One of the hallmarks of good preparedness is leveraging lessons of the past to help us prepare for the future. However, as we age we tend to discard a lot of the simpler things we learned earlier in life in favor of more advanced (and typically more complex and expensive) approaches. Weapons are a great example of this – if you’re somewhere in the realm of a ‘seasoned citizen’ there’s a good chance you made and used a slingshot (‘catapult’ or ‘katty’ for those of you in the UK) from a tree branch and inner tube sometime in your youth, but as you’ve grown you’ve most likely shifted your focus to things like expensive firearms, bows and crossbows for hunting, fishing and self-defense. Like many technologies, slingshots have continued to mature in function and capability and today’s slingshot is a significant improvement over what you may remember from your misspent youth. In this article I’ll be discussing modern slingshot technology and how it’s made the transition from childhood toy into a potentially useful and viable component of your preparedness strategy.
Before we get started, some obligatory legal warnings – laws regarding slingshots can be even more convoluted and murky that those that govern firearms. They can vary between and even within towns, counties, states and countries, and in some cases they may or may not fall under the ‘dangerous weapon’ catch-all category, depending on the mood of the law enforcement officer you’re dealing with. I recommend avoiding the advice or information regarding slingshot laws you find in various Internet forums, vendor web sites, etc. and go directly to the town, county, state and/or country law web sites for your locale. A good illustration of this is Massachusetts in the US – most forums and vendor sites list slingshots as prohibited in Massachusetts; however, if you read the actual law, it states that it’s illegal to sell or manufacture a slingshot in Massachusetts – there’s not a single word about possessing one. You can legally go to another state, buy a slingshot, bring it back to Massachusetts and shoot it in your backyard (as long as you do so safely). Laws regarding hunting and fishing with a slingshot tend to add even more confusion – check with your local Fish and Game officers to find out for sure.
Regarding many of the links and citations in this article – while I’m as patriotic as any American, the reality is that we’re relative newcomers to the modern slingshot sport scene. Places like the UK, Germany, and China have been extensively involved in modern slingshot sports for decades, so some of the information and products I’ll be discussing and referencing come from those countries. I believe that a big part of the reason for this is that those countries don’t have the same culture around firearms that we do here in the US, so they found an alternative.
Like many of us (okay, some of us), slingshots have matured a lot from the old tree branch and inner tube into a useful tool in your preparedness arsenal, and they offer many significant benefits:
- Low barrier of entry – A slingshot doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. A y-shaped branch, a bunch of rubber bands, a small piece of leather and some smooth rocks can still be as effective as a $50 commercial slingshot for some situations.
- Portable – A typical slingshot can be easily carried in your back pocket.
- Long-term storage – Slingshot components can be stored for many years.
- Minimal training – You probably won’t need to attend any training classes to learn how to use one, but you will need to practice to become proficient.
- Hunting/Fishing – Slingshots can be an effective alternative to firearms, air guns, bows and fishing tackle for some game harvesting scenarios.
- Carry/Shooting profile – Easier to carry and shoot than a bow or crossbow in confined spaces like dense underbrush.
- Relatively silent – Slingshots don’t make much noise when used.
- Ammunition – A wide variety of ammo is cheap, plentiful and easy to make and carry.
- Flexibility – You can adapt frames, bands and ammo to accommodate a wide range of physical and situational requirements (a good example here).
- Innocuous – A slingshot will not typically be perceived by most aggressors as a serious weapon until a lead ball hits them in the head hard enough to crack their skull or a razor sharp steel dart comes flying at them.
- Practice – It’s a lot more convenient to practice with a slingshot in your basement, garage or back yard than it is with a firearm or bow.
- Legality – It’s typically easier for most people to obtain and practice with a slingshot than many other ranged weapons.
- Sharing – Shooting a slingshot is an activity you can share with the whole family, and most kids tend to love it.
While slingshots aren’t going to be as powerful or long-ranged as firearms or crossbows, they can be as effective in many shorter-ranged hunting, fishing and self-defense scenarios.
A word of warning – if you decide to start getting into slingshots, it’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of a new hobby and tweaking your setup for that last millimeter of precision, gaining a couple of more feet per second of speed, competing against other shooters on a target range or trying out one more model. For example, I’ve only been seriously into slingshots for a couple of years now, and I’m up to over 20 different frames and dozens of bands plus lots of other accessories. Like any other activity you need to balance your investment in time and other resources against your preparedness needs, but there’s nothing wrong about getting excited about a new activity you enjoy.
Hold My Beer – I’m Doing Science
While you don’t need a Ph.D. in physics, it’s useful to understand some basic science that relates to how slingshots work in order to understand how their various components impact their performance. When you pull back (draw) the bands on a slingshot, you’re storing energy from your muscles in the bands. When you release them, they start to contract and the ammo, pouch and bands are accelerated; the energy you stored in the bands is distributed between those parts when they start moving. When the ammo separates from the pouch, which is typically somewhere before it reaches the forks, it begins moving through the air and starts to experience resistance from the air. The ammo will continue moving through the air until it either a) runs out of energy due to air resistance, or b) encounters a solid object. If it hits something it will then transfer most of its remaining energy to whatever it hits. The energy from the slingshot will typically be delivered in one of two forms – blunt force or penetration. As such, a slingshot is just like any other ranged weapon – it’s designed to transfer energy to something at a distance.
Since a slingshot depends on storing energy from your muscles in the band, the strength of your upper body (fingers, hands, wrists, arms, elbows, shoulders, and pecs) is going to play a role in how much energy you can deliver to the target. That doesn’t mean you have to be Popeye in order to effectively use a slingshot – most average people can easily shoot one with more than enough energy to successfully hunt small- to mid-size game. The amount of energy you can deliver is going to going to vary depending on your strength, the bands you use and the speed and weight of the projectile – faster and heavier means more energy.
In terms of speed, a typical beginner can easily attain around 150-200 feet per second (fps) with a basic slingshot when starting out, although speeds of 250fps aren’t difficult. As you gain skill and tune your bands and ammo, speeds of over 300fps become attainable, and with some significant experience and enhancements you can get to over 400fps. If you eat your spinach and start playing around with extreme slingshots like Joerg Sprave, you can think about getting close to the unofficial world speed record of 654fps.
But speed is only half of the equation – the mass (weight) of the projectile also impacts how much energy you can deliver on target. For a given set of slingshot bands and draw length, heavier ammo will always fly slower than lighter ammo; this is nicely illustrated by a table user SRS-45 over at the Slingshot Forum has created – link to table. So if you know how much your ammo weighs (a scale) and how fast it’s going (a chronograph), you can calculate how much energy it delivers when it hits the target (minus what’s lost due to air resistance between the chronograph and the target). Ted over at the Slingshot Community forum has created a nice chart that illustrates some examples how much energy is produced by a given type of ammo traveling at a given velocity – here’s a link. Just starting out, an average person using a decent quality set of bands and some medium-sized ammo should be able to easily obtain 5-10 foot-pounds (7-14 joules) of energy with a little practice and work their way up over 20 ft-lbs (28 joules) as they gain experience and tune their equipment.
So how does all this science translate into using a slingshot to help you obtain food? Here are some estimates of how much energy it takes to kill an animal with blunt force trauma, assuming a shot to the head or chest cavity:
- Small bird – 3-5 ft-lbs
- Squirrel – 5-9 ft-lbs
- Duck/Goose/Turkey – 7-10 ft-lbs
- Rabbit – 9-11 ft-lbs
- Fox/Raccoon – 12-20 ft-lbs
These energy levels are easily achievable for a typical user, assuming you’re accurate enough to hit the required target area. Be aware that even if you hit the target area perfectly it still may not kill the animal instantly – hunting with a slingshot should only be considered when you’ve acquired the skills to consistently hit the required target at the required distance, and you absolutely need to put some food on the table or get rid of pests. If you take into account that you can also shoot arrows and darts from a slingshot, your potential target list increases considerably. There have been documented cases of people harvesting bear and moose with arrows fired from a slingbow (a slingshot configured to fire arrows).
Using a slingshot for self-defense against humans is also possible, but be aware that any injuries you inflict probably won’t be terminal. It takes somewhere between 60 and 100 ft-lb of blunt force impact to the skull to kill a person, which tends to be well beyond the range of an average shooter. On the other hand, 20-30 or so foot-pounds is enough to seriously ring someone’s bell, and adding arrows and darts to the mix can help you effectively deal with many attackers.
The first step on your slingshot journey is understanding the different parts of a slingshot and how they can impact your ability to deliver the maximum amount of energy accurately to the target. There are four basic parts to a slingshot:
- Frame (also referred to as the body)
- Bands (or bandset)
I Was Framed!
The frame (or body) is what most people start looking at when they first get into slingshots. This is the part that you hold in your hand and that the bands attach to, so it can have a significant impact on your grip, which in turn can impact your power, accuracy and comfort. Frames can be made from almost any material that provides sufficient structural rigidity – wood, plastic, metal, antlers and carbon fiber are some of the more common examples. The frame doesn’t have to be beautiful or fancy – it can be a simple Y-shaped branch you cut from a tree and trimmed to the right size and shape for you. As long as you can hold it comfortably and consistently and securely attach bands it’ll work for a slingshot. That being said, there are some incredibly beautiful examples that people have made – try searching for ‘handmade wooden slingshot (or ‘catapult’) using your favorite Internet search engine, or check out some of the Ooak Forge creations.
The most common type of slingshot frame has forks, which are the arms that stick up from the frame on each side for attaching the bands. The ‘Y’ frame, which makes up probably 99% of all slingshots in use today, is what almost everyone automatically thinks of when they hear the word ‘slingshot’ – a Y-shaped body with forks sticking up on each side with bands attached. There are hundreds of unique variations of Y frames, but they all tend to fall into one of two general styles – symmetrical or asymmetrical. With symmetrical, the forks are equal length from the centerline of the frame, while on an asymmetrical frame one fork will be offset further to one side. Here’s a picture that shows a symmetrical Y frame on the left (SimpleShot Scout LT) and an asymmetrical (SimpleShot Torque) on the right:
Which one is better depends a lot on your shooting style, experience level and hand geometry, but it really comes down to which one you’re most comfortable with. Since you can easily purchase or make examples of both with a minimal investment, I recommend you try each to see what works best for you.
(To be continued tomorrow, in Part 2. This will be a six-part article.)