(Continued from Part 3.)
If you’re ever in a survival situation and you need a slingshot, the good news is that it’s possible to make field expedient bands from some commonly available materials, including:
- Rubber bands
- Bicycle inner tube (latex inner tubes are best)
- Exercise bands/tubing
- Latex/Rubber gloves
- Surgical tubing
- Spear gun tubing
- Rubber bladder from sports balls
Each of these has different characteristics, so you’ll need to do some experimenting with different ways of shaping, combining and attaching them to see what works best.
I realize that this is probably a lot more information than you’d ever thought you’d need regarding slingshot bands, but in reality I’ve only scratched the surface. I recommend you initially stick with buying quality pre-made bands from places like SimpleShot, Fowler’s Makery and Mischief and Sniper Sling to get started. If you want to learn a lot more about how different bands behave, Montie Gear and SimpleShot produced a detailed report showing the results of different tests they ran on different bands. There’s also a nice presentation available on making your own flat bands, and plenty of additional information on various web sites and forums.
The final piece of the slingshot itself is the part that actually holds the ammo – the pouch. At its most basic a pouch is a simple rectangle of leather or other material with a hole on each end to attach the bands to. Leather and microfiber are the most common pouch materials, but you can use anything that provides sufficient strength to hold the ammo while stretching the bands, including duct tape, nylon webbing and even fine netting. The material should be flexible enough to easily fold in half to wrap around the ammo, but rigid enough to hold its general shape and open up when released.
One common feature you see on most pouches is a hole in the middle, which helps you center your ammo. There’s also a variation call ‘double pitted’, which has a hole on each side of the center which does the same thing. There are lots of other potential variations in the shape of the pouch – tapers on either end, tapers in the middle, extra holes, etc. There’s a great discussion over at the Slingshot Forum on improving the shape of a pouch.
If you’re going to be shooting arrows or darts with your slingshot a standard pouch won’t work too well. Arrows have a nock in the back and darts typically have a small notch, both of which work best when held with a string. Dart/arrow slingshot strings are usually similar in construction to a bow string, just a lot shorter and with loops for attaching bands. You can even just use a piece of strong line with loops on the ends.
Like all of the other parts of a slingshot I recommend you start with quality pre-made bands with pouches pre-attached and start experimenting with different pouch materials and configurations as you gain more experience.
The slingshot is a delivery system, and the message it’s designed to deliver is the ammunition you shoot. However, before getting into the various types of ammo there’s one important concept that’s central to optimizing the amount of energy your ammo delivers to your target – your bands have to match your ammo. As discussed earlier, a given bandset is capable of storing a certain amount of energy when you draw it, much of which is transferred to your ammo when you release it. If your ammo is too light and can’t absorb the energy, the extra unused energy will cause the bands to continue past the forks, stretch out on the other side, then come flying back and usually hit your hand – that’s called hand slap. If the ammo is too heavy and requires more energy than the bands can provide to achieve its optimal speed, it will probably fall short or just bounce lightly off of your target. Different bands also contract at different rates, which impacts how fast ammo can get going before it leaves the pouch or string. There’s no magical formula that I’m aware of that allows you to calculate the perfect bandset for a given type of ammo, but for straight cut flat bands using Theraband Gold material one general rule of thumb is the band width for steel ammo should be around twice the diameter of the ammo – e.g. for 3/8” steel ammo the band should be ¾” wide. SimpleShot has a couple of good videos that provide some guidance (Video 1, Video 2) on band width, and they sell pre-cut bands that are optimized for specific types of ammo. User Adonis on the Slingshot Forum has also provided some useful guidance relating to band and ammo selection.
Now, on to the ammo itself – there’s an almost infinite variety of things you can shoot out of a slingshot, but for the purpose of this discussion I’m going to divide them up into three general categories based on the type of impact they’re designed to have on the target:
- Blunt force
- Substance delivery
Blunt force is what almost everyone thinks of when they think of slingshot ammo, and by far the most common is a spherical ball. The balls can be made of steel, lead, marble, glass, clay or any other material that has enough density to absorb the energy provided by the bands and deliver it to the target. Steel is by far the most popular, with the most common sizes being between 3/8” and ½” (8mm-12mm). It’s relatively inexpensive at around $20 for 500 3/8” balls, and can be reused over and over (assuming you find it after shooting it). For hunting, lead ammo tends to be preferred, as it deforms on contact and does a better job of transferring energy to the target when it hits. Lead is one of the densest types of ball ammo (30% denser than steel) that’s readily available at a reasonable price, so it can be smaller for a given weight (mass) than steel balls, reducing air resistance but storing the same amount of energy. Some metals like gold and uranium are denser, but you’re probably not going to be shooting any balls made of those out of a slingshot. Tungsten Carbide is roughly 70% denser than lead and you can buy bearings made of it to shoot, but at somewhere around $5-$10 each for a 3/8” ball you’d have to pretty well off to shoot many of those. The downside of lead is that it’s getting harder to find these days, but you can still find lead balls at places that sell muzzle loading supplies like Cabela’s. Lead is also easy to melt, so you can buy ball molds and in a TEOTWAWKI scenario use lead scrap like tire weights, fishing sinkers or battery plates to melt down and make your ammo. Clay balls are a good option if you’re practicing out in the wild without a backstop, as they’ll easily break up and quickly decompose.
Blunt force ammo doesn’t have to be spherical – many slingshoters prefer to shoot things like hex nuts filled with lead and rebar cut into small sections as ammo. The key factor is that the ammo should have a regular shape to improve its flight characteristics and reduce the chances of a frame strike due to an uneven release. That’s one of the primary reasons why most manufacturers and knowledgeable slingshoters strongly recommend against using rocks. If a situation arises where you desperately need ammo and rocks are all that’s available, try to find ones that are as symmetrical as possible.
Making Your Point
While balls deliver blunt force, penetrating ammo is designed to puncture the surface of the target and damage the insides or cause it to bleed out. There are two types of penetrating ammo – arrows and darts. Arrows are the most common, and their use in slingshots has given rise to the term ’slingbow’. To shoot an arrow with a slingshot you’ll need to make two changes – a string in place of a pouch to nock the arrow (discussed earlier) and something to hold the arrow in place and guide it when you fire it. There are a number of options available for arrow guides, including:
- Whisker biscuit – This is a full or partial circle filled with stiff bristles with a hole in the middle. These are the most common type of arrow guide and do a good job of holding the arrow in place when you’re moving around, but they tend to create drag when the fletching of the arrow pass through them, reducing the arrow’s speed and potentially damaging the vanes.
- Flip-up rest – These are nice since you can fold them down when not in use, but the arrow’s fletching hit it on their way by, impacting the flight path.
- Plates – A company called Pocket Predator makes plates with arrow-shaped openings that can be easily attached to many wire frame slingshots. I don’t have any experience with these so I can’t say how well they work.
- Brush – This is similar to the whisker biscuit but with three smaller brushed spaced equidistant around the center opening. This provides openings for the fletching to pass through.
- Ring – People have done some pretty cool and simple hacks to support the use of arrows on their slingshots, including suspending a simple ring for guiding the arrow. I’ve never used this, but it looks like it might interfere with the fletching.
- Stick-on rest – You can add a spacer to the bottom of your forks and stick on a standard archery arrow rest. I’ve used one of these for years on my bow and they work really well.
Regardless of the type of arrow guide you use, it’s critical that it holds the shaft of the arrow centered on the bands – if it’s higher or lower the arrow won’t fly where you aim it. The picture below shows a good example of a nice alignment – note how the center hole in the arrow rest lines up with the center of the bands.
In regards to matching bands to ammo, an arrow with a broadhead tip weighs 3-5 times as much as a ½” steel ball, so you’re going to want to use pretty strong bands. Some vendors sell bands optimized for arrows, but the most common approach is to use a double flat band or looped tubular band to get the required power. Using a slingbow setup with matched bands and arrows with broadhead tips allows you to hunt larger game than you can with just a basic slingshot. As I mentioned earlier, this is the type of setup Chief AJ used to bag a grizzly bear with.
You can also use a slingbow and bowfishing arrows to harvest fish. Bowfishing arrows have a few differences from hunting arrows – they don’t have fletching, since those only add drag in the water, and there’s a slide that moves up and down the arrow’s shaft with the line attached to it so you can haul the fish back in. Since there is no fletching, any of the arrow guides I discussed up above will work fine for bowfishing arrows without slowing the arrow down. The arrow head will also need to have barbs on it to prevent the arrow from pulling out when you drag the fish on shore.
You can use a reel, drum or a simple container to hold the fishing line to make it easier to carry, but I’ve bowfished with the line just looped around my wrist and the slack coiled up on the ground (after making sure there was nothing big enough in the water to drag me off). As long as the line can spool out with minimal resistance when you hit a fish and you can grab it to pull it in it’ll work fine. For the line that attaches to the arrow I usually use around 100’ of 100lb. braided Kevlar cord or Microcord, which I found tend to tangle less than regular heavy duty fishing line. If you don’t use a reel you’ll definitely want gloves, since the line can easily burn your hand if the fish is swimming fast. Note that with slingbow fishing you’re putting an arrow through the fish, so it is definitely not “catch and release”.
The string ‘pouch’ I mentioned earlier works well for holding the arrow, but an arrow’s nock is pretty small and slippery, making it difficult to hold onto when you’re drawing. The way this is commonly addressed is by adding a D-ring loop to the back of the string, providing a place to grip when you’re drawing. The D-ring works well in conjunction with an archery arrow release, as well as with the much simpler (and cheaper) QuickFire. Some manufacturers add a bead or leather grip to the D-ring, but I’ve never found either to be substantial enough to be comfortable for long slingbowing practice sessions, especially when pulling heavy bands.
(To be continued tomorrow, in Part 5.)