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Cows will rage, pigs will fly: It's atlatl!


Getting set: John Whittaker, professor of anthropology at Grinnell College hooks an Atlatl to the end of a dart during Atlatl Club practice.

WHAT: The Raging Cow atlatl (spear throwers) competition and fun outing

WHERE: Grinnell College Track

WHEN: 10 a.m. today, 9 a.m. Sunday ("if anyone shows up")

COST: Free; visitors welcome

The list of events at Grinnell College's third annual "Raging Cow" atlatl competition today and Sunday certainly stimulates the imagination.

Note: Atlatl (an Aztec word) is an early spear-throwing weapon, a launcher, that preceded the bow and arrow all over the world. It's about 18 inches long, with a notch in one end where a 6- or 7-foot-long dart made of wood, bamboo, cane or fiberglass, fits.

Here's this weekend's event lineup:

Raging Cow, Standing Deer/Flying Pig hunt, Tic Tac Toe, Intercollegiate Toltec and International Standard Accuracy Competition (ISAC) - all involve spearing targets with accuracy.

And wait, there's one more: Shooting at plastic bottles.

Grinnell College anthropology professor John Whittaker and student atlatl enthusiasts will gather today for some spear throwing that's both fun and lightly educational.

What actually takes place, though, is still up in the air.

Teams from Luther College, the University of Iowa, as well as atlatlists from all over Iowa, Missouri and Minnesota are expected.

You never know who will show up, and meeting interesting people with all sorts of primitive skills is one of the pleasures of the atlatl world, Whittaker said.

"With a sport revival of atlatls in the last few years, the Raging Cow Atlatl Competition is a low-key competition," Whittaker said.

"We bill ourselves as the World's First Collegiate Atlatl Team, although it's very informal and we are only a club sport at the college."

But tell us more about the events.

"Let's see, I'm still making some of this up!" Whittaker joked.

The Raging Cow name comes from the club's mascot. In lieu of mastodons (helped to extinction by the atlatl), contestants target a cow made of foam board. Hit the cow in a fatal spot and gain points, merely wound it and lose points.

Intercollegiate Toltec, which decides the college rivalries, is a target modeled after famous carvings at Chichen Itza in Mexico.

The Standing Deer/Flying Pig event uses a foam deer target at 20 meters and a moving pig target on a high wire at 15 meters. Throwers get five shots at each.

Tic Tac Toe, as you might guess, involves two-player teams that not only have to select a square, but must be accurate enough to hit it to claim it, Whittaker said.

The ISAC is the only event widely recorded and formalized.

"On Sunday morning at 9 a.m., we will have a final ISAC - if anyone shows up," the professor said.

The plastic bottles?

It depends what visiting Missouri atlatlist Ray Madden has in mind. Bottles are a new game to Whittaker.

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