I don’t know many hunters who have not, at one time or another, messed around with a slingshot. Sure, most of us discarded them once we had the means to acquire bows, rifles, and shotguns — maybe even before that, if your mom or dad could link your sling shot to a broken window somewhere in the neighbourhood. But, if you are like me, you probably still harbour fond memories. Slingshots, after all, are a whole lot of fun.
That’s why, recently, I reacquainted myself with them. At first, this was fuelled more by nostalgia and between-seasons boredom than any serious thoughts of hunting. I was soon reminded of the power and precision of modern slingshots, however — and that changed everything.
I very quickly realized there was a reasonable chance of taking small game at realistic hunting ranges with one of these things. Of course, I would have to work at it. It meant taking slingshot marksmanship seriously and remembering to employ the same foundational principles of consistent form and focus that I employ with my traditional bows. As soon as I did that, accuracy became the norm rather than the exception, and my thoughts naturally turned to how I might utilize a slingshot during the hunting season.
Not the stereotypical forked stick
The slingshots I’m referring to are not the forked stick kind Bart Simpson carries in his back pocket. These ones are ergonomically designed and made of modern materials — usually a combination of metal and moulded plastic and basically come in three distinct configurations — of which there are all sorts of variations. Some even have onboard fibre-optic sights and Picatinny rails for flashlights. I’ll leave the research regarding specific models and features to you but will offer my initial impressions regarding each configuration.
Flat-band slingshots are my favourite. As the name implies, they use flat rather than tubular latex bands. If draw weights are equal, flat bands shoot faster than tubular bands because the bands are lighter and have less internal friction to deal with — think of it as a lighter bowstring. Most trick shooters and serious slingshot hunters in the United Kingdom (where “catapult hunting” is quite popular) use flat-band models because their design makes aiming easier — essentially, you can aim down the band. Plus, you can easily customize the band for your draw length to maximize performance. The sole disadvantage of flat bands is that if you shoot a lot (and you will),you will need to replace bands fairly frequently. Rest easy; this is neither expensive nor difficult.
Tubular band slingshots, such as the wrist-rocket style models most of us are more familiar with, also have their charms. They are easy to find and tend to be less expensive. Bear in mind, with any slingshot, $100 will get you a very high-end unit. They are also powerful, rugged, and easily capable of killing small game. For me, they required more of a learning curve to achieve the kind of accuracy flat bands provide. Also, the latex bands tend to break down faster when exposed to sunlight. Lastly, they are slightly less compact than most flat-band models, which might be an issue for some.
Circular slingshots are a relatively new design that look nothing like a traditional slingshot. They are currently marketed as the Pocket Shot and feature replaceable latex pockets instead of bands. You place the ammunition inside the pocket, pull to a generally shorter draw, and release. They launch ammunition very fast and can be quite accurate, even though you must use a floating anchor point, since it’s difficult to attain a full draw. In its most basic form, the Pocket Shot is simply a circular moulded plastic frame that holds the latex pocket. As such, it is easily placed in a pocket or pack, which makes it very handy. You can also get Pocket Shots with a hammer handle pistol grip, which I would recommend over the basic version. The handle allows you to better use the sight and really makes it a much more viable tool for small game because of the consistent accuracy gained. Of course, you lose the compactness with this configuration.
The slingshot as a hunting tool
When it comes right down to it, the slingshot is a hunting tool that fills a niche — and that niche is an easy to pack and quiet hunting tool for short-range use on small game. In Ontario, they are legal for small game only, which does not include waterfowl. (See sidebar.)
Most slingshots and the ammunition required for a day afield easily fit in a day pack or, depending on model, a coat pocket, so you can always have a small game hunting tool with you on scouting trips or casual walks in the bush during hunting season. I typically keep one handy in case I see a grouse sitting in a tree or walking off the shoulder of a road or trail in an area where it is safe to pursue it legally, once I’m off the right of way. Like archery gear, slingshots are backyard friendly (check your municipal regulations first)or ideal for use in small woodlots where you might not want to shoot a firearm for fear of annoying neighbouring residents.
Some enterprising hunters take them along during rifle seasons for big game. That way, if a grouse, rabbit, squirrel, or hare shows up, they can take a crack at it without alerting big game in the area. I also like to use them when hunting big game over bait, so that I can scare off other non-target species, like raccoons or red squirrels that are stealing my bait. They also work well moving target species you passed up on off your bait at last light so you can come down from your tree stand or step out of your ground blind undetected, like moving a doe out of your area when you don’t have a doe tag so it’s not alerted to your stand or blind location. In both situations, I’m not aiming at the animals, as sometimes all it takes is a steel ball bearing careening through the leaf duff to move a squirrel, deer, bear, or raccoon out of the area.
Many slingshots have arrow-launching capabilities. In my opinion, these are gimmicky and not worth the investment unless it is strictly for fun. They’re not legal for hunting big game or waterfowl and it’s far easier to take small game with regular slingshot ammo, which is less expensive and easier to carry. If you want to bow hunt, get a bow.
While slingshots are not considered a firearm under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, it is legal to use them when hunting small game in Ontario. They are not legal for waterfowl or big game (even in bow configuration) however. They also might not be legal within the confines of your municipality, so you need to check your local by-laws before you start plinking at cans in the yard or chasing small game.
If you plan on using a slingshot as a small game hunting tool, there are a few things you should know. Most importantly, accuracy is everything, since headshots on small critters are the goal. That means you should be able to hit a ping-pong ball sized target at realistic hunting ranges with some regularity. Most beginners can achieve this with a week or two of practise, especially if you concentrate on maintaining consistent form and focus. Some people are naturals. My daughter Carmen was what I’d call hunt-ready at 10 yards after one afternoon of shooting — and she loved shooting slingshots so much I had to buy her one of her own or risk losing mine.
To get hunt-ready, you need to choose a ball bearing size that works best for your sling shot and then practise only with it. You also need to settle on the material for your ammo: that could be steel, marbles, or lead. I use 3⁄8-inch steel ball bearings because they are readily available and effective, but some hunters prefer lead because it’s heavier, packs a better punch, and because lead tends to flatten rather than ricochet when it hits something. Lead balls are the gold standard but are expensive and harder to acquire unless you mould your own.
I also know a fellow who kills grey squirrels with marbles launched from a wrist rocket-style slingshot. Marbles are inexpensive and easily found at many dollar stores.
Regardless of your ammo choice, remember all other things being equal, the heavier the ball bearing the harder the hit, but the more pronounced the trajectory. Experiment and decide on the trade-offs you’re comfortable with.
Once you’ve settled all that, it is practise, practise, practise. Start your sessions at close range (say five yards) and shoot at fun targets, like pop cans, until you can hit them routinely out to 10 or so yards. Then, switch over to a smaller target. I prefer spent shot shell hulls, and practise until you can do the same eight or so times out of 10. This sounds like a lot of work but it is actually an enjoyable way to pass the time — plus, it is something you can do for a few minutes every day if you set up a safe backyard, garage, or indoor range. You will actually be quite surprised at how much better your shooting gets after only a few sessions.
This type of hunting will also make you a better stalker since the only way you are going to take an animal is to slip within your effective range, which for most of us mere mortals is less than 15 yards.
The great part about slingshot hunting is that, while the hits are spectacular, even the misses tend to be a lot of fun — and when you finally take a game animal like a squirrel, pigeon, grouse, hare, or rabbit, you’ll walk out of the field with a feeling of pride, knowing that you mastered the tool just as well and perhaps even better than some hotshot 10-year-old.
In the meantime, do your best to steer clear of windows. Trust me.
Ammo catch box
If you want to spend less time looking for ammo when practising, use a slingshot catch box behind your target. This could be any cardboard box with a piece of towel or other heavy material hung loosely from it. When the ammo strikes the towel, it dissipates its energy and drops, hopefully into the box.
When practising, always wear safety glasses in case a band breaks or a rebound occurs. Check your bands for defects and proper attachment before and during each session. If you see any flaws, don’t shoot. Lastly, treat a slingshot as you would any other potentially lethal hunting tool — because that’s what they are. This means shoot in a safe direction at a target that has a proper backstop.
Originally published in the August 2020 edition of Ontario OUT of DOORS magazine