Youth’s Lessons: The Slingshot – Part 5, by J.M.

(Continued from Part 4.)

If you want to easily include some arrows as part of your slingshot carry kit without worrying about how to store and carry them, PocketShot makes some great standard and bowfishing 3-section take-down arrows. If you plan on going after larger game you should replace the field tips on the standard arrows with broadheads.

As an aside, since slingshot people stole arrows from archery folks, I guess some turnabout is only fair –a company called Shoottech Systems makes a dual-string bow with a magnetic catch on the string that allows you to shoot steel balls with a bow.

Darts are arrow’s little brother, but they can be amazingly effective for hunting and fishing as well as self-defense, and they’re a lot more portable and concealable. These are typically 5”-6” long shafts with a sharp tip, a notch for hooking it to the band string and a knurled tail to grip when you’re drawing. Like arrows they’re available with fletching for hunting (and self-defense) and without fletching for fishing. My favorite hunting dart is the Sniper Sling Gen 2, which has a shaft made of carbon fiber and a replaceable tip. They weigh around .2 oz. (6g), which is a little more than a 7/16 steel ball, so you can use regular bands instead of heavy ones, but they have amazing accuracy and penetration power even with regular bands. Using a single tapered Theraband Gold band with a dart string and only drawing to my cheek I shot one at ½” plywood from about 30’ away and the dart completely penetrated the plywood with the tip sticking out around ¼” on the other side. Here’s a video of some guys testing them out with similar results. The darts are a bit more expensive ($28 for 5), but worth it. If you ever need replacement tips you can contact Sniper Sling via email and they’ll sell you some for $1.20 each plus shipping.

Fishing darts are similar but are usually made entirely out of stainless steel, don’t have fletching and have some barbs on the tip. At .7 oz. (21g) they weigh a little more than the Sniper Sling darts (roughly the same as an 11/16” steel ball), so you’ll want slightly beefier bands to use them. They also typically have a hole or loop on the back end for attaching your fishing line to. With enough practice they’re amazingly effective.

Here’s a picture showing (from top to bottom) a Sniper Sling Gen 2 sharp point, a Sniper Sling Gen 2 blunt point (for practice), a fixed-barb fishing dart and two retractable-barb fishing darts. You can find the fishing darts on sites like eBay and AliExpress.





Another option is to make your own darts, and it’s pretty easy to do using commonly available materials. There are tons of DIY article and videos available on the web – just search for ‘diy slingshot darts’.

CAUTION! CAUTION! CAUTION!  Shooting darts from a slingshot can be a very effective way to hunt, fish and defend yourself, but they can also be extremely dangerous. With arrows, the tip never gets behind the forks, so the shooter is relatively safe. When you draw and release a dart, the razor sharp tip is flying by your hand and fingers at nearly its maximum velocity, so even a little mistake can cause a serious injury – if you doubt that and have a strong stomach, try searching YouTube for ‘slingshot dart injury’.

I highly recommend that you get comfortable and competent shooting regular ammo before even thinking about darts, use the blunt tip Sniper Sling darts or grind down the tip of a couple of darts smooth for practice, and wear hand protection. Sniper Sling sells several protective hand covers (I use their Kevlar one in the field), or you can make you own protective cover from plastic or metal. I also only shoot darts with a hammer grip slingshot (my SimpleShot Hammer) to keep my delicate human parts as far away from the path of travel as possible, and I always use hand protection. Here’s a picture of my dart-shooting rig and my hand protected with the Sniper Sling Kevlar glove:





Message of Substance

The third category of slingshot ammo is substance delivery – that’s where you use a slingshot to send some kind of liquid or powder at your target. The most obvious example of this is paintballs, which can be loads of fun to shoot with a slingshot. Note that most of the paintball sites and forums are very emphatic that you should never shoot a paintball with a slingshot, as you can cause someone an injury. I tend to somewhat skeptical of that, since in the US paintball guns are allowed to shoot at up to 300fps, which is well beyond what most people can shoot with a typical slingshot.

Paint isn’t the only substance that can be delivered with a slingshot – you can buy empty paintball shells and fill them with whatever you want. For example, you could fill the shells with a stink bomb mixture and shoot it at pests that won’t stay out of your yard. For more serious situations there are companies that sell paintballs filled with pepper spray and tear gas, which can be useful if you need a non-lethal ammo alternative. You can also make you own by filling the shells with something like Capsaicin powder. If you hit someone with it the shell will burst open and the powder will expand into a small cloud, and any that gets on the target’s skin, eyes, nose or mouth can instantly incapacitate them (but can also result in serious harm). Less dangerous options such as powdered Carolina Reaper powder can be used, or you can dilute the Capsaicin with an inert powder. Note that if you want to practice this I highly recommend using something like talcum powder instead of the real thing. If the ball and substance you’re using is too light to travel an effective distance, consider mixing in some small lead shot to add weight.

And since I know someone out there is thinking this, no, I don’t know if it’s possible to make flaming or exploding balls.

Down to Business

Now that you have a better understanding of how slingshots work and the options available, let’s take a look at actually shooting one. As with any weapon, the first thing you need to think about is safety. Here are some safety rules everyone should follow when shooting slingshots:

  • Always be aware of your target and what’s behind and around it – Just like with a firearm you’ll be sending a high-speed projectile down range, and you may not always be accurate. Slingshots have a much wider angle of potential trajectory, since you could have a bad release or the ammo could deflect off the fork, causing it to go off at an angle. I recommend considering everything in a 180° arc in front of you as your potential impact area for safety purposes. This means don’t shoot a slingshot in the living room with your target hanging near the glass cabinet containing your spouse’s porcelain cat collection and be aware of any people or pets wandering around the area.
  • Wear safety glasses – Slingshots are something else your parents were right about – you can put someone’s eye out with one. The danger isn’t just from the ammo flying around, but a band can come loose or break when you’re drawing it and snap back into your face, which could do some serious damage to your eye. Yes, I know many of the videos I’ve linked to in this article show people shooting without eye protection, but to once again paraphrase your parents, ‘If some idiot on YouTube jumped off a cliff, would you?’
  • Inspect your slingshot before shooting – Check out the bands, frame and pouch for nicks, tear, breaks, loose band connections, etc. Do a full test draw on your bands with the slingshot held low so if the band breaks it’s not coming at your face. I also do a quick inspection every dozen shots or so in case a problem has developed while I was shooting.
  • Use a lanyard – Most slingshots have a hole in the bottom of the frame for a lanyard, and you should loop that around your wrist before shooting. If you draw your band back and the frame slips out of your hand, it now becomes a large heavy projectile coming right at your face.
  • Don’t shoot impaired – It’s hard to focus and you’re a lot more likely to make painful mistakes if you’re drunk, sick, tired, injured or just not feeling well. Shooting a slingshot is definitely not a ‘hold my beer’ activity.
  • Hand protection – If you’re shooting darts, always use hand protection.

When you first receive a new slingshot you’ll probably be tempted to slap the bands on and start shooting, but there are two things you need to do first:

  • RTM – Slingshots may seem simple, but each one is different and not setting it up or using it correctly can have a significant impact on your safety and performance. Read the instructions that came with it and/or check out the vendor’s web site for additional details on things like how to attach the bands, the best grip, etc.
  • Bands – Most slingshots come with extra-long bands, so as discussed earlier you need to figure out your desired elongation and draw length and cut your bands to the correct length before attaching them.

Before you start practicing you’ll need to set up a target. You can buy a commercial catch box (also called an ammo trap), or you could hang up a sheet, tarp or other cloth to catch your ammo and suspend your target in front of that. I put the bottom of the sheet in a wide plastic bin to collect the ammo and keep it from rolling around.

Now pick up your slingshot and inspect it for safety. Regarding which hand to hold it in, most shooters hold the slingshot with their non-dominant hand and draw with their dominant hand, but you can try it both ways and use what’s most comfortable for you. For example, I’m right-handed, but an old injury to my left elbow causes some pain when I fully extend it, so I’m a lot more comfortable holding with my right hand and drawing with my left. If the bands are new or it’s colder where you’re shooting you can stretch the bands a few times to loosen them up. If it’s a new slingshot try out different grips and practice drawing (without ammo) to see what’s most comfortable for you.

The best stance to start with is standing with your feet perpendicular to the target about shoulder width apart. Most people hold the slingshot sideways with the grip parallel to the ground (‘gansta’ style for you gun people), although some folks prefer shooting with it held upright. As you gain more experience (and additional slingshots) you may find that you use both orientations, depending on what you’re shooting.

I’m not going to go over the actual mechanics of loading, aiming and shooting a slingshot, since there are a lot of good resources available that cover that better than I can (and this article is already really long). I highly recommend Zachary Fowler’s ‘How to shoot a slingshot’ video as an excellent starting point (the videos are part way down the page on the right side). One recommendation I would add is to start at a short range and focus on your draw, aiming and release mechanics before focusing on accuracy. When I first got started and whenever I get a new slingshot I start at a distance of 5’ and use a piece of paper with a bunch of ½” dots drawn on it as a target. I use the dots as aiming points and keep practicing until I can consistently put every ball into a 1” or smaller area; note that I’m only using the dots as a fixed aiming point, not the actual target.

My initial goal is precision – I want to make sure my draw, aim, and release are consistent enough that I can consistently hit the exact same point over and over again and that I’m hitting somewhere close to where I expect to. I also note the offset of my hits grouping relative to my aiming point so I can figure out where I need to actually aim to hit the target. Once I’m consistent at 5’ I move back to 10’ and start trying for accuracy as well as consistency. When I get accurate at 10’ I move back to 20’, then 30’, 40’, etc.

When you start shooting arrows I recommend using an actual archery target, since a hanging sheet won’t stop them and dedicated archery targets are designed to make it easier to remove the arrows. For shooting darts I use a ‘sandwich’ target that consists of 2” of dense foam, then two or three layers of old carpeting, all backed by ¾” plywood. I find this makes it easier to remove the darts.

Kitting Up

If you’ve read this far you hopefully have a better understanding of modern slingshots, but you’re probably scratching your head on the best way to wade through all of the options to get started and be prepared. I’ve put together a couple of suggested options based on the following requirements:

  • Cost – The options are listed from low to high in terms of overall investment.
  • Expandability – The ability to expand the system to support future requirements.
  • Flexibility – The ability use different ammo and bands, depending on the situation.
  • Ease of use – The ability to reconfigure things easily in the field.

The absolute least expensive option is to DIY your own slingshot using a Y-shaped tree branch or other Y-shaped object and improvise some bands out of available elastic with a duct tape pouch. Ammo can be any small heavy objects you can find like hex nuts, ball bearings, marbles, etc. The problem with this approach is that you’ll most likely end up with inconsistent results depending on the materials you use to build your slingshot, which may impact your accuracy and power and cause you to develop some bad habits or get frustrated. You can improve the performance by using a pre-made band that costs around $5. While this approach can be fun and rewarding, I recommend that you start with a commercial slingshot, which will allow you to focus on learning and honing your aiming and shooting skills without worrying if the problem is you or your slingshot. Once you’ve acquired good skills and have some experience you’ll find that you can make a much nicer improvised slingshot, since you’ll be able to more confidently identify and address any issues with your design.

(To be concluded tomorrow, In part 6.)