“That’s how it is when you’re a kid,” he said. “You find an arrowhead, you wonder how it was made – and you dream of hunting like the Indians did.”
Today, the Emanuel County man is a devoted practitioner of flint knapping, an ancient art nearly lost to time.
His workshop is a backyard pole barn littered with crates and buckets of stone, animal skins and carefully chosen strips of wood.
The process of turning rock into symmetrical, razor-sharp knives and arrows requires patience – and tools made from deer antler, leather, copper and varied types of stone.
Some of the reproduced Native American artifacts are sold at archery expos and outdoor shows, where Collins shares his knowledge with the public.
When autumn arrives, however, the stone-tipped arrows are paired with homemade bows that fill his freezers with venison.
Before he arrowed his first whitetail 20 years ago, Collins spent years perfecting the technique required to kill big game with a small piece of rock.
He made countless bows, sculpted from hickory or osage orange – and worked diligently to build arrows straight enough to yield consistent groupings.
Choosing the most effective shape and size for a stone arrowhead was one of the greatest challenges.
“It took me three years to get good enough where I could put one of these through a deer,” he said.
He tested various stone points by shooting them through a deer his wife had killed with her rifle.
“Some bounced or stuck on bones,” he said. “Two went through. Those are the ones I paid attention to.”
Since then, Collins figures he has taken about four dozen whitetails with his primitive weapons – and the thrill hasn’t even begun to subside.
His greatest trophies are an array of stone arrow points stored in a wood-framed glass case in his workshop. Some are cracked or broken; others remain attached to jagged pieces of arrow shaft.
They all have one thing in common: each was responsible for a successful and memorable kill.
“See this one? It still has the blood on it,” he said, picking up a slender, opaque stone point. “It killed the biggest buck I’ve taken to far.”
The heavy rack, with thick, palmated tines, hung on a pegboard wall nearby.
He has built dozens of handmade bows, but there are two he calls his favorites. One is made from native hickory and adorned with the skin of a timber rattler. The other, with a dark, mahogany-like patina, is perhaps his best – and most reliable.
“When I was first learning how to do all this, I could break a bow a day,” he said. “Some of the other hunters would tease me and say ‘why don’t you get a real bow?’”
Hunting with technology pioneered thousands of years ago has its own special rewards, however.
Using stone-tipped arrows requires getting exceptionally close to game – usually just a few yards.
“The harder it is, the more enjoyment is at the end of it,” he said.
As a primitive hunter, each kill offers opportunities to reuse the hide, antlers and sinew of a deer – instead of simply taking the venison.
Collins downplays his own talent and skill, saying it pales in comparison to the ancient hunters.
“I could read books about flint knapping and stone tools,” he said. “The Indians only knew what their daddys had shown them, and passed down from generation to generation.”