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How to Make an Atlatl for Wilderness Survival Hunting

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Learn how to make an atlatl with a few simple tools.

When most people think of tools for obtaining food in a wilderness survival situation, their mind tends to automatically turn to the age-old spear and bow.

However, the spear is only a truly effective hunting weapon in the form of a javelin used on open plains and prairie, and a bow and arrows are more difficult to make and master than most people realize.

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Fear not, there is a form of primitive technology that combines aspects of both tools that has a much greater range than a javelin and is much easier to make and master than a self-made bow and thus, it will enable you to obtain that ever so necessary protein.

The technology that I am referring to is properly called an Atlatl, but is also known as a “throwing stick.” It launches a feathered dart that is a little longer and heavier than an arrow but is considerably less heavy than a javelin.

The reason that it is important for you to know about this wilderness survival tool is that it is relatively easy to make, it is relatively easy to learn to use, and it has a range as great or greater than all but the most powerful self-made bows would be capable of.

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To make this simple survival tool, you’ll need some survival cord, which should already be part of your wilderness kit.

Locate a poplar (or similar) sapling of approximately 2 to 2 1/2 inches in diameter. Poplar is a very lightweight wood but it is not sticky like pine. Chop it down from the base of the trunk. Then, remove a section approximately 1 3/4 inches in diameter at its largest end, and approximately 24 inches in length.

Next, cut a second, shorter section from the part of the trunk below where you removed the first section and use it as a baton in conjunction with your survival knife to split the first section lengthwise into two equal halves.

Next, use your knife to smooth the inside surface flat. You can even carve a grip on the small end that is comfortable for you to hold tightly in one hand.

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Now, for the next step, we need to digress a little bit in order to make another tool called a bow drill. The reason for this is because you need to insert a peg into one of the holes and a fork into the other one.

To make a bow drill, you will need to remove one of the limbs from the sapling you have already cut down, cut it to about 18 inches in length, and then carve two matching notches on one side of ether end.

Then, take a piece of cord from your survival kit and tie a loop in either end so that it is a few inches shorter than the length of the limb. Slip the loop over one end of the limb and into the notch, and then bend the limb and slip the other loop over the other end and into the other notch.

Then, you will need a short, straight piece of dried hardwood (such as oak or maple) and another piece of wood you can hold in the palm of one hand. To use this primitive drill, you place the end of the hardwood stick in fine sand to act as an abrasive, then place the bow string against the side of the hardwood stick and then pull it so that the bow flexes.

Then, twist the bowstring so that the ends of the bow swap positions and place the bottom end of the hardwood stick (your drill bit) where you want to drill a hole. Place the small piece of palm-sized wood on top of it, and then push and pull the bow back and forth to turn the hardwood stick.

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You will need to locate where you want to drill the holes in the sapling section. Fortunately, this is relatively easy to determine since the hole in the large end should be about one inch or so shy of the end.

But, in order to figure out where to place the second hole, you need to first wrap your hand around the small end of the Atlatl and place the second hole about 2 inches above where your thumb and index finger come together.

Then, to actually drill the holes, you should place a small bit of fine-grained sand on the spot you want to drill. Place the bottom of your hardwood drill bit on top of the sand, and use the bow to spin the drill bit back and forth, adding more sand occasionally, until the drill bit emerges from the bottom of the sapling section.

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At this point, we turn back to the limbs from our sapling and from them, you need to choose a straight section with the same diameter as your hole or a little larger and cut it to a length equal to thickness of the sapling plus 1 1/2 inch.

Also, choose a “Y” shaped fork with the same dimensions and cut it to length as well. Then, if necessary, carve the bottom end of each section so that the straight section fits tightly into the hole at the large end of the stick and the fork fits tightly into the hole on the small end and voila!

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You now have a functioning Atlatl!

Please note that because an Atlatl is useless without darts (except perhaps as a club), I will also be writing an accompanying article on “How to Make Atlatl Darts” as well as explaining how to use them for hunting.

Keep an eye out for it on WideOpenSpaces.com.

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How to Make an Atlatl for Wilderness Survival Hunting