In the old days, way before the invention of the firearm, man used simple tools to kill his prey. Prehistori weapons were crude, but when used properly, with the right kind of tactics, they could bring down an animal ten times the size of your average early human. Hunters accomplished this by corralling the animal in a running state let it run itself off a cliff. Scientists call these cliffs jump sights. The “jump” kills involved what seems like a simple plan. Hunters would frighten or spook a herd of buffalo off a cliff or high bluff. However, to make the plan work required strategy. The right site had to be located, hunters had to lead the animals to the spot, and they had to stampede over the edge. Using only spears, this would be inherently dangerous. Getting that close to a stampeding mammoth is hazardous to your health, to say the least.
Hunters needed a way to kill prey from a distance. The atlatl was one solution. The atlatl is a spear-thrower, a stick about two feet or so in length made of wood. It functioned as a lever that gave the hunter’s throw more power and distance. A small prong or hook at one end of the stick held a lightweight throwing spear or dart in place on the atlatl until the hunter released it with a powerful overhead swing of the arm. Hurled to its target, the dart, tipped with a chipped-stone point, would penetrate the animal, wounding or killing it.
Trapping animals was, and still is, a very effective way of catching prey. One strategy was to stretch nets across narrow spots, such as a stream valley or gully. Then hunters would walk through the bushes, making noise, to drive rabbits and other small animals toward the net. The hunters would then run to the animals and club them to death with sticks. It was an effective hunting technique before there were guns or farm-raised animals.
Around 1,200 years ago, humans replaced the atlatl with the bow and arrow. This weapon gave hunters even more accuracy, distance, and speed in their shots. It also allowed hunters to be more secretive. They could move up on and shoot their prey while crouching behind a bush or from within a prairie of tall grass. This was a clear advantage over the old-style hunting method: hunters using an atlatl could hurl a dart or spear only when they were standing erect, revealing their position to an easily spooked herd of deer. Hunters could also carry many more arrows than darts on hunting excursions, making them far more efficient at killing prey. The bow quickly became a widespread success, and hunters adopted it as a successful weapon of war, as well as hunting. Even today, hunters all over the world commonly use modern compound bows to bring home their prey. If I didn’t have a firearm handy, a bow would certainly be my next choice to use to survive.
Around 700 A.D., scientists and inventors in ancient China developed different grades of gunpowder and innovated different types of firearms, including single-shot smooth-bore fire lances, multi-barreled guns, multiple-launch artillery rockets and the first cannon in the world made from cast bronze. Hunting became easier after innovations in barrel design and the firearm quickly took over as the primary weapon of hunters everywhere. Innovations in history have led us far beyond throwing sharp sticks at wild animals; hopefully, we will never again have to work so hard to get dinner on the table.