When one thinks of a slingshot, the image of the forked stick and rubber band hanging out of the back pocket of Dennis the Menace is usually what comes to mind. Often overlooked in the survival community, the slingshot can be a valuable addition to any survival kit or day pack.
For all intents and purposes, the best tool for taking small game that a survivalist can have, in my opinion, is a .22 pistol. Until very recently, though, it was illegal to carry them into state parks. To those who are not up to date on local and state ordinances, it can be extremely confusing where you are allowed to posses a firearm. In Colorado, a hiker can unknowingly cross land owned by three different agencies in less than half an hour while on a trail. Knowing if you can or cannot carry a survival pistol, and the consequences of getting it wrong, cause many hikers to just leave them at home. With the threat of a felony conviction, fines, jail time, confiscation of your weapon, and future headache associated, it just doesn’t seem worth the trouble.
Slingshots bridge the gap between small but possibly illegal .22 handguns and snares for catching dinner in the wild. Other primitive weapons have limitations that often leave them in the back of the pickup when you need them. Bows and arrows are unwieldy and not usually taken on simple nature hikes. The atlatl is difficult to master for even the most ardent of survivalists, let alone carrying around a 5 foot arrow. Weapons such as the boomerang and bolo take skill and are not designed for small game. Blow guns are fine but are limited to the number of darts you have brought along. Making darts by hand takes time and patience, little of which you have in a survival situation.
Today’s slingshots are lightweight, collapsible, and reliable weapons that can be utilized to kill small furbearing game and birds. Whereas traps and snares are good for catching game that might come by in a few hours; they are useless for getting that squirrel staring at you from the tree branch 30 feet away. This is where the slingshot comes into its own. It offers you the ability to silently take an accurate thirty foot shot with the option of a rapid follow up shot. Ammo for your slingshot can be anything that fits into the pouch. Steel ball bearings, marbles, lead fishing weights, and spent bullets all make good ammo. The added bonus is that if you run out, you can always pick up a stone. The more round the stone is, the better it will fly. This means you never have to worry about running out of ammo. You can shoot at anything that moves and improve your odds at getting lucky.
Mastering the slingshot is as simple as taking an empty cardboard box in the back yard and drawing a bulls-eye in magic marker. After about an hour of plinking, with a wide array of ammo and at various distances, you should have a firm grasp of the abilities and limitations of his or her slingshot. Aiming is a simple affair. The two most common methods deal with whether or not you have a forearm support. For those who do have a forearm support, hold the slingshot upright with a strong grip, pull back the sling, center your target between the tops of the braces, and let fly. For the older “Dennis the Menace” style, hold the slingshot sideways with your thumb in the notch of the supports. Draw back like a mini-bow, aim, and fire. This position allows you to get a stronger draw without putting too much tension on your wrist.
Modern slingshots are widely available at almost any big box store, costing anywhere from $10 to $25 dollars, depending on quality and accessories. Although I find sighting systems on slingshots to be unnecessary, I do recommend a slingshot with a folding wrist/forearm support. The forearm support redistributes the tension from the sling away from the shooters wrist, saving the shooter the pain and embarrassment of having the sling shot ripped from your hand and hitting you in the face. A majority of the slingshots I have seen sold at army surplus stores and Wal-Mart have a hollow handle for storage. I find this extremely useful for storing the most basic of survival kits. I have a small ziploc-style bag containing three strike anywhere matches, a cotton ball, and a X-Acto knife blade. With this, I can skin my kill, start a fire, and whittle a skewer to cook it on.
Should you feel so inclined, a simple X brace can be tied onto the supports of slingshot in order to fire arrows for larger game. After some fiddling to get the height right, simply lay the arrow into the notch made by the X brace and seat it in the pouch. Now you will be able to aim down the shaft and fire it in same manner as a horizontal bow. This method is good if larger mammals come by, such as marmot or raccoon. I find that modern arrows work best, but feel free to try and whittle yourself one out of a straight tree branch.
Slingshots can also be used to distract and defend yourself while on the trail. Not many people think about attacks that happen in national parks, but they do happen. The IRA has famously used slingshots as weapons, during the war in Northern Ireland. Although it has no guarantee of a lethal shot, a strong strike to the face, neck or groin from a hefty lead fishing sinker or ball bearing will put the breaks on any attacker looking for an easy target. Granted, you will need to be alert to possible danger in order to utilize it, but if you weren’t paying attention to your surroundings, your going to get owned no matter what your packing.
Another great thing about slingshots is the multiple uses for there parts. The surgical tubing scavenged off a slingshot can be uses as; a drinking straw, a tourniquet, or a strong a fast engine for holding or spring traps. If in the event your supports break, but the rubber sling is still good, you can make a hand spear out of it. Simply tie your band in a loop, and then loop it around your thumb and index finger. Take whatever thin stick you are using as a spear and seat in the pouch of your band. Pull back and hold the spear with the same thumb and index finger your band is looped around, aim and let go.
For those of you who want to make your own, a decent sling shot can be made in about ten minutes. First find a stout stick roughly the width of your thumb with a fairly even fork in it. Trim the handle length to suit your preferences. Next, make two small notches on either side of what is to be your supports. This is where the rubber will be seated so that it doesn’t slide off the end. If it is green wood, allow it to dry out in the sun or by your campfire overnight. This will make the wood more rigid, allowing you to get more power behind your projectile. The type of rubber you use will make all the difference. Latex sheeting, surgical tubing, and layered rubber bands make good slingshot material, but improvised elastics can be taken out of the waistband of your underwear. Prison inmates have been doing it for years. Get two lengths about a foot long and tie one end to your supports, one for each side. After that, you will need to make a pouch. This can be any square sheet of material you can cut off, from an old nylon bag or t-shirt. Make two small holes about a quarter inch from the edge and tie your rubber slings through them. That’s it. Test and modify as needed. Understand though, despite how good your whittling skills are, anything you make can be matched or beaten by a cheap commercial slingshot in most instances.
My last point I want to cover is the difference between modern slingshots with rubber tubing, and biblical slingshots like the one that David used to slay Goliath. The biblical slingshot is nothing more than a strip of rawhide about 5 feet long, with a pouch in the middle. One in had a loop that went over the middle finger while the other end was pinched between the thumb and index finger. You spun it either beside you or over your head to build up momentum and then let fly. For those who are interested in a more primitive way of hunting, the biblical slingshot is worth a look. Keep in mind though, that it requires much more skill than the modern sling shot, does not allow for a quick follow up shot, and is not as quiet.
In the end, anybody that walks into the woods should have multiple means of procuring food. Relying on only one method to catch and kill game is a recipe for hunger. The tragic fact of the matter is that most hikers rarely if ever think about what they will need if things go wrong and they find themselves hungry, cold, and tired in the middle of nowhere. A few lightweight items in the bottom of their day pack can mean all the difference. In that regard, a slingshot can be justified as a necessary survival item.