SKILLSeries is a live video partnership between WAZOO and Georgia Bushcraft to help you learn while introducing you to people who are masters in their fields. We've decided to summarize these information rich videos into articles so you can get the main points on each topic and quick-reference notes that you can easily refer back to as a refresher.
In this article, we revisit Slingshot 101 with bushcraft MacGyver and Alone Season 3 champion, Zachery Fowler from Fowler's Makery and Mischief. The slingshot was Fowler's tool of choice on Alone—a choice that was inspired by watching survival shows and seeing that contestants never used this deadly yet highly compact weapon. He was kind enough to show us his shooting range and slingshot collection while explaining everything that a slingshot novice needs to know.
Which Slingshot Should You Get?
There are a few things to consider when picking out your first slingshot frame, but Fowler tells us that it doesn't really matter which one you get since they all work pretty well (with enough practice, of course). Wrist-Rockets are probably the most widely available style of slingshot, and their design provides enhanced stability due to the wrist-brace. But this crutch becomes unnecessary with a little practice, plus they are more difficult to pocket than the simple two-pronged-fork style.
There are frame-less slingshots that consist of just a band and pouch which can be worn as bracelets, but this style should only be considered by more advanced practitioners since one’s fingers provide the framing (and so there is an increased risk of injury).
Fowler’s Sparrow Slingshot is his everyday shooter, so we obviously recommend that for a first time buyer. His shop also sells the enclosed style Pocket Shot Pouches which are great for hunters, and maybe better for shooting a spread of multiple small projectiles. Of course, you can always just take note from Dennis The Menace and use a natural tree fork for your slingshot frame (just make sure it is strong enough first).
Bands Are The Most Important Consideration
Elastic bands provide slingshots' mechanism of action, and so they are the most important component to think about. Flat bands are more accurate because they are more flexible or "snappy," while tube bands are better for speed shooting.
Fowler tells us that, “the thinner the band, the more accurate it’s going to be when matched with the proper ammo.” The main reason for this is because less effort is needed to hold thinner bands while aiming. The band’s taper is also an important consideration; the more tapered the band is toward the pouch, the more power the shot will have.
Bands attach to the frame in one of two ways: either Over the Top, or Between the Forks. No matter which option is chosen, it is important to remember that the points of attachment face away from the shooter so that the band wraps around the frame.
Temperature does affect band performance—the colder it is, the slower the band will contract (meaning less power). If regularly shooting in temps below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, consider using a shorter band and maybe even a material besides latex. Fowler also sells specially made cold weather bands.
Slingshot Ammo Types and Sizes
The most popular ammo for slingshots are stainless steel ball bearings, and Fowler recommends ones that have a diameter of 7/16". In a survival situation, small stones and pebbles can be used to hunt with, but it’s best to become skilled with a slingshot so that proper ammo can be easily selected in the field.
Fowler made himself a slingshot ammo sorter that consists of wooden drawers with several drop holes of varying diameters—for the serious slingshot practitioner, this organization method is definitely an option that should be considered.
Setting Up A Practice Range
A 48 foot slingshot range that spans the length of Fowler's home is where he practices daily. Because he lives alone this is no problem, but he offers a crucial survival tip to married guys that are considering this option: “you might wanna ask your wife first.”
For the range's backdrop, he uses a big piece of cotton fabric—but if using bedding sheets, be sure to double up since they are typically pretty thin. The fabric can be drooped in such a way as to collect ammo, and a magnet is great for retrieving loose ball bearings.
Various things to shoot at such as beverage cans, target spinners, and paper targets can be hung up in front of the cotton sheets.
Slingshot Safety Considerations
Beginners and anyone worried about injury should wear safety glasses since latex bands will break. But if proper considerations are taken, shooting slingshots is generally pretty safe.
Prior to use, inspect the slingshot band for cuts, nicks, and aging since these will be points of failure. According to Fowler, "Sometimes you get 5 shots out of a band, sometimes you get 5,000.”
It’s also important to practice with a band that only draws back to your cheek (hold off on long draws until you’ve become very proficient with slingshots).
Slingshot Danger Zones
If holding the slingshot with the left hand, a wide 90 degree area to your right is the most intimidate danger zone, with about a 40 degree danger zone on the other side. People, pets, and anything valuable should be removed from this area prior to shooting since ammo may hit the frame and ricochet in that direction.
Obviously, the most dangerous zone is anywhere downrange from the slingshot shooter, and you should always be aware of your surroundings when handling any type of weapon that can put eye out.
How to Shoot a Slingshot
Now that you've got your slingshot, shooting range, and safety squared away, it's time to have some fun. Just like with any skill, the only way to improve your performance with a slingshot is through constant practice.
For beginners, Fowler tells us that, “the whole point is to hit the target and have some fun. Later, as you fall down the slingshot rabbit-hole, you’ll find that there’s so many things to learn.” Beginners should focus on shooting through the forks, but it all comes down to personal preference, so play around to find the best fit for you.
“The best way to become accurate with a slingshot really fast is to pick one and stay committed to it—it’s a committed relationship." With that in mind, Fowler does recommend changing things up with a different slingshot if you find yourself in a funk and unable to hit targets.
Loading the Slingshot Ammo
After inspecting the band for cuts and nicks, hold the slingshot up so that the band and pouch are hanging down.
Next, put the ammo into the pouch while pulling down on the band with one finger to hold it in place. Once the ammo is in the pouch, pinch and bring the other fingers around to hold the ammo in place.
“The first mistake that everybody makes when they go to shoot a slingshot is they pinch the ammo behind the knuckle finger—you don't’ want that.” In other words, you want to pinch the pouch and ammo itself—you do not want to pinch the pouch around the ammo.
Drawing the Slingshot Band Back
Once the pouch is loaded and you have a secure pinch, draw the band back while aiming at the ground. Don’t ready the slingshot into the aiming position until the band has been pulled back (this ensures your safety in case the band breaks).
How to Aim a Slingshot
Accuracy depends on aiming with your dominant eye. If you don’t already know what your dominant eye is, use this simple method to find out:
- Create a diamond shape with both hands
- Center the target in this diamond with both eyes open
- Now close each eye; whichever eye keeps the target centered is your dominant one.
Position the pouch below the cheek of your dominant eye with the frame held sideways. The idea is to line the top band up with the target so that releasing the pinch allows the ammo to travel inline with the band.
This technique can be refined and personalized with practice (Fowler doesn't even have to close his non-dominant eye anymore since he has built a strong slingshot muscle memory and target focus).
When aiming, follow the principle of "aim small, miss small." In other words, if you are aiming at a can of Pepsi, don’t just aim for any part of the can, focus on a very specific point.
Don’t just aim for that “e” either, and don’t just aim for the hole in that letter—aim for a point so small and so specific that it is the size of a molecule within that tiny space.
Maintaining Proper Form When Shooting a Slingshot
When first starting out with slingshots, Fowler recommends taking the first 10 shots with absolute consideration of form and posture, and not so much of a focus on actually hitting the target.
Make sure your feet are shoulder width apart and that you're not hunched over the frame when aiming. Making videos of yourself shooting can be a great way to notice and correct posture problems.
Look back at your elbow to make sure it's kept straight and inline with the band and target. If your ammo keeps hitting the frame or if you are having problems with accuracy, it is likely due to a tweaked (not straight) arm.
It is also important to make sure that the slingshot frame is squared with the target—not tilted up or down, but straight at the target.
Once you have honed your form and aim, all that’s left to do is practice, practice, practice… but also have fun!
Now that you know how to get started shooting slingshots, feel free to check out Fowler's YouTube channel where he posts plenty of cool stuff like trick shots, challenges, and more in-depth slingshot lessons. Browse around Fowler's Makery and Mischief as well to see more bushcraft and survival content that that he makes.
And before you go around town with your new slingshot, be sure to check your local laws since slingshot use and possession is regulated in certain places. And always make sure that you're highly proficient with any weapon before hunting with it.
About the Author: Kyle Howington is a Colorado native that has been exploring the state's wild areas for many years. He writes about outdoor activities and skills when he's not wandering around with his djembe.