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

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.

mother earth news fair 2018 schedule


Next: April 28-29, 2018
Asheville, NC

Whether you want to learn how to grow and raise your own food, build your own root cellar, or create a green dream home, come out and learn everything you need to know — and then some!