GetIN Outdoors: Try Atlatl!

We are proud to present this web series, GetIN Outdoors. It’s a special 6-part series with the 2015 Ford Hoosier Outdoor Experience, a 2-day event {Sept 19-20} at Fort Harrison State Park that encourages families to try new outdoor activities together. Read the official announcement here and follow along with our blogger The Momista as her family previews some of the fun. Summer is the time to be GetIN Outdoors!


If you’ve followed along with our series so far, you know that the Ford Hoosier Outdoor Experience is coming, and it offers 50 different types of outdoor activities. Fun like camping, canoeing, archery and fishing. So you might look at this post written about a crazy-activity-that-starts-with-an-a in confusion.

What is ATLATL?

This was my reaction too when I spotted it a couple years ago at a past Experience. Especially since the list of activities at the Experience are all ones I expected at an outdoor event or had heard of before. But atlatl?
First, a mini lesson in mechanics and history: In the diagram below is a long spear or dart on top. Underneath, the hand is holding what looks like a smaller stick. This second mechanism is a spear-thrower or atlatl {pronounced á-till-lattil}. GetINOutdoors_TryAtlatl_HowToHERO
Together with the spear thrower’s hand, the atlatl can propel the dart a long distance. So in the act of throwing overhand, the atlatl stays put in your hand and the spear detaches to become a long-range weapon.
Interestingly, there are records of the Greeks and Romans having used similar tools. In fact archaeologists believe the earliest form of the atlatl can be found in reports approximately 30,000 years old. The points were historically made from bone or antlers, although more modern spears use stone points instead.
According to Cathy Draeger-Williams – an archaeologist with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and our instructor! – there are still populations in South America and Africa who use them for hunting today.
And any idea what the atlatl was a predecessor to? {Answer: The bow and arrow.}


A couple of weeks ago, the kids and I headed to Fort Harrison State Park for a brief lesson. When Cathy arrived, my 7 year old sized her up. He is athletic and competitive in nature, and immediately figured he had the advantage given he liked both things she mentioned the atlatl was similar to – throwing a football or casting a fishing line. He wasn’t put off by the fact that the darts were not only taller than him but also ME at 6 feet in length. Then she said those magic words: “My best throwers tend to be 9 year old girls. The art of atlatl throwing is NOT about strength alone, but skill.”
And as we all know, when you tell a 7 year old boy that 9 year old girls can throw better: Game on.


He tried valiantly. And by all accounts, he did great and adjusted well when Cathy offered tips for how to keep the spear from coming off the atlatl – one of the toughest parts of the task.
Then it was 5 year old sister’s turn and she knocked him out of the park, successfully executing a run-and-throw maneuver that even Cathy marveled at.
Finally, I was up. I could hear my friend’s voice in the back of my head saying Don’t let go of the atlatl. Just concentrate, hold on and don’t let go. And I impressed myself a bit with my distance, secretly considering I must be a complete natural at the sport and clearly needed no more professional instruction… A moment Cathy seized to step up and hurtle one dart. It landed what must have been a good 2,580 yards away {only a slight exaggeration}. SHE was the one with skill-not-strength. SEE?


We left with Hunter contemplating where to purchase his own set {Cathy recommended either Thunder Atlatl Association or at Turkey Run State Park}, and me realizing that our new house boasts Cathy’s recommended layout of flat, level ground and at least 100 feet of yard space… Hmmmm.
This unusual activity was not expected to be a favorite but I think has quickly catapulted to the top of our list for this year’s Ford Hoosier Outdoor Experience – I highly recommend you try it out too. And you’re welcome to tell my son he throws like a 9 year old girl: He might actually take it as a compliment.


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