Throughout their history, Choctaws have hunted wild game to supplement the food that they were able to grow. Hunting maybe less important for survival today, but it is no less important as a sport. Deer, rabbits, squirrels, and game birds such as doves and turkeys are hunted. Most Choctaw hunters today use the same kind of weapons as their non-Indian counterparts, but this has not always been the case. Blowguns and rabbit sticks were once used.
The blowgun, a hollow cane anywhere from five to seven feet long, was used to kill small game usually birds. The hunter blows to propel a dart, carved from wood and padded with cotton or thistledown, through the cane. Choctaw craftspeople still make blowguns, but today they are more likely to be used in demonstrations and contests of accuracy than for hunting.
The blowgun is made from river cane ½ to 1 inch in diameter 5 to 7 feet long. The blank should be heat straightened. This is accomplished as follows: Look down the length of the piece you wish to straighten. Observe the crooked places. Hold the crooked area over a bed of coals, turning it and heating it evenly. Bend it as straight as possible and hold it till cools and it should remain straight. Do two or three joints at a time, let cool, then come back and do two or three of the sections in between the joints and let them cool, or do all the joints then all the sections. If you don’t do it this way, a little at a time, you will find that you are working against yourself and having to restraighten the same areas over and over again.
Next, the interior wall joints must be removed. In the survival situation this is best accomplished by splitting the blank into two equal halves down the length of it and using stone flakes or grinding stones to grind them away smoothly. The two halves should then be glued back together with hide glue or pitch glue and bound with buckskin, rawhide or cordage. If you make one at home, you may wish to use a heated steel rod to burn out the sections, instead of splitting the cane and polish the interior smoothly. Check the straightness once you have all the section knocked out by looking down the bore. You should be able to see a circle when looking into the light. It is more important to be straight down the bore, even if the outside appears to be warped. You may also find that looking through it as you turn it that the circle looks round at one point and not as you look through it as it is turned more. This is due to the weight of the length of the blowgun. If this is the case, mark a place on top of the blowgun blank so you will know what point to have up when using the blowgun. I usually carve a small mark and then when I have the blowgun decorated like I want, hang a feather fluff on a lightweight string or sinew straight down on the distal end of the blowgun as a wind direction indicator. That way when the feather fluff is hanging down, I know my point is up and I am always assured of a straight bore. It is still a good idea to check for straightness, every now and then, and re-heat straighten, if needed.
Using any lightweight, small diameter wood makes the darts. Splits of river cane work well. Using thick walled cane so that it can be rounded. Flat pieces of cane have a tendency to ‘plane’. Heating the shaft material and twisting it into a corkscrew can overcome this problem. For most hunting though you will need a heavier material. You can use split round diameter, straight grained hard wood. Grind the point, rather than whittling it. It makes for a stronger longer lasting tip. Taper the point back if you don’t it acts like a blunt tip and doesn’t get the penetration you need. Another alternative that you probably will really find not necessary is to make a tiny point of stone or bone and hafting it in the point end of the dart.
Fletching should cover about 4 inches of the butt end and can be made from rabbit fur, cotton, thistle down, small bird feathers and some other plant downs. When choosing fletching material, keep in mind: (a) The material must be just light enough to give drag to the dart to stabilize it but not outweigh the rest of the dart; and (b) It must also be light and fluffy enough to fill the chamber of your blowgun as air is pushed through from your breath, causing it to be propelled out and yet be able to lay down aerodynamically when exiting the blowgun. Small bird feathers work well, you must use ‘fluffs’, though, or very tiny feathers, not stiff spine feather. The best are small turkey leg feathers. Tiny feathers must be tied in, layering one row on another as described with thistle down below. Fluffs may sometimes just be tied at the top at a point a few inched from the but end. If you use rabbit fur cut a thin strip and spiral wrap it, securing both ends. Rabbit fur is very heavy for a dart, so you will have to experiment with the weight ratio. Which brings us to Thistle down. Thistle down is the material of choice. Get a bulb that is dried but not opened or catch them before they open and tie them shut and allow them to dry till you’re ready to use them. Native Americans would split a piece of cane and clamp bulbs between the halves tied together until they were ready to use it. Remove the down carefully, keeping it flat and in one line. Carefully take out the seeds, brown chaff and rough up and soften the hard areas that held the seed, while keeping tightly pressed together between your thumb and forefinger. Holding a length of cordage in your mouth, with the other end secured in a notch in the butt end of the shaft of the dart you are rolling, son one hand holds the dart shaft, while the other holds the thistle down. Secure the fletching material by wrapping it with the cordage catching just enough of an edge to hold it and allow it to fluff out as you move down the entire fletching area, feeding the down into the string as you go and tie off at the end.
The dart should slide in the blowgun easily but snug. It is placed in the end you will blow, flush, point first. The blowgun is held with both hands with the elbows resting on the chest and together. The dart is then blown with a sudden burst of air after aiming at the target.
The rabbit stick was another important weapon for early Choctaw Hunters. Carved from a hardwood limb, rabbit sticks are usually bout eighteen inches long. Most of the Stick is carved into a handle so that it may be easily held and thrown. About five or six or six inches of the stick are left in its natural state, forming sort of a wooden hammer. The bark is not scraped off. In experienced hands, the club becomes an effective weapon, being thrown in an overhand-sideways manner, which sends it spinning at the victim. The striking end outweighing the grip end. The side-wise flight of the thrown stick allows for a much better chance of intercepting the target as opposed to simply throwing it overhand, for there is more surface area to make contact with the target. Try it and you will soon find out. Hunters threw these sticks to kill small game, usually rabbits. Occasionally, Choctaw hunter’s still hunt with rabbit sticks just for the sport of it, but like the blowgun, these weapons are most often used for demonstrations and contests of accuracy.