Tactical Experts > Outdoors

The Ultimate Guide to Improvised Weapons

Knowing how to create hunting and defensive weapons in the wilderness using only what resources are available from your surroundings is a valuable skill, and can even be the difference between life and death. Through bushcraft techniques, you can create a huge array of hunting and defensive weapons that can assist you in procuring food and defending yourself from wildlife.

We curated a great list of weapons that you can improvise in the outdoors using a combination of your own resources and that which your environment and surroundings have to offer.

Improvised Weapons


Knives have been made from a huge array of materials over the centuries. They have been created using stone, bone, ivory, clay, glass, plastic and an assortment of metal alloys, to name a few. A knife is also the most important part of your ability to survive in the wilderness. It is used for food prep, for wood procurement tasks like cutting, chopping, splitting and making feather sticks from wood. Knives are also used in numerous survival tasks such as skinning animals, cutting cordage and for self defense against carnivorous animals. It’s also the tool which will help you to create virtually all of the other improvised weapons we’ve outlined.

A simple knife can be made from the stones which are found everywhere in nature. Find a large stone — preferably quartz, flint or other hard rock types. Next, find a huge rock and, with two hands and with your fingers away from where you are striking, slam your chosen stone down on top of the huge rock to crack it half.

The stone should shatter into smaller fragments. Search around for a fragment that is flat and has sharp sides. This may require you to repeat this process with some of the thicker fragments repeatedly until you get a fragment that even resembles a household knife. Once you have an appropriate stone sliver, it’s time to create an edge.

To create an edge, you’ll need to do some knapping — the process of flaking off small fragments of stone from a larger one. Grab one of your house keys and start carefully knapping small pieces off from your stone fragment to create an edge. It’s best to practice your technique using a less desirable fragment until you get the hang of knapping. Remember: you are only doing this for the blade section of your knife, not the handle area.

Once you finish knapping and have created your edge, you now need to start honing the handle portion. Focusing on making the handle smooth by grabbing a rock and rubbing it back and forth like you would file your fingernails. After you have done the best you can to try to smooth your knife handle, tear a piece of your shirt (about one inch wide and twelve inches long), and use this strip of material to fabricate a hand grip for the handle.

No outdoor toolkit is complete without a good knife. It’s good to know how to make one from scratch, but it’s better to bring one along with you in the first place. For help finding the perfect survival knife, check out our guide on how to choose a tactical knife.


The atlatl is an ancient weapon that was around long before the bow and arrow was invented. It consists of a short, straight piece of wood with a hook on one end that is used to hurl a long, arrow-like spear at your hunted prey.

To make this weapon, you need to find a short branch that has a knot or a raised portion of wood on it. That knot is what you need to carve a hook out of so that it can grip and lock the end of the spear in place. This part of the weapon is known as the atlatl thrower.

Making the spear is rather straightforward: look for a long, straight branch anywhere between four to six feet in length. Use a knife and carve the branch into a pole. You’ll also use your knife to create a spear tip on one end. The spear tip should be between two and three inches long, tapering to the front to a nice point. Lastly, you need to make a notch on the other end of the spear so that the hook of the atlatl thrower can latch onto it.

To hurl the spear, hold the atlatl thrower firmly in your predominant hand, positioning your hand above your shoulder. Line the backend of the spear notch to the hook end of the atlatl thrower. With the spear horizontal to the ground, aim the spear towards your target and quickly straighten your arm as if you are throwing a baseball.


The bola, also known as a boleadora (not to be confused with the bolo, which is a type of knife) is an extremely old-style South American projectile weapon. It consists of several weighted balls that are individually connected to a cord and are collectively connected together at the end of the cord.

To construct a bola, you will need some fabric (such as an undershirt) and either rope, paracord or live vines. Cut the cord into three 14 to 16 inch long sections. Next, tie one end of the cord either to a small rock or twig. Repeat this process with the other two cord sections.

Now, cut three five to six inch square sections from your fabric. Start adding debris such as sand, compacted dirt or small pebbles to give it some weight. Midway in this process, drop the cords with the rock tied to it on top of the weighted pile and then cover it with the weighted material you are using. At this point, bring all four sides of the fabric to the center with the remaining cord hanging out, and form it into the shape of a ball. Use additional cordage and tie the fabric to prevent any of the weighted material from falling out. Repeat this entire process to make two more of these. Once finished, tie all 3 of the loose ends of the cord together to create your bola weapon.

To use a bola, grab the end of the cord and bring your hand above your head. Start to rotate your hand above your head counterclockwise in a circular motion. After you build up some momentum, let go of the cord once the balls are almost at the 12 o’clock position. It may take a few tries before you get the hang of when to let go.

Shepherd Sling

The first mention of a shepherd sling was in the tale of David and Goliath. If you are wearing any footwear that has shoelaces and you have on any articles of clothing, you have the means to make a shepherd sling.

You’ll need some paracord. Using a knife, cut a piece of your shirt off into a three inch by five inch strip. Fold the longest side by 1 inch on each side, changing the longer section from five inches to a total of three inches. Using your knife, poke a small hole midway on each side of the folded sections. Make sure the holes are small — just large enough for paracord to push into it.

Now, cut two strips of paracord eight to twelve inches in length, and slip each length of paracord though one of the holes you made and tie it securely. On the other side of the paracord, make a finger-hoop hole to use as a finger hold.

It’s helpful to know that, out in the wild, you have limitless ammo all around you: tiny rocks. Using a shepherd sling is similar to how you use a bola. Place a small rock into the pouch you made and let it hang. Start to twirl the rock slowly in a circular motion and pick up momentum until you can spin it horizontally. Once you are ready to strike, move your hand abruptly forward and release one of your finger holds.

Bow and Arrow

The bow and arrow are believed to have been in use since the Stone Age, but actual evidence of its use dates back to around 3,000 B.C. in Ancient Egypt. A bow and arrow is one of the more time-consuming weapons to make in the wild.

To start, you’ll need a very strong, flexible, freshly cut branch from a live tree to create your bow. With your knife, remove all of the bark from the branch. Once all of the bark is removed, start shaving off the wood to make a flat side on both the top and bottom of your branch (opposite sides). It is important to take your time and to have patience, as this process is very time-intensive.

Next, make a small notch in the wood with your knife on the top and bottom of the bow. The notch should be about 3/4 of an inch from each end of the bow. Now, using your paracord, tie one end to the top of the bow just under where you made the notch.

Attaching the paracord to the other end requires you to bend the bow, which will result in some resistance. Once you have bent the bow so that it resembles a typical, mass-manufactured bow, carefully begin to tie the paracord to the end so it’s embedded within the notch. Be sure to maintain pressure on the cord while bending the bow to ensure it keeps its arc during this process.

For the arrows, find small branches that are as straight as possible. To determine how long you should make each arrow, hold your bow, and pull the paracord back into shooting position. Measure the distance between the hand you’re using to hold the bow and the hand you’re using to hold the paracord, and craft arrows that are a couple inches longer than this measurement. Once your arrow shafts are cut to that length, strip the bark off completely, and sharpen one end of the wood to a point.

To increase the stability and accuracy of your arrows, you’ll need to make the fletching — the plastic vanes or feathers on the end opposite the sharpened end. Feathers, thick paper or even strips cut out of playing cards work perfectly. You can remove some of the strands out of your paracord to attach the fletching, or you can even use tree sap as makeshift glue to hold it in place.


A flail is a medieval weapon that consists of a chain that connects a weighted ball to a handle. It is one of the easiest weapons to make in the wilderness, and it packs a punch.

The handle of a flail does not need to be heavy, as the weighted ball or large rock attached to the handle is what does all the damage. This makes finding the wood for the handle much easier: the branch just has to be thick enough to withstand the weight of the mass you are swinging and the force of the impact it creates.

Find a piece of wood that is not decaying — the more green the wood, the better. It should be at least a foot and a half long and not so wide that you can’t firmly grip it with one hand. Near the top of the wood, add a series of notches about one inch from the end. Next, find a decently sized rock. It should be able to fit inside your hands when cupped together.

Finally, get a section of rope or paracord and tie it around the handle so it fits in the notches you made earlier. Tie the other end of the paracord around the rock. The distance from the handle to the secured rock should be between six and nine inches.

The benefit of a flail is that it extends your reach, giving you more distance from whatever animal is attacking you. One variation to the design we outlined above is the spiked flail, which can be made by securing small spikes to the rock.


A mace is just a flail without the chain. There have been numerous design variations that maces have incorporated over the centuries. The type of mace we’re covering here is the spike-tipped mace, also known as a spiked club.

Search for a branch that is still green (recently fallen but not dead), and that has a knot or thick section on one end. This branch segment should be approximately 14 to 16 inches in length. Once you have stripped the bark off, you are ready for the next step.

Now you need to work on making small spikes. Cut fresh, small branches into eight-inch segments, and strip off all their bark. Next, make a point on one side. You will need six to eight of these for your spiked mace. With your paracord, start tying your spikes around the top knot so they stick out equally on both sides. Make sure that each new spike that you tie into place also ties into one of the other spikes you have already secured to the mace.


You might know what a javelin is from its use in the Olympics. Unlike most weapons that require a strong pole with limited flexibility, javelins utilize the flexibility of the wood and its back-and-forth movement when thrown to allow the javelin to fly farther in the air. To start, look for a very long, small-diameter branch. Your best bet is cutting a fresh branch for this project.

Search for a branch that is relatively straight and about six to eight feet in length. The best way to identify the right type of branch is to hold the branch in the middle and, with your hand directly in front of you, shake it up and down. The ideal branch should jiggle on either side of your hand during this test. When you find a good branch, strip away the bark with your knife and sharpen one end to a point approximately two to three inches long.

This is a long-ranged weapon, and it is best suited for pack animals at long distances. To use a javelin, hold it by the middle, take a running start and, after several steps and at an inclined angle, throw it toward the middle of the pack of animals or birds. It’s best to make several javelins so you can throw them in succession to increase your odds of hitting your prey.

Rabbit Stick

A rabbit stick is a curved weapon that slightly resembles a boomerang. These weapons were used by the Hopi Indians to hunt small game. The curved nature of this projectile weapon is to assist in its rotation when thrown.

The hardest part in making this primitive weapon is finding a curved piece of wood. Look for a piece of wood that has an arc, and that isn’t a complete circle. One end should be straight while the other end is curved.

Once you find such a piece of wood, you are 90% finished with your project. All that’s left to do is remove all bark and smooth down any edges. This is a close-range projectile weapon which will require you to get close to your target, which in turn requires some stealth. Your odds of getting a kill shot will improve the closer you are and the more rabbit sticks you have on hand.


For this weapon, you’ll again need a handle made out of green or freshly downed wood. The wood should be between 12 and 14 inches in length. When you find the right branch and strip off its bark, push one end of the wood into the ground like you would a flag post. Grab another branch, and place your knife on top and in the middle of the first branch. Using the other branch as a hammer, start striking your knife. The goal is to split this branch a couple of inches down.

Now that you have a slight split in your handle, push the handle portion of your knife blade so it’s at a right angle in relation to the handle. With your paracord, securely tie your knife in place putting extra tension above the knife around the handle to prevent the knife from moving back and forth.


The spear was one of the earliest weapons developed by man. In its earliest form, it was simply a long staff with a sharpened wooden tip. There are two types of spears in particular that are essential to have by your side in a survival situation: the knife-tipped spear and the forked spear.

Knife-Tipped Spear

The knife-tipped spear is your primary defense weapon against large wilderness beasts such as bears, moose, elk and deer. To start, look for a straight branch with some girth that is taller than you are. It should not be too heavy that you cannot easily carry it, and not too light that it cannot support your weight. Split the top of this staff just like you did with the pickaxe, but instead of attaching the knife at a 90-degree angle, attach it so the blade comes out straight. All you have to do now is securely tie the knife in place.

To use this type of spear as a defensive weapon against a charging animal, place one end into the ground in front of you and angle the spear towards the chest of the charging animal. You should only stay in the animal’s path until it lands on the tip of the spear; after it does, dive out of the way. The weight of the animal itself and the velocity of its charge is what causes the spear to pierce the animal.

Do not try to use a knife-tipped spear as a piercing weapon against a bear. For starters, you likely won’t pierce its hide, and regardless, a bear can knock a small tree down — your spear is a toothpick in comparison.

Forked Spear

The forked spear is specifically used for catching small game and aquatic life. Unlike a typical spear which, when thrown, can narrowly miss smaller prey, a forked spear has four sharp ends that can cover a larger surface area.

To make a forked spear, use the same guidelines for making a knife spear, but instead of splitting the top down into two divided sections, you will be repeating this process to make four divided sections. In essence, make a plus sign split (+). Once you have made vertical splits three or four inches down, get two small twigs and push them down to make a plus sign out of them.

Next, use your paracord to secure the twigs in place so the tip of the spear has four pushed-out sections of wood coming from it. Now that you are at this stage, carefully begin sharpening these four protruding sections of wood. After sharpening them, your weapon is ready to use.

As with any project, the more times you construct something, the better you get at doing it. It is very unlikely that you are going to craft any of these weapons perfectly on your first try, but even a failed attempt has value. Knowing what caused it to fail gives you insight for your next attempt.

Self-Defense Alternatives

House Keys

The average person has at least 3 keys on them — usually their car key and a couple of house keys. Holding your key chain and sticking each key between one of your fingers makes for a good improvised weapon that you don’t actually have to craft.


Your belt can be removed quickly and easily. Wrap one side of the belt around your left hand the other around your right hand — there should be no more than 18 inches of belt between your two hands. When an animal tries to bite you, shove the portion of the belt between your hands deep into the animal’s jaws. With your arms fully extended, the animal cannot get close enough to bite you.


Wrapping an article of clothing such as a thick sweatshirt or spare jacket around your hand and forearm will give you additional layers of protection against animal bites. With your hand and arm fully wrapped, place your arm out horizontally for the attacking animal to bite at. With your other hand, strike at the attacking animal's eyes to cause it to recoil.

Remember that in any survival situation, it’s vital to keep a cool head. Take things slow. Assess your situation. Review what resources and gear you have on hand, and never take unnecessary risks. Your best defense against the unknown is being prepared. It is not only important to have the proper gear and tools with you, but it is just as important to know how to use them, or how to improvise them in the wilderness.

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