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The Daily



08-16-03: Saving an ancient art


    COLDWATER - Steve Ross is a big fan of the atlatl, and he's pretty good with it.
    The what?
    At-LAT-el. It's an Aztec word meaning "spear thrower" and was used long before anyone thought about a bow and arrow.
    The atlatl was the weapon of choice for hunters 12,000 years ago and the Aztecs preferred it for war. In fact, the Spanish invaders in Mexico were most afraid of this weapon because it alone could pierce their armor.
    Ross, an outdoorsman who lives off a long lane on Ohio 118 north of Coldwater with his family, became fascinated with the atlatl when he saw it in use about 11 years ago.
    Ross calls it an at-LAT-el, but some authors give a pronunciation key of at-ul-at-ul. Pronounce it as you may, the device is the same - a weighted thrower used to hurl a long (at least five feet) dart through the air at a target. The back end of the atlatl is shaped like a big crochet hook into which the hollowed end of the dart fits.
    Ross and his sons make their own atlatls right down to finding, grinding and polishing the banner stone (the weight), which is attached to the thrower for ballast.
    "We had to make our own originally because there was just no place to get them. Now, we make our own because we enjoy it. It's a good evening activity," he said, indicating a small basket of banner stones in various stages of completion.
    Some banner stones Ross has seen at World Atlatl Association gatherings are made of gem stones and, of course, cost thousands of dollars.
    Over the years, Ross, who wears his long white/blonde hair in a pony tail and had Cherokee Indian blood on both sides of his family, has taught many kids to use the atlatl at various camps and work sessions in Ohio, such as the recent National Rifle Association Youthfest at the Mercer County Gun Club.
    "It is truly the safest weapon for anyone to use. It absolutely cannot suddenly go off unless you supply the energy," Ross told The Daily Standard recently.
    Although he said some people still hunt with atlatls, he and his sons use it for target shooting and they have their own range out in the side yard.
    Ross described the action of the throw as that of throwing a paper airplane.
    "Keep the atlatl and the dart on a level with your ear. With your left foot forward, point that foot at the target. Then lean back on your right foot and bring your whole body forward onto your left foot and release the dart during that motion," said Ross, who works at Goodyear in St. Marys.
    Experienced throwers such as Ross and his sons can send the dart a long way down the range. But it's not as easy as it looks. Novices often ground it a few feet in front of the pointer foot.
    "The longer the dart the longer the distance you can get. The world's record set many years ago is 800-plus feet. That's a long throw," said Ross appreciatively.
    He said anyone can master this sport with a little coaching and a lot of practice.
    "The key is the balance between the atlatl, the dart and the person throwing. Some people just have the knack of it right away; with others, it takes longer. But like anything else, to be good at it takes lots of practice," he said.


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