Hunting with Stone Points
For over three million years sharp stones were pivotal in keeping our ancestors fed. And for some modern hunters, myself included, they still provide food and fill the freezer. For years I enjoyed chipping points that replicated the ancient ones Iíd found, then Iíd throw them in a display case to live out the rest of their existence. But it didnít take long to compile an ever-growing number of points that werenít living up to their full potential. It was time to complete the circle, mount these points to arrows, and use them for their true purpose: the hunt.
Perhaps youíve pondered the idea of hunting with stone points youíve made but havenít quite taken the plunge. Thatís understandable. When I first became interested in primitive archery my idea of a stone arrowhead was a thick, pathetically dull pebble crudely lashed to an arrow. It wasnít until I began making stone points (and slicing my fingers countless times) that my opinion changed. Today, after using my stone arrowheads successfully for over 25 years to fill my freezer, I believe in them more than ever. In this article I hope to dispel some myths and expose some truths concerning stone points and their effectiveness for hunting.
Myth 1- Stone arrowheads have been outlawed for hunting in some states because they arenít effective.
This is an unfortunate misconception made by lawmakers who have no experience with stone points and have never felt the scalpel-sharp edge of a flint flake. All too often stone tools are called ďprimitiveĒ, which is misinterpreted as meaning crude and ineffective. This isnít true. Stone arrowheads made by skilled modern craftsman are incredibly sharp and kill just as quickly as the most expensive modern steel broadhead. Flint breaks like glass and the edges of the resulting flakes are razor-sharp. In fact, science has revealed that obsidian produces edges as thin as one molecule, 250 times sharper than a modern surgeonís scalpel.
Myth 2: Stone arrowheads are brittle and break after one shot.
It all depends on the type of stone the arrowhead is made of and what you hit. Obsidian, man-made glass, opalite and heavily heat-treated flints produce the sharpest edges, but are weaker and less durable when hitting hard objects. Raw flint is considerably stronger but isnít quite as sharp. One thing is certain: stone arrowheads that hit their target (i.e. prey animals) usually suffer considerably less damage than shots that miss and hit trees or rocks. Stone points that hit the vitals usually suffer very minor damage like a small chip off the tip or a basal corner. Skin, lung tissue and soft muscle pose no threat to a stone point and ribs of deer-sized game offer surprisingly little impediment to penetration. In fact, small stone arrow points often miss ribs on entry and are much more likely to strike offside ribs. The most common damage is a small nick off the sharp tip, usually from nicking bone. Any minor damage to stone points can be fixed with minimal retouch, though sometimes no retouch is necessary. Iíve had stone points shatter ribs, bury themselves in scapulas, and even punch through the off-side shoulder blade after traversing the entire chest cavity of a deer. Some were still usable, some werenít. If youíre worried about breaking a stone point when hunting, simply make them a little thicker to compensate and increase durability. I prefer to heat treat tough flint to the point where the workability (and edge sharpness) is improved but the stone still retains a good bit of strength. Iíve found that to be the best balance for hunting.
But if you miss your target animal then all bets are off. Raw or lightly cooked flint points are better able to survive missed shots, though any point that misses and hits the dirt should have its edges carefully checked to ensure theyíre still sharp before itís used again. Just a quick pass with a sharp pressure flaker down each edge to remove small flakes is all thatís needed to restore the edge. I always keep a small pressure flaker and leather pad in my hunting pack so I can resharpen a stone point if I miss my shot and the edges are dulled. To minimize misses, practice regularly and mount stone points to arrows that fly perfectly and consistently off your bow.
Myth 3- Stone points ďplane outĒ and affect arrow flight.
This myth is false. Stone points have a thicker, rounded cross section when compared to steel broadheads. This eliminates the turbulence and wind-planing that can steer an arrow off course. My stone tipped hunting arrows fly to the same spot as they do when tipped with blunt practice tips or field points.
Myth 4- Stone points donít penetrate as well as steel broadheads.
Iíve conducted numerous penetration tests to compare the capabilities of stone points and steel broadheads. All tests were conducted using a freshly-killed deer with all the internal organs still in place. In every test, stone points matched modern steel broadheads in penetration depth, tissue damage and lethality.
Myth 5- Stone points arenít as sharp as steel broadheads.
Well-made stone points can actually rival the sharpness of a steel broadhead. They do not possess the straight edge profile of a steel broadhead. Instead, the edges more resemble a very sharp serrated steak knife. These scalloped edges are the result of pressure flaking and each flake removal creates a small concavity where the inside of that concavity is razor sharp. This increases the surface area of the stone edge, resulting in more effective cutting edges. I prefer very fine serrations on my stone hunting points. And Iím not alone in this preference. Evolution has also favored these same serrated edges on the teeth of the oceanís apex predator: sharks. And thereís no denying what those teeth can do to soft flesh. Thatís a lesson I pay close attention to. I replicate those edges on my own stone hunting points and theyíve never failed to do the job.
Myth 6- Stone points must be perfect to be effective.
Stone points donít have to be perfect to perform. In fact, Iíve used some surprisingly ugly stone points to bring down a variety of game. Expediently made stone points that are sharp are still very effective. Even though they may be aesthetically unattractive, that doesnít mean theyíre dull. I always pay close attention to getting my edges as sharp as possible. Novice flintknappers should not use their stone arrowheads for hunting until they gain enough experience to create points with very sharp edges. Many of the stone points I hunt with are expediently made with missing corners and are not beautifully symmetrical.
Myth 7- Stone points shove vital organs and arteries out of the way without cutting them.
Not true. I conduct very careful autopsies on every animal I kill to gauge the capabilities of stone points in real hunting scenarios. Iím always curious about how stone points perform when encountering soft tissue and the nature of the wound channels they create. My autopsies revealed that stone points cut gaping holes through skin, lung tissue, and arteries. Even small, very flexible arteries in rabbits and squirrels are severed if the sharp edges of a flint arrowhead contact them upon impact. Another interesting result of these serrated edges is that wound channels can be up to 70% wider than the point itself, resulting in heavy bleed-out and quick kills.
Myth 8- Stone points should match steel broadheads in weight and size.
Arrowhead size requirements are one important aspect where stone and steel points differ greatly. This must be addressed to ensure unnecessary wounding is minimized. Stone points are very effective, but they also experience increased drag due to their thicker cross section when compared to flat steel broadheads. My home state of Georgia has no minimum width requirements for broadheads and Iíve had excellent success using points with cutting widths between 5/8 and ĺ inch. But there are numerous states requiring broadheads to be at least 7/8-inch in width. Where legal, I recommend stone points for hunting be made smaller and lighter than steel broadheads to compensate for the increased drag they will experience upon striking the target.
Prehistoric arrow points are, in general, significantly smaller than the modern steel broadheads we use today. And this wasnít just from one localized area. Iíve seen prehistoric stone arrowpoints from all across North America, as well as stone arrowpoints from Sub-Saharan Africa. And a significant number of them are of surprisingly small size. Some of them are downright tiny, capable of fitting on your thumbnail with room to spare. Collectors mistakenly called these tiny points ďbird pointsĒ, thinking they were designed for hunting birds. But additional research revealed they were actually used for hunting big game. But why did they make their points so small?
If larger stone arrow points were more effective, that would have steered their weaponry toward larger arrowheads. Instead, the opposite happened. Donít forget, their lives depended on the effectiveness of their archery. Smaller stone points concentrate the momentum of the arrow into a smaller surface area, reducing drag and increasing penetration depth. That means they could use a less powerful bow, and that increases accuracy. They knew animal movements and they knew how to get close. All they needed was a weapon that could cover the last few yards and deliver an accurate shot to the vitals. A 40-lb bow and an arrow tipped with a small, sharp arrow point was the perfect answer.
If your state has minimum width requirements for broadheads then stone arrowheads must be made to meet those requirements. Even still they can still be considerably lighter than the 125 grain weight of standard broadheads most hunters shoot today. Some of my personal stone hunting points weigh only 30 to 40 grains, yet they achieve the 7/8 inch minimum broadhead width required by some states. If you need a 125 grain point for your arrows to achieve perfect flight and want to shoot a stone point, I suggest either adjusting your arrows so they fly well with less weight on the nose, or adding a hardwood foreshaft or footing of heavier wood to the front of the shaft so flight is perfect before adding the stone point. Stone isn't nearly as heavy as steel and a large, 125 grain stone point will incur significantly more drag than flat steel broadheads of the same weight. Penetration will be greatly reduced unless you shoot a more powerful bow or use heavier arrows. Stone points canít be forced to fit the mold of a modern steel broadhead and be expected to achieve identical performance. Adjustments have to be made. Ancient hunters across North America and the world over learned this, so they made their arrow points smaller to compensate. These small arrow points are found with such frequency that itís not a fluke or coincidence. And as final proof, protein analyses on these tiny points tested positive for deer, elk, bighorn sheep and sometimes bear blood. In the Northern Plains small stone arrowpoints have been found at ancient bison jumps where their prey was driven off cliffs and then dispatched by ancient hunters waiting at the bottom.
As stated earlier, hunting was a matter of life or death back then, and survival was dependent on deep arrow penetration into the vitals of large animals. Remember that. Follow the lessons of our ancestors and use smaller, lighter points where legal. I doÖand they've never let me down.
Myth 9- Stone points are time consuming to make.
This depends on your skill level. When I first started flintknapping it was common for me to work on an arrowhead for an hour only to break it at the very end. It takes a lot of practice to become proficient at flintknapping, though a one-on-one lesson with an experienced knapper can greatly accelerate your skills as opposed to working it out on your own. Today I can make a usable hunting arrowhead in 10 to 20 minutes on average, though Iíve made points in as little as five minutes or spent up to one hour on more exquisite ones.
Well-made stone points are very effective for hunting and will bring down any big game animal when the arrow is put in the right place. Their finely serrated edges are wickedly sharp and cut large wound channels that cause heavy internal hemorrhage and quick, humane kills. Their penetration matches that of modern steel broadheads and theyíre surprisingly durable when the arrow hits the intended target. What canít be measured is the satisfaction of creating an extremely sharp stone arrowhead as our ancestors did and then using it to harvest a deer that feeds you and your family.
Billy Berger is a primitive archery fanatic from Marietta, GA who uses his primitive weapons to fill his freezer every year. Matching sets of sharp stone hunting points can be purchased from his website: Primitive Pathways