Simple and effective weapons for use in a survival situation.
by Survival Expert James Mandeville ©2020This article is primarily for:
Bushcraft Enthusiasts, Survivalists and General Interest.- RETURN TO ARTICLES LIST -
WarningPrimitive weapons can kill, injure or maim humans as well as animals. It is your responsibility to ensure the safety of all persons, animals and property around you when making, testing or using these weapons. Local laws relating to offensive weapons also apply to the use and possession of primitive weapons. This article is about making simple and effective weapons for use in a survival situation.DisclaimerTerms and Conditions of use of this information: The information contained in this article is for general information purposes only. In no event will the author be liable for any loss, injury or damage including without limitation, indirect or consequential loss, injury or damage, or any loss, injury or damage whatsoever arising from use of the information contained in this article, or in connection with, the use of this website. Reading this article is deemed acceptance of these terms and conditions.Making simple stone weapons.
Making stone weapons, such as arrowheads, is extremely difficult and takes a lot of skill and practice, as indeed so does making an effective bow and arrows. Any weapon that needs to be fixed to a wooden shaft requires binding and glue. If producing binding, for example, animal sinew, or making your own pitch glue is something you have never tried before, look for a simpler solution. It is important not to waste time and effort (or risk injury) in a survival situation. If you have no modern material to hand, then have a go a making useful weapons and tools, for example, a stone axe.Making a stone knife
Knap a piece of flint stone to the shape shown. Knap the cutting edges leaving them serrated for sawing, or sharpen them for cutting or scraping. It is possible to make a very efficient and sharp knife out of flint.Making a stone axe
An axe is a very useful survival tool but you probably won't make one good enough to fell a large tree, although this is possible. If you don't have glue, split the shaft, wedge your axe head into it and lash the top tightly to keep the axe head in place. An axe can be used as both a tool and a weapon. It is best to use a short or medium length shaft as the longer the shaft, the greater the force applied to the axe head risking smashing it.
Clubs and sticks
One of the most effective and easily made weapons is the rabbit stick, used for catching small mammals and larger birds. The stick should be about 1 metre (3.3 feet) in length, flattened at one end and carved to a wing section. The length and weight of the stick make it attractive as a weapon; it is difficult to miss prey with a stick this size once you have learned to throw it straight. It is also useful for knocking down fruit and nuts from trees, if doing this, it is a good idea to tie a line to it. Carve the blade to the aerofoil section shown in the diagram (above).The sling shot
The sling is, possibly, the ultimate survival weapon because it is easily made, is fast to deploy and is quite deadly in use (with a lot of practice). Basically, a sling has a small cradle or pouch in the middle of two lengths of cord. A single stone (or several small stones) is placed in the pouch. One cord has a finger loop and one cord ends with a knot. Both cords are held in the hand, then the sling is swung and with a flick of the wrist the cord with the knotted end is released and the pouch is pulled away at the precise moment. This frees the projectile to fly on a tangent to the circle made by the pouch's rotation. The sling derives its effectiveness by essentially extending the length of a human arm, thus allowing stones to be thrown several times farther than they could be by hand. Effective range depends on the weight of the stone, the strength and length of the user's arm and the length of the sling. A single, heavy stone can kill a larger animal and if several smaller stones are used at once, they can hit smaller prey, for example, a running rabbit.
The sling is very inexpensive, and easy to make. It has historically been used for hunting game and in combat. The pouch can be made of any flexible material (leather, plastic, cloth, etc.), or the rope itself can be platted to form the cradle as in the above photo.
Take care when practicing with a sling as earlier attempts in its use can be very unpredictable until one has the knack. To begin with, make a sling with cords about 30 cm (12 inches) long (or the length of your lower arm measured from the elbow to the palm of the hand) and practice with small stones until you achieve the required release point coordination. Even a sling this size can kill small prey at 18 metres (60 feet) and it doesn't require whirling it round several times to get it up to speed (which a longer sling does need). Slings can be used with an overhead or underarm movement, depends on what best suits the user.To throw underarm or sidearm:
- Insert projectile in sling pouch.
- Stand facing 60-70 degrees away from the target.
Stand with your feet spread shoulder width apart, with the weight on your back foot, hips brought far back. Have your arm behind you. For a side-arm throw, swing the sling back behind and over your head, then bring your weight and hips forward as you bring your hand straight forward toward the target and release. The underhand throw is similar, but the sling is swung vertically.
- Contrary to popular belief, you do not "swing the sling until it is up to speed". You may continue to swing the sling to make sure you are comfortable with the throw, but swinging it many times around your head is a waste of energy and does not increase the velocity of the projectile. Swinging once is enough. It is the final, increased swing and movement of the hips that lends power to the throw. Just really whip it.
Rocks with the following properties work better than others.
- Rocks that are smooth and round tend to fly through the air better than ones that are angular.
- Rocks that are oval tend to fly through the air farther, but only if they can be thrown with a rifled spin. Simply place the oval-shaped rock perpendicular to the pouch and throw with the palm facing the target.
- Rocks that are angular tend to tumble, and therefore do not go nearly as far.
- Flat rocks do not fly nearly as far as their angular counterparts.
- You can use any size rocks, but the best size is between golf ball and chicken egg sized.
The Bola is an interesting weapon but it takes skill and
needs practice to use it effectively. Do not expect to make a kill on day one and mind it does not wrap around your head, wrist or arm because it hurts and I speak from experience! When using, bend the hand at the wrist and when letting go of the Bola, point with the open hand in the direction you want it to travel as you release it. This helps accuracy. It has to be strongly made and inspected carefully before you use it. If a bag comes off, the weapon goes out of balance and is more likely to wrap around you. Try to find rocks of similar size and shape. Bags can be filled with sand or small pebbles. Using larger weights makes it useful against larger animals and it can be an effective survival weapon. To make a practice Bola, fill cloth bags with dried beans wrapped in bubble pack. When it clouts you across the head (which it will), it is less devastating than being hit by three large rocks but you still feel it, which helps you to learn. Below is an example of an Inuit bola used for catching birds, made from pieces of bone, drilled through at the base to attach the cordage.The throwing star
The throwing star is a primitive hunting weapon used in the past by many cultures the world over. It comprises two 60 cm (24 inches) sticks sharpened at each end and joined to form a cross.
Start by selecting two lengths of hardwood that have roughly the same diameter and weight. Cut them the same length, around 60 cm (24 inches). Using a cross–halving joint (see above diagram), join the sticks in the centre. Cut a long point on each end of the sticks. Balance the star by supporting two points on one crossbar and adjust by cutting down the heaviest end of the other crossbar until it balances horizontally. Then support the balanced crossbar and trim the first crossbar in the same way until it too balances horizontally. Instead of sharpening the ends of the sticks, you could use thick nails, sharpened bone or flaked shell as points. To use nails, first balance both crossbars horizontally, drive a nail into each end, then cut off the nail heads. Sharpen the cut end of the nails to form long, thin points, re–balancing the crossbars as you work. To ensure it sticks into the prey, you can further refine the points by cutting barbs on them like on fishing hooks.
To throw the star, stretch out your free hand in front of you and point it at your prey. This acts as a sight. Hold one point of the star between your thumb and first finger of the opposite hand and throw with an overarm movement (like serving a tennis ball). As the star leaves your fingers, open the palm of your hand so your fingers point in the direction of travel, this will improve accuracy and negate the tendency to throw the star directly into the ground a short distance in front of you. The star is effective for hunting small game and larger birds. This is not an instant kill weapon (unless you make a very lucky hit), so take this into account when using it. For example, in forest, a wounded animal may run and go to ground being impossible to find. The star is effective for hunting small mammals on open ground, as you can follow the wounded animal, which will soon tire and can be run down.The spear
Of all the weapons one can make in an emergency or survival situation, the spear is one of the most useful. It can be used as a walking pole, fishing rod, for close–quarter defence and for hunting. A spear has some important characteristics that elevate it to a more sophisticated killing instrument than a throwing star or rabbit stick. First of all, almost anyone can make an effective spear. Secondly, with the aid of a spear–throwing stick, its range and accuracy can be greatly enhanced. Finally, it does not take much practice to become very proficient with it.Here are some good tips:Length and range
— this depends upon how tall and strong you are. A person of average height and build can throw a spear anywhere between 2.5 and 12 metres (8 and 40 feet) and retain instant killing velocity. Longer, thicker spears have a greater hitting power and accuracy, however, a long spear is tiring to carry around for any length of time. Start with a spear just a little longer than your height.Diameter
— thick spears are stronger but also heavier. All spears set up a sine–wave motion in flight that increases the distance the spear can travel; thinner spears have a greater sine–wave motion and travel further than thicker spears.
A fast flying, thin spear with a good point will bring down small game more effectively than a slower flying, thicker spear that is unlikely to penetrate as deeply as a fast flying thinner spear.Materials
— choose a tree branch or sapling that is as straight and as knot free as possible. Ideally, the timber should be strong, light and have some flexibility to it; bamboo, for example, makes a good spear.The Point
— if you have no metal you can make a point from bone, flaked stone, coral and seashell or simply by sharpening the end. If you have to sharpen the end do this before balancing the spear; the point should be long and thin. The point is better grooved to aid penetration of the flesh. The point should be strong enough not to snap off the spear when it penetrates the prey.Balance
— if you have a knife (or can use a sharp edged stone such as slate or flint) trim down the spear using a scraping motion to remove the bark. Try to whittle down the timber so it is of uniform diameter along its total length. Balance the spear in the centre by resting it on a branch unless you are sharpening the end of the spear to make the point, in which case, you need to make the spear tapered from the point to the tail of the shaft so it is point heavy. If you are using a metal (or other) point, keep trimming the shaft down until it has a reasonably good central balance. When the shaft balances, fix the point to the shaft with cordage making it a secure fit; some ingenuity is usually necessary to do this.SOG Fusion Spirit Dagger/Spearhead
The Fusion Spirit Dagger/Spear, 10.8 cm (4.25 inches), double–edged blade from SOG is a useful tool for survival. The handle unscrews and the point fits a standard broom handle (or in a survival situation, make a spear shaft as described above). Fasten the spear to the shaft with a nail or the provided setscrew. Makes a good throwing knife with the handle provided. It may be difficult to source this useful tool in Europe because of the laws regarding knives with double–edged blades.
Not a new idea from SOG, but a good one!
Right is a picture of a knife I own, the "Baldock" Patent Knife Spear, which was designed and patented (1902) by Col. Baldock of the Merwara Battalion India and sold by Walter Locke and Co. Ltd, who had premises in both London and India. Unfortunately, I don't have the original sheath for it.
The Baldock is better than the SOG Fusion in many ways because the knife is more useful as a blade than SOG's dagger. The knife locks directly onto a shaft with no need to unscrew the handle and without the need for a fixing screw. Perfectly balanced as a throwing knife and with a super carbon steel blade grooved for deep penetration, it takes a razor sharp edge. Too bad, you probably will never be able to find one. The disadvantage of using a knife as a spear point (whether you buy a knife made for the purpose, or if you simply lash your survival knife to a spear shaft), is that you stand to damage your knife or lose your knife if you lose your spear. For this reason, I would not advocate using your survival knife as a spear point.
You may have to settle for the traditional wooden spear. In the picture above you can see the preferred shape.Enhancing your capabilities with a spear throwing stick
Spear throwing sticks, for example, the Aztec Atlatl and the Aboriginal Woomera, were used for thousands of years until the bow and arrow was invented. They had the advantage of lengthening the throwing arm of the hunter, giving more leverage, which increased the speed of the spear and the distance it could travel. Spear throwing sticks also increased accuracy and enhanced a spear's flight in such a way as to give it greater terminal velocity, hence killing power. An Atlatl can kill a young deer at 40 metres (130 feet). However, for hunting small game, stealth hunting and shooting down from trees, the bow and arrow proved more effective and apparently took over as the hunting weapon of choice. In a survival situation it takes a lot of skill and materials to make an effective bow and arrows that fly straight. It also takes a lot of skill as an archer, so making a bow and arrows is not included in this article on simple, effective primitive weapons.Spear–throwing stick (Atlatl)
It is essential the throwing stick is made from a piece of straight wood; if necessary, shave the wood down to make it as straight as possible. If the spur and handle are not well aligned with the spear shaft, the spear will not travel straight or may tumble in flight; at the least, it will be inefficient. To ensure a positive contact between the spear (more correctly called a dart) and the spur, hollow out the end of the dart into a cone shape, this fits loosely against a point on the spur.
The dart differs from a hand thrown spear; it should be longer and thinner. Make the dart about 2.5 – 3 metres long (8 – 10 feet), with a uniform diameter circa 2 –2.5 cm (0.8 – 1 inch), use only a gentle taper from point to end, sufficient to make the tip heavier than the tail. It must be balanced as described above in the section on spear making.
The point must not be too heavy and it is best to carve the point out of the spear, rather than add a metal, bone or stone point.
Cut grooves in the point to enhance its ability to penetrate flesh and harden the point in a fire. If you use a fixed point, remember to do this first before you balance the dart. The success formula is to make the dart fly true, so it must be straight, of an even profile and the dart head cannot be either too heavy or too light. Performance of the dart is greatly enhanced by adding flights at the end of the shaft. These can be made from feathers or some other suitable material. I have made these flights successfully using Gaffer tape and even a cut–down CD disc. In a survival situation you improvise and use what you can find. It is also possible to make flights from wood:
Experiment with the size and shape of the flights; remember to fit the flights before you balance the dart. It is important that the three flights are as equal in shape, size and weight as possible.
It is good to fix finger loops to the throwing handle of the Atlatl. Make them from cordage or leather.
If you achieve the above you will have a powerful weapon that can throw a spear accurately 40 – 80 metres (120 – 260 feet) whilst retaining killing velocity. This is not a stealth weapon, you have to stand up and wield the throwing stick as if you were making a tennis serve and this movement may be seen by the prey. The positive is that you can make the weapon entirely out of available materials and with a little practice hunt effectively with it. A lot depends on technique and strength. I have seen someone throw an Atlatl 180 metres (600 feet) and it stuck into a tree. Admittedly, he was an ex–basketball player who played on the German national team. You also need to practice with it in an area where it is safe to use it! The Trident
The trident is a three pronged spear effective for spearing fish and has been used for centuries. It is used for stabbing down at fish or it may have a line attached and be thrown as a harpoon.
The spearhead can be made by lashing three pointed sticks to a pole, or by splitting the pole and forcing the points apart with a wedge made of wood or stone and then lashing around the top of the split as shown in the diagram below.
It is also easy to make a trident from split bamboo (photo below).