How to Use the Atlatl Spear Thrower

Person throwing an atlatl dart
Throwing an atlatl dart

The Atlatl (pronounced at-latal or atal-atal) is becoming more popular each year with archers looking for a new challenge. While the atlatl is not the same as a bow and arrow, similarities do exist. The atlatl is an ancient weapon predating the bow and arrow. Essentially, it’s a throwing device using a spear (known as a dart) that uses leverage to give more velocity. Using a flipping motion can propel darts to speeds close to 80 mph.

History suggests that mastodons were hunted using these primitive weapons. Today, a handful of states allow the use of atlatls during hunting seasons. As Fish and Game commissions determine the effectiveness of this ancient weapon and the impact they have on wildlife, the rules and regulations are changing on how they will be included in current hunting seasons.

Besides hunting, there are competitions taking place all over the world. Throwers using modern materials as well as authentic reproductions compete for accuracy in Primitive and Open classes. The World Atlatl Association has a wealth of information regarding sanctioned events with members throughout the world.

Regardless of the use, whether learning about a primitive skill or wanting to hunt, the atlatl can be a fun sport for people of all ages. Developing the skills to be able to accurately throw the atlatl to making your own equipment adds to the enjoyment.

Photo of Atlatl Fever Dvd
Atlatl Fever Dvd

Darts on Target bookWhether you want to make your own equipment or start throwing right away, getting involved in the sport is easier than ever. There are many instructional forms of help available such as the Atlatl Fever DVD.

Photo of three traditional atlatls
Traditional Atlatl Kits

If you prefer a more traditional design or wanting a little more hands-on approach, you may want to look at a wood atlatl kit and darts.

Throwing with an atlatl is similar to throwing a baseball. The main difference is that you are flipping your wrist at the end of the throw. Timing, balance, consistency, and follow through will eventually lead to accuracy.

There are many techniques on how to throw an atlatl. I feel the pre-loaded stance is the best technique for accuracy and hunting.

How to Throw the Atlatl

Step 1:

Grasp the atlatl in your throwing hand with the back end of the dart placed to the rear of the atlatl. The recessed nock end of the dart will sit on the ‘spur’ point. Hold the dart in place using your thumb and index finger.

Step 2:

Turn your body so that you are facing between 45° and 90° in relation to the target. Keeping your knees bent with feet spread shoulder-width apart, turn the front foot approximately 45° towards the target. Raise your throwing arm so the dart is close to eye level and in-line with the target.

Step 3:

Keeping the point straight, slowly start the forward throwing method. Increase the speed during the throw, but try to keep the point straight. At the end of the throw, quickly flick your wrist forward adding the momentum and leverage to the dart. Continue through the throw by using your entire body to help add speed, not just the arm.

Step 4:

This method should be similar to a pitcher throwing a fastball using many of the same mechanics. Follow through is vital to gain consistency.

Just like archery, there is no one specific technique to throw an atlatl. You will have to experiment and find what works best for you. But learning is part of the fun. So why not give it a try?

By R. Strong