This page is part of the official ARCHIVE COPY of the pioneering but abandoned Thrower website on knife throwing. Copyright and details


May, 1997

The bola is a throwing weapon used in many cultures, but popularized in the West by the gauchos of Argentina. It consists of weights of various sizes connected together by cord. The weights are made of different materials held in pouches or tied to their cords directly. There are at least three such weights, but there are many different bola designs having as many as 6 or 8 weights. In some designs, the weights are of different sizes, others use weights of equal size, and there are variations in between. The same is true for the cords holding the weights. Sometimes the distance between each weight and the place where the cords come together is equal, other times not.

The bola is thrown by grasping one of the weights in some designs, while in others, the nexus where the cords come together is held. The whole assembly is often swung over the head in a horizontal plane and released. As they fly through the air, the weights will separate giving the bola a configuration something like a flattened and open net. On striking a target, usually the legs of an animal, the weights will cause the cords to wrap themselves about it tripping the animal.

The bola is not a friendly weapon. It often damages the target by breaking bones and causing other blunt trauma.

Ted Bailey has an excellent BOLA page with pictures! What follows here is an article by Bill Patterson sent to me by Ted. Bill has also sent me some pictures of the sorts of bolas he describes in the article below. It seems Bill has done some research into this particular throwing weapon used in the far north to take birds... Following Bill's article is a short letter on the subject of bolas by a New Zealand whip and bola maker Peter Jack, and then an essay by Marty Jones on making bola weights and also on throwing them


As re-creators we reflect the atavistic side of our natures. The history of human kind is a chronicle of garnering a living from whatever locality we inhabit. In the tribe, men were the hunters and women were the gatherers. This difference in our natures is evident to us every day. Sometimes the ladies don't remember our primitive urges. When the girls at the bridge table reckon that they will outlaw hunting, I allow as to the possibility that, if they won't let us hunt we will shut down all those Malls and not let them gather.

Sometime about 8000 years ago in Mesopotamia, or somewhere in the middle east, men found out that they could grow barley to brew beer. This meant that they didn't have to hunt those tigers anymore. Without the "survival of the fittest" process, males stopped evolving and have been degenerating in mental and physical capabilities ever since.

Enough of philosophy, we are here to determine the place of traps in the hunting and gathering process. Is trapping hunting or gathering? What is hunting? A hunter projects force or energy sufficient to kill or disable the quarry. The Indians of North America were quick to change over to the trade gun from the bow. The reason was the increase in power available from the chemical energy of black powder compared to the human power provided by the bow.

A trap does not project. Normally, trapping is a method of restraining the game, not necessarily doing damage. Two exceptions come to mind, the Polynesian throw net and the bola of the Argentine Pampas. In these cases the net and the bola become restraints that are projected. They have characteristics of both hunting and trapping. Game can be collected without inflecting damage. As long as the game is small and non threaten ing, this has advantages. Live meat keeps much better than dead meat, and can be released unharmed.

The Europeans that first visited the arctic areas of North America were a little nosey about the contents of the Eskimo's "possibles bag". One item they found was a loosely knitted series of cords connected at one end to a wooden handle and at the other to individual weights. The number of cords varied from 4 to 8, The item was the Qilamitautit, the bola of the north. (Birket-Smith 1 pg 69) They concluded that the knitting was some kind of art work. Later they observed that the "knitting" was a method of keeping the cords untangled until the bola was needed.(Oswalt pg 212)

Bolas were constructed of plaited sinew and had weights of differing sophistication and size. (Birket- Smith 2 pg 116). Heavier weights were used with longer cords and were normally made of bone. Bola weights have even been found in prehistoric Thule sites. The Thule were the tundra people that were displaced by present day Eskimos.

The hunter of the north had a light compact weapon for gathering birds from the large migratory flocks of ducks and geese. The reported range in all the references is 35 meters.

I became quite interested in the bola. so I built a series of them. Of course, being an engineer and the product of those diminished beer drinking genes, I decided that I could make a better bola. The men of the north only used the bola over the water and the tundra. I felt that we could widen its application to include our local hunting area. One of the great IQ failures of all time was my attempt to extricate interconnected cords from a local mesquite bush. Finally, I just gave up and made another one. This time I decided to make a smaller handle. It seemed to me that the large handle in the middle of the bola caused too much aerodynamic drag. I now was careful to use my bola only over the water. No more mesquite bushes for me. It worked almost as planned. The net opened up nicely as it sailed across the water, then it promptly sank! I guess I forgot to make sure that darn thing would float. The original designers beat me again. But then, they can't raise barley ley and brew beer in the arctic.

I have suffered enough lessons in humility to offer some advice on constructing your own bola.

1. Use no more than 6 cords. It would take a real man to keep more cords untangled.

2. Don't swing the bola around your head before launching. The cords will tangle and never open. It's best used by holding the handle in your good hand and the weights in you off hand. Swing the bola across your chest toward your prey.

3. The cords should be .5 meters long, from handle to weight.

4 The weights should be a minimum of .15 kg., a 65 cal. round ball is close. Heavier weights will have more range.

5. I have been using cords made from jute. I haven't used the recommended sinew cords. So, I have been unsuccessful in using the loose knit technique in keeping bola untangled in my possibles bag.

I recommend that you try the bola of the north. It is light, compact and little used by re-enactors. Birds can be collected, causing little damage. The stipulation being, that it can only be used over the water and it is a short range device.

In our area, in the spring the ducks will attempt to lure our kayaks away from the new ducklings. They will sometimes lag back within the range of my bola. My range is much less than the advertised 35 yards possible by the eskimos. So, in the remote possibility that a duck comes back to commit suicide near my kayak. I'll have no friends. It'll be impossible to be around me on account of the bragging.

Bill Patterson
Assoc. Prof. Mechanical Engineering
CALPOLY San Luis Obispo
"Broken Wind"
proud member of the trekking society
"Men of the Wind".


Birkit-Smith Kaj: "ethnographical collections from the northwest passage", Gyldendalske Boghande, Copenhagen, 1945

Birkit-Smith, Kaj: "the caribou exkimos", et al ,1929

Mathiassen, Therkel: "archaeological collection from the western eskimos" Gyldendalske Boghandel, Copenhagen 1945

Oswalt, Wendal N.: "eskimow & explorers", Chandler & Sharp, 1979

And now some comments from the "Whipman" Peter Jack on the subject of bolas brought to us by our knife throwing and whip cracking friend Chris Smith

A friend in New Zealand, Peter Jack, "The Whipman" (the only whipmaker in the Kiwi Kingdom), makes bola's. FWIW, naturally I thought of you people. Here's his reply after I wrote him about all the bola-posts on Thrower's list last week. Pardon the commercial note - The Whipman is just replying to my questions. I can say he does fine work and is pretty renown in his circles for his skill with bolas' and as a whip handler. Feel free to write him directly (his e-mail address is included). This is informational - I didn't realize you could hunt deer with a bola, for instance. Here's some construction details and throwing techniques.

Dear Chris

Here's some info on the bolas that I know of mainly, from a documentary I've seen on gaucho's & buchero's (South American cow boy's spelling unknown) in South America.


Thong (length about 40 inches) with a hard wooden ball or leather sack containing stones on the end. Used as a weapon and hurled at the unfortunate recipient (rather like a large stone on a rope), it can also be swung around the neck of the recipient to strangle. Or it can be used as a rhythm maker and held at the end of the thong and swung in an arc until the ball just touches the ground.


Two or three hard wooden balls (or sacks with stones) connected by twisted rawhide or braided leather thongs to a central hub. (Like spokes on a wheel) The thongs are usually 32 - 42 inches in length and vary between 1/4 inch - 1/2 inch in thickness. The thicker thongs giving more strength but the thinner thongs give more flexability for wrapping. The main use of the bolas is to ensnare running animals such as horses, deer, cattle etc around the legs to trip them. There are two main ways of throwing the bolas.

  1. By holding the central hub and circling your arm 360 degrees above your head then releasing in the direction of the quarry. (one rotation only otherwise the balls (or sacks) may tangle and create more noise than is necessary when hunting)

  2. By holding one of the balls (or sacks) and rotating your arm above your head again, leaving the other one or two balls (or sacks) to fly free. This method is favored by horse riders as there is less likelyhood of the bolas tangling while it may be swung above the head many times as they chase the quarry and position the horse for the perfect throw. The perfect throw is if you are hunting for food, bind the front legs, the quarry may fall and break it's neck. The perfect throw for animals that will be domesticated is bind the back legs, this will slow the animal down to enable capture.

I make the bolas. I use braided kangaroo hide (4 braid with an internal core) and connect to 3 wooden balls by threading the thongs through a drilled hole in each ball and put a turks head on the other side. The balls are turned from manuka (New Zealand teatree which is a very hard wood and resists breaking and chiping). The hub where the three braided thongs meet is a strong braided knot. A leather holding sheath is then put on to cover the knot in order to space the thongs and give less tangling.

The cost is NZ $120.00 plus NZ $60.00 for freight, customs clearance charges & insurance for one item.

Making Bolas, and a tip for throwing them

Date: Mon, 16 Jun 97 09:47:16 CDT
From: Marty Jones (
Reply to:
Subject: Making Bolas - and a tip for throwing them

Since I now have molds for casting several sizes of lead "cannon balls", but the molds wouldn't fit underneath my standard Lee Production Pot melter, I spent Saturday morning modifying the melter. About ten years ago I purchased the extruded extensions for the base support. Can you imagine how long it took to find that in my garage? Anyway, now I'm all set up and making balls.

Of course, once I had about ten pounds of sling ammo, I began to think of other uses. The logical next step was - bola weights!

First of all, since the bola weights will be slamming into trees at around 100 mph, I decided not to cast them of pure lead. Instead, I used my standard lead/tin/antimony "bullet casting" alloy, which is much harder. You typically cannot gouge this alloy with a fingernail. It took a while to get the cannon balls to "fill out" properly when casting with the bullet metal, but it wasn't long before I had a collection of nice 5-ounce hard-alloy balls.

Next, I drilled and counterbored holes through the weights to accept the cords. The counterbore was added because I'm a detail freak, and wanted the knots at the ends of the cords to be concealed. As it turns out, this also holds the knot in place inside the weight, and keeps the weight from sliding on the cord.

Lesson #1 - despite how easily this stuff drills, you just can't hold a ball still with your fingers while drilling. Luckily, the shavings are so ductile that they don't cut you when the drill bit sticks and the whole mess starts spinning :) So - I thought about holding the work with vise-grips, or clamping in my bench vise, but again the detail freak took over and wouldn't let me scar everything up. And, by now, I was thinking about a special jig to keep the drilling and counterboring perfectly co-axial and centered.

So I took some time off and made a jig. It consists of two slabs of hardwood, bored through with three holes in a triangular pattern, such that the holes align perfectly. The holes are about five inches apart. Before boring the holes, I drilled and counterbored holes for three bolts to hold the two slabs together, which ensured the hole alignment. Then I unbolted the two slabs, placed three of my cast balls between the slabs (in the holes), and replaced the bolts. So now I have the balls trapped between the slabs, and the holes allow access on both sides. There is about a 1/2-inch "gap" between the slabs when the balls are in there.

So now I just c-clamp the jig and balls to my drill-press stand, carefully align one of the balls, and drill away! Then I un-clamp and move to the next ball. My first bola was to use parachute cord (because I had some handy), so I drilled the through holes 5/32" and the counterbore (to about the center of the weight) 3/8". The 3/8" counterbore diameter is about the right size to be a tight fit for a knot in my paracord. After drilling, I touch up the edges of the holes by hand using a reloaders' cartridge-case deburring tool.

After drilling several sets of balls, I then put them in my rock tumbler and let them "peen" one another to remove mold, sprue, and machine marks. The result is a very uniform round weight with no noticeable marks to indicate it was cast in a two-piece mold.

Next, I strung up the weights using about 40 inches of paracord on each, and spent the next 30 minutes admiring the result :)

Notes on throwing:

I found that I had my best results by more or less duplicating the so-called "helicopter" sling throw - with one major difference. When using the bola, I found that it was easiest to keep tangle- free if I began the throw with the junction of cords in my right hand, two of the balls dangling, and the third ball in my left hand. Just before the throw, I lower the third ball near to the other two, do one wind-up turn, and throw on the second turn just as I do with the sling.

One thing is critical - If you begin the windup with any "excess motion" of the three weights with respect to one another, they will tend to get REALLY far apart from one another while you're swinging them about your head. This, in turn, makes it impossible to effect a correctly-timed release, because the three weights are so totally out of sync. So you have to begin the windup with the three balls moving almost as one.

The reason I say "almost" is because, if you wind up and throw with the balls hanging perfectly together, the bola will not open, or will only open slightly. It will just fly as three weights, about a foot apart, trailing a bunch of cord.

So - the real trick is to begin the windup with the third ball (in your left hand while at the ready) slightly apart from the other two. Not enough to de-synchronize your release, but enough so that the bola will open when thrown. It's hard to describe, but when I do it correctly, the bola opens up wide about twenty feet downrange, and stays that way for at least the next fifty feet.

Marty Jones

Mail to mjr, goto Survival, or back to Thrower

This page is part of the official ARCHIVE COPY of the pioneering but abandoned Thrower website on knife throwing. Copyright and details