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What is a Sling Shot?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated Feb 28, 2024
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A sling shot is a simple weapon, sometimes referred to as a wrist cannon, a katty, a catapult, or a shanghai. It is essentially a hand-held catapult, and is easy-to-build and easy-to-use. As a result, they are very popular among children and pre-teens, and were one of the most popular children’s toys of the 20th century. In parts of the world, especially the United States, some people actually hunt with them as well, and there are competitions for accuracy and speed firing.

The sling shot is a very simple construction, consisting of a central shaft that forks into two rods, to which are connected ends of a rubber band or rubber tube. Generally, this tube has some sort of wider segment in the center, allowing ammunition to be cradled more easily. The traditional sling shot was made from junk tires, but beginning in the late-1940s they began to be commercially produced and sold as children’s toys.

Because they rely on rubber, generally culled from the tubing of junk tires, it is unlikely that the weapon made an appearance until sometime around the turn of the 20th century. For the next few decades they would remain a popular homemade toy, until the Wham-O company began manufacturing them for sale in 1948. In 1954, Saunders followed up with their own innovation, a sling shot mounted on the wrist for added stability and torque, dubbed the wrist rocket.

The sling shot also makes an impressive hunting weapon for small game, offering many advantages over other weapons. They are generally easier to use than slings, but launch projectiles at high velocities as well. Because they are virtually silent, they can be preferable to shotguns or hunting rifles, which may scare off other game after each shot. They are generally used for a wide range of fowl, as well as game such as squirrels, rabbits, hares, and various rodents.

Hunters who use sling shots generally do not use rocks, although rocks can be used if no other ammunition is around. Ideally, the shot used are metal spheres between 3/8” (9mm) and 1/2” (12mm) in diameter, which are sufficient to kill most game, and is light enough to travel at high velocity and to carry large amounts easily. The lethal range on a sling shot is generally around 80 feet (25m), although greater distances can be achieved with ideal ammunition and well-crafted weapons.

In recent years, people have begun making use of the sling shot in paintball, as well. Because the speed of paintball ammunition is already quite low, a sling shot can actually function nearly as well as a paintball gun, although the learning curve is slightly greater. Many people carry a slingshot with them as a backup weapon in case their gun jams, and many people also make use of them as a sniping weapon, as they are even quieter than a paintball gun. Although many fields do allow them, some have restrictions on any weaponry that is not specially approved, so it is always a good idea to check before bringing one on the paintball field.

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Discussion Comments

By anon67785 — On Feb 26, 2010

I did a science project for my school and I had to write a paper with it. I decided to do it on slingshots, and without the help of wiseGEEK, I probably would have had a much harder time getting the information I needed. Thanks, wiseGEEK!

By anon66421 — On Feb 19, 2010

when i was a kid, i used to stretch a rubber band between my thumb and index finger - your hand becomes the actual slingshot.

this can be dangerous, since if you are a little off, the projectile can be propelled right into your hand - ouch!

the best projectile was a bent paperclip broken in half, thereby creating two "U" shapes. they fly surprisingly far!

Again, this is not recommended for young kids without adult supervision - they can be very dangerous if you are not careful

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