Ancient Spear Weapon OK'd For Deer Hunt in Pennsylvania

Brian Handwerk
for National Geographic News
January 24, 2006

Pennsylvania hunters hoping to stalk deer with Stone Age spear- throwers may get their chance later this year. Today the state's game commission gave preliminary approval for hunting deer hunting using the atlatl and dart.

The ancient weapon uses a throwing stick to propel spearlike projectiles farther and harder than hunters can with arm power alone.

The atlatl (pronounced AHT-lah-tuhl) predates the bow and arrow and was first used some 20,000 to 25,000 years ago, possibly earlier, by hunters around the world.

The weapon appeared in the Americas about the same time humans arrived. It was brought to its technological apex during thousands of years of Native American use.

"It's first and foremost a hunting weapon, and I think that naturally this is what it should be," said Jack Rowe, an atlatl enthusiast from Sayre, Pennsylvania, who lobbied for approval.

Lethal Force

Pennsylvania Game Commissioner Roxane Palone supported a study into the use of the ancient weapon. But game commission staff recommended last week that the board not allow atlatl hunting.

"It's not that we question whether the use of the atlatl and dart has the potential to harvest a deer," Pennsylvania Game Commission spokesperson Jerry Feaser said from his Harrisburg office.

"In experienced hands it is obviously a lethal enough device. However, the staff is not convinced that the atlatl and dart, in the hands of the average hunter, possesses enough lethality to ethically and humanely harvest a deer."

Pennsylvania atlatl enthusiast Gary Fogelman, who supports atlatl hunting in the state, says the hunt would allow him to hone the skills used by his ancient ancestors.

"It's simply trying to conquer a weapons technology that has been around for thousands of years and seeing if you can do it as well as others in the past did it," he said.

"It's the challenge. It certainly doesn't make [hunting] any easier. People ask, What's the advantage? There are no advantages. It makes it harder."

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