by Shakuntala Tambimuttu
Atlatl and dart in hand, the loincloth-clad hunter quietly crept through the dense ferns, inching ever closer to a lone mastodon lagging behind the rest of its herd. His sinewy muscles tensed as he firmly nocked the end of the six-foot-long dart to the wolf-tooth point embedded in the end of his atlatl. Taking careful aim, he swung the atlatl, sending the deadly shaft hurtling to the heart of the beast with a single killing blow.
"Check out that shot!" said my jeans-and-T-shirt-clad husband, waking me out of my reverie. He had just sunk an atlatl-thrown dart deep into the "lungs" of the deer-shaped target at the Chelsea Rod & Gun Club pretty impressive for a first-time atlatlist. The members of the Michigan Atlatl Association had encouraged him, though a beginner, to participate in the Michigan Atlatl Championship that day.
It was nice to know that he would have made a fine caveman. Before there were bows and arrows, skill in using a spear-thrower, or atlatl, was essential to the survival of our Paleolithic ancestors. From the mastodon hunters of Europe, right up to the modern day aborigines of Australia, atlatls have been used worldwide to increase the power and the range of feathered darts far beyond what a simple hand-chucked spear could do.
Following the competitors on the meandering dirt path through a lovely wooded area, I was startled to see a bear rearing up through the trees, only to realize that it was one of the thirty lifelike 3-D targets on the course!
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
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