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Ancient Weapon Causes Controversy in Pennsylvania

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Ancient Weapon Causes Controversy in Pennsylvania

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Ancient Weapon Causes Controversy in Pennsylvania

Ancient Weapon Causes Controversy in Pennsylvania

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Gary Fogelman, president of the Pennsylvania Atlatl Association, holds atatl darts near a target at his home in Turbotville, Pa. Lizzie O'Leary, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Lizzie O'Leary, NPR

Gary Fogelman, president of the Pennsylvania Atlatl Association, holds atatl darts near a target at his home in Turbotville, Pa.

Lizzie O'Leary, NPR

In Pennsylvania, hunters are pushing for a return to an ancient way of killing their prey. Recently, the state's game commission gave preliminary approval to a deer-hunting season for the atlatl — a prehistoric weapon once used to bring down woolly mammoths.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

Here's a story about hunting that does not involve quail, shotguns, or a member of the current administration. In Pennsylvania, the state's Game Commission has given preliminary approval to deer hunting with atlatls. They're prehistoric weapons, probably last used there thousands of years ago. NPR's Lizzie O'Leary reports on the old weapons and the modern controversy they're causing.

LIZZIE O: For listeners who don't subscribe to Indian Artifact Magazine, an atlatl is a prehistoric weapon system that, among other things, may have been used to hunt wooly mammoths.

GARY FOGELMAN: This is a big game weapon, and it's made to be used at fairly close quarters.

LEARY: That's Gary Fogelman. He publishes Indian Artifact and is one of a few dozen atlatl enthusiasts in Pennsylvania who want to be able to use the device to hunt deer. The atlatl itself is a piece of wood about the length of a human arm. At one end there's a handle and at the other a hook that attaches to the back of a seven-foot dart. It's thrown overhand like a tennis serve or one of those flick sticks that dog owners use to put a little more oomph on a ball.

FOGELMAN: And you're imparting all the energy right into the back end of the dart. And through the advantages of leverage, it's just phenomenal the amount of increase in speed and power that you get with it.

LEARY: The speed and power are impressive and Fogelman, who's been throwing them since the 1980s, can hit his backyard target in a pretty consistent series of bull's eyes. He's quick to give lessons to newcomers too.

FOGELMAN: Get it going, get it started on its way, then finish with the wrist. There you go. Look at that.

LEARY: Wow, okay. That went nowhere near the target, but pretty far.

FOGELMAN: We're not worried about hitting targets.

LEARY: Okay.

LEARY: But aiming at a bale of hay is not the same as a living deer. Missing that target can have more dire consequences. And that's what has Heidi Prescott from the Human Society worried.

HEIDI PRESCOTT: This is a Stone Age weapon. You know, it carries with it a very high wounding rate. This is an inhumane way to kill an animal.

LEARY: She points out that the Game Commission's own staff raised doubts about an average hunter's ability to, in their words, ethically and humanely harvest a deer. Roxanne Palone is the commission's vice president. She thinks Prescott's objections and those of other animal rights groups are disingenuous.

ROXANNE PALONE: That's their line for every kind of hunting. Anytime that you hunt something by the very nature of killing something you have created a wound.

LEARY: Palone says she's convinced only expert atlatl throwers will even try to go after deer.

PALONE: Probably only a handful of them will be hunting.

LEARY: A couple of other states allow atlatl hunting, like Alaska and Alabama, but the device is rarely used. If atlatl hunting wins finally approval in Pennsylvania anybody who's passed a basic hunter education course will be able to head into the woods to give the prehistoric weapon a try. Lizzie O'Leary, NPR News.

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