Native Weapons and Traps

These are notes from a Native Weapons and Traps class that Piedmont Wildlife Center held on February 20, 2011.  For more information on PWC’s adult classes, visit our Adult Programs page.


In this workshop, we will explore the following hunting tools and weapons:

  • Throwing Stick
  • Modified Throwing Stick
  • Sling
  • Atl-Atl
  • Bow and Arrow
  • Blowgun
  • Fishing spears
  • Fishing Gorges, fish traps and weirs

Throwing Stick

Never underestimate the power of a little stick.  They can be used to build fire and can be used to hunt game for your next meal.  The sticks we used are thick and about a meter long, but practicing throws with a variety of stick lengths and thicknesses will help you identify an ideal throwing stick.

There are three kinds of basic throws:

  1. Overhand: a simple, straight-on throw using an overhand motion
  2. Side: swing your arm from the side, using a horizontal arc-like motion
  3. J:  an arcing throw that goes in a diagonal plane to the body.  There are three kinds of J:
    1. Side:  Do a side arm throw, but twist with your torso to give your throw added power.
    2. Step: Take a step forward as you throw.
    3. Power: In one motion, slide your foot forward as you twist from your torso, and throw, ending with one knee bent and the other on the ground.  You will be kneeling with one knee on the ground.

The advantage of using a throwing stick lies in its simplicity.  Knowing how to use a throwing stick gives you the freedom to pick up a stick and hunt food, which is useful in survival situations.


Many people have 2 throwing sticks with them.  One is meant to injure the animal, and the other is meant to deliver the fatal blow.

In general, place the heavier side of the stick on the outside.

When you release your stick, point straight at the target.

Modified Throwing Stick

You can modify the body of your throwing stick.  Modified throwing sticks include, but are not limited to, boomerangs and clubs.

  • You can use green or dead wood for your throwing stick, but it is easier to carve green wood.
  • You can sharpen your throwing stick to make it lethal.

Primitive Sling

Warning: Remember to exercise care if you try using a sling.  Try using soft and practicing away from houses, buildings or other people.

A sling is a pouch with two strings on either side that is used to hurl an object, such as a rock, toward a target.  The sling we used for this workshop is the type that you swing in a vertical  arc over your head, using an overhand motion.  One of the strings had a loop on one end, and the other ended with a “T” on the other.  The pouch was stiff.  The less stiff the pouch, the more likely the pouch will bind up the rock.


  1. Bring sling up in an arch over your head and release it at the top of the arc.  It will resemble the left half of a parabola.  Do NOT twirl the sling over your head like a helicopter blade because one tends to lose control of aim. Minimizing  the number of turns helps
    1. improve accuracy
    2. prevent prey from seeing you
  2. Place the T-end of the string between your ring and middle finger of your dominant hand and hold the knotted end between your thumb and index finger
  3. Steps to swing a sling
    1. The proper way to swing the sling is to bring the sling up in an arch over your head and release it at the top of the arc.
    2. Start with the sling behind you.
    3. Raise your  hand a little before you start arcing the sling.  Note: The sling will travel/come up faster than your arm.
    4. As  you “arc,” keep your arm straight.
    5. While hanging onto the “T”-end of the string, release the knotted end of the string at the top of the arc to send your projectile flying.

For more information on slings, visit


Throwing sticks and spears, such as the atl-atl, were developed in the Paleolithic period and were used to hunt megafauna, such as mastadons.  “Atl-atl” means “far-far” in Aztec, and this weapon outperformed primitive rifles at the time of the conquistadors in some battles because it has a longer range.

  • Basic principal: It serves as an extended arm to provide more trajectory
  • various basic forms, ex. a stick with a hook, which launches the spear-like portion, called a “dart”
  • The dart has flex in it, which comes from wobbling in the air.  This acts like a spring, which makes the dart travel farther.
  • Dart could have a point or a fire-polished tip.  A point-free one for practice could have a weight on the end, such as sand and a dime.
  • Ideally, the fin should be 1-inch wide on both sides.

Bow and Arrow

arose in a time after megafauna disappeared

Spring lies in the bow itself, so the shafts are easier to replace.



  • Osage orange is most famous and preferred
  • Other woods: cedar, maple, ash, locust, oak
  • Can use either sapwood or hardwood
  • Making a bow out of sapwood is easier because you do not have to take off one growth ring at a time.


  • dacron (nylon)- synthetic cord with high tensile strength
  • animal-based- sinew or rawhide, but won’t work if wet
  • plant-based fibers- dogbane, yucca; needs to be 2 to 4 times the size of dacron
  • Simpler to make a good bow than good arrow
  • arrow needs to be spined for the bow

How to shoot

  • Can only draw 1/2 of bow’s working distance
  • Beginners should start with a longbow, then progress to a short or “snap” bow.  (Short bows are painful on fingers, so use a guard.)
  • Shoot off your hand, off the knuckle
  • Arrow spines around bow to hit target
  • Bend arm a little bit and hold at angle.
  • Use your arm and ear as an anchor.

Different ways to hold the bow

  • Set arrow on knuckle
  • 3-fletch arrow typical; fletching: feathers
  • Cock feather faces away from target
  • Relax your body, and pull all the way back.

Storing bow

  • Keep it unstrung.
  • Wood should spring back to normal shape.


The blowgun shaft is made of Giant Rivercane which is a native species of bamboo. It grows in dense stands along riverbanks in certain places across the state.  The sides do not branch the way asiatic bamboo does.  The length of the shaft will increase friction, but it increases accuracy. A typical length is around 4 feet.

The dart is made of a wooden skewer or splinter of wood.  It is fletched with thistle down, which is gathered in the fall.

  • One dart= 50 uses
  • Used for small game, ex. squirrels
  • Maximum range: 20 to 30 feet
  • Fishing spears
  • Fishing Gorges, fish traps and weirs


There are many variations on the basic principles of a trap. We demonstrate five primary traps to teach these principles.  These can be adapted for almost any situation

Deadfalls—These can be built large or small depending on the game species.  Deadfalls may use a deadweight to kill the game instantly or a cage for a live trap.

  • Figure 4 Deadfall
  • Paiute Deadfall

Snares – catches and holds prey, often killing it instantly

  • Rolling Snare
  • T-Bar Snare

Tripline—primarily used as a surprise attack in warfare, also has applications in hunting

  • Apache limpwire

Note: there are other traps mechanisms that we don’t cover extensively in this workshop but are also used.  These include treadle traps, leg hold traps, container traps such as turtle traps and pitfall traps.


Encyclopedia of Native American Bows, Arrows & Quivers: Volume 1: Northeast, Southeast, and Midwest by Steve Allely

The Traditional Bowyers Bible Volume 1 by Jim Hamm

Field Guide to Wilderness Survival by Tom Brown, Jr.
Field Guide to Living in the Wilderness by Tom Brown, Jr.