Making and Using the Venerable Hand Sling

You don't have to anticipate facing a foe named Goliath to enjoy taking a whirl with a hand sling.

| May/June 1985

  • hand sling - displaying the projectile pocket
    The sling pocket is simply a piece of leather with a bulge in the middle and cords attached to each end.
  • hand sling - parts of a sling
    The parts of a sling. Within practical limits, the longer the sling, the faster the missile will be propelled. Generally, though, the ideal length is 24" to 26" per side.
  • hand sling - throwing technique
    THE 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.
  • hand sling - preparing to throw
    The author's preferred hand sling technique uses and overhand throwing motion. ("Go ahead, Goliath, make my day!")

  • hand sling - displaying the projectile pocket
  • hand sling - parts of a sling
  • hand sling - throwing technique
  • hand sling - preparing to throw
I 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 sun-hardened 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 lead or clay "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 off 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!

Rat Man
2/7/2008 9:11:26 PM

Yo; This article is exactly what the net is supposed to be about. It's just clear, concise information without any b.s.. Good job, Lynn P. Ballard. Rat Man

3/16/2007 10:14:36 PM

this rocks. I threw this so far.

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