Life In the Big Green Jolly

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Learn to throw like a pro using an atlatl

Bulls-eye target with spears being collected at Holliday Lake State Park

“Range is clear. Throw your spears. Range is clear. Throw your spears.”

At that, spears went flying.

One in the bulls-eye.

Some towards the bulls-eyes placed 10 feet ahead.

Most – nowhere even close to their intended target. The woods, the neighbor’s target, or straight down towards toes were the common landing spots.

Well, maybe it was just my spears that headed for my toes.

Atlatl Program

Ranger Evan Spears has spearheaded the atlatl educational event at Holliday Lake State Park for several years.

He started the program after tripping over a piece of ‘trash’. It turned out the ‘trash’ was actually an arrowhead or tip of the spear from 5 to 6 thousand years ago.

As Ranger Evan described it – ‘It was a little worn around the edges, but I would be to after five thousand years.’

Parts of the Spear

Part of spear laying on a picnic table - atlatl, shaft, feather
Parts of the spear – atlatl, river cane shaft, feather to steer.

To start our education, Range Evan described the parts we were using:

  • Raw rock(quartz) to make the spearhead. Removable spearheads were an advanced concept. When the tip broke, it could be replaced instead of making a whole new spear.
  • River cane (a cousin of bamboo) for the shaft
  • Feather to help it fly thru the air
  • Deer tendon/sinew to tie it together
  • And a spear thrower/extender for speed… also known as the atlatl
Chunk of quartz
Chunk of quartz. Spearheads would have been created from this

Learning to Throw

Ranger Evan then coached adults and kids alike on throwing technique.

He demonstrated several times with and without the atlatl. He asked “How fast do you you think I can throw this with the atlatl?”

Laughter erupted at the first child’s response: “60 MPH!”

With one-on-one help, everyone came closer to hitting their own targets. Yet after 3 or 4 tries, no-one was even close to the predicted 60 MPH speed.

What is Ranger Evan’s favorite part of teaching the program? Seeing people’s improvement after a few rounds. He thinks we are re-finding some innate ability when we try it. After querying some adults, I’d say he was right as other participants described it as “awesome!” and “Like I tuned into some primal instinct.”

To spend quality time with your family, check out the weekly one hour program: ‘A Stone’s Throw: The Atlatl and the Spear’ at Holliday Lake State Park.

Just be prepared to discover that, like me, you might have been the gatherer rather than the hunter of your tribe.

Fast Facts

  • Trip Date:  June, 2018
  • Event Name: ‘A Stone’s Throw: The Atlatl and the Spear’
  • Dates: Check event page but generally Saturday at 10 a.m.
  • Family Friendly: Yes
  • Location: Holliday Lake State Park, Appomattox, VA
  • Cost: In 2018, program was free after park admission was paid