Man would like Aztec atlatl legalized


Campbellsport, Wis. How about a Wisconsin bowhunting season that
also allows the use of an Aztec weapon called an atlatl?

Len Riemersma, of Campbellsport, is preparing an advisory
question for the 2002 spring rules hearing that would allow use of
the atlatl during the archery deer season.

“Ninety-nine percent of the people out there don’t know what an
atlatl is,” Riemersma said. “I think it would be exciting to
legalize something that is new to hunters, but is really 20,000
years old.”

An atlatl is a wooden device approximately two feet long with a
sinew string or a bone hook on one end that attaches to a
projectile dart or spear. The traditional dart is five to six feet
long and is made of willow or similar wood. However, some atlatl
fans fashion high-tech darts by splicing aluminum arrows. The
cutting tip on the traditional dart is made of stone or steel, but
a commercial broadhead also can be used. Fletching for the dart is
usually turkey feathers that are tied on with sinew.

The dart is launched with a motion similar to throwing a spear.
Using the atlatl as a launching device enables the thrower to
generate more speed than a spear. The atlatl also improves

Atlatl is an Aztec word meaning, “throwing on water.” It was
used for hunting across Europe and North America until
approximately 10,000 years ago when bows and arrows took over. Some
Eskimos still hunt with atlatls today, because the spear or dart
can be launched with one arm, leaving the other arm available to
stabilize the hunter’s kayak.

Riemersma always has been interested in primitive weapons. He
hunts with a muzzleloader and a homemade longbow. Several years ago
he started studying the atlatl and in 1998 he began teaching
primitive skills, including how to make and use the atlatl.

Riemersma’s research showed the atlatl was an effective hunting
weapon, but he wanted to know firsthand how it would work on big
game. He practices regularly and can hit a paper plate consistently
at 20 yards. His tests on targets show the atlatl dart penetrates
as far as an aluminum arrow shot from a bow. The extra weight of
the dart gives it additional knockdown power.

These facts convinced him that deer would be an ideal-sized
species for atlatl users, so he decided to pursue the possibility
of an atlatl deer hunt.

“I can see where there might be some regulatory issues, because
you can regulate a bow to be at least 35 pounds pull, but you can’t
do that with an atlatl. It has to be an ethical process for the
individual hunter to determine if they can throw with enough force
to be effective,” he said.

His proposal would not create a separate season for atlatl
users. It would simply allow hunters to use an atlatl instead of a
bow during the archery season. Riemersma knows few people would use
an atlatl, but he wants to create an opportunity for those who want
additional challenge to hunting. He also noted the atlatl could be
used in urban areas where firearms are not allowed, and with
Wisconsin’s large deer herd it would be useful to have another
means of harvesting whitetails.

DNR chief warden Tom Harelson said the agency has never taken a
position on the use of atlatls for deer hunting.

“We probably never will, as it is the public at large who should
decide if a method is acceptable or not,” Harelson said.

“I do believe that primitive weapons, such as bows and
muzzleloaders, add a certain challenge to hunting that is
intriguing to some people,” Harelson said. “The public accepts that
bows and muzzleloaders offer a reasonable enough certainty of a
clean kill to even a relatively inexperienced person. I could be
wrong, but I doubt that the public would find an atlatl at an
acceptable level to produce a quick and clean kill by the average
person who might choose to use it. In the end, it should, and will,
be up to the public.”

That public includes anti-hunters.

“I am not worried about opposition from anti-hunters.
Anti-hunters will be against any form of hunting,” Riemersma

Anyone interested in talking to Riemersma about the use of
atlatls in Wisconsin may e-mail him at More
information is available on atlatls on the World Atlatl Magazine
web site at

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