way through the wall of the dart. In the mean time, it is hanging on to the dart during the throwing motion and may cause the dart to hook (veer off course).

A long narrow spur tip that goes way too far into the cup of the dart will also catch and hook the dart and also (if you are using a cane, bamboo, or other hollow tube dart) may actually split the rear end of the dart open.

Atlatl extends beyond the spur: I see this often with people new to the sport who make their own atlatl. For a spur, they will simply drill a hole at about a 45 degree angle somewhere near the end of the atlatl and insert a dowel rod or bone or antler spur into the hole leaving one to two inches of atlatl shaft extending beyond the spur. What happens next during the throwing motion is as the dart attempts to separate from the atlatl; that extension of atlatl shaft beyond the spur smacks down on the butt of the dart causing a profound disruption in the oscillation of the darts flexing.

A good spur has a rounded tip, rounded so that it can rotate into and out of the cup of the dart. In hollow tube darts (bamboo, river cane, aluminum tube, carbon tube, plexiglas tube) there is no real cup. Solid wood darts generally have a cone shape or bowl shape cup carve into the butt of the dart. Solid wood darts can take a pointy spur though eventually the pointy spur will gouge out the rim of the cup and the cup will need to be reshaped. In the hollow tube darts it is essential that the spur tip be rounded, not pointed, and rounded in a size that allows it to sit just inside the tube short of the equator. The spur must also be at the very end of the atlatl with no atlatl shaft wood beyond the spur. And, since the dart butt will be on the top surface of the spur just before the dart separates from the atlatl, it would not hurt to flatten the top surface of the spur to avoid the dart sliding off one side or the other of the spur during the throwing motion.

3. Atlatl Grip: There are as many atlatl designs as there are people willing to experiment. But it all comes down to how well you can keep a grip on the atlatl and prevent the atlatl from slopping around in the hand during the throwing motion because when that atlatl is being pulled forward and levered upward, the dart is flexing and all that oscillation is causing the butt of the dart to buck the spur. Since the hand that grips the atlatl is anywhere from 12 to 18 inches away from the bucking, a wobble can occur at the spur end. That wobble can cause a misdirection of flight. A good grip can reduce the amount of wobble. It does not matter if one uses loops of leather, holes drilled into the handle, pegs of wood, or ergonomic shaping of the atlatl handle as long as these things give the atlatlist grip control.

There are basically three ways to grip the atlatl:

Hammer Grip: Hold the atlatl like it’s a hammer, all fingers on one side, thumb on the opposite side.

Basketmaker Grip: The atlatl rests between the first and second finger of the hand. These two fingers can be in leather loops, in holes drilled into a paddle shaped handle, or wrapped around pegs stuck into the sides of the atlatl handle, or simply pinching into a recess carved into both sides of the atlatl.

Single Finger Hole Ataltl: Here a single hole is drilled through the top middle of the atlatl handle into which is inserted the first finger of the hand.

Any additional loops, holes, or pegs can be made to any of the above grip styles which can further add to control of the atlatl during the throwing motion. Even in the hammer grip style, a single loop of leather on the top of the handle for any one finger or a peg on the side of the atlatl for one finger to drape over can greatly add to the control of the atlatl during the throwing motion.

4. Centrifugal Stability: (Atlatl Weight) For a real control against the wobble at the spur end of the atlatl during the throwing motion, nothing beats an atlatl weight. It does not matter if you tie on a rock or just bulk up the end of the atlatl. A little weight at the end goes a long way. Think about tying a weight to the end of a string and whirling it around. Tends to straighten out that string, does it not? Nothing stirs a debate among atlatlists like the topic of atlatl weights. Some say they silence the throwing motion, some say they increase velocity, some say they are just for looks. Some put the weight just behind the atlatl handle, others put more than one weight on all along the atlatl shaft. I am one of those who believe the weight belongs in the rear of the atlatl. I use weights that are about 1 ½ inch long, 1 inch wide, ¾ of an inch thick, just river rounded stones found along creeks, lake shores, and some motel landscaping. The fact that an atlatl weight provides centrifugal stability is an absolute aid to accuracy. Can’t be beat!

5. He who hesitates is lost: At the start of the throwing motion, it is common among North Americans to step into the throw with the left foot (if the person is right handed). Our European counterparts do not take a step forward. They shift their weight to the rear and then rapidly shift it forward during the throwing motion. The purpose (taking that step or rapidly shifting the weight of the body forward) is the same; to start momentum.

The act of the throwing motion is a continuous and increasing process of building momentum towards the brisk wrist flick at the end of the throw. The first step is to get the body and thus the dart moving forward. The atlatl and dart are pulled forward horizontally, the dart point rises, the atlatl is levered upward regaining horizontal movement forward, the atlatl and dart move pass the atlatlist’s face, and finally with the hand out forward as far as it can get, the brisk, downward wrist flick is employed, and the dart separates from the atlatl. The whole purpose of stepping into the throw or rapidly shifting the body weight forward is build enough momentum to make the brisk wrist flick EASY PEASY. Any hesitation or loss of momentum building during the throwing motion will cause the brisk wrist flick to become arduous. Most often, what happens during momentum loss (or hesitation) is that the wrist will turn or twist, causing a miss direction of dart flight. So don’t be hesitant. Take an aggressive step forward at the beginning of the throwing motion. Step into it like you mean it. Argh!

6. How do you aim this thing? Aiming at atlatl and dart is a lot like aiming a cannon. The longer the distance to be covered, the higher the end of the barrow or dart point needs to angled, and, the thrust or force behind the cannon ball or dart must go into that increased angle. One does not necessarily need to provide more force of throw, just the increase in the angle of the dangle and throwing the elbow up into that angle during the throwing motion will cover the ground of the increased distance to the target.

But, one must still aim. Since the atlatl and dart does not have a front and rear sight, how is aiming achieved? I draw an invisible line down through the target. After setting the right angle of the dangle (perfected for each distance through practice), I put the point of my dart on that line, an as I throw, I keep the point of the dart on that line all the way through the throw. One can’t just aim at the start of the throw and let fly. One must aim throughout the throwing motion. Keep the point on the line. Concentrate. Keep the point on the line.

7. Use a good dart: In the archeological record, darts range anywhere from 4 feet long to 13 feet long, feathered (fletched) or not feathered. First of all, an atlatl dart must be flexible. At the start of the throwing motion the dart needs to bend away from the oncoming atlatl which, at the beginning of the throwing motion, is moving faster than the dart. Besides that, a flexing dart helps provide its own velocity, springing as it does of the end of the atlatl shaft, like a diver springing of a diving board.

A good dart has a balance point that is forward of center. How far forward of center? The closer to center the balance point is the higher the point will fly, coming down only because the feathers act as drag, slowing the dart down, giving the heavier point end a chance to fall. The further forward of center the balance point is, the faster the point end of the dart will drop.

Most people like to be able to throw a flat trajectory at 15 to 20 meters. To achieve that, the dart is usually about 6 to 7 feet long, has three feathers about 8 inches long and one inch wide, weighs about 4 to 6 ounces and has a balance point about 6 to 10 inches forward of center. The lighter the dart (which means shorter) the flatter the trajectory can be at 20 meters and beyond.

Another way to achieve that flat trajectory is to use smaller feathers. However, smaller feathers me less stability in flight, the correction for which is more weight at the front end which means the point end will drop sooner. It’s a classic Catch 22.

However, if you plan to hit what you aim at, you absolutely must have a well balanced dart with a predictable flight stability and a predictable trajectory. So, my opinion only here: Use a dart that is at least a foot longer than you are tall, has a balance point 8 to 10 inches forward of center, weighs about 4 to 6 ounces, and uses three 8 inch feathers for fletching. The best possible thing to do is to make darts that are uniform in length, weight, and balance point so that practice can provide expertise.

8. Clutching: So, you are driving down the road in a standard shift car. You got your foot on the gas and for some reason you step on the clutch with your other foot. The motor roars but the wheels turn no faster and in fact the whells slow down because the gears are not engaged. You are “Clutching”. Something similar happens at times while throwing the atlatl. You take that aggressive step forward, pull the atlatl and dart forward, use your normal force of throw, employ that brisk wrist flick at the end of the throw and dart goes forth, and for some reason beyond all comprehension fails to make it to the target. What just happened? You clutched! What happens is that during the throwing motion, instead of putting the strength of your gripping hand and throwing arm muscles into the forward motion of the throw, you grip the atlatl extra hard. All your momentum peters out but by God you got a death grip on that atlatl. Instead of a fluid, lively force of throw forward, your arm goes all tense and stiff. Relax, chill, and mellow out. Loosen up. Shake it off. Try again. Throw that arm out, throw it away. Whip it out there. Snap it out there. Remember, you are not trying to punch a bag but rather, you are trying to throw something away.

9. Saddle Finger: This problem is for those of you who use an atlatl with no dart rest. The right way to hold a dart in place on an atlatl without a dart rest is to pinch the dart shaft between the tip of the first finger and the tip of the thumb. But what happens a lot is that people will rest the dart on top of their 2nd , 3rd, and 4th finger and then drape their 1st finger over the top of the dart shaft, like a saddle on a horse. Most of the time, as the throwing motion begins, said person will slide that draped finger off in time with no bad effect on the dart flight. But once in a while, say one out of ten times, they will keep that 1st finger draped over the dart shaft too long. What happens next is the dart in front of the finger bends up at a frightful angle, trying to get away, the finger finally lets go, and SPROING!, the dart reflexes violently and where it goes after that is anyone’s guess. I have even seen people snap the dart in two doing the saddle finger. If you are going to use an atlatl without a dart rest, remember, pinch the shaft between the tips of your 1st finger and thumb. As you start your throwing motion, LET GO!

10. Diagonal thrust: Art students know all about “diagonal thrust”. It is what artists put into a composition to give it more interest; to make an otherwise pedestrian picture come to life. However, when it finds its way into the atlatl throwing motion, it’s not such a good thing. Now some people, are really good at side arm throwing which not only has the standard arch trajectory to the target but also a sideways curve, not unlike people at the bowling alley curving that ball into the sweet spot. Most atlatlists however use the tried and true straight forward end over end approach to launching the dart, except that, sometimes, say one out ten times, they will allow the atlatl to lean outward during the throwing motion, which puts a curve into the flight direction (to the right for the right handed, to the left for the left handed). This problem, like most of the other lapses in concentration, usually happens towards the end of the throwing day, when people get tired. This problem, like all the other tired/lapse of concentration problems can become a recurring problem; can creep into your throwing motion DNA if you are not careful. I’d like to think that side arm throwers became so because they allowed diagonal thrust to creep into their throwing DNA but I know different. Mamerto Tindongan of Ohio (2010 WAA ISSAC Champion) went side arm because he developed a nagging recurring pain in his rotator cusp and throwing sidearm evaded the problem/pain. Mark Bracken (who holds the World ISSAC record) throws so much sidearm that it is nearly underhand. His darts go down hill first, almost touching the ground then rise up into the target. He is missing a finger and uses a doughnut shaped paddle handle on his atlatl to compensate. No dart rest.

So, I certainly don’t want to malign sidearm throwers and would even go so far as to recommend the technique to anyone having shoulder problems as a way to get around the pain. I just want to point out that if you use the straight forward end over end throwing technique, to watch out for diagonal thrust as it will cause your dart to take side trips to places you don’t want that dart to go, like into the tents of campers next to the atlatl range or their cars parked nearby. It can be embarrassing.

So there you are, some tips on how to avoid problems, each problem being something that will cause a misdirection of flight maybe one out of ten times, but, if you are in an ISAC (World Atlatl Association’s International Standard Accuracy Competition) where you only throw 1 dart 10 times and you have all these problems happen, you may well never hit the target, unless you recognize you have a problem and do something to fix it.

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.

Atlatl Hunting

Hi, Cory here (Atlatl Ray’s son) …

So, the other day I saw this video in a forum thread titled “Seven-Year-Old Takes Deer with Atlatl!”

As my Dad (Ray — the owner of this site) used to be a hunter when I was kid but stopped long before he started atlatling, I thought I’d ask him about the video and what he, as an atlatlist, feels primitive weapons hunting policies should consider.

– – – – –

CORY: Have you seen this video?  What do you think of it?

RAY:  I have seen this video. As far as I know, it’s real. But I can’t imagine that the seven-year-old threw a dart hard enough to clean-kill the deer. Maybe Dad delivered the coup de grace. I didn’t see.

What do you think about it?

CORY: I think it raises some issues — like “should children be allowed to hunt?” and “should people be allowed to hunt with atlatls?” and “is one method of hunting more humane than another?”  You’re an experienced hunter and atlatlist but you’ve never hunted with an atlatl, right?  Do you think hunting with an atlatl is humane or no?

RAY: When talking about hunting with the atlatl, I have always suggested that perhaps states should use the ISAC as a test for who can get a license to hunt deer with an atlatl. Anyone scoring above 70, fine. Below, no.

CORY: Do states test gun hunters?

RAY: It’s been a while since I hunted but I believe licensing requires the hunter to pass “safety classes” in a number of states, if not all states.  Do those classes feature discourses on humanity?  I’m going to guess ‘probably not’ but I don’t know.

CORY: So, do you think hunting with the atlatl should be legal, in Ohio for example?

RAY:  Yes, I think hunting with the atlatl should be legal in Ohio. I think the state should use either the World Atlatl Association’s ISAC (70 or better) or the Ohio Atlatl Association’s Ohio Standard Accuracy (100 or better) as the testing means. Both are posted on the Internet.

CORY: Why do you suggest an accuracy test?

RAY: 1) Because an inaccurate atlatlist is more likely to make a sloppy kill.  2) Because such cooperation between atlatl organizations and the state departments in charge of hunting would be good for the organizations’ growth. More people (hunters) would attend ataltl events just to get their scores recorded.  And 3) … Because accuracy is good for the sport and good for the sportsman.

CORY: Do you think hunters would go for an accuracy test?

RAY: I can understand why hunters would prefer not to have to prove they can hit the broad side of a barn with an atlatl dart.  Does that answer your question?

CORY: You’re concerned about the hunter’s ability to clean-kill.  Is accuracy enough?  Does the atlatl dart hit hard enough?

RAY: Well, if it’s all about “penetration” and clean kills and whether or not the atlatl has enough power or causes undue suffering for the deer, I have personally seen gun hunters blast away with multiple shots from high-powered rifles, shotguns, and pistols at everything from fully grown deer to Bambi babies, only wounding the poor things.  And I think Bob Berg has proven the penetration power of the atlatl with his numerous boar hunts in which his darts pass through and stick out a foot on the opposite side of the boar.

However, if you’re getting back to the question of “should a seven-year-old hunt deer with an atlatl?” … I don’t know.  I’m not even sure where it’s legal for a child that young to hunt, period.

CORY: What about frogs and fish?

RAY: People already hunt frogs with frog gigs. It is not much of a stretch to launch the pole with the atlatl.  And it’s also legal to hunt fish with bow and tethered arrow.  According to my reading of Ohio Fish Laws, “trash fish” (carp) can be hunted with just about anything.  The atlatl was used for fish hunting along the coasts of North and South America for 1000s of years. It is already a proven equipment for that purpose.  However, I would not limit atlatl hunting to fish or frogs.

CORY: Do you think gun and bow hunters should look into the atlatl?

RAY: Yes, give the atlatl a try in a target range, competition setting.  If you like it, lobby for its inclusion in the primitive weapons season. The myth that atlatls would steal deer from archers is insane. Cars kill more deer every year than the number of people attending atlatl events. I estimate that less than 20 percent of atlatlists would hunt anything anyway because most atlatlists are attracted to the atlatl because of its cultural history, not its thrill of the kill.

– – – – –

Anyhow, I’m Cory.  I help my dad run this site and I like atlatls for sport but I’m not into hunting.  I’m not anti-hunting or anti-gun or anti-weapon but I don’t hunt and I don’t recommend people seek out atlatling as a new venue for killing animals.  However, I would like gun and bow hunters to learn more about the atlatl.  The more popular it gets, the more people are going to try it out — as seen in the video.  I would prefer that their be a legitimate set of rules and testing established state by state to make sure people know how to do it efficiently.

What do you think?

By the way, Thud’s Cave has an amazing list of state laws regarding hunting with an atlatl.

Atlatl Spur-Dart Butt Connection

See the picture.  At the start of the throwing motion the spur of the atlatl is inside the cup in the rear of the dart.  As the atlatlist pulls the dart and atlatl forward the point end of the dart starts to rise, and the spur tip begins its rotation out of the cup.

As the atlatl handle is pulled forward of the atlatlist’s face, the rear end/spur end of the atlatl is, at the same time, levered upward. The spur is soon completely out of the dart’s cup and the butt of the dart is riding on the top face of the spur.  The dart is connected to the spur only because the atlatl is moving faster forward than the dart which is flexing as it moves forward, in a vain attempt to get out of the way of the spur.

At the moment of the throwing motion when the atlatlist’s arm is fully extended forward and he or she begins the rapid downward wrist flick, the dart butt will slide along and off the top face of the spur provided there is nothing to get in its way.

In an earlier article about spurs, I advised and continue to advise that the tip of the spur should be a blunt rounded shape that would easily rotate into and out of the cup in the rear of the dart.  Also, I said that there should be no extra length of wood behind the spur that might come down on top of and hit the rear end of the  dart during the wrist flick motion, and that the spur itself should not have any bulky wrappings around it that the dart but might get hung up on.

I also advised and continue to advise that the top face of the spur should be flat or have a groove in it to avoid the dart slipping off one side or the other of the spur during the throwing motion.

As you can see from the drawing, during the throwing motion, the tip of the spur rotates into and out of the the rear of the dart, and the rear of the dart ends up sliding over the top face of the spur until the atlatl has pushed the dart away completely.  It is there for necessary for the spur design to allow the dart as frictionless a disengagement from the spur as possible.

It’s Like Fly Casting, Man!

(With apologies to the BOOK OF THE BLACK BASS.)

By Dr. J. A. Henshall, published by the Bass Angler’s Sportsman Society, 1881

Article by Ray Strischek

Several times over the years while teaching people how to cast a dart with the atlatl, when I have for the fourth of fifth time advised a beginner to not drop his/her elbow but to extend his/her arm straight out, forward, keeping the elbow shoulder high, all the way through the throw, someone will say, “It’s like Fly casting, man!

My response, not being much of a fishing enthusiast, has always been, “Well, if you say so.”  Privately, I tell myself, “I got to find out about this.”

Well, just the other day I found the Book Of The Black Bass in the throw away bin at the local laundry and way back on page 390, in the chapter “Casting The Fly”, I found this bit of wisdom:

“Casting the artificial fly is performed by two principal motions, a backward and a forward one. The former is to throw the flies behind the angler, and the latter is to project them forward and beyond.

The style and manner of making these two motions are all-important; for upon the correct, skillful, and I might say, scientific performance of them, depends the success of the angler.”

The backward and forward movements are each made in about the same length of time, but while the former is a single movement, the latter is a double one; that is, it is divided into two motions, or parts.

The Backward Motion

The prospective fly-fisher having his rod, reel, and cast in readiness, stands near the bank of the stream, with a clear space of fifteen or twenty feet behind him. Having the line about the length of his rod, to begin with, he takes the hook of the tail-fly between his left thumb and forefinger and stretches the line taut; then, by waving the rod slightly backward over the left shoulder, and at the same time releasing his hold of the tail-fly, the line straightens out behind him, the right elbow meantime being held close to the body, as the backward movement is made with the wrist and forearm entirely. The position of the right hand during this portion of the cast is with said hand grasping the rod just above the reel (the reel being at the extreme butt, and on the underside of the rod), and with the reel and palm of the hand toward the angler, the thumb looking toward his right shoulder. (See Figure 1.)

The Forward Motion, Part I

When the line and leader are on a straight line behind him (the beginner must learn to judge and time exactly), he brings the rod forward with a gradually increasing rate of speed, until the rod is slightly in advance of him (say at an angle of fifteen degrees off the perpendicular). Then, for the first time, the rod is turned in the hand in the opposite direction that is with the back of the hand toward the angler.

The Forward Motion, Part II

At the end of the cast, the reel is below the rod while the back of the hand is upward.  Without stopping the motion of the rod, the right arm is projected to its full extent, and on a line with the shoulder. This is the second part or motion of the forward movement, and consists in merely following the direction of the flies with the tip of the rod, so as to ease their rapid flight, and allow them to descend without confusion, and to settle upon the water noiselessly, and without a splash.

Sometimes these movements are made straight backward and forward over either shoulder, or over the head; but the best way is to make the backward movement over the left shoulder, and forward over the right shoulder, the line thus describing and oval or parabola.

Various ways of casting come into play at certain times for the novice must remember that there are trees and bushes, and rocks and winds, to contend with in fly fishing, as particular circumstances or emergencies demand. As the novice becomes proficient, he will choose his own style of casting, for no two anglers cast the fly exactly the same.”

Fly Casting and Atlatl Casting

In the above text I have underlined the three instances where I can honestly say there is a clear and distinct comparison between casting the fly and casting the dart with the atlatl.

See Figure 3 above. Notice how the arm is straight out on level with the shoulder.

he brings the rod forward with a gradually increasing rate of speed, without stopping the motion of the rod, the right arm is projected to its full extend, and on a line with the shoulder.

As the novice becomes proficient, he will choose his own style of casting, for no two anglers cast the fly exactly the same.

When I teach someone to cast a dart with an atlatl, I tell them to bring the atlatl and dart forward at an ever increasing rate of speed “like a train leaving the station”, and to throw the arm straight out to its maximum extent without letting the elbow drop below the shoulder, until after the dart has separated from the atlatl. “Don’t drop your elbow”.

The Differences

In Figures 1, 2, and 3 above, please note as they might relate to casting a dart with the atlatl:

1. The fly caster is standing with the wrong foot forward.

2. One does not bring the atlatl and dart from the left side of the head to the right side of the head during the casting motion.

3. One does not aim the dart backwards, flipping it around to forward, during the casting motion.

4. Fashion aside, it might be helpful to lose the coat.

5. One does not ease up at the end of the cast in order to have the dart land lightly enough to not make a splash. At the end of the throw, when the arm is fully extended, and as the final act of steadily increasing the force of throw, the atlatlist briskly snaps his wrist downward to achieve maximum torque, in order to have the dart impact the target with the force of 40 caliber magnum.

Please note that I edited out some aspects of the fly casting instructions which pertained to comparing the backward and forward movements of fly casting to a military march music formula of one open note representing the backward movement and two half notes representing the two forward movements, mostly because I thought it was really pushing the comprehension envelope.

All and all, there certainly are some comparisons between fly casting an casting a dart with the atlatl. So next time when I am telling a beginner not to drop his elbow and somebody says “It’s like fly casting, man!”, I’ll know what they’re talking about, and so will you. That said, people have also told me: “It’s like throwing a base ball, man!” and “It’s like throwing a 30 yard pass with a football, man!” and as Billie Bob Thornton said in one of his better roles, “I prefer the swing blade, myself.”

I’ll leave it to others to analyze those comparisons.

Ray Strischek

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.