By Tom Brown III:
*Note, the throwing stick may be illegal in your area. Please only use this tactic in a survival situation.
People often ask me what I believe is the best all-around primitive hunting weapon. In my opinion, it is the throwing stick! Of all the weapons, including bows and arrows, atlatls, and spears, I believe the throwing stick is the one primitive weapon all humans should learn to wield. Let me explain.
Imagine yourself in a survival situation. For whatever reason, there you are, in the middle of nowhere. The first thing, of course, is not to panic. After taking a deep breath, you start to prioritise the skills and tools necessary to keep you alive in the woods. If you listened to my recent online presentation, you heard me speak of the “Sacred Order.” If you have done any research on wilderness survival, you may have heard it referred to as “the rule of three’s.” Basically, it’s a list of what will kill you the quickest. In order, they are shelter, water, fire, and food.
Now, back to our imagined scenario. Once you have taken a deep breath and gotten your mind under control, you assess the situation and decide to start looking for a viable shelter location. About 30 yards into your search, a squirrel appears twenty feet in front of you. You make eye contact, and it runs off into the woods.
You just lost your chance at dinner! When you realize you are in a survival situation, the first thing you do is pick up a throwing stick; if there are no sticks, pick up a rock. Either will work as a throwing weapon. We need to adhere to the sacred order to stay alive, but you never pass up anything because you are not at that “number” on the list. By the time I find my shelter location, I will have collected components for a fire-making kit, trap parts, wild edible plants I see, or maybe a piece of bone to make into a knife. I will have armloads of materials. You are by yourself and need to conserve energy by gathering things as you see them. Never pass anything while saying to yourself, “I’ll come back and get that later.” You may not make it back that way.
But I digress. The throwing stick will be your most valuable hunting tool. It is a powerful, extremely deadly hunting weapon, and I have used it to harvest many different birds and animals. To truly experience this weapon’s hunting capabilities, you have to practice it and take it to the instinctual level. Tools are extensions of our bodies that allow us to do things we otherwise would not be able to do. Whether a fly-rod or a hammer, it is of the utmost importance that we learn the proper technique and form until it is etched into our muscle memory.
You have to practice to be good at hunting with a throwing stick—there is no way around it. All you need is a backyard, a pile of sticks, and a few targets.
Historically, the throwing stick was one of the most widely used hunting tools, and was probably one of the first adopted by our early ancestors. They appear throughout history and were used in one form or another by any hunter-gather group I have ever studied.
The indigenous peoples of the Americas used them, and examples have been found in the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs and the Aborigines of Australia. It is primarily used as a small game hunting tool, however, if you take it to an art form level, most animals are well within this tool’s limits. I once read an excerpt from the journal of a Spanish explorer who was in California during the late 16th century. Naturally, he wrote about the indigenous peoples he encountered.
“A type of club in the shape of a well-balanced cutlass, which they use in war, but also in the hunting of hares, deer, antelope, and coyote throwing so far and with such aim, that they rarely fail to break the bones of animals that come into range.”
Being as passionate as I am about the “throwing arts,” as I call them, that passage always stuck with me. As you can see, with practice and the right type of stick, you do not need a more advanced weapon.
There are many different sizes and styles of throwing sticks. In this article’s context, I am referring to the most basic stick you will pick up off the ground and use with minimal modifications. I encourage you to research other types of advanced throwing sticks and hunting boomerangs.
With the more advanced stick, you can significantly increase your effective range. I can easily hit targets at 50+ yards with the “boomerang” style throwing sticks.
The basic stick you make by breaking a branch to the proper length has an effective range of 20-30 feet. Ideally, what I look for is a branch that is approximately wrist-thick in diameter and the length of your arm. Gather something that is as straight as possible with as few knots as you can find. It’s all about aerodynamics! I may take a minute to smooth the stick out a bit with a rock or my knife. It’s always a good idea to pick up an extra one to tuck in your belt if your primary stick breaks or you need a follow-up shot to finish the animal.
I want to take a moment to talk about throwing in general. Throwing is an internal skill, like riding a bike. Once you become good at it, you will always retain the ability. Sure, if you don’t throw for a while, you may be a little rusty when you pick it back up, but it won’t be long until you get back to the level where you left off. Also, any type of throwing will make you better at the throwing stick. When I run a weekend-long class strictly dedicated to the “throwing arts,” the first thing we do is collect a whole bucket full of tiny rocks. We will then spend a few hours throwing the stones at different targets at varying distances. Doing so builds the connection between your brain and your arm, helping you to understand the calculations on how to get a projectile to a specific target. It will serve as a stepping stone on the way to mastery and instinctive throwing.
That scenario I presented a while back, where the squirrel appeared in the trail in front of you? Only if you have practiced enough to where you quickly, instinctively, and without thinking, throw the stick at the squirrel will you harvest it. It needs to be instinctual, without thought, without aiming, just throwing and hitting your target. We will only achieve this level with practice.
On the subject of practice, we need to vary how we practice. If the only way you are practicing is stepping up to a line at the same distance from your target every time, you will only be good at that distance. You need to practice with different size sticks, at various ranges, you need to throw uphill, downhill, sidehill. The best way to practice, in my experience, is to move through the woods as if you are hunting and throw at different targets. An old stump here, a pinecone there, or that fence post at the edge of the field.
I love the “throwing arts” because to be an effective hunter with a throwing stick, you need to be proficient at so many different skill sets. First, you have to be comfortable with your weapon. Secondly, you need to be good at stalking and movement because it is such a close-range weapon. You need to understand camouflage, as well as tracking and sign tracking. Only when all these skills come together in a blend of proficiency, do you have a tool to take larger game.
It is much easier to make a hunting boomerang to take down a deer than a bow and arrow.
Think about all the different types of raw materials you need to make a bow and arrow versus an advanced throwing stick, which you can make with rock, scraping away at that branch to get it flat and wide so it flies through the air quietly and with force. It’s something you can easily make with a knife or even a rough sanding stone.
With just a little practice, you will be good enough to take small game. As I said, I have successfully harvested everything from birds in flight to fish in shallow water. It has fed me many a time when otherwise it would have been a long, hungry night. I’ve used my throwing stick to knock dry branches out of a tree on a rainy day to make a bow-drill kit when everything else was soaking wet. I use my throwing stick to pound the trees’ inner bark for making cordage or help me dig rootlets for a basket. You can see why it is such an essential tool to a person in a survival or primitive-living situation.
Stay tuned in the member’s portal for a video where I demonstrate proper technique and form, as well as some practice routines to help you become proficient with the most basic hunting weapon!