Newcomers attracted to atlatl competition in Columbia

Saturday, October 2, 2010 | 7:18 p.m. CDT; updated 10:23 p.m. CST, Sunday, November 7, 2010

COLUMBIA — The atlatl, a prehistoric weapon legalized for deer hunting in November’s firearm season in Missouri, drew first-timers to an accuracy competition Saturday in Columbia.

The competition, sponsored by the Missouri Atlatl Association, gave experienced users a chance to improve their skills and introduced newcomers to the world’s earliest compound weapon.

How to use an atlatl

Atlatl specialist Victor Ahearne explained and demonstrated how an atlatl works in a 2008 Missourian video.

Click here to view it.

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The atlatl, dating back at least 28,000 years, was used to hunt mammoth. Missouri will be the second state in the country to allow the atlatl for deer hunting during the firearm season.

Ken Flood and Jerry Bauman attended the one-day competition at the archery range behind Bass Pro Shops by Vandiver Drive. They are longtime users of firearms and bows and arrows but are new to the atlatl. When they heard about the ancient weapon, they said, they had to give it a try.

Flood, of Columbia, gripped the atlatl and flung his arm forth.


“It’s addictive,” said Flood, a competitive firearms user. “It’s fun and challenging, but definitely not impossible to do it.”

“You’ll have to be really close and be confident to strike an animal.”

With a rifle, Flood said, a hunter can be as far as 400 yards from an animal. But when it comes to the atlatl, 20 yards is the maximum.

He said he likes the weapon's light weight. Because of a herniated disk, he cannot use a bow and arrow without hurting his neck. The atlatl weighs no more than two ounces and gives him no pain at all.

“It’s like casting a fly rod,” Flood said.

Bauman, an archer from St. Peters with 55 years of experience, read about the event on an online archery forum.

“I can see a new hobby coming,” he said after using an atlatl to launch a few darts.

Before the newcomers arrived, five experienced atlatl users competed against one another for the grand prize, a $50 gift certificate to Bass Pro Shops. They stood before targets 8 to 16 meters away.

Each person took his turn to shoot the target. The strong wind caused some of their darts to knock against each other. At the end of each round, they strolled together to pull their darts out of the target, laughing and joking with one another.

“Oh, you killed my dart,” said Curtis Waggoner of Sedgewickville to Justin Garnett of Fulton.

During the second part of competition, the scores affected the international atlatl rankings of the participants. Jon Wood, who won both parts of the competition and is ranked 25th internationally, is also the vice president of the Missouri Atlatl Association.

“Keep your elbow up,” Wood said to the newcomers. “You’re using too much muscle — let your wrist do it.”

Travis Rhodes, 16, was the youngest competitor at today’s event. His grandfather, Waggoner, gave him the weapon as a birthday gift this year.

“I was pumped,” Rhodes said of Waggoner's offer to take him to his first competition. “I can have fun by throwing something sharp and not getting in trouble.”

He only started throwing the atlatl in June, but he scored highest in the second round of the competition.

Waggoner said the atlatl had gained some popularity in southeast Missouri, where he lives, when the Missouri Conservation Department approved it for deer hunting. Last month, Waggoner, who owns an archery range and sells traditional archery weapons, sold 25 atlatls.

Waggoner and his wife are avid atlatl users, and so are most of his 10 children. But he said only three out of his 21 grandchildren have thrown the prehistoric weapon.

“We’re working on the rest of them," he said.

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