Appalachia

Slingshot Memories

handmade slingshot

I remember Pap making slingshots when we were kids. I tried once or twice to use one, but couldn’t master the technique of shooting one, probably because I wasn’t very interested in trying 🙂 Over the years Pap made quite a few. Paul said he used Laurel most of the time (what we call Laurel is actually Rhododendron).

Paul became quite good with a slingshot. He could mostly hit whatever he wanted from a pretty good distance away. He said the ones Pap made were a hundred times better than store bought ones. They shot harder and were easier to use because they were made with real rubber.

When I told Paul about this post and shared the video below with him this is what he said:

It’s amazing how accurate you can get with a slingshot when there are no sights and you don’t aim it. It’s sort of like pitching a baseball or a cowboy shooter who shoots with the gun down by his hip, just a muscle memory thing. I saw a local news spot on TV back when we still watched WLOS and the Knoxville Channel. It showed two old men who made them in their barn, and they each shot Coke cans off each other’s heads. Although it was short distance, I would never have tried that! As good as I got with one, I can only imagine what Pap, Harold Kernea (one of Pap’s closest childhood friends), and guys like that would have been like back in the day when they used them constantly. It’s all about the rubber, and the way it’s shaped. Store bought ones are no good because it isn’t real rubber and it’s formed as a tube that resists against itself as the pad holding the rock goes forward. The flat, strap-like way of cutting the rubber (like the man in the video uses) doesn’t have that resistance against itself. Pap had one inner tube of real rubber left that he was saving in the basement. It was placed up in the floor joist, held up by the X bracing. Sadly, Steve thought it was just there to start fires and burned it. From then on, we didn’t have any good slingshots because they always break eventually and you have to put on new rubber.”

Somewhere along the way The Deer Hunter bought the girls slingshots. I remember Chitter shooting marbles off the porch and trying her best to hit birds, I don’t think she ever managed to hit one.

A week or so ago a dear friend sent me this video.

Man could he shoot a slingshot or what! I hope you enjoyed the video.

Tipper

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20 Comments

  • Reply
    Brenda Moore
    April 26, 2020 at 9:50 am

    I want a slingshot! A real one! Loved the article and the video .

  • Reply
    SusieQ & Donnie Ray
    April 25, 2020 at 12:48 pm

    Wow that was so interesting and amazing to see ….we had store-bought sling-shots too though I was never very good at using them , even somewhat dangerous haha ,,,kind of like when an untrained shooter of a rifle raises it to his shoulder to shoot and everyone in the field of reference falls flat on the ground for fear…. we also had the boomerangs, remember those? I think they too were sometimes used a weapons or for hunting … I never was very good at that either , you see it always seemed to come back – right at my head or someone else’s. Whew ! Didn’t stick with those long…. Becoming accurate with something till it is like muscle memory, or feeling memory is kinda how my sister and I learned to play the guitar by ear, and feel … we didn’t read music so with a real live desire, coupled with a persistence in practice having an ear to hear, we learned by practiced feel where we wanted to go on those strings and which finger to put on it.. mind you I’m talking excessive practice, till you got it and moved easily in doing it,.Some days till your fingers were so sore you had to quit until you built up some good callous on your fingers.

  • Reply
    Quinn
    April 25, 2020 at 10:48 am

    I don’t make slingshots with old inner tubes these days, but I do keep one in the barn to cut pieces for various purposes. Fastest way to make a hinge on a flip-up window or small door for the goats, for one thing. One good inner tube lasts me years, and I had a time finding one the last time I needed one – my repair garage doesn’t “do” tires anymore. Who knew tires had become a specialty item? Maybe everyone but me. Anyway, I found a tire place, bought a replacement for my wheelbarrow tire, and then asked for an old inner tube from their trash pile. Had to convince them I wasn’t going to try to float down a river in it! Told them they could slice it in two on the spot if they were concerned about that.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    April 24, 2020 at 4:43 pm

    I used to “shoot from the hip” and shoot cigarettes out of my sister Freda’s mouth. Of course the gun was a toy and the “bullet” was a rubber suction cup on a shaft. It wouldn’t have hurt her if I had hit her but I never did. Ask me how I did it, I don’t know, I just did it.
    Freda died of cancer in 2002 at the age 48. The cancer started in her lung no doubt caused, at least in part, by cigarette smoking. If I could have continued shooting those nasty things from her mouth she might still be around today.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    April 24, 2020 at 1:44 pm

    That is amazing he can hit anything. How in the world did he get to be that proficient with a sling shot. I’ve tried it a few times and couldn’t hit the broad side of the barn, as they say.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    April 24, 2020 at 1:02 pm

    Speaking of Rhododendron we had it up on the head of Wiggins Creek in abundance. Most of it was what outsiders call rhododendron but we call laurel. Some of it, which we actually called rhododendron, looked like laurel but had smaller stature and smaller leaves. It bloomed out at a different time and had bigger blooms for its size. The bush looked like what we call ivy but with leaves and blooms like mountain laurel. Like a dwarf version of it I suppose. I was just wondering if any other folks had experienced it.

  • Reply
    [email protected]
    April 24, 2020 at 12:15 pm

    Hi,
    First I thought Mountain Laurel and Rhododendron were totally different. I have Rhododendron bushes in my yard but I have no Mountain Laurel. To me the Laurel bushes are sticky and the bloom is different. I have just never heard of them being the same.
    Second, I have a slingshot that my daddy or granddaddy made many years ago but have never known of anywhere I could get the rubber sling to put on it. Do you know of anyone who could do this for me or could sell me the piece I need.
    Thanks,
    Have a nice, safe day

  • Reply
    Sharon Schuster
    April 24, 2020 at 11:06 am

    Robert Burleson (Daddy) grew up along Roaring Creek, NC. He served in WWII and was 90 when he passed away in 2015. I still have his boyhood slingshot with a note he wrote about it:
    “Made by Ray King (1938) age 15 yr. Roaring Creek, N.C., Avery Co. My best friend. Killed in 1943 W.W.II.”
    The slingshot still has a red rubber sling. After he was gone I found 3 natural wooden forks for yet-to-be-made slingshots in his belongings. Treasures now.

  • Reply
    john t
    April 24, 2020 at 10:36 am

    I think those homemade slingshots were better than store bought ones that came apart after a few shots. They were useful in driving pigeons out of haylofts. An endless supply of ammo was taconite pellets.

  • Reply
    Roger Greene
    April 24, 2020 at 10:36 am

    Rufas Hussey is from the county I was born in and still live. We always used dogwood for our sling shots too. Also used dogwood to make bows and arrows.

    Here is Rufus on Johnny Carson’s show. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kTqTRQaYLWI

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    April 24, 2020 at 10:32 am

    I am totally impressed by Rufus. I remember when most boys had sling shots, and I admit shooting a few myself. I found a lot of boys’ toys more interesting than cooking those mud pies in the sun or dragging around a baby doll. I bought a slingshot for grandson once at an Appalachian type gift shop, and I do not think he ever even tried to use it. He found it more fun to use one of those plastic guns with lights all over it. After seeing Rufus, makes me want to do a redo on childhood to become more expert with a slingshot.

  • Reply
    Jack
    April 24, 2020 at 9:49 am

    We liked to use dogwood. After cutting them, the prongs were bent and tied into a U shape and left to dry. After drying, the slingshot was cut to size and finished( the bark was usually removed). It retained the U shape prongs.The one I still have has a spiral pattern on the handle where a vine grew around it. We used inner tube rubber which was either red or black.

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    April 24, 2020 at 9:40 am

    My grandpa made slingshots or flips as we called them for us. I think he liked to use a dogwood tree branch. We kept old bike tubes for the rubber. I have spent many hours shooting at cans and trees.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    April 24, 2020 at 9:10 am

    I still notice good slingshot stocks. We also usually got them from dogwoods or ‘mountain ivy’, otherwise known as ‘mountain laurel’. When we were boys, my brother and I carried at least one, and often two, nearly all the time. We were nowhere near as good as Rufus.

    My Dad hunted squirrels with a slingshot back in the Depression. (We also called them “flipguns”.) It was not sport. It was plain and simply putting food on the table. As for making them, he wanted red rubber but it was hard to find.

    Us boys made them with inner tube rubber, cutting out the sling straps with scissors. The art was in getting very smooth edges. Any nick would start a tear and they didn’t last no time after that. That is why we usually carried a spare. We, however, never did put food on the table using slingshot skill. And now inner tubes are not common anymore.

    Slingshots can’t really be ‘aimed’. A shooter will really be hard pressed to say how they hit a target. The target, the stock and the pad need to be in a straight line, which means that to the shooter’s eye the target is not centered in the fork. So it becomes a ‘feel’ of just knowing when everything is right. After awhile it is reflex.

  • Reply
    Ann Applegarth
    April 24, 2020 at 8:30 am

    Oh, my goodness! Rufus is almost unbelievable! Wow! I made slingshots when I was a
    kid, using Chinese elm wood and strips of rubber from a car inner tube. They were nice,
    but I couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. My family would have starved if it had been
    up to me to kill a rabbit. When I was in high school (the 1950s), my daddy still used a
    slingshot to chase birds away from Mama’s garden.

  • Reply
    Leon Pantenburg
    April 24, 2020 at 7:40 am

    Great video! I made a slingshot for my son many years ago, and he shot it a lot. He was about 7 or so, and for safety, we’d only let him shoot with peach pits. There were plenty under the tree, so there was lots of ammo. It was a lot of fun.

  • Reply
    aw griff
    April 24, 2020 at 7:40 am

    Wow!! Rufus is he’s best I’ve ever seen. I grew up with a sling shot and mostly shot marbles in it that were won at school. Dad always choose a v shaped fork for his but showed us how to take a dogwood and wire up opposite branches into a u shaped fork, complete with handle, and then we would bake it in the oven. Always used an old shoe tongue for the pouch. Dad had a good friend that had some old bicycle red rubber tubes and that’s what we used and later used the wide real rubber bands. I still have a couple of sling shots and shoot them with my Grandson.
    Dad always called a sling shot a gum slang.

    • Reply
      aw griff
      April 24, 2020 at 8:03 am

      A couple of snake stories. As a boy I was going from my Uncle’s house to my Grandparent’s house. Instead of taking the road I went around the hill on a cow path and a big blacksnake rarred up in the path almost against me. Already had my sling shot loaded and shot that snake right through the top of it’s head. No, I don’t claim to be that good all the time just a bad day for the snake. I never kill blacksnakes after growing up.
      About 15 years ago while fishing in the Red River with a friend a copperhead slithered over the hill and stopped on the trail we were on and coiled up right in front of us. My friend had a sling shot and using large lead split shot, killed it.

  • Reply
    Don Byers
    April 24, 2020 at 6:36 am

    I made a lot of those in the ’50’s. We used rubber from old bicycle tires. Some folks called them ‘Flips”.

    Don

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    April 24, 2020 at 5:35 am

    Tipper,
    Me and Harold got awfully good with a Sling Shot. We both had one and we got to where we Rabbit Hunted with one. It wouldn’t kill ’em, but it would hold him till you got there. We wasn’t as good as the man in the video, but we practiced alot and rocks were plentiful.

    We made the patch out of old boot toungs, the other parts were made from an old inner tube, and Laurels were plentiful. We had no problem killing birds or even Dominerkers. Even Snakes, a copperhead didn’t stand a chance, we’d team up on him, then call the Fiests. They hated snakes and would shake the stuffings out of them. …Ken

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