Photos by Sally Janich

What do you get when you combine one of the greatest industrial advances in history with a healthy dose of Bart Simpson–style evil genius and a forked stick? You get one of the most underrated members of the survivalist arsenal: the humble slingshot.

When Charles Goodyear patented his process for vulcanizing rubber in 1844, he solved the puzzle of making “India rubber” into a stable material that could handle temperature fluctuation without melting or cracking. He also paved the way for the manufacture of high-quality commercial rubber goods like inner tubes. By the late 19th century, enterprising delinquents all over the globe figured out that those inner tubes, cut into strips and lashed to a Y-shaped branch, could be used to launch small projectiles with surprising power and accuracy. The slingshot was born.

Slingshots, also known as catapults or “katty” (United Kingdom), kettie (South Africa), shanghai (Australia), or ging (Australia and New Zealand), remained DIY items until 1918, when the first commercial slingshot — the cast-iron “Zip-Zip” — was manufactured. It wasn’t until after World War II, though, that the concept of high-performance commercial slingshots really became popular. The Wham-O company, founded in 1948, led the way with their namesake Wham-O slingshot, which also came with a rest to shoot arrows. In 1954, the Wrist-Rocket company introduced the wrist-braced slingshot, which stabilizes the weapon and reduces the torque of the rubber bands on the shooter’s wrist, and pioneered the use of surgical rubber tubing instead of flat rubber bands.

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Above: Slingshots can be a viable addition to a prepper’s arsenal, but only if you invest the time and practice to become skilled in their use.

Although the Wrist-Rocket set the standard in slingshot performance for many years, the innovation didn’t stop there. Die-hard shooters with far too much free time on their hands were obsessed with pushing the envelope of power, performance, and accuracy. As they continued to tinker with slingshot design, materials and manufacturing methods also evolved — and more and more companies got involved in the slingshot market. Today, there are literally dozens of factory and custom-made slingshots available, many of which are lavishly pimped, including everything from on-board ammo storage to inertial stabilizers to Picatinny rails and even built-in laser sights. While the actual performance advantages of these features are highly debatable, they definitely show that the slingshot shooters’ market is hungry for variety and innovation.

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Above: Most slingshots don’t have sights, so accuracy is dependent on “gap” shooting. Pick an index on the slingshot (usually the tip of a fork tine) and use it as an aiming index. Shoot a group to determine the difference between point of aim and point of impact, and then adjust your aiming point accordingly.

While this roundup only scratches the surface of what’s out there on the market, it provides a great sampling of the basic types of slingshots that are commercially available. The pros and cons of each of the specific models we considered also give you an idea of what to look for, and what to look out for, when choosing a slingshot for your bug-out bag.

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Above: With a little practice, it’s not difficult to hit soda cans from 21 feet. The cans are fun to shoot and about the same size as slingshot-worthy small game.

Performance Quantified

No matter which slingshot trips your personal trigger, you can pretty much expect about the same performance. Let’s face it, there’s only so much a couple of rubber bands will do.

To quantify that performance, we shot all the “catties” we had available through a chronograph using the same ammo — solid steel .38-caliber ball bearings. Each of these projectiles tipped the scales at 4 grams, or about 62 grains. With the exception of one slingshot that did not allow a full draw, we used classic slingshot technique, drawing to an anchor point on our cheek for a draw length of about 33 inches.

Above: Compared to firearms or airguns, slingshots don’t have much muzzle energy. However, they can still leave a mark. This is the front of a piece of 1⁄4-inch plywood hit by a 3⁄8-inch steel ball bearing. The back tells even more of the story.

Shooting 10-shot groups to get a representative average for each slingshot, velocities ranged from a low of 120.2 feet per second (fps) to a high of 176.7 fps. That’s an overall average of 153.0 fps. Plugging those numbers into a ballistic calculator revealed that the “muzzle energy” for these shots was 2 to 4 foot-pounds (ft-lb), or an average of 3 ft-lb. To put that into perspective, a Wal-Mart .177 pellet gun spitting a 7.6-grain pellet at 550 fps yields a significantly greater, yet still woefully anemic, 5.1 ft-lb of energy.

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Above: Modern slingshot ammo includes glass projectiles, steel ball bearings of various sizes and weights, and even chalk-filled marking rounds.

Since the slingshot ammo collected for this test included everything from lightweight chalk-filled marker rounds and glass projectiles to heavy .50-cal ball bearings, we figured it might be worthwhile to test them and see if either a light-and-fast or slow-and-heavy combination could squeeze any more ballistic performance out of a slingshot. For that test, we chose the “Pocket Hammer” slingshot, which uses a rubber condom-like pouch instead of bands, has a much shorter draw length, but consistently shot about 30-fps faster than the competition with the .38-caliber ammo.

The “Pocket Hammer” launched lightweight 31-grain glass projectiles and its own branded 5⁄16-inch steel ammo at nearly 220 fps and 108-grain ½-inch ball bearings at about 140 fps. However, doing the math was still underwhelming, translating to 3 and 5 ft-lb of energy, respectively.

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Above: With a standard cheek-index style of shooting, most slingshots produce velocities of 150-200 fps with typical ammo choices.

Instead of anchoring their release hand to their cheek or jaw, some slingshot shooters prefer a much longer “Albatross” draw with the arms extended in opposite directions. This requires more strength and skill, but can also consistently generate velocities approaching 250 fps and muzzle energies of 6 ft-lb with steel ball bearings.

The Bottom Line

Several careers ago, I worked for the U.S. government in Vietnam and Laos. Although many of the areas we worked in had thriving rat populations, we weren’t allowed to have firearms or even airguns purchased outside the country. Before we discovered some decent Czech air rifles in the local markets, blowguns and slingshots were our pest-control tools of choice. After lots of practice, we got good enough to consistently hit rats with slingshots. When we did, we either killed them outright or stunned them badly enough that we could finish them off easily. When we missed, however, the ricocheting ball bearings or shattering glass marbles made life exciting and occasionally painful.

From a survivalist’s perspective, the slingshot is a handy, economical weapon that can easily tuck into a bug-out bag. Despite its limited power, it’s certainly capable of killing small game. If you invest in a model that launches arrows like a bow, you can go after even bigger critters. However, if you actually plan to put food on the table with any kind of slingshot, you should probably start practicing now.

SimpleShot “The Hammer” Slingshot/Slingbow Kit

Type
Modular Wrist-Braced Slingshot or Arrow Launcher

MSRP
$100

URL
simple-shot.com

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This high-quality kit includes a molded grip (with an integral Picatinny rail), a wrist brace, two modular yoke attachments (one conventional slingshot and one for shooting arrow), and dedicated band assemblies for each yoke. The slingshot used flat bands, while the arrow yoke used a special assembly of surgical tubing and a nocking string for the arrow. Since this was the only arrow launcher in the mix, testing focused primarily on the slingshot mode.

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Pros:

  • Easiest to draw of all those tested
  • Can be shot with or without the wrist brace
  • Soft leather pouch was easy to load
  • SimpleShot’s website is a treasure trove of slingshot information.

Cons:

  • Despite the brand name, assembly isn’t intuitive (consult the website before the balloon goes up).
  • Wrist brace is removable but doesn’t fold for transport
  • Many small, dedicated parts

Pocket Shot

Type
Pouch-Style Slingshot

MSRP
$25

URL
thepocketshot.com

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This brilliantly simple slingshot consists of a heavy rubber pouch attached to a two-piece threaded polycarbonate ring. Just remove the ring’s screw-on cap (which doubles as a wrench for changing pouches), drop a projectile in the pouch, hold the ring between your thumb and index finger, pull back, and let fly. Extremely compact and lightweight, it’s an easy addition to any bug-out bag.

Pros:

  • Surprisingly powerful
  • Pouch design makes it impossible to drop or misalign a projectile.
  • Compact, lightweight, and easy to pack
  • Screw-on cap allows ammo to be stored in the pouch
  • Lots of aftermarket accessories, including high-power pouches and arrow launchers, also available

Cons:

  • Short draw length
  • Ring-style grip requires good hand strength.
  • Unconventional shooting position
  • Poor shooting form can result in some impressively painful palm hits.

Pocket Shot with Pocket Hammer

Type
Pouch-Style Slingshot with Wrist-Braced Pistol Grip

MSRP
$99-$104 ($45 for Pocket Hammer alone)

URL
thepocketshot.com

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The Pocket Hammer is an injection-molded pistol-grip platform designed for use with the Pocket Shot. It includes a folding wrist brace and provides a much more stable shooting platform. Its integral Picatinny rail accepts an optional fishing reel that, along with other aftermarket accessories, allows it to be used for bowfishing.

Pros:

  • Much more stable and easier to aim than the ring-style Pocket Shot
  • Wrist brace allows a longer pull and more power
  • Folding design is still reasonably compact and packable
  • Lots of optional accessories available

Cons:

  • Still has a short draw length
  • Still requires an unconventional shooting position

Daisy PowerLine B52 Slingshot Model 8152

Type
Tubular Band Slingshot with Folding Wrist Brace

MSRP
$11

URL
daisy.com

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This slingshot epitomizes the iconic “wrist-rocket” style of wrist-braced, tubular band slingshots. Simple, sturdy, and straightforward, it’s also extremely affordable. Its folding wrist brace design also allows it to fit in a pack. Its leather pouch was a bit stiff but would easily break in with use.

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Pros:

  • Classic, no-frills “wrist rocket” design
  • Folding wrist brace makes it packable
  • Very affordably priced

Cons:

  • Stiff leather pouch makes indexing projectiles difficult at first
  • Like all slingshots, shooting accurately requires considerable practice.

Camillus Les Stroud Mentawai Slingshot

Type
Folding Multi-Function Survival Slingshot

MSRP
$37

URL
camillusknives.com

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Designed by survival guru Les Stroud, this slingshot features a heavy-duty cast body and independently folding, locking steel yoke arms. The slingshot body has a built-in compass and a hollow storage cavity that holds a combination fire starter/whistle and four heavy ball bearing projectiles (included). Impressively sturdy, it uses tubular rubber bands and a soft leather pouch.

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Pros:

  • Multi-function design includes compass and fire starter/whistle
  • On-board ammo storage
  • Folds to compact size
  • Sturdy construction

Cons:

  • Pre-installed tubular bands were twisted, making it slow and difficult to load.
  • Somewhat heavy for the functions it provides

TOPS Knives TOPS Sling

Type
Tubular Band Slingshot

MSRP
$130

URL
topsknives.com

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TOPS Knives, respected makers of hell-for-stout knives, applied their proven craftsmanship to the slingshot to create the TOPS Sling. It features a tumble-finished 1095 tool steel body, black canvas Micarta scales, and strong tubular bands. It also comes complete with a beautifully crafted leather belt pouch. A kick-ass expression of the classic fork-style slingshot, it’d be even more pleasant to shoot if the edges of the fork had been radiused a bit.

Pros:

  • Extremely high-quality materials and craftsmanship
  • Supple leather pouch is easy to load
  • Comes with beautiful leather belt pouch

Cons:

  • Corners of fork are a bit too acute
  • No instructions on band replacement
  • Despite its quality, the price can be daunting

Umarex X-Shot LE

Type
Tubular Band Slingshot with Wrist Brace

MSRP
$35

URL
cabelas.com

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In simple terms, the Umarex X-Shot LE is a wrist-braced, tubular-band-style slingshot with an adjustable fork and wrist brace that allows you to tune the length of pull. It also has on-board ammo storage in the grip and a squeeze-operated “Auto-Feed” ammo dispenser. Its not-so-simple features include a laser sight in the grip and a “Command Clasp” magnetized retaining pouch to hold steel ammo in place. While an ambitious effort to create a high-tech slingshot that does everything, its actual performance was disappointing.

Pros:

  • Adjustable wrist brace and fork position allow variable length of pull.
  • On-board ammo storage and easy dispensing

Cons:

  • “Command Clasp” pouch is too complicated and doesn’t align with the leather finger hold, limiting accuracy and frequently causing misfires.
  • Wrist brace design doesn’t support wrist well
  • Laser makes a better cat toy than slingshot sight
  • Non-folding design is awkward and doesn’t pack well

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