Survival Spears

In my recent post about throwing sticks and stones, I mentioned that creating a good spear was not as easy as some survival manuals make out, and that the throwing stick might be a better investment of your time and energies.
I had wanted to link this comment to an article that I had written back in my early days on the internet. However, the throwing weapons group I had originally written it for had long since disappeared, and to my surprise, I had not placed a copy on my other website.
Below is the original article from many decades ago, with some minor updating and editing.
Since I wrote this, I have discovered several of my original articles are preserved on this site.

A Short Essay on Spears

Sometime ago, I started putting together notes on easily-made weapons and started off with spears since most survival books make this out to be quite simple. Just grab a length of wood and sharpen one end, and off you go!
Not quite!
Assuming that you do have a handy forest nearby, you won't see that many six foot+ lengths of timber of suitable width just growing from the ground, not anywhere I've been, anyhow.
If you do find something without needing to chop down a tree, it probably won't be straight, so you have to beath it.
Beathing involves gently roasting the wood over a fire or in hot ashes to make it temporarily supple. After this, you will probably have to hang your spear up to dry a day or so. Hanging a heavy weight from it may help the shaft stay straight. Bell towers were sometimes used to make and store pikes and spears.

Throwing Spears

For a throwing spear, just sharpening a point on one end and throwing it may not be enough. The spear will probably yaw like crazy and you may miss your mark by at least a foot.
Your spear needs flight stabilization.
Although fletching is sometimes used, most throwing spears are stabilized by drag, for which the front half needs to be heavier than the rear.
For a “self” spear (one made of a single piece of wood), drag stabilization may be achieved by tapering the shaft towards the butt, or better still. selecting a length of wood that is already tapered.
Hawaiian All Wooden Spear
Captain Cook's expedition to Hawaii acquired a very nice example of such a spear (above), which must have been the product of many hours carving, particularly since the owner was unlikely to have had metal tools.
Throwing Spears
A simpler option is to fit a heavier head or a fit a weight just behind the head.
Most spears that have a separate head have a head that is denser than the shaft material.
Flint heads are well known, but one can also carve a blade from wood, maybe gumming flakes of flint or shell to it.
Fixing a knife as a spear point will do, but the blade length handy for a knife is often too short for a good spear and any cross guard will limit penetration. Traditional boar‑spears penetrated at least ten inches, and bear‑spears more than double this.
A point can be carved from wood, and fire hardened in some cases, but if for a throwing spear, ensure it has sufficient weight.
Fire hardening is a process that is often mentioned, but not described in detail in many survival manuals. Fire hardening is “lightly toasting” the sharpened point of a wooden weapon to drive out some of the moisture. The point is then sharpened further. Fire hardening may make a wooden tip harder, but also makes it more brittle. Sometimes grease, oil or fat is applied to the treated point afterwards.
Other useful construction materials include flint, obsidian, glass, shell, slate, bone, horn, antler or metal, either on their own or added to a wooden head.
Drag stabilization may also be increased by adding cloth streamers or long tufts of grass or hair behind the head.

Thrusting Spears

Sometimes your intended meal will have other ideas and will want to come up and inform you of its differing opinion. In such a situation, a thrusting spear is useful, no matter what other weapon you were using to hunt.
Forward balance is not such a problem for a thrusting spear but penetration still is. In this situation your concern is too much rather than too little.
Some beasties have been known to impale themselves further onto a spear or sword attempting to get the hunter within reach of their horns, tusks, claws or teeth!
The solution to this hazard is some form of arrest, usually a crossbar a foot or more down the shaft.
Examples of methods of creating barred spears
A number of examples are shown in the illustration above, taken from “Hunting Weapons” by Howard L. Blackmore.
The leftmost uses a boar tusk thrust through the bindings. Several others use plates of bone or horn attached by cordage. Blackmore, p.91: “To start with, in the fifteenth century, the bar was a piece of wood or horn held firmly in position by thonging. It was then realized that if the bar hung loose it was still effective and was not so liable to cause accidental injury to the bearer or his companions. The piece of horn forming the bar, often only roughly shaped, was fastened to the haft by a leather strap passing through a hole in the socket or woven into the binding which normally criss-crossed the head of the haft to provide a grip.”
In some weapons, the arrest is not so obvious, being incorporated into the design of the blade or socket. Examples of this include the partizan and the lugged or winged spears.
Having more than one point automatically limits penetration, as can be seen with the Chinese tiger fork.
Chinese Tiger Fork
Thrusting spears are also used for hunting, usually from ambush.
A thrusting spear should lack any barbs so that it can be easily withdrawn for a second thrust or to be used against another target.

Barbs and Multiple Points

A throwing spear may be barbed, and in a hunting situation this may be done for two reasons:
Firstly, it is done to keep a poisoned blade in the animal's body long enough for the poison to take effect. Often the head detaches so that the shaft (the production of which may have involved quite a lot of work) will not be lost or damaged as the animal escapes through the brush or tries to rub the head loose. Having a wound partially plugged by a shaft reduces the rate of blood loss, but the movement of the shaft will also inhibit clotting, prolonging bleeding time.
Heads are also barbed to prevent an animal escaping from the spear head when the shaft of the spear is held or the weight of the shaft will hinder escape.
The most familiar examples of this are fishing spears (which may be more effective thrust rather well as thrown).
Sometimes the head of a spear will be designed to detach but will be on a line so that the fish/seal/hippo(!) can be hauled in once exhausted.
The drag of the detached shaft through the water may further tire the animal and sometimes a bladder or buoy is added to the shaft increase this effect.
This technique is also used with arrows.
Fishing Arrow
An very nice example (above), taken from “The Art of Attack” by Henry Swainson Cowper. The drag of the arrow shaft being pulled sideways through the water tires the prey. The barbed arrowhead is made from bone and inserts into a socket in the end of the shaft.
Because fish are often hard to hit, many fishing spears (and arrows) have multiple points, and this strategy may also be used on small elusive furred and feathered game too. For ideas for such designs, I suggest browsing Cowper and Blackmore, paying particular attention to the multi‑pointed spear, harpoon and arrow heads made from non‑metallic materials such as antler, wood and bone.

Throwing Cords

A useful trick that can be applied to spears is to tie a loop of cordage to the shaft and slip the first two fingers through the loop when throwing. This increases energy transfer to the shaft and was known to the Greeks as the “ankulé” and to the Romans as the “amentum. Cowper describes this on p.230.
A variant of this is to tie the cord with a half hitch, either near the centre of gravity or the butt. Using this knot allows the cord to remain with the thrower after the spear is cast. Cowper describes this on p.231, using the term “ounep”.
Miners in West Riding, Yorkshire, used this method to throw 31 inch long drag stabilised arrows, and ranges commonly exceeded 200 yards. Cowper describes this on p.230, the source being “The Crossbow/The Book of the Crossbow” by Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey.
Conventional arrows can be thrown by the same method and this maybe a useful hunting technique for a bow hunter should your bow be broken.

If suitable materials are available, and the above design principles are borne in mind, quite effective spears can be made.
Spears are also useful as walking and wading aids, as carrying poles, shelter supports etc.

Throwing Sticks and Stones

Recently, my computer began to lag, so I ran a chkdsk on it. This took some time, so I decided to read in the more traditional manner.
My choice was a printed copy of Richard F. Burton’s “The Book of the Sword” (1884). I have dipped into this book on occasions, but never actually read it from cover to cover.
Bigfoot attack a cabin

Throwing Stones

In the introduction and preamble, Burton discusses humanity’s need for weapons, their disposition to violence and the forms and possible inspirations of early armaments.
I was particularly struck (pun intended!) by the discussion of hand‑throwing of stones.
Various apes, monkeys, kangaroo mice and some octopuses will throw a variety of objects to discourage intruders and predators.
Humans, however, are able to throw with sufficient accuracy to deliberately hit and injure an intended target. Indeed, there are indications that aptitude in this ability may have been an evolutionarily selected trait and have contributed to human sexual dimorphism.
In the Iliad, duelling heroes pick up great rocks and hurl them at each other.
Classical armies are believed to have included units of stone throwing warriors, known as “petrobóloi” or “lithobóloi”. Since these terms mean “stone-thrower”, some of these references may alternately refer to men armed with slings or catapult‑type war engines.
A little later in history, the Roman Vegetius states: [Legionary] Recruits are to be taught the art of throwing stones both with the hand and sling.” and “Formerly all soldiers were trained to the practice of throwing stones of a pound weight with the hand, as this was thought a readier method since it did not require a sling.”
It is worth bearing in mind that accurate use of a sling is very difficult and requires considerable time and training. Having legionaries lob stones at enemies was much more practical.
Japanese armies also had low-ranking warriors whose speciality was throwing stones (ishinage/ishiuchi/inji/sekisen/tōseki/isi arasoi/isi gassen), the stones known as tsubute. (“Classic Weaponry of Japan, p.156, Serge Mol)
Japanese stone throwing
Burton gives several examples of stones used in hunting or war (p.16): “Diodorus of Sicily (B.C. 44)…says that the Libyans [possibly a generic term for North Africans] ‘use neither Swords, spears, nor other weapons; but only three darts [javelins] and stones in certain leather budgets [bags/sacks], wherewith they fight in pursuing and retreating.’”
He also describes how raiding “Arab Bedawin”, rather than use their matchlocks, will pelt an enemy with rocks, causing him to uselessly expend his ammunition.
Burton also remarks: As a rule, the shepherd is everywhere a skilful stone-thrower.”
In “The Art of Attack” (1906), p.153, Henry Swainson Cowper notes: “Stone throwing as a method of attack would come natural to our earliest forefathers, like the use of the simplest club. Indeed such use might precede the last named, since no branch could be used without some trimming, while suitable stones lay ready almost everywhere.” and on p.159, footnote 2, “It seems natural for man, when irritable to " chuck " the nearest available object, whether a stone or a decanter, at the offender, whether that be a dog or a relative.”
As well as being a weapon system for hunting and war, stone‑throwing has been used for a number of other purposes.
Stones may be used to bring down fruit and nuts from trees. It is probable that thrown stones have been used to drive predators and scavengers away from a kill, and birds and other animals away from the crops and herds. Thrown stones have been used for duelling, as a means of execution, and as an exhibition of disapproval, discouragement, harassment and religious devotion. I even encountered suggestions that throwing stones could be used for stress relief (other than the obvious option of throwing them at whoever bothers you!).
One might also reflect at the various sports and fun‑fair or carnival games that involve throwing balls or other stone‑like objects.
While researching this topic, I came across this interesting scientific paper.
Stones deemed most effective as missiles were those of 0.5 to 0.75 kg (figure 6). The stones used naturally weathered into spheroids, and diameter of suitable missiles was approximately that of a tennis ball, which would be around 67 mm, incidentally very close to that of an M67 grenade (64 mm).
Another interesting feature of this study was that the simulated target was a 57 kg antelope at 25 metres.
In a genuine survival situation, a thrown stone may be useful for more than just squirrels, rabbits and birds!
Not all stones are created equal, and good throwing stones may not be as readily available in some environments as you may wish.
Cowper (p.150) notes that the natives of Tierra del Fuego carry a little store of stones for throwing in the corner of their mantles. Many other stone throwing peoples also carried stones on their person.
Undoubtedly, stones were often selected for suitable mass, and for regularity and consistency of shape. Shaping and polishing stones to create better missiles is not unknown.
Despite this long and broad history, the potential of hand‑thrown stones is often overlooked by survivalists.
In modern times, we associate stone‑throwing with rioters and hoodlums.
Survival manuals that describe field expedient weapons generally ignore the use of stones, other than as ammunition for slings and hand‑catapults/slingshots.
Rubber and elastic perish and break.
While a sling is easily constructed and has formidable power and range, learning to use it accurately enough to hunt with will probably involve weeks and months of practice.
As an aside, if you do have the cordage to make a sling, you may be better off making a bolas! The bolas is a clubbing weapon as well as an entangling one, so is related to the thrown stone.
Bolas are best used in open terrain. Bushes and trees give them problems.
Cords of more than a metre may be used for bolas, and heavier weights than those suggested in FM 3‑05.70 used. Blackmore (p.327) gives a range of 1 to 1.5 lbs for each weight.
If you are serious about keeping yourself fed or defended, putting in some practice at throwing stones by hand would be prudent.
A practice range for stone throwing is easily constructed, even when out in the wilds. A tree, post, mound or object hanging from a tree may be used as a target.

Throwing Sticks

Throwing stones may be supplemented by throwing sticks.
Compared to a thrown stone, a throwing stick has a greater chance of hitting a target, and a greater range.
In their very simplest, a throwing stick is a piece of wood picked up off the ground or broken from a tree and thrown at a target. Such simple throwing sticks are useful for knocking fruit out of trees, or casting a bear‑line over a tree branch.
This video shows a very simple baton-style throwing stick made from a length of hardwood timber, as long as the arm and as thick as the wrist. Ideally this should be as free of knots and other non‑aerodynamic projections as possible.
Sharpening each end will increase its utility both as a weapon and as a digging tool.
More effective throwing sticks will take a little more fabrication.
Throwing sticks may be dived into those that have an aerodynamic cross‑section, and those that do not.
Throwing Clubs
The latter type (above) are often weighted towards one end, and may resemble a knobkerry or shillelagh.
The next illustration is taken from “Hunting Weapons” by Howard L. Blackmore, and shows hyrax being hunted.
Two hunters would work together, about 50 yards apart. Both would throw at the same time so that an animal dodging one club would be hit by the other. When hunting birds, one hunter cast his club above the bird, the other below.
Hunting with a throwing club
A knobkerry or shillelagh‑type club may be made from where a branch or root grows from a larger part.
The next illustration shows an alternated configuration of throwing club, cut from the junction of where a minor branch joins a major one.
Throwing club made from join of two branches
When it comes to aerodynamic throwing sticks, some mention must be made of the “boomerang”.
In modern usage, the term “boomerang” is generally used for returning throwing sticks. To return, a boomerang needs to be launched in a specific direction, relative to the wind. It also needs to be relatively light, making it impractical as a hunting weapon except against lightly-framed fowl.
Non-returning boomerangs intended for hunting and warfare may be up to a metre long, and may have a range of 150 yards (Cowper, p.166).
The term “boomerang” was originally a name only used in part of Australia, and according to many authors, was originally used for non-returning hunting and fighting weapons!
Burton notes (p.33): “The form of throwing-stick, which we have taught ourselves to call by an Australian name ‘boomerang,’ thereby unduly localising an almost universal weapon from Eskimo-land to Australia, was evidently a precursor of the wooden Sword. It was well known to the ancient Egyptians.”
Survival field manuals such as FM 3‑05.70 tell you to make a “rabbit stick” from “a stout stick as long as your arm, from fingertip to shoulder” (p.8‑26) and from “a blunt stick, naturally curved at about a 45-degree angle” (p.12‑8)
Some sources will tell you that a hunting throwing stick should be widest at the centre and thinner and tapered towards the tips. This is an effective form, but even if we restrict ourselves to looking at Australian designs, other forms may be encountered.
The illustration below shows a “beaked” war‑boomerang (3). Boomerangs
The image below shows an Australian weapon known as a “lil‑lil” besides a more familiar style of throwing stick.
Lil-lil and Boomerang
The lil-lil is classed as a club rather than a boomerang, but is also used as a throwing weapon. This design has inspired some weapons that do have an aerodynamic cross-section.
Both the beaked boomerang and lil-lil clearly concentrate mass towards one end rather than the centre.
Cowper shows a wide variety of curved throwing sticks, ranging from gentle S‑forms to sabre, hook and horn shapes.
In other words, you have considerable leeway in the shape of your throwing stick.
FM 3‑05.70 also tells the survivor to “Shave off two opposite sides so that the stick is flat like a boomerang.” which I think is a little misleading.
Aerodynamic throwing sticks often have a cross‑section that is described as “semi‑lenticular”. In other words, the lower surface flat‑ish and the upper convex. The edge formed concentrates the force of impact, hence Burton’s reference to wooden swords or edged clubs.
Cowper notes that some war‑boomerangs have one side flatter, which suggests this may not be as pronounced as seen on “comebacks”. He also mentions an Indian war-boomerang with both sides rounded. There is therefore some leeway in the cross‑section you give your throwing stick, depending on the tools and the time you have.
A practical bow and arrow, or even a good spear take considerable skill to produce in a survival scenario.
Manufacture of a throwing stick is easier and more forgiving. Your chances of bagging a meal with it are also much greater.
Like any other weapon system, you will still need to put in the time practicing!
There are plenty of websites and videos describing how to make and use throwing sticks, so I will not go into further detail here.
Depending on how it was constructed, a throwing stick may serve other purposes too.
Many types are suitable for use as digging sticks. Some knobkerry or shillelagh are long enough to serve as walking sticks, which is handy when traversing rough terrain. Throwing sticks may also serve as hand weapons, useful in dispatching caught fish or trapped animals.
It is a good idea to construct a pair of throwing sticks, providing you with the means to make a follow‑up attack, or defend yourself.

Less Plate, Less Pot, Eat Less

One of the interesting things I have learnt during lock-down was that I could be happy with much smaller portions of food than I was accustomed to.
Before lock-down, I had already stopped including pasta, potatoes or rice in my meals.
Meals at home would be just meat and vegetables.
During lock-down, many meals became just a portion of meat or fish (battered fish bakes very nicely in a halogen oven!).
Other nights, dinner might just be a bowl of sweetcorn with a dash of Tabasco. The roast potatoes I had left after Christmas dinner formed a couple of nights' dinners on their own.
While individually, many of these meals were not balanced, things seemed to even out nutritionally over a week or more.
Generally, these relatively modest portions satisfied me.
If I felt peckish later on, I would eat some fruit. If a fancied some desert, this would often be fruit.
Some nights, when I did not feel hungry, dinner might just be fruit.
Typically I only ate twice a day.
Breakfast/brunch was usually a serving of porridge with a few sultanas.

Less Plate, More Satisfaction?

I am reminded of this since recently I heard someone comment “People eat too much because plates are too big! Use smaller plates and they will eat less.”
Often when eating my modestly sized meals, I have used the small 21cm diameter side plates rather than the full-sized dinner plates.
When food does not need cutting up, I usually use a 16cm/ 500ml bowl.
My small meals had satisfied me both physically and psychologically. Enough really is as good as a feast!
I did a little research, and the idea of using smaller plates has some support.
I also came across the suggestion that plate colour may also have an effect on satisfaction. My small plates and bowls are black, which is a good colour for contrast. Red is apparently even better.
There seems to be something to all this.
The “first bite is always with the eye”, so there seems to be some logic that the presentation of a meal has some effect on psychological satisfaction with portion size.
If you want to drop a little weight, a few red bowls and small plates may be a useful investment. I would advise getting those that can be used within a microwave oven.
After you eat, it is a good idea to drink a glass of tap-water and clean your teeth.

Smaller Pots

To the above, I have an additional suggestion.
If you cook your own meals, try using smaller cooking vessels.
It is all too easy to increase the quantity you are cooking if you use large capacity pots. And once the food is cooked, it would be sinful to let it go to waste! Instead it goes to waist.
I have put my large pans back in the cupboard and dug out a couple of small saucepans, each about one-litre capacity and around 17cm diameter.
For meals for a single person these should be quite adequate for anything you need a saucepan for.
I have an even smaller “milk pan”, but this is in daily use cooking my porridge. Also milk pans generally do not come with lids, and a lid is often needed for more efficient cooking.
A smaller pan may mean you have to cook on a smaller hob than you usually used.
I have also noticed I need a slightly lower flame setting to prevent flames wastefully lapping up the sides of the pot.
Thus, using a smaller pot is saving me some fuel and money. Smaller capacity saves both time and water.
And if further incentive were needed, mastering cooking with small pots is good training for when you may have to cook in just a canteen cup or mess tin.

Lighter Kit and Stoveless Cooking

A friend sent me this video. Good timing, since I had just posted my article on ranger rolling and how it could be used to reduce the number and weight of stuff-sacks used.
I don't carry a lot of electronic gear nor do I idolize my phone, so I had not paid much attention to items such as power banks. With a suitable suite of compatible devices this may be a step towards solving the problem of the soldier's load.
One topic touched on is that of “stoveless cooking”. My friend sent me an additional video on this: 
Years ago I encountered a technique that might be called the “mobile haybox”.
The hiker would heat his food, or add boiling water, as appropriate. The food was then placed in an insulated container and stowed inside the rucksack.
Like a conventional haybox, the retained heat continued to cook the food over the next few hours. Ideally one used a “wide-mouthed thermos”, but those were not that easy to find in those days. More usually, you used a sandwich box or screw-topped container and wrapped your sleeping bag and other insulation around the outside. The wise hiker placed the container in a plastic bag in case of leaks!
The stoveless method is similar, in that you hydrate the food several hours in advance and give the water time to do its job.
The two methods can be combined. Providing it has a good seal, a sandwich box could be used.
Sandwich boxes, incidentally, make pretty good eating bowls for more conventional cooking. Remember that before you fork out a good chunk of cash on a specially designed backpacker's eating kit!
Have a look at the supermarket shelves for other suitable containers.
Buying them filled with food is often cheaper than attempting to buy an empty container.
I have seen plastic peanut-butter jars suggested for stoveless cooking and this is a way to utilize that peanut-butter stuck at the very bottom.

A Decent Meal in Less Than Ten Minutes

Cooking for myself recently has been very efficient.
The other night my cooking proceeded thus:
I place a bowl of frozen sweetcorn in the microwave. This will cooked in under three minutes.
At the same time, I boiled a cupful of water in the electric kettle. This will be used to make instant gravy.
A good selection of ready-made sauces and instant stuff can really add variety to your diet.
A frying-pan heated up on the hob with a squirt of oil added. I keep the oil in a squirt bottle since it makes it easier to add less to a pan. Chopped fresh mushrooms went into the frying pan to brown for a few minutes.
While this was going on I heated up my new George Foreman grill.
I have seen some rubbish written on the internet about these grills drying food out. The George Foreman is basically a culinary trouser press. It cooks food from both sides at once, so it will take approximately half the time to cook something. Adjust you cooking plan accordingly!
On another hob, I boiled a pot of salted water. Following the previous blog post, I decided to experiment with pre-soaking dried pasta. It worked even better than I expected, so it was obvious I could now cook it like fresh pasta. A couple of minutes of cooking instead of twelve to twenty minutes.
Pork chop, mushrooms, sweetcorn and pasta in gravy, cooked in under ten minutes. Big saving on fuel, time and hassle.