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Atlatl Mammoth Hunt and other events at First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park | Great Falls, Montana

Festival Event

A traditional sweat frame at First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park – Courtesy MT FWP

Contests based on mammoth hunting using atlatl, primitive bow, knife, and tomahawks. Annually on Labor Day Weekend.

The Montana Atlatl Mammoth Hunt is held at First Peoples Buffalo Jump, formerly Ulm Pishkun State Park. Experts and novices from around the country, and even the world, come try their hand at throwing the atlatl, an 8,000 year-old hunting weapon, the primitive bow, tomahawk and knife.

You can compete in one category, two, or all three. Targets for bow and atlatl are set up along one section of the trail and participants are required to walk the trail, so bring hiking boots or comfortable shoes. A learning station will be setup for bow, tomahawk and atlatl for those unfamiliar with either.

In the side yard a dozen men and women are warming up for the event. The "mammoth" is no flesh-and-blood pachyderm, of course, but a silhouette painted on a slab of foam plastic salvaged in the renovation of the local V.A. hospital.

In lieu of skins, the "hunters" come in a variety of shorts, jeans, T-shirts, and ball caps. They line up shoulder-to-shoulder about 35 yards from the target, hurling what look like long arrows with the aid of a throwing stick, or Atlatl, a weapon that until a decade ago had not been seen in these parts for two millennia.

"Atlatl" (pronounced either AT-lat-ul or AT-ul-LA-tul, take your pick) is an Aztec name for the throwing stick. It appeared on the Eurasian continent 30,000 years ago and arrived in the Americas perhaps 12,000 years ago, when the ancestors of the modern Indians crossed the then-existing land bridge between Siberia and Alaska.

These Paleo-Indians - known as the Clovis people, for the exquisite projectile points they left at a site near Clovis, New Mexico - gradually moved south as they followed the herds of Mammoths, Mastodons, and Long-Horned Bison. They killed these animals with the Atlatl and its projectile, which despite its similarity to an arrow is called a "Dart" (alas, a name more suggestive of a smoke-filled bar than a glacial landscape).

Although the Atlatl and Dart were eventually replaced by the Bow and Arrow, they weren't entirely abandoned. Columbus found Carib Indians using them, and in 1519, when Hernan Cortez began his conquest of Mexico, Aztec warriors skewered numerous conquistadors with this ancient but formidable weapon, which easily pierced Spanish armor.

Driving Directions

First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park is located 13.5 miles southwest of Great Falls, MT. Take I-15 from either Great Falls or Helena to the Ulm exit (exit 270). At the bottom of the exit turn north on the Ulm-Vaughn Road and follow it for 3.5 miles to the park entrance.