Native American Spears

Learn how Native Americans used spears to fish and hunt animals like buffalo.

In ancient times, spears were used as weapons for hunting and war.  As long ago as 10,000 years ago, archeologists believe that the earliest Native Americans inhabitants, known as Paleo-Indians, used very primitively made spears to hunt animals such as mammoths, mastodons, bison, and smaller animals.  They would chip away a large rock to make a spearpoint as sharp as a razor.  Soon, they developed a new tool called an atlatl.  This tool helped them launch spears very quickly and with great force, so they could kill the animals while still at a safe distance.

The shaft of Native American spears were usually made with a wooden stick while the head of the spear was an arrowhead, piece of metal such as copper, or a bone that had been sharpened.  Spears were a preferred weapon by many for many reasons.  A spear was inexpensive to make.  It was also an easy weapon to use.  There was less training required to teach someone to use the spear than other weapons.  They could be made quickly in mass quantities.  And when used, they were often a lethal weapon. 

They often used a technique called the Buffalo Pound method to kill buffalo.  A hunter would dress as a buffalo and lure one into a ravine where other hunters were hiding.  Once the buffalo appeared, the other hunters would kill him with spears.  Another technique of hunting called the Buffalo Jump method had a runner leading the animals towards a cliff while others waiting behind rocks or trees.  As the buffalo got close to the cliff, they would jump out from behind the rocks or trees and scare them over the cliff.  Other hunters would be waiting at the bottom of the cliff to spear the animal to death.

Many used Native American spears for spear fishing.  Those living close to water made fish a large part of their diet.  Fishing poles had not been invented, so Native American men used their spears to catch fish.  The best times for using Native American spears for fishing was in the spring and winter months.  If the lake or river froze during the winter, Native Americans could cut a hole in the ice and fish through that.  In the spring, the Native Americans would often go out in canoes at night.  Using a fire torch to see, they would wait in shallow waters until the perfect moment to spear a fish. 

Not every tribe would use spears for fishing and women were prohibited from spear fishing.  Fishing spears would vary in size depending on what size fish the Native American was hoping to catch.

Today, this style of fishing is not used much as it is easier and quicker to use a fishing rod and reel.  There is still spear fishing, but it involves a powered spear gun.

Native Americans used spears to hunt until the invention of bows, arrows, and later guns.  Today, Native American spears are made more for adornment of walls or to teach Native American youth the traditions of their ancestors rather than for hunting.

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