If you were to decide that you wanted to buy a slingshot right now, you would probably only think to look in the toy section. With the advent of more sophisticated projectile weapons, slingshots seem relatively harmless by comparison, so harmless that they are safe to give to children and suited for little else. However, if used properly, a slingshot still can be a strategic weapon. It is easy to make, easy to use, light, durable, and capable of launching projectiles at deadly speeds in the hands of a practiced user.
Traditionally, a slingshot is made up of a sturdy, Y-shaped frame, two short lengths of elastic or rubber attached to the branches of the Y, and a pocket connecting the elastic bands in which the stone or projectile is set. The pocket with the projectile is then pulled back and released in the direction of the target. A slingshot is, essentially, a device that adds power and distance to a simple bare-handed throw. Though it is a simple device designed to basically enhance a normal human throw, the slingshot can still be an effective weapon.
The slingshot is thought to have been invented in ancient Russia, but it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when. It was created to be a smaller version of the weapon of choice in Russia, the “rogatina.” The rogatina was essentially a dagger length, double-edged blade at the end of a long spear. These were used for stabbing or throwing while warriors rode horseback. While deadly, the weapon was large and unwieldy. The inconvenience of the rogatina lead to the invention of the smaller “rogatka,” or a version of the slingshot.
Evidence of early slingshot use was also found in Scotland. Archeologists wanted more information on how the Romans won the battle at Burnswark. After searching with a metal detector, they found lead projectiles buried in the hill the Scottish defended which they were able to trace back to a Roman invasion of Scotland 1900 years ago. After doing some experiments with models, these slingshots are thought to have been as deadly as a modern .44 handgun. A well-trained soldier with a slingshot could have probably hit a person from 130 yards away, or even more. It appears that the Romans were able to lay siege to the Scottish fort from their military camp and won.
The version of the slingshot as most people now conceive it was probably not invented until 1888 when people had access to vulcanized rubber, or natural rubber mixed with several chemical additives to make it stronger and more flexible. The rubber was usually obtained from salvaged bike tire inner tubes cut into strips. The slingshot was a relatively small and simple weapon, so when they started being used, they were usually made by hand and used as toys. Slingshots continued to be used exclusively as toys until after World War Two, when the slingshot began being used as a legitimate weapon as well.
The slingshot began being mass-produced in 1948 by a company called Wham-O. The idea was taken up by a competitor, and a modified version called the wrist-rocket was later developed by Saunders Archery Co. and Mark Ellenburg in 1954. Ellenburg was the one who developed the basic design. This version included a wrist brace and used rubber tubing that fit over the tips of the frame instead of flat rubber bands that were simply tied to the ends. Friction kept the tubes attached to the frame, creating a more durable version of the slingshot.
Today, the slingshot is used in hunting and competitions. They are also especially popular among survivalists for several reasons. First, the slingshot’s simple design means that it can often be made from natural materials that are found in one’s immediate environment. In addition, there is almost always ammo available. Slingshots do not need to be loaded with specialized bullets or pellets, anything that can fit in the pocket can be turned into a deadly weapon. Not only that, but considering the amount of damage a slingshot can do, they are remarkably light and portable, lighter than almost anything that can do as much damage from a distance. They can be used in hunting and self-defense since in capable hands they are able to take down anything from a bird to a deer to a person. They can even be used to fish in shallow water.
Modern mass-produced slingshot models have gotten larger and far more complicated than the traditional Y-shaped design. However, there are now dozens of slingshot choices available for purchase. Though many people are unaware of the fact, the slingshot is still very much in use today. It has gone from a deadly weapon to a toy and back again, and probably will continue to evolve in the future.