What is a sling?:
A sling is a projectile weapon typically used to throw a blunt projectile such as a stone. It is also known as the shepherd's sling.
A sling has a small cradle or pouch in the middle of two lengths of cord. The sling stone is placed in the pouch. Both cords are held in the hand, then the sling is swung and one of the two cords is released. This frees the projectile to fly on a tangent to the circle made by the pouch's rotation. The sling derives its effectiveness by essentially extending the length of a human arm, thus allowing stones to be thrown several times farther than they could be by hand
The sling is very inexpensive, and easy to build. It has historically been used for hunting game and in combat. Today it still interests sportsmen as a survival tool and as an improvised weapon.
What is a slingshot?:
A slingshot (also sometimes called a shanghai, and in Britain a catapult or katty) is a small hand-powered projectile weapon. The forked Y-shaped frame has two rubber strips attached to the uprights, leading back to a pocket for holding the projectile.
It is normally fired by holding the frame in the non-dominant hand, extended at arms length. The pocket is then gripped between thumb and forefinger of the dominant hand, pulled back to near the cheek, aimed and the pocket released to fire the projectile toward the target.
Home-made slingshots were a popular children's toy for much of the twentieth century.
Origins of the sling:
The sling is an ancient weapon, the origin of which is lost in antiquity. It is certain that slings were known to Neolithic peoples around the Mediterranean, but it seems likely that the sling is much older. It is quite possible that the sling was invented during the Upper Paleolithic at a time when new technologies, such as the atlatl and the bow and arrow, were emerging. With the exception of Australia, where spear throwing technology such as the woomera predominated, the sling became common all over the world, although it is not clear whether this occurred because of cultural diffusion or independent invention.
Origins of the slingshot:
The earliest types of slingshots were invented in Russia. In Russia its name is "rogatka", from the word "rog" (meaning "horn" in Russian). It's simply a smaller version of a similar but bigger weapon in Ancient Rus', named "rogatina". [Jack H. Koehler, Slingshot Shooting, Sling Publishing. isbn = 0-9765311-0-0]
The classic form of slingshot relies upon the availability of vulcanized rubber. The most common source of rubber was from the inner tubes of tires and so it seems unlikely that they were constructed before 1888. Once invented they became an archetypal boy's toy up until shortly after World War II. These were generally self-made from a forked tree branch and "red rubber" inner tubes. (Later inner tubes had carbon-black added, which made them much less elastic. Modern inner tubes use synthetic rubber and in fact quite a few tires are now tubeless).
Commercial versions were available from early on and in 1948 Wham-O had as their first product a slingshot, but the sophisticated modern models start with the first wrist-braced slingshot—the Saunders "Wrist-Rocket", in 1954.
Slings in combat:
It is clear that many ancient peoples used the sling in combat and that organised armies included specialist slingers as well as equipping regular soldiers with slings as a back up weapon. As a weapon, the sling had several clear advantages. In general, a sling bullet lobbed in a high trajectory can achieve ranges approaching 600m — significantly farther than what could be achieved by bows in any period, including the famed longbow. Arrows were typically loosed along relatively flat trajectories that seldom managed to send them beyond 100 meters. The current Guinness World Record distance of an object thrown with a sling stands at 477.0 m, set by David Engvall in 1992 using a metal dart. Larry Bray held the previous world record (1982), in which a 52 g stone was thrown 437.1 m. Modern authorities vary widely in their estimates of the effective range of ancient weapons and of course bows and arrows could also have been used to produce a long-range arcing trajectory, but ancient writers repeatedly stress the sling's advantage of range. The sling was light to carry and cheap to produce; ammunition in the form of stones was readily available and often to be found near the site of battle.
Caches of sling ammunition are frequently found at the sites of Iron Age hill forts of Europe. 40,000 sling stones were found at Maiden Castle in Southern England. It is proposed that Iron Age hill forts of Europe were designed to maximise the effectiveness of defending slingers.
The hilltop location of the wooden forts would have given the defending slingers the advantage of range over the attackers and multiple concentric ramparts, each higher than the other, would allow a large number of men to create a hailstorm of stone. Consistent with this, it has been noted that, generally, where the natural slope is steep, the defences are narrow and where the slope is less steep, the defences are wider.
How to use a sling:
For a conventional throw, one does not make multiple rotations of the sling, a proper slinging action requires just one rapid rotation. The more times you swing it, the less likely it is that you'll hit your target.
One makes an overhand throw, using the sling to extend one's arm. The motion is similar to bowling a cricket ball. This is relatively accurate, instinctive and quite powerful. One faces 60 degrees away from the target, with one's weak hand closest to the target. The coordinated motion is to move every part of the body, legs, waist, shoulders, arms, elbows and wrist in the direction of the target in order to add as much speed as possible to the stone. One releases the projectile near the top of the swing, where the projectile will proceed roughly parallel to the surface of the earth.
Another method of release said to be favoured by slingers firing into grouped or massed targets is an underhand throw. The motion is similar to that of throwing a softball. The trajectory arc is relatively high. The thrower stands 60 degrees away from the target, and takes one step forward from the trailing foot, letting the sling swing forward. Range is said to be increased with this method, sacrificing accuracy. Several historians have conjectured that this was the most commonly used method in ancient warfare due to its practicality.
There are also sideways releases, in which the swing goes around. These throws make it very easy to miss the target by releasing the projectile at a slightly wrong time. Other slinging methods can be seen, but many authorities deprecate them.
The clumsiest part of using a shepherd's sling is to regain control of the release cord. Conventionally, the loop of the retention cord is placed around a finger of the strong hand. Several projectiles may be held in the weak hand. After the release, an expert will continue the motion. The cradle will catch around a stone held out with the weak hand, so that the end of the release cord swings back to the strong hand retaining the loop. Just after the knot begins to swing, slightly before the knot reaches the strong hand, one drops or throws the projectile toward the ground with the weak hand, starting into the next release. Some people braid the end of the release cord around a weight to help perform this maneuver. With this method, a skillful user can throw an aimed stone every few seconds in a cyclic coordinated movement, until the weak hand is empty.
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