In my running around looking for the Native American tools and weapons to add to my collection, in making, using and learning about them I recently came across the rabbit stick. Here is some information that I have gathered and would like to share with you. I will starting to make a few of these and see how they turn out for me. Paleo Planet is a very good site to source information.
A rabbit stick is a curved stick used by Native American tribes. It was used by the Hopi, Navajo, Zuniand others. This stick, reminiscent of a boomerang, is not only used in hunting rabbits, but also to hunt prairie dogs and coyotes.
It’s a fact that meat gives a greater return of calories and energy than plants. One of the most effective hunting weapon is the throwing stick, also known as the rabbit stick. The stone and the throwing stick are the simplest of all the meat harvesting tools to obtain but the rabbit stick is larger than a rock and more likely to hit the target with a little of practice.
Essentially, you can grab any sturdy stick, from 2.5 to 5 centimeters in diameter, that you can throw with ease and which is long from 30 to 60 centimetres. It will definitely be all you need. This length is a just a guideline. Keep in mind that the smaller the stick, the faster you are able to throw it but with lesser accuracy. A larger stick can be thrown with higher accuracy although not as fast. To find what is best suited for you, play with different size and weight.
Many modifications can be made to improve the performance of the rabbit stick but you can refine the stick to a more effective tool choosing between two different design:
- the evenly weighted aerodynamic stick
- the hammer stick
The best thing about this aerodynamic rabbit stick is that you can throw with more power thanks to the leverage created by its angle, and that means you transfer more energy to the target.
Use any green sampling or branch naturally bent at about a 45° angle. You can use a heavy hardwood such as oak or a stick of softwood like cedar. Remove all the bark and cut any branches.
A stick with an elliptical cross-section or flat like a boomerang fly faster and more silently giving less warning to your prey. Shave off two opposite sides.
Also, you can sharpen the two points of the stick to increase the damage by cutting or piercing.
All these tweaks take very little time by using a knife or by abrading the stick on an abrasive rock.
The Hammer Rabbit Stick
Choose a branch that features one end heavier than the other. Remove any side branches and bark it.
This hunting weapon is perfect for short distances because it can penetrate through low-growing plants, saplings, and shrubs to hit your prey.
After you have reshaped your wooden weapon, you can fire harden it to increase its life span: Fire hardening is the process of driving out moisture from wood using the heat of a fire. The best way to do it is by burying your stick into the sand close to, but not in, the fire. If the stick is too close, it will burn; if it is too far from the fire, nothing will happen. Without sand, you can keep the stick above the fire or simply near to it, however you must keep an eye on it and rotate it almost continually or you may burn and damage the weapon.
You should camouflage the carve scratches making it more difficult for the animal to notice the stick’s motion as it comes near. You can either darken it with smoke or rub it lightly with charcoal to conceal any bright marks.
You can throw a rabbit stick overhand, from a sidearm position, and anywhere in between. A sidearm throw is effective in open fields or any other place where there is plenty space between trees to allow for unobstructed flight. Overhand throws are useful in areas in which there is modest space between trees.
To throw the rabbit stick, extend the non-throwing hand toward the target, then propel the stick either side-armed or overhand. Train both the techniques for accuracy, precision and speed. Try to generate power with your whole body.
The challenging part is getting ready to launch your weapon. You simply can’t stalk your target and then, when you are in range, move the throwing arm back and prepare to whip your rabbit stick – you will alert your prey. Instead, you should slowly and gradually rotate your body and the throwing arm into the launch posture while you move toward your quarry.
Remember: the evenly weighted type should rotate like a frisbee while the Hammer type should go straight like a comet.
The Sidearm Throw
Move your rabbit stick behind your neck and rotate to the right until your fully extended left arm is aiming at your target. Then, in a fast and smooth movement, move your body forward, and release the weapon as your hand comes to point at the target. Pay attention to adjacent trees with low branches.
The Overhand Throw
First of all, aim at the target by extending the left arm. Move your rabbit stick back over your shoulder. Shoot the right arm until it’s just a little above and parallel to the left arm. This will be your release point. Train slowly and regularly.
It’s easy to learn how to use the rabbit stick. Just practice, practice and practice. Throw your stick frequently at targets until you become effective in acquiring food.
"A little off the subject"-Ray Madden
Those of you who've met me, know that while the atlatl is a big part of my life, my interests wander over a multitude of other primitive tools such as bows( of the stick and string type), blowguns, slings and slingshots, traps, etc. Several years back, there was an atlatl meet at Ft. Casper, WY where local buckskinners promoted a variety of activities by having a series of contests featuring the hand thrown spear, the atlatl, the primitive bow, and both a knife and tomahawk throw. The winner of each event was awarded a prize of something to encourage branching outside their own comfort zone into one of the other fields. My atlatl win for instance, earned me a tomahawk. Then last year at the VOF meet in NV, Chris Henry arranged something similar using the blowgun, atlatl, bolas, rabbit stick, and sling. It was fun to participate, but maybe even more fun to watch others. Determined to improve, I returned home vowing to devote a little more time to some of these long neglected interests.
While the bolas was my worst event, the rabbit stick was a close second. My first intent was to make a bolas, but since the rabbit stick offered more real opportunities for taking game, even in Missouri's brush, I was soon distracted. The similarity of the "wrist flick" used in the side arm atlatl throw, and that used with the rabbit stick, was another point in it's favour. Joplin's recent twister and previous two years of winter ice storms had left the woods littered with limbs suitable for rabbit sticks. However natural elbows that I had first thought would be perfect, proved to have hidden stresses that revealed themselves when the wood was reduced to 1/2 inch or less in thickness and hurled with force into fence posts or trees. Paul D. Campbell's book "Survival Skills of Native California" revealed that the originals were more often made by heat bending a sapling, then reducing it to 1/2 inch or so in thickness and finishing the four corners of it's rectangular cross-section with rather short steep bevels. (Actually little more than rounding the corners) The two flat surfaces remain mostly that, FLAT! No fancy air-foils! Roaming the woods around my house I discovered another possibility. Some of the storm damage had dropped large heavy limbs on the upper portion of saplings leaving them bent for the next couple of years, and fixing the bend permanently. The first such sapling I noticed, was sassafras, and though very light, I found it to also be very durable. At 31" along the outside of the curve and 29" on the inside, it averages about one and a half inch in width, just under one half inch thick, and seven and a half oz. in weight. Even at that light weight it flies well and would work against such targets as birds up to at least pigeon size. My real treasure was a young hickory of almost three inches diameter and bent nearly perfect. This young tree had died and the worms had done some scattered damage, but hickory is very dense, heavy and tough. Though I own a table saw it was not suitable to split this piece of wood so I resorted to a series of drilled holes and split it with wedges to be able to get a pair of closely matched rabbit sticks. These are again 31 inches long but average two inches wide and three eights inches thick with weight of just under and just over eleven ounces. In flight they are beautiful to behold! Not yet expert in their use I can none the less see possibilities. I can believe that such damage could be inflicted against birds the size of turkeys and geese that they could be recovered, and stories of leg breaking of coyote to small deer sized animals no longer seems impossible.
To those of you who like me, love the making and experimenting almost as much as the contests and hunts, I recommend you give rabbit sticks a try. Like atlatls, the possibilities seem endless.