Bud Cornett's Mammoth and Atlatl

Warren "Bud" Cornett built a wooden woolly mammoth covered with rubber and burlap and complete with PVC tusks as a target for practice shooting wooden darts with his atlatl. Journal Gazette video by Chad Ryan.

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Frank Gray

Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
Warren “Bud” Cornett built a representation of a mammoth as a target he intends to take to a field in Jay County to practice shooting darts with his atlatl.

Pet mammoth whale of target

Warren Cornett is what you could call an old-fashioned guy, but then Bud, as he is known, is 71, so one could expect that.

Except Cornett is really old-fashioned.

In the past few days, using plywood, rubber roofing materials, PVC pipe and other odds and ends, he has been constructing a mammoth in his backyard in Waynedale.

I've heard of people building weird things in their yards. I have a cousin who once built a full-sized dinosaur in their backyard for their kids to admire.

But why a mammoth?

“I've got a place down South where I hunt and I fish and shoot bows,” Cornett says.

But not long ago, Cornett says, he got into the atlatl, and if you have an atlatl, you need a mammoth.

“I've only got about $40 in it now,” he said of the beast. He plans to use burlap bags to simulate fur. “The tusks are nice. They're 2-inch PVC that was heated and bent.”

When the animal is finished in the next day or so, it will have spaces on the side where Cornett can install targets. Then Cornett plans to haul it down to a farm he has in Jay County where, using what he calls darts, he can practice to his heart's content killing an ancient mammoth with his atlatl rather than just heaving spears at a target.

“I'm retired,” says Cornett, a former engineer with General Telephone. “I've got to do something.”

Of course, most people will understand what a mammoth is, but this atlatl, a pastime that Cornett picked up a year or so ago – what's that?

An atlatl, simply put, is a prehistoric tool for throwing spears that largely fell out of favor in America perhaps 1,200 years ago. Cornett wishes he had some river cane spears, called darts, to use with his atlatl. They're flexible, which gives them increased power, enough to take down huge game.

Assemble all the pieces here and you reach one unavoidable conclusion: the atlatl has arrived. Even retired engineers in Waynedale are using it.

An article in the Wall Street Journal more than 30 years ago gave the atlatl one of its first pieces of widespread exposure to the general public.

An engineering student at Montana State University, a guy named Bob Perkins, had decided to research the ancient gadget and, using physics and engineering, revealed that it turned a man with a short spear into a deadly hunter who could throw a spear at 100 mph and kill the biggest game, even mammoths.

Perkins, contacted in Montana, where he makes atlatls and complains he's gotten so rich and successful making reproduction atlatls that he doesn't even have time to play with his own, said that back then only a few thousand people in the entire world, mostly archaeologists, knew what an atlatl was.

Today, a lot of people still don't know what atlatls are, but a whole lot more do.

Some universities even have atlatl teams, Cornett said. “You don't need any power” to throw a spear using the gadget. “It's more in your wrist. You've got two elbows.”

But only Cornett has a mammoth to hunt.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.