Tag Archives: rabbitstick

How to Make a Rabbitstick (non-returning boomerang)

See my earlier posts How to Make a Returning Boomerang and Boomerangs are awesome! for more info about boomerangs.

The non-returning boomerang, aka rabbitstick was a ubiquitous and important weapon among hunter-gatherer cultures around the world, especially those living in open environments like desert, scrubland, and grassland.

The rabbitstick was used, obviously, to hunt rabbits, but also many other animals such as ground fowl, squirrels, and even large ungulates such as deer. The rabbitstick could instantly kill smaller animals when struck, but could also take down deer and antelope since it could break their legs, rendering them unable to flee.

The rabbitstick took many forms, but was always flattened and a foot to several feet long, and was usually bent along its length. Being thrown bend-first (with the V facing forward), the angle gave more force to the blow if it hit properly since the momentum would be directed along the length, striking with a smaller area of the weapon.

The rabbitstick was superior to a regular stick since the modification to be flat, bent, and with airfoils allowed it to travel much longer distances. A proper rabbitstick could be thrown with enough force to kill up to 200 yards, whereas a stick could only be thrown at most third of that distance. The flat shape, beyond enhancing flight distance, gave a more powerful blow since it concentrated the force to a small area.

The rabbitstick is fairly simple to make, and would be a great weapon to fashion in a survival situation. It is also pretty effective as a hunting weapon in general since it makes a two or three foot by 600 ft long killing zone. Compared to a bow and arrow or even a rifle, the rabbitstick may be better to hunt for medium-sized ground game in open areas, in such situations being only inferior to a shotgun.

Here are some basic instructions how to make one. More in-depth treatments of how to make rabbitsticks with different methods can be found in these blog posts: https://naturalskills.wordpress.com/2011/01/27/non-returning-boomerangs/ and https://naturalskills.wordpress.com/2011/06/17/boomerang-build-a-long/(also an awesome blog in general), and in the Bulletin of Primitive Technology #4 (1992) article by Errett Callahan “The non-returning boomerang.” Callahan (1999) has a similar article in a book (see reference).

1) find a piece of wood. It should have the bend of the angle you are looking for. If you try to artificially make a bend in an otherwise straight piece, you will have to cut across the grain, weakening the rabbitstick at the bend. It should be wide and thick enough to end up after trimming bark and shaping to be several inches wide by about an inch thick. The heavier the wood, the better. If you don’t have a saw or don’t want to use one, take into account the splitting ability of the wood. Many pines and cedars split cleanly. I chose incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens) since it was easy to find a flattened, well-bent piece, and I knew it would split easily. This wood is not particularly heavy though, so I made the boomerang pretty wide to give it some heft. Another benefit to using this tree species is that it makes an excellent hearth-board for friction fire starting (the board you put a hole in that you spin a stick on), being used by many Californian Indians for this purpose.

2) cut it to size then split it down the middle. You will need at least two wedges and a mallet, which can be fairly easily obtained in primitive situations. A very hard wood, bone, or best, antler, ground to shape makes a good wedge. A hard wood or rock makes a good mallet. I used a hatchet and splitting axe in place of wedges and a hammer for a mallet. I started the split on one end, got stuck in the middle so started again there, and to keep it splitting in the center, started a split once more at the other end. Pics below show this:

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3) choose the better half and split that. Put your wedge in the center at one end (pictured below) and work it as far as you can. It may veer off and you’ll have to start at the other end and middle. If it won’t split at all just trim with your hatchet, knife, or saw. It should be only an inch or so thick uniformly along the length. I used the piece to the left in the below photo.

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4) trim the split piece to size, giving one end a good hand grip, and making the edges pointed. It should be somewhat elliptical in cross section like this shape: (), with the edges near the center of its thickness. The cross section of mine was more rhomboid or diamond-like, like this shape: <==>. Callahan (1999) discusses the effects different airfoils and edge shapes have on the flight of the non-returning boomerang. Most importantly, if the edges are too blunt or too near the top or bottom, it may not fly well. The finished rabbitstick should weigh about 12 ounces for optimum performance (Callahan 1999)

Here is my finished (I left it pretty rough) rabbitstick. It’s about 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick throughout the length, and 1.5 to 2.5 in wide on the ends, with the max width of 5 in in the middle. The end I’m holding is more elliptical in cross section to make a good grip, while the other end is more flat on the top and bottom, with edges angled like an axe blade.

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Tips:

Many different shapes and sizes will work.

The most important factors are keeping it flat, straight, and with edges along the centerline. A good bend helps, but it may also be more of a gradual curve like this shape: (.

You can work the wood green (which is better for splitting or using stone tools), but keep in mind it may warp when dry. You can take steps to secure it in shape as it dries, or bend it back to shape after it warps by applying oil or grease and heating it steaming hot over a fire, bending it to shape, and allowing it to cool while holding it in shape.

Disclaimer: I take no responsibility for any injury or death resulting from any information in this blog.

REFERENCE

Callahan, Errett. 1999. How to make a throwing stick: the non-returning boomerang. In D. Wescott (ed.) Primitive Technology: a book of earth skills. Gibbs Smith, Publisher, Layton UT.

Boomerangs are awesome!

I was at the library checking out a book on sling and slingstone archeology, and next to it was a book on boomerangs! So of course I got it. My dad had a nice wood boomerang when I was a kid, and I played with that and some plastic ones at one point too. They are much harder to get to return than you might think. I never got the wood one to work, and I was always scared it would hit me on returning.

We tend to think of the boomerang as a toy, or novelty, but it was a nearly-ubiquitous and very important weapon, tool, and religious object for aboriginal Australians (Jones 1996). Every hunter had at least a few, often many of various designs for many functions (Jones 1996). They called them “karli,” “belo,” “iringili,” munartajartu,” “pirrkala,” “wallanu,” “warlanu,” “warraka,” “wana,” “murrawirrie,” “ngamiringa,” “yarrakoodakoodari,” “karra,” and many more names, but most commonly, “kiley,” with different types having different names, and for different language groups (Jones 1996). Aborigines in Tasmania did not have boomerangs, nor did most in the tropical north or those in the western central desert regions (Jones 1996).

There are two main categories of boomerangs: returning and non-returning (Jones 1996). The latter are kind of like the rabbitstick that was a common weapon of American Indians to throw at rabbits and small game. This type of weapon is a major improvement over just a plain stick since they are carved thin and have a bend in one end or near the middle. This shape makes them go much further, straighter, and have more force upon impact. These sticks were found in many aboriginal societies, as well as ancient Egypt (Jones 1996).

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rabbitsticks or throwing sticks, including some returning boomerangs, from Tutankhamen’s tomb (Jones 1996)

The non-returning boomerang was perhaps more common than the returning form, the latter which may have been mainly used for small game hunting, hitting flocks of birds or to mimic a hawk in order to make waterfowl fly low into a net (Jones 1996, see more on this down below).

The non-returning and returning boomerangs were used for many purposes other than throwing for hunting: they were used for hand to hand combat (esp. the longer, straighter ones), a knife, a hammer or club, a digging tool, making fire by friction (fire plow technique), for clapping together as a percussion instrument, and for many ceremonial or religious purposes (Jones 1996). The diversity of shapes reflects their diversity of uses, and for hunting, there was many different shapes depending upon the prey and the desired flight path.

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hand to hand combat with boomerangs (Jones 1996)

The returning boomerang was sometimes thrown over a flock of waterfowl, the boomerang having a hole drilled in one end to make a whistling sound like a hawk, while hunters also made a hawk cry, in order to flush the birds towards a low net that had been previously strung across the body of water, since the boomerang-hawk made them fly low, and rapidly in fright. Upon hitting the net, hunters at each end would let it drop, trapping the birds.

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flushing waterfowl into net with hawk-mimicking returning boomerangs (Jones 1996)

The returning boomerang was also thrown into flocks of birds, being superbly effective with its high velocity and eccentric flight path making it very difficult to dodge by the birds, though the boomerangs flight path would be well-known to the hunter (Jones 1996). Of course, whenever the returning boomerang hit its mark, it fell and did not return.

The returning boomerang was used also for games and sport by the Australian aborigines, some similar to today’s contests with boomerangs, where one person throws and tries to get it to perform particular flight patterns like figure eights, or return accurately to a circle drawn around the thrower, or hit a peg (Jones 1996). A game was played mimicking war, where a line of warriors threw one by one at eachother, holding shields, and trying to dodge or block incoming boomerangs, which was difficult given their erratic flight path (Jones 1996).

Depending upon how it was thrown, a boomerang can have drastically different flight paths:

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flight path of an illuminated boomerang at night (Jones 1996)

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variability of flight path based on throwing technique (Jones 1996)

One special type of (non-returning) boomerang was biconvex, short, and wide, with a pointed handle and sharp edges (Jones 1996). This type was thrown into water to kill fish near the surface. This type was also made with metal when it became available (Jones 1996).

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fishing boomerang (Jones 1996)

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diversity of boomerangs of Aboriginal Australians (Jones 1996)

Some boomerangs were cross-shaped, others had hooks on one end, but mainly they varied by length, angle, sharpness of ends, and thickness, wood, and weight.

Often boomerangs were incised and / or painted with maker’s marks or ancestral designs. One common incising was fine flutings down the length of boomerangs (Jones 1996). I suspect this may have had an affect on performance, since overly-smooth boomerangs don’t fly as well. The dimples on golf balls really enhance their flight, and this may be analogous with these flutings (Jones 1996).

Once boomerangs became a popular tourist item, aboriginal manufacturers starting focusing more on carving and painting designs than quality of functional design (Jones 1996).

Modern boomerangs are often manufactured, and are made of plywood, plastic, or cardboard to be a safe toy (Jones 1996). Some are in made in novelty shapes (Jones 1996). Competition boomerangs include tri-bladed designs for “fast catch” events, while unequal-limbed designs (also often found in aboriginal boomerangs) are used for “maximum time aloft” competitions (Jones 1996).

The returning boomerang uses two opposite-facing airfoils blended at the center, a slight positive dihedral, and a bend in the middle around 107 degrees (lefties need to reverse the side of the airfoils). The fly using the principles of gyroscopic stability, gyroscopic precession, Bernoulli’s principle of differential air pressure and the Coanda effect along with Newton’s laws of motion.

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technical boomerang design

http://www.researchsupporttechnologies.com/boomerang_site/boomerang6.htm

Normally, a boomerang is thrown overhead, “V” pointing forward, held nearly vertically, gripped in the hand or between the thumb and forefinger. The flat side faces away. Throw at about a 45 degree angle from the incoming wind. A boomerang can be tuned by test flights, then altering the wing shapes to correct the flight errors. See the link below for more info on tuning.

http://www.angelfire.com/nc/conally/manual.html

I collected some nice bent branches of madrone the other day, and I’m going to carve some traditional returning boomerangs! I’ll post a photo-methods record when I do.

Here is a great photo documentation blog post about making a non-returning boomerang (it’s an awesome blog in general too): http://naturalskills.wordpress.com/2011/06/17/boomerang-build-a-long/

REFERENCE:

Jones, Philip. 1996. Boomerang: behind an Australian icon. Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA.