Primitive weapon is getting a modern revival

Primitive weapon is getting a modern revival
Photo courtesy Flickr user Caitlyn Willows (Creative Commons).

 VAUGHN, Mont. (AP) — With just a flick of the wrist, hunters have been able to kill their prey for thousands of years with the atlatl (pronounced attle attle).

But on Sunday at First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park, visitors were just looking to hit the target with the long wooden arrows and short wooden thrower.

"It's not hard to learn how to use it," said atlatl demonstrator Jim Ray. "But it's difficult to learn to be accurate with it."

The atlatl has been around for 19,000 years, Ray said, and was once used by man to hunt animals. Early peoples also used that atlatl as a weapon in war or battle. The word atlatl comes from the Aztec language.

The thrower is made of wood and is about a half-inch thick and 15 to 18 inches long.

There sometimes is a leather strap attached to be used as a handle and a stone tied to the bottom to give the weapon extra weight.

On one end, there is a point that attaches to the butt end of the arrows.

The arrows are made of light wood material or bamboo and vary in height, but are usually about the same height or taller than the person throwing them.

Using the thrower and a good deal of wrist action, the arrows can be launched successfully toward the intended target, Ray said.

On Sunday, instead of trying to hunt animals, participants were trying to hit targets.

Ray said in the last 20 years or so, the atlatl has made a resurgence as a tool in the competitive arena of sports target shooting worldwide. There are international competitions in which atlatl fans can participate. He said he enjoys the sport.

"Making the equipment and studying it — it gives you more of a connection with your ancestors," he said.

Mary Sheehy brought family and friends from Big Sandy to the atlatl demonstration on Sunday after attending church in town.

"It's very lightweight and easy to use," she said. "It would be a really fun sport."

Living in the Bear Paw Mountains, Sheehy said her family takes an interest in native culture.

"We live where there have been Native American people forever, and it's just an interesting part of Montana," she said.

Mary Brown was enjoying a little slice of historical life. The 11-year-old had learned about atlatl at 4-H camp before, but wanted to give it another try on Sunday with her parents and sisters.

"It's actually really easy," she said. "It's easy to throw, but I've never hit a target."

And while she can appreciate the atlatl as a part of not just Montana's history, but people's hunting tools in general, she enjoys modern hunting techniques.

"I think it's fun to learn what other people used — even though I use a gun," Mary said.

Information from: Great Falls Tribune

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.