By Ray Strischek

  • Stand up straight and tall, facing target, one foot slightly in front of the other
  • Hold handle of atlatl (w/ dart loaded on) horizontally*, above and slightly behind ear.
    * (Angle dart point upward above horizontal for 20 meters or more distances.)
  • Take step forward with lead foot, start casting motion.
  • Cast into the initial angle. (Horizontal or angled above horizontal, whichever.)
  • Don't lever atlatl at start of cast, Pull forward first, then lever atlatl, then flick wrist.
  • Use a momentum building force of throw.
  • Don't drop elbow.
  • Don't bend over.
  • Aim throughout the casting motion, not just at the start.



The throwing (casting) techniques presented here are for people like me, right handed, with next to zero throwing skills as proven by a life time experience of being the last person chosen for all play ground baseball (left field), basketball (bench), and football (right guard) teams. Be that as it may, I am the 1997 World Atlatl Association's (WAA) International Standard Accuracy Competition (ISAC) champion, and have turned in above 90 scores every year since then (100 being the maximum score).

The throwing technique I use is a steady on, end over end, no side arm throw. There are plenty of side arm throwers in the WAA. If you favor a side arm throwing technique, you are reading the wrong article. Contact the World Atlatl Association, and ask for Gary Fogelman's or Terry Keefer's or Mark Bracken's or Doug Majorsky's address, then, send them a letter and ask them how they do it. They are all WAA ISAC champions too, and so far, they have all become champions with better scores than mine. Mark Bracken 98, Gary Fogelman 98. Terry Keefer 97. Doug Majorsky My highest ever score, 95. In 2003, Mark Bracken, Canton Georgia, scored a 98 with 5 Xs.

What's the deal with the Xs? In the center of the 10 inch ISAC bull's-eye, is a 3 inch white spot with a big X in it. The X was designed to help break ties. For a long time Terry Keefer of Fort Loudon Pennsylvania had the highest score in the ISAC with a 97xx. In 2003 Gary Fogelman of Turbotville Pennsylvania scored a 98 (no Xs). About a week later, Mark Bracken blasted his way into the record book with his 98xxxxx. Although Mark's score is likely to be around awhile, those of us who are regular competitors in the WAA's ISAC feel the bitter sweet joy/pain of Gary Fogelman's short lived 98. We wonder how much of Mark's stomach lining rotted away during his last two throws in getting the 98xxxxx. We also understand the fear he must now feel knowing a sloppy 99 (with no Xs) could take away his glory.

Obviously there is nothing wrong with side arm throws. I just don't do it that way, therefore, I can't teach that way.

The vast majority of posted ISAC atlatlists score are between 75 and 85. Anything above 85 is considered real good. Anything above 90 is extra special. Remember, the maximum score is 100, and, the atlatlist is throwing one dart, ten times, in rotation in a flight of 3 to 5 other atlatlists. This means, there is a lot of waiting around between throws, and every throw is a cold throw. This is especially daunting when throwing the first dart after moving from 15 meters to 20 meters.

Every year, at nearly every Ohio atlatl contest, I conduct atlatl demonstrations for beginners. I set out targets, set up throwing stations with 3 serviceable darts and a serviceable atlatl w/ dart rest at each station, and then proceed to instruct the very basics of throwing to what generally turns out to be a steady flow of Saturday/Sunday tourist beginners. I walk and talk each person through how to hold and how to throw stages. If any show good ability (can throw, hits target or gets dart near to target without hitting dirt in front of target), I will then tell them how to aim. After that, if they start hitting point zones on the target with any kind of regularity, I will snatch them off the line and force them to enter a novice level contest. All this happens within 4 or 5 times of throwing 3 darts.

On my own, with only the memory of watching some other guys do it one time at a Flint Knapping Festival, it took me 3 months and hundreds of throws to figure out what I was doing wrong, why I kept hitting the dirt in front of the target, why my darts consistently flew to the right of the target, why throwing harder failed to get me any more distance, and so on.

It took me even longer to put together a personalized atlatl and dart design (better than just plain serviceable) that would start me on my way to scoring high and winning some contests.

At these demonstrations, I am usually training 6 to 8 people at a time and have them under my tutelage for less than 15 minutes.

The very first rule of course is: Before you break my dart, try it my way first.

Roughly 1/3 of the beginners, want to throw side arm. I always wish I could say Oh, you throw side arm. Stop what you're doing and go over there to the expert side arm demonstration range. I don't want to force you to learn how to be un-natural. However, I am generally the only action in town and the poor unsuspecting beginner is therefore stuck with end-over-end Ray, unless or until a master side arm atlatlist comes over to spell me for awhile, which actually happens some times, more so in more recent years, as other find out teaching is fun.

So anyway. Here is how I end over end, and why.


I am of course assuming, that you are right handed. Left hand people will have to invert, convert, and pervert the following information accordingly.

Stand up straight and tall, face the target and turn slightly away from target into the direction of their throwing arm.

If you are right handed, you left foot should be slightly forward of your right foot. The toes of the left foot should be pointed at the target. The toes of the right foot should be pointed slightly off to the right.

You should be holding the handle of the atlatl and dart (locked and loaded, so to speak) in your right hand, horizontally, point pointed down range at the target. Your hand, which is holding the handle of the atlatl, should be about level with the top of your head and positioned slightly to the rear of your right ear. Your right elbow should be level with your shoulder. Your left arm should be pointed down range too, parallel to your atlatl and dart.

Sighting or aiming the atlatl and dart requires peripheral eyeballing. Its just like shooting pool, bowling, tennis, golf, or any other make-the-thing-go-away-from-you-to-somewhere-else activity that requires displaced hand and eye coordination (your eye is in one place, your hand in another, yet together, you are a team.) In your mind, you must use your eye to align the dart towards the target, angle the atlatl and dart up or down from pure horizontal depending on that distance to target/weight of object being thrown factor, and teach your hand, wrist, forearm, upper arm, shoulder, back and legs to get with the program.

Firing a cannon. In the old days, when cannons balls were actually shaped like balls, the people who fired the cannon would watch in fascination to see what whimsical journey the ball would take after leaving the cannon. That's because, (A) the ball was not a tight fit in the barrel and (B) after the powder ignited, the ball would bounce around inside the barrel and it was anyone's guess which direction off of true straight it would take coming out of the barrel. Hundreds of years would pass before someone would invent the bullet shaped cannon ball, and the spiraled rifling of the barrel that would take away the bad equipment excuse for bad aiming.

When casting a dart, the hand gripping the atlatl handle is passing the dart through a barrel of direction, of sorts. Obviously, the more narrow the barrel, the more likely the dart will hit the intended target.

More than half the beginners assume the position, hold the atlatl and dart true and steady, seeing in their mind's eye, their dart screaming toward X marks the spot, and as soon as they start to throw, they turn their wrist outboard and thus the dart sails off, towards the parking lot to the right, if they're right handed. Others, will start raising the dart point towards the sky as soon as they start throwing. The fact is, from the moment they start their throwing motion, their eye and mind become fixated on the target, and not on what their hand is doing to the atlatl and dart.

As you can see, it takes some time and several throws before the beginners catches on to coordinating the throwing hand-wrist-forearm-upper arm-shoulder-back-legs mechanics of the throw, to the eye-mind thought process of aiming, just to get the dart moving down range towards the target.

(One can hardly talk about one without talking about the other but together, they are a team)

One does not aim an atlatl and dart as one would aim a rifle or cannon. There are no sights front and rear. All is peripheral.

The dart is heavier than air, therefore what goes up must come down. The dart will not slice through the air in a straight line, very far. One can not levitate it to the target. Therefore one must gauge the distance, calculate the weight, apply the appropriate amount of force of throw, and send the dart to a height above the target, watch the dart fly in an arc, and drop to X marks the spot. Obviously, different targets and different distances at different elevations will require adjustments in THE MECHANICS OF THE THROW, or as some call it, THE THROWING TECHNIQUE.

At the beginners' range, the targets are 4 foot by 4 foot by 4 inch thick, stiff foam/rubber pads staked upright on the ground, 15 yards away. All I require is that they hit the big white foam thing, anywhere.

In the World Atlatl Association's International Standard Accuracy Contest, (ISAC), the target fits nicely on one of these 4 x 4 foot foam/rubber pads. The bull's-eye is about a 10 inch circle in the middle and is centered within specific parameters off the ground. Contestants throw from 15 and 20 meters.

In the European Contest, targets vary in size from about 2 foot circles to 4 foot circles and set on the ground 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20, 22, 24, and 26 meters distance, on terrain that is up, down, flat, slanted, rocky, woody, muddy, sandy, whatever is available or catches the sadistic organizer's fancy.

State Contest organizers more often use the ISAC target for distances that range from 10 to 30 meters, sometimes 40 or 50 meters, usually on more or less flat ground. But sometimes, organizers will string a cable from a pole to the ground in order to have a gravity drop, moving target.

In Ohio, we have a Masters Long Distance Hunter Challenge which is basically an ISAC at 25 and 30 meters. A lot of the atlatlists who throw 90s in a regular ISAC (15 and 20 meters), myself included, can't throw 70 or better this Long Distance ISAC. Change ups in distance drastically reduces accuracy. Change ups in elevation, drastically reduces accuracy.

Back in the days of prehistory, atlatlists were hunting what ever was available in fur, feather, and fin, on land, air, and sea/lake/stream/swamp, at whatever effective range.


With the atlatl and dart, effective range is being able to hit a given target at a given range often enough to prevent starvation. In terms of meters, that's 10 to 20 meters for the solo hunter hunting the solo target. For the collective group using a hunting strategy where the targets are driven into a tight shoulder to shoulder bunch, then effective range can be up to 40 meters or more.

Still, even with a limited effective range, the differences in the lay of the land, up hill or down hill, stationary or moving, close or far away, a difference of as little as 5 meters will still require the atlatlist to tweak or adjust his or her throwing technique.


Back at the beginners' range, I am teaching beginners one and only one technique to hit a target 15 meters away in which X marks the spot is waist high off the ground. In order to do this, they must, with a moderate to brisk force of throw, throw the dart horizontally away from them, and towards the target. In order to avoid hitting the dirt in front of the target, they must not bend over forward and not drop their throwing arm's elbow below their shoulder until after the dart has separated from the atlatl.

If you hold the atlatl and dart horizontally: (Or, Three ways to make your dart hit the dirt in front of the target.):

1. When you bend over forward, you lower the point of the dart.

2. When you drop your elbow below your shoulder before the dart separates from the atlatl, you are lowering the elevation of the dart.

3. If the first thing you do in starting your throwing motion is to lever the atlatl upward, you will lift the back end of the dart above the point end of the dart thus causing a loss of elevation.

The above, don't bend over, don't drop your elbow, is the hardest part to teach. It must be un-natural for the average human being throwing anything to not bend over and drop the elbow below the shoulder during a throw. When of course, their darts hit the ground in front of the target, they try to correct the problem by throwing harder, with more force, and bending over even further and of course, still dropping their elbow below their shoulder. And so naturally, their dart goes much faster and sinks even deeper into the ground in front of the target.

Let's back up a little.

You are at the firing line.

You stand up straight and tall. You face the target. Because you are right handed, you put your left foot forward of you right foot. You point the toes of your left foot at the target. You turn the toes of your right foot slightly to the right.

You load the dart onto the atlatl. You raise the atlatl and dart up to a level equal to the top of your head, holding the atlatl and dart horizontally, point of the dart aimed at the target. The handle of the atlatl should be slightly to the rear of your ear.

Now look at your elbow. Where is it? It should be at a level equal to the top of your shoulder. If you are right handed, and if you draw a line between your chest and the target, your elbow should be at a 45 to 90 degree angle to your right, and, your elbow, should be as high off the ground as the top of your shoulder.

The next step is to start throwing, and you do it as follows:

(That which is about to happen, takes only a fraction of a second of real time.)

1. Rock back, or just lean back, until all your weight is on your right foot. While rocking or leaning back, make sure you are not altering your aim.

2. After you have rocked or leaned back, start to take a half step forward with your left foot. While your are thus using your left foot to move your whole body forward, start moving the atlatl and dart forward, horizontally. Do not start levering the atlatl upward yet. Do not lower your elbow as you start moving the atlatl and dart forward.

Start picking up the pace!

3. When you have moved the atlatl handle forward from behind your ear to just forward of your face, start levering the atlatl straight up into the air. Do not lower your elbow below your shoulder while you lever. Do not bend over while you lever.


4. Send your levering right hand, horizontally, all the way out towards the target. When you think you have just about reach the maximum extent of your reach, flick your wrist hard and fast, without dropping your elbow below your shoulder, and without bending over forward.

AFTER the dart has separated from the atlatl, then, and only then, may you bend over and/or drop your elbow.

The above was all about elevation, for getting a dart to X marks the spot 15 meters away, when X is waist high off the ground. Repeat this process 20 times.

Now let's add direction to the mix.


1. While you are standing at the firing line holding the atlatl and dart horizontally at the top of your head and slightly to the rear of your ear, draw an imaginary line (vertically) down through the center of X marks the spot. Using your advanced powers of peripheral vision, align the whole length of your dart to the imaginary line drawn vertically through X marks the spot.

Don't bend over, don't drop your elbow.

2. As you rock or lean back to put all of your weight on your right foot, keep your whole dart aligned to that imaginary line drawn vertically through X marks the spot.

Don't bend over, don't drop your elbow.

3. As you start moving the atlatl and dart forward horizontally and when your elbow reaches a point just forward of your face, keep your whole dart aligned to that imaginary line drawn vertically through X marks the spot.

Don't bend over, don't drop your elbow.

4. As you reach the point of almost maximum extension of your reach and start to flick your wrist, keep your whole dart aligned to that imaginary line drawn vertically through X marks the spot.

AFTER the dart has separated from the atlatl, you may bend over, drop your elbow, and look at something else if you want.

Repeat this process 20 times.

The thing about aiming is, aiming does not stop until the dart has separated from the atlatl.



The thing about elevation is, since it changes with each distance, you will have to learn by practice, to pick a point up or down the imaginary vertical line at which to align the angle of elevation of the whole length of the dart you are aiming.

What did he say?

Ok. I have told you that at the beginners' range, I have the beginners hold the handle of atlatl (dart on board) at the top of their heads and to the rear of their ears, and that, they need to be holding said atlatl and dart horizontally. When the throwing motion starts, the atlatl and dart move forward horizontally, don't bend over, don't drop elbow. Still moving the atlatl and dart forward at an ever quicker rate of speed, start levering the atlatl up and forward, but don't bend over and don't drop the elbow. Flick the wrist, but don't bend over and don't drop the elbow, UNTIL AFTER THE DART SEPARATES FROM THE ATLATL.

This is what the beginners must do to get the dart 15 meters down range and into a target whose X marks the spot is waist high off the ground.

But what if X marks the spot was 30 meters down range?

Back at the beginners' range, a 13 year old girl and 38 year old retired Marine step up to the firing line. They both assume the position, they both throw horizontally. They both keep their dart aligned to the imaginary line running vertically through the center of the target all the way through the throw and neither one drops elbow or bends over. The girl's dart hits the bottom of the target. The Marine's dart flies over the top. Obviously, both are going to have to adjust something to get to X marks the spot.


Back in the days of castles and canons, the defender's artillery man would use a tool that looks like a right angle with a string and plumb bob hanging down through a curved tape measure. He would have his assistant walk out to various sites in the plain surrounding the castle and plant an aiming stake. Then the assistant would run for cover. The artillery man would angle the barrel of the cannon (noting the settings on the tool) and fire away. When he had the site zero-ed in, he would mark the setting on his field of fire map. Any aggressor wandering on to that particular site was dead meat because the artillery man knew before hand what angle to set the barrel and how much powder and what weight ball to use to hit X marks the spot.

Call it what you will, initial angle of incident, the angle of the dangle, point above the horizon, registration point, the sweet spot, or anything else you desire.

Assuming you have direction under control, if your personal amount of force of throw is not enough or too much to put the dart into X marks the spot, you will have to adjust something. In my opinion, the easiest thing to adjust is the angle into the air in which you send your dart.

I have the beginners begin by throwing straight out horizontally at a target 15 meters away.

The 13 year old girl who hit the bottom of the target will have to stop throwing horizontally and will need to angle the point of her dart up, and throw her dart up into that chosen upward angle. This means she will not only not drop her elbow, but actually send her elbow forward and upward into the angle chosen.

The 38 year old retired Marine who over shot the target will have to lower the point of his dart below horizontal, and send the dart into that lowered angle, which means, GASP!, he might have to drop his elbow a little below his shoulder as he throws.

For future reference, for 15 meter throws, both the 13 year old girl and the 38 year old retired Marine will have to mentally put an aiming dot on the imaginary line running vertically through X marks the spot. The aiming dot will be the place above or below horizontal where they will have to send the point of their dart when they throw.

For each different distance, both the girl and the retired Marine will have to put a mental aiming dots on their imaginary line running vertically down through X marks the spot.

The further the distance, the higher the angle, above horizontal, will be.

Imagine you are standing to the side of the atlatlist, who has assumed the position, and is holding the atlatl and dart horizontally. The target is 30 meters away. The butt/spur end of the atlatl and dart stays where it is. The atlatlist raises only the point end of the dart up into the air. From your position, it looks like the atlatlist now has the atlatl and dart angled up at a 10 degree angle above horizontal.

The atlatlist throws the dart into that 10 degree upward angle, and the dart hits the dirt in front of the target. On the next throw, the atlatlist increases the angle to 30 degrees and throws into the 30 degree angle. The dart goes over the top of the target. On the third throw, the atlatlist put the atlatl and dart into a 20 degree angle and throws into that 20 degree angle. The dart hits just above X marks the spot. On the fourth throw, the atlatlist sets his angle at 18 degrees and throws into the 18 degree angle, and the dart hits X marks the spot. Now all the atlatlist has to do is remember where he put is mental aiming dot on his imaginary line, every time the atlatlist throws from 30 meters (and, use the same amount of momentum building force of throw and wrist flick).


Good atlatlists will tell you to practice with a matched set of darts. The darts should be of the same material, same length, same weight, same range of flexibility, same amount of kinetic flexibility, same amount of fletching, same balance point A lot of atlatl accuracy is pure touchy/feely. No sights, no lazar guidance system, no scope, not even that right angle type tool with the string and plumb bob. Part of the ability to find that mental aiming dot on the imaginary vertical line from one day to the next, from one target to the next, is through the feel of the dart's weight hanging off the front end of the atlatl handle.

Every dart has a specific amount of its total weight in front of the atlatl handle, towards the point of the dart. When you angle the dart point upward, the weight of the dart in front of the handle becomes less. I have read and heard people call this shifting the center of gravity to the rear.

All I know for sure is that when I angle the point end of the dart upward, I can feel the weight of the dart in front of my atlatl handle actually becomes less. It is the amount of weight loss that helps me relocate the right aiming dot on my imaginary vertical line for each distance, 10, 15, 20, 25, and 30 meters. Much practice is required to achieve this level of know-it-all-ness.


Ok, I hear you. You're big and tough and so are your darts. Your darts can hack a little more muscled force of throw. You want, more than anything in the world, to send that dart screaming faster than the speed of sound, in a straight line right to the target. Or, maybe you just have to throw harder because you're in the woods where a high trajectory shot is simply out of the question.

As I have stated earlier, one of the things beginners almost always do to get more distance is to throw harder. When they do throw harder, they most often jerk snap whip throw harder, and, besides just sinking the dart deeper into the dirt in front of the target, they over flex the dart shaft and dart goes haywire.

I have often described the momentum building process of the throw as being like a train leaving the station as opposed to a drag race. The atlatlist should start the forward moving throwing process gently and pick up speed in a well regulated manner, hitting peak speed just prior to the brisk flick of the wrist at the end of the throw. Do not out run your dart.

For most people, for 10 to 20 meters, a 3/4 force of throw is plenty. This implies that for under 10 meters, less force of throw is needed, and for over 20 meters, more force of throw is needed. Yes, true, on both counts! But, whatever force of throw is needed, the prime directive still stands. Use a momentum building force of throw, like a train leaving the station.

(Another great debate)

Our European counterparts in the World Atlatl Association favor a throwing technique that plants the left foot (if you are right handed) up against a distance stake. They then exaggerate the lean to the rear and generally hold the atlatl handle way back to the rear of the ear very much as if they were throwing a javelin. Once they begin the forward motion of the throw, they do not take a step forward. However, their whole body goes forward for a distance from start to finish that duplicates (upper body wise) the forward momentum building motion of taking a half step forward.

The European's do not take a step forward, they say, because the movement of taking a step forward would scare off the game.

Some atlatlists who have hunted deer on private reserves report that some deer who see atlatlists, watch them throw their darts, and neatly side step aside as the dart comes near. Other atlatlists who have killed their deer state that their deer didn't see them, and did not move as the darts came near.

Other atlatlists who have hunted boar, have stated that the boar did not leap to one side as the dart came near, but in fact, after being hit with the dart, the boar turned on the atlatlists and charged.

Whatever is really real about hunting with the atlatl and dart in these here modern times, the fact of the matter is that from at least 23000 BC to 10000 BC in Europe, and from about whatever BC to about 3000 BC in the Americas, the atlatl and dart was THE tool for hunting before the bow and arrow.

No doubt about it, the Mechanics involved in using the atlatl and dart does involve a lot of body motion, especially since the Mechanics of the Cast requires all that (shoulder, upper arm, elbow, forearm, wrist, hand holding the atlatl which is launching the dart), flailing motion. And whether one takes a half step forward, or moves only the upper body forward, without a doubt, the number of sequenced movements in operating the atlatl and dart is far more elaborate (and difficult to hide) than shooting a bow an arrow.

But, its not the visuals of motion that modern atlatlists should be concerned with the most.


What can go wrong, will.

Back at the beginners' range, I generally have at least one person become frustrated and start to mumble: Don't bend over, don't drop the elbow, don't turn the wrist, step with the left foot, hold it behind your ear. . . .how is a person supposed to remember all this?!?

I try to have each person I teach limit the amount of movement as much as possible. I have them use a dart rest so that they don't have to worry about what they're supposed to do with their fingers. I have them hold the atlatl handle w/dart aboard at the top of their head and just behind their ear so that they don't have pull the atlatl and dart from way back behind themselves, or lift the atlatl and dart up from their shoulders to a spot over their head while doing the dance of forward momentum building. I have attempted to reduce as much as possible any and all unnecessary movements because I know, that what can go wrong, will.

The only part I have not tinkered with, is taking the initial step forward, because I believe it is easier and involves less over all movement, to simply take a half step forward then it does to rise from a half crouch position, propel one self forward and then suddenly stop theupper body from continuing forward once all the weight has catapulted itself from the right leg to the left. But hey, that's just my biased American viewpoint speaking there, and of course, I don't mean to belittle the European point of view, no matter how wrong they are.


I remember reading somewhere about the revolutionary war battlefield where the red coats and blue coats were lined up in rows opposite each other and using the same rifles. (This apparently didn't involve any of those Americans who hid behind trees and used Kentucky Long Rifles with their spiraled land and groove barrels.) The advantage was given to the Americans anyway because they could reload in only 19 separate movements unlike the English who, with great pomp and stiff upper lip, reloaded according to the book, in 27 separate movements.

I also remember reading about the civil war, where it was not un-common in the heat of battle for soldiers on both sides of the great divide to reload twice without firing, then fire, and blow their rifle and themselves to kingdom come.

Yes, operating the atlatl and dart requires a lot of separate movements, and accuracy requires an unusual amount of concentration to detail in performing all the movements without making a mistake. In the competition setting, even though for the most part, atlatlists are generally competing only against themselves, the adrenaline is enough to play with the mind, and cause a lapse of concentration, which causes mistakes. The common joke is that all you have to do is whisper ISAC into a person's ear, and they'll totally blow the shot.

Modern day atlatlists (students of, and the recreational enthusiasts) do not have the cradle to grave relationship with our Ice Age atlatl and dart, pre-history relatives. The BC crowd could take their mechanics for granted. For us AD types, it's a lost art regained only partially and we have to move through the motions like alien beings from another planet, or as if the atlatl and dart is a second language option in school. Although we can claim a gene pool connection, even a deep inside spiritual connection to the past through the act of operating the atlatl and dart, we can never do it with that life long do it or starve reality of our Ice Age and later pre-history relatives.

Throwing darts at a target is not the same as confronting a mammoth. Wiping the sweat from our eyes on a hot day at the range is not the same as wiping our brow after finally maneuvering the herd into the trap set by our tribe, and realizing the moment has come when accuracy is absolutely everything in the world.

Our personal adrenaline rush at the ISAC firing line seems petty by comparison, yet, relatively speaking, its as real as it gets. Its real enough to either destroy our concentration or give us the mental edge we need to focus concentration completely.