St. Louis County hunter becomes first in the state to take deer with atlatl

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Saint Louis
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ST. LOUIS -- On opening day of the Missouri November firearms deer season, a Show-Me –State hunter used the most ancient of weapons to bag a deer in modern day St. Louis County.

Luke Boenker, 54, of Maryland Heights, became the first hunter in Missouri to take a deer using an atlatl—a primitive spear-throwing weapon—when he harvested a four-point buck just after 4 p.m. on Nov. 12. He was hunting 30 feet up in a tree stand on private property in the vicinity of Clayton and Clarkson Roads.

“The buck approached to within about 15 yards of the tree I was sitting in,” said Boenker. Boenker grunted to get the deer to pause. He took advantage of the opportunity, letting loose the fatal shot, which made contact with the buck at its back and penetrated the deer’s rib cage. The buck continued for approximately 150 yards more before dropping, Boenker said.

“It was the ultimate feeling,” recalled Boenker of the experience.

The atlatl predates the bow and arrow. It is used to throw a 4-to 6-foot-long, spear-like projectile known as a dart. The atlatl is a wooden shaft approximately a foot-and-a-half long with a socket or knock at the rear to engage the dart.

 The dart is placed along the shaft with its back end resting in the socket or knock. The hunter grips the atlatl near its front end and performs a forward throw using the upper arm and wrist. The flipping motion of the atlatl creates angular momentum that propels the dart with greater speed and power than can be achieved with the arm alone. Darts thrown from the weapon can achieve velocities of nearly 100 miles per hour.

Boenker constructed the atlatl himself from Osage-orange wood. He assembled the dart using a 7-foot ash shaft crafted by dart maker Bob Berg of New York and an Ace broad head tip.

The atlatl became a legal method for taking deer in Missouri for the first time last year, during the 2010 firearms deer season. Boenker is the first person known to actually have taken a deer in Missouri with the weapon. The atlatl may be used during all portions of the firearms deer season, with the exception of the muzzleloader portion.

Boenker said that he was relatively new to using the atlatl, having taken it up only three months ago. He was introduced to and mentored in the use of the weapon by his friend and president of the Missouri Atlatl Associate (MAA), Ron Mertz. Boenker is also an MAA member.

Boenker is not new to hunting, however. He’s has been pursuing deer with firearms and bow and arrow since age 16. He said he chose the atlatl because of the unique challenge it presented.

“I’d hunted with bows and guns before,” he said, “But I didn’t even load my guns this year. I wanted to do something different.”

He said he intends to take the tenderloins and back straps of his deer, and have the rest processed into hamburger.

The state’s second deer to be taken by atlatl was killed in northwest Missouri’s Grundy County Nov. 13 by Scott Rorebeck of Trenton. Rorebeck is a member of the MAA as well.

Complete information on Missouri hunting seasons and regulations can be found at the Department of Conservation’s website,

Additional information about the atlatl and related event listings are posted at the World Atlatl Association webpage, To learn more about atlatl activities in Missouri, contact MAA president Ron Mertz at