An ancient weapon that was apparently used as early as prehistoric times to slay woolly mammoths may soon be added to the arsenals of Pennsylvania hunters. The state Game Commission is drafting proposed regulations to allow hunters to use the atlatl, a small wooden device that propels a 6-foot (nearly 2-meter) dart as fast as 80 mph (130 kph). The commission could vote in January and make a final decision in April, officials said.
It was not yet clear which animals would be hunted, but the proposal has the support of people who want to kill deer with the handmade weapon of Stone Age design.
"For me, it would be a thrill to have a deer get up close enough and to throw my dart and hit the deer, bag it like my ancestors did," said Jack Rowe, 45, a veteran hunter and atlatl enthusiast from Sayre.
In Alabama, one of a handful of states that allows atlatls for hunting or fishing, few hunters use them during deer season, said Allan Andress, chief fish and game enforcement officer for the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. "As you might imagine, it's not something that most people have the skill or the patience for," Andress said.
Pennsylvania Atlatl Association president Gary L. Fogelman, who got the atlatl bug about 20 years ago, said he doubts large numbers of deer will ever be killed with the weapon.
"You've got to know what you're doing, you've got to be good with all the outdoor skills in order to be able to score with this thing," said Fogelman, who publishes Indian Artifact Magazine.
To use an atlatl, the name is derived from an Aztec word for "throwing board", hunters hook arrowlike hunting darts into the end of the weapon, which is generally a wooden piece about 2 feet (less than a meter) long. The leverage of the atlatl allows them to throw the darts much farther than they could throw a spear.
At BPS Engineering in Manhattan, Montana, a leading manufacturer of atlatls, owner Bob Perkins said customers pay US$140 (Ђ115) for a 2-foot (less-than-a-meter) maple production-line model, the Warrior, and a set of five aluminum darts.
Perkins has killed two deer with atlatls and recently killed his first buffalo.
"Atlatls were the first true weapon system developed by the human race," he said. "Comparatively speaking, the bow and arrow was a recent development in projectile technology."
There is evidence the weapons were used more than 8,000 years ago in Pennsylvania, said Kurt Carr, an archaeologist with the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
Prehistoric atlatls have a distinctive counterweight feature called a winged banner stone that has helped confirm their existence. Atlatl use goes back far as 12,000 years elsewhere in North America and far longer in Europe.
"It takes some practice, but it's like the bow and arrow. I can't shoot a bow and arrow for beans, but I can use an atlatl more effectively," he said.
The World Atlatl Association, which has 380 members, has held an annual accuracy contest since the mid-1990s, and this year more than 2,000 people participated.
"People that are interested in archaeology and ancient history are the ones that seem to be drawn to it," said association president Richard B. Lyons, a retired firefighter from Jeffersonville, Indiana. I.L.