A boyhood filled with slingshots

Published 9:30 am Friday, July 6, 2012

by James D. ‘Archie’ Howell

Our truck had a flat tire last week. The tire, bald from running errands, hauling hogs, moving livestock feed to and from the dry barn, stretching fences, visiting relatives, going to church, and a hundred other tasks, finally called it quits. Both the tire and tube have been replaced, with a new tire and tube from S.W. Rawls in Franklin. The old tire has been discarded in a trash heap and the old tube is stored in our barn, awaiting another life as gaskets, wear buffers on equipment, and (most importantly), slingshot bands. Tire tubes and any leather objects are salvaged for a myriad of uses around the farm.

Privet hedges in our front yard provide a never-ending supply of straight, and forked limbs, for many uses. I find a moderate sized upright limb with a well formed, equally divided fork — ideal for the mainframe of a slingshot. I cut the limb out with my knife. I generally carry this useful tool with me on the farm, as do most farmers I know.

Back at the barn, I trim the harvested limb into a handle, long enough for myself and my siblings, and smooth cut the prongs to equal length. A groove is cut around each prong about a ½-inch from the end. This will accommodate the rubber bands. I remove the old tire tube from its storage place on a nail in a wall stud and cut strips about a ½-inch wide laterally across the tubes width. If the cut is made along the tubes length, it will be curved and not useful; the pull will be uneven. At least, that’s what I’m told; I need all the help I can get.

A small patch is cut from a scrap of leather left over from a shoe tongue. It’s about 1½ inches wide and 2 inches long and it becomes the pocket for rocks or whatever is used for ammunition. Small holes are cut into either end to attach the rubber bands.

Attaching the bands to the fork is a bit tricky; four hands work a lot better than two. A bench vise or Vise Grip pliers are a passable substitute for spare hands. One end of the newly cut bands is stretched around the groove on the end of each fork and tied off with a length of pea twine. When the tension is released, the bands fit snugly and will resist flying off when the slingshot is used.

The bands free ends are tied to the pocket using the same technique, checking to get both bands the same length. Unequal length makes inaccurate shooting. I remember the Biblical story of David and Goliath and wonder how David made his sling. I think he used a different method.

Ammunition is selected from available sources. Smooth river rocks are in short supply in our neighborhood, and I am reduced to scrounging from rock fill on our path. Those are sharp shaped and not of uniform size. They’ll have to do. I also use steel nuts left over from equipment repairs and virtually anything else that will fit the slings pocket.

Target selection has a few limitations. The absolutely, incontrovertible, carved in stone, number 1 rule is to not shoot Mockingbirds. To do so would incur the wrath of my mother. To the best of my knowledge, no sibling before me has ever killed a Mockingbird. The threat of retribution is too great. My Mother is a gentle, loving person, but rumor has it that forgiveness for that transgression is in even shorter supply than smooth river rocks. I have to content myself with inanimate objects like tin cans or bottles set up in a row on the ground or on top of fence posts. Trees, stumps, and similar larger objects are my last resort, generally chosen at random when I’m tired of setting up cans or run out of bottles.

Slingshot frames will last several years; bands are replaced from time to time when they break.

I still salvage bicycle tire tubes for multiple purposes; inner tubes for cars have vanished from the American scene. My slingshot today (yes, I have one) is a formed metal bracket with a molded plastic grip, a forearm brace, and surgical tubing. It is more powerful and more accurate than those of my youth, but it can never replace the self-sufficiency and feel good experience of making my own.

I sit on my back porch swing and draw back a rock, closely held in a leather pouch. I eyeball a tree some 10 yards distant and let fly the missile, listening for a satisfactory “thunk.” I am home.

James D. ‘Archie’ Howell is a Southampton County native and 1955 graduate of Franklin High School. He can be reached at archiepix@kingwoodcable.com.