All the men, women, and children of the MAA take pride in handcrafting their own atlatls and darts and are happy to share their knowledge of weapons and techniques with anyone willing to learn. One competitor knelt to take aim at a downhill target, his weapon amusingly counterbalanced by the cigar he was holding in his outstretched left arm. Another threw with such ease, it was as if he were playing darts at a bar. Nine-year-old Harold Eyster masterfully wielded a colorfully painted atlatl with carved finger grooves. He made it look easy, winning the youth division; his thirteen-year-old brother, Teddy, took first place overall.
My husband borrowed an atlatl that had woven finger loops and threw as though pitching a baseball, and strained his shoulder in the process. Rotator cuff injuries are common among atlatlists; people tend to throw with more force than necessary. The secret lies in the proper flick of the wrist. For my own first attempt I held a rustic atlatl made of a simple stick with a whittled peg on the end in the "hammer" grip. It was challenging to keep the six-foot-long dart firmly nocked and balanced with only two fingers. Letting it fly, I missed the target by a mile. If I ever get to travel back in time, I guess I'll stick with gathering roots and leave the big game to the champions of the MAA.
The 2005 Michigan Atlatl Championship is at the Chelsea Rod & Gun Club on Sunday, September 25.