Keith Costley: Practical challenges come with spear hunting | Local News

An avid fan of YouTube videos, I watched a hunter harvest a nice buck with a spear on the opening day of the Nebraska archery season.

The buck presented a narrow target after meandering under a tree stand while munching on acorns. The margin of error for a lethal shot on both sides of the deer’s spine was an inch or two, maybe three. An open standing broadside shot at close range through the vitals would’ve provided a more forgiving target, but the hunter didn’t gamble on the buck affording him that opportunity.

“I just speared my first white tail,” an ecstatic Tim Wells said after facing the camera. “It looked like a bull’s-eye.”

He continued: “Finally, a big white-tailed buck with a spear. I’ve been hunting for 10 years trying to do that.”

Wells — author of two books, host of a bowhunting TV show and a social media sensation — is known worldwide for his primitive hunting skills.

But the average Joe isn’t Wells, a professional hunter who practices with a spear incessantly to perfect his craft. Dedicated to the mastery of a chosen skill, Wells has plenty of time to become proficient with primitive weapons. The average Joe doesn’t.

I couldn’t tell if Wells was using an atlatl in the video. In Missouri, the use of an atlatl is legal during the archery and alternative methods seasons.

What is an atlatl? It’s an ancient tool predating the bow and arrow by thousands of years, a device that provides leverage to throw a spear or dart that’s at least 5 feet long.

Taking big and smaller game with a primitive weapon is a major accomplishment, but why not hunt with a modern crossbow or compound bow to dramatically increase your harvesting odds?

As far as archery is concerned, accuracy with a crossbow is the easiest to master with a minimum of practice. Some shoot bolts over 400 feet per second. In the world of bowhunting, which also includes long, recurve and compound bows, that’s blazing fast.

Many features of a crossbow resemble a long firearm. Also referred to as an Xbow, a crossbow isn’t a rifle but shoots like one because it has a stock, forearm and trigger, many of which are housed in a trigger guard. Using a laser rangefinder, a zeroed scope enables pinpoint bolt placement at various ranges.

Some claim using an atlatl to launch a spear is almost as accurate as using a long, recurve, compound or crossbow at close range. Maybe so, but “almost” isn’t acceptable in my book for a lethal kill. Pinpoint placement is.

I simply cannot support spear hunting, with or without an atlatl, because it’s far more likely to produce wounded deer that cannot be recovered. The throwing motion and slow flight of a spear gives deer ample time to move, often resulting in nonlethal hits. It’s bad enough when a deer jumps the string of modern archery equipment.

Bows, especially crossbows and compound bows, propel bolts and arrows, respectively, hundreds of feet per second faster than spears; therefore, practicing to obtain proficiency is much more easily obtained. On the other hand, an atlatl propels a spear with more velocity, but not enough to justify the means.

Baseball pitchers warm up before every inning. Hunters can’t warm up with an atlatl in a tree stand. The longer a hunter is on stand, especially on cold, rainy, windy days, the more probability of a poor hit.

If you hunt deer in the Show-Me State with an atlatl, that’s your business. I’m certainly not implying that you’re unethical. Just bear in mind, though, that your odds of a lethal harvest improve greatly with modern archery equipment.

An atlatl pales in comparison.

A crossbow with a properly sighted optic is my choice when going afield. When aiming at a deer’s vitals — the heart and lungs — I want to be confident of a lethal harvest every time I squeeze the trigger. And I can do that up to 40 yards.

The Missouri archery deer and turkey season begins Sept. 15. Regardless of whether you hunt with an atlatl, longbow, recurve bow, compound bow or crossbow, I wish you the best of luck.

Most of all, enjoy the great outdoors and be safe.

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