author demonstrates the overhand throwing technique
"Go ahead, Goliath, make my day!"
learned about the hand sling back in my boyhood and
spent many enjoyable hours using one to hurl river rocks
at tin cans. Since that time, I've never lost my fascination
with the power and accuracy of this primitive device.
The biblical account of David's courage and miraculous
victory over the giant Goliath is about all most of
us know of the history of the sling. But the little
weapon was invented long before that legendary encounter.
In fact, it's been known in many parts of the world
since the Neolithic (late Stone Age) period, and quite
possibly since the latter part of the Paleolithic. Early
slings were most often made of rawhide or the "well-twisted
wool" mentioned by Homer in the Iliad.
The sling was an important weapon to many ancient armies.
In the classical Greek period, for instance, stingers
and archers often supported the infantry by attacking
at long range to expose weaknesses in the enemy's line
— and a skilled slinger was considered a match
for a bowman in both range and effectiveness.
Much later, Hernando Cortés, in his bloody march
to the Aztec capital of Mexico, found the native defenders
formidably armed with hand slings. And even as recently
as the seventeenth century, the grenadiers of some European
armies were using the sling as a weapon.
The traditional hand sling missile is a smooth stone roughly
the size and shape of a small egg. But the sling held
such great importance for some armies that they employed
workers to manufacture molded lead and sunhardened clay
missiles. This uniform ammunition allowed their slingers
to enjoy greater, and more consistent, range and accuracy.
(Archaeologists unfamiliar with the history of the sling
have sometimes been puzzled by finds of small clay or
lead "eggs," not realizing that they were stockpiles of
sling ammunition. These carefully manufactured projectiles
often carried inscriptions equivalent to the English "Take
that!" or "Ouch!")
Naturally, the sling was eventually supplanted by gunpowder
and is now largely forgotten as a weapon — except
by a few tribal herdsmen who still use the primitive
device to scare of predators.
Today the sling seems best suited to the high purpose
of providing low-cost recreation. Besides being easy
(and very inexpensive) to construct, slings can be grand
fun, especially once you develop a reasonable degree
of accuracy . . . something that most people can accomplish
with less than an hour's practice!
practical limits, the longer the sling, the faster
the missile will be propelled. Generally, though,
the ideal length is 24" to 26" per side.
version of the hand sling is made by binding a couple
of lengths of 1/8"-diameter nylon line to a leather
pocket. That's about all there is to it.
Start by scrounging up — for the sling's pocket
— a tough but pliable piece of leather (such as
the tongue from an old boot) that measures 6" X 2-1/2"
or thereabouts. Trim the hide to an oval shape and punch
a vertically centered hole about 1/2" in from each end.
Now cut two pieces of nylon cord — one 28" long,
the other measuring 32".
Assemble the parts by threading an end of one of the
pieces of cord through one of the holes in the leather
pocket, pulling about an inch of the cord through and
looping it back on itself. Then bind the loop by wrapping
it tightly with string; kite string is perfect for this.
(Have a friend hold the cord while you wrap and tie
the string.) Repeat the above procedure to attach the
second length of cord to the other end of the leather
Next, form a finger loop at the free end of the longer
cord. Make the loop just large enough for your middle
finger to slip into and out of easily. Then wrap string
around the two sections of cord that form the loop,
extending the winding back about an inch from the base
of the loop.
Now fold the pocket in half, with the rough side of
the leather facing out, and stretch the sling out full
length so that the two cords are lying side by side.
Tie a small, hard knot near the end of the unlooped
cord, so that the knot is even with the end of the looped
up by melting all four exposed ends of nylon cord (to
prevent unraveling) with a match, lighter, or candle
— then coat the string windings generously with
Elmer's Glue-All to protect them from abrasion.
OVERHAND THROWING TECHNIQUE
[A] The thrower drops the pocket and draws the missile
back into a wide vertical orbit. [B] The throwing
arm rises high, then swings down behind the slingers
head to tighten the first orbit. At the same moment,
the slinger begins a long "pitcher's step."
[C] The thrower completes the forward step as the
missile reaches the top of its second orbit —
and the knotted cord is released as the slinger's
wrist snaps forward.
THE FIRST STONE
slingers had a variety of throwing techniques, including
both underhanded and overhanded vertical swings, as
well as whirling the sling either horizontally or at
an angle over the head. While most of these styles of
casting work well with practice, the simplest and —
for me — most effective sling technique is an
overhand "baseball throw."
To practice, first find an open throwing area with no
people or animals nearby that might be struck by a stray
missile. Hook the middle finger of your throwing hand
through the looped cord and pinch the knot of the other
cord between the thumb and forefinger of the same hand.
Load the sling by placing a rounded stone no larger
than a golf ball in the center of the pocket. [EDITOR'S
NOTE: In testing a sling made according to Mr. Ballard's
instructions, we found that, up to a point, the larger
the stone, the easier it was to control the cast. In
fact, we attained good results with some stones that
were considerably larger than a golf ball.]
Now, with your free hand, grasp the loaded pocket and
lift it toward the target as if aiming; turn your body
about 90° away from the target, and sight over the
top of your extended hand. Keep your feet together,
your throwing; hand close against your chest, and your
eyes on the target.
To make a throw, drop the loaded sling and draw your throwing
hand slightly downward to start the orbiting motion. The
sling must fall in front of you and then be lifted upward
and back in a wide vertical arc beside your body. On the
first spin, let your throwing arm rise high behind you
and then fall just to the rear of your head as you begin
a "pitcher's step" with your leading foot. (By decreasing
the size of the arc in this manner, you'll be increasing
the velocity of the sling.) As the stone reaches the top
of its second orbit, throw it as you would a baseball,
releasing the knotted cord as your leading foot completes
the pitcher's step and your wrist snaps forward.
The missile should fly in a low arc toward the target.
If it doesn't, examine your form and try again. Bear
in mind that the entire throwing process should consist
of one continuous movement. With practice, you'll learn
to sense when the stone is in the right position to
be released, and your timing will improve. In effect,
each stone will "tell" you when to release it by its
weight and speed.
Don't, however, expect every throw to be right on target
. . . or, at first, even under control. But once you
get the technique down, the majority of your throws
will sail straight and true. (And don't hesitate to
experiment with other techniques until you find the
one that best suits you.)
Because of their aerodynamic shape, rounded stones make
the best projectiles — they spin out efficiently
and retain their energy longer. (Misshapen missiles
will sometimes buzz or sing as they wobble away in a
curve or spiral.) The nearest creek or gravel bed should
supply all the ammo you can carry away.
In the hands of an expert, a sling-thrown stone's initial
velocity can exceed 60 miles per hour, with long-distance
casts of 250 yards not uncommon. So, since
wild throws are frequent at first, please be careful!
Because the sling was invented to enable ancient hunters
and warriors to strike disabling blows at long distances,
it's classified in the history of technology as a weapon.
But if swords can become plowshares, perhaps the sling,
too, has a peaceful future. To me, the contemporary
value of this ancient tool lies in the pleasure of feeling
its remarkable efficiency in my own hands.
Lynn P. Ballard
with permission from:
Earth News: Making and Using a Venerable Hand Sling