It may be no surprise to you that one of my favorite fictional characters is Ayla from Jean Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear Series. Ayla rocks my prehistoric world. So, inspired by her hunting prowess, several years ago I decided to make my own sling out of parachute cord and store-bought leather. I had some success with that rough design. Earlier this year I became re-inspired by the sling and I decided to make one completely by hand using “native” materials.
A sling is an ancient weapon that allows the hunter to throw objects such as rocks with more speed and force than is possible with just the arm alone (think David and Goliath). The origin of the sling remains unknown however it is a weapon found throughout the world and has been used for thousands of years. It’s effectiveness is in the hands of the hunter – once you are well practiced the sling can become a deadly weapon.
The weapon is very simple in design: you need two lengths of cord and a pouch. At the end of one cord there should be a knot and the end of the other cord a loop to go around your finger. When the sling is hanging at your side it should reach just above the ankle.
I wanted my sling to be a mixture of fiber and leather. My weaving skills aren’t quite up to snuff and so was rather daunted by the option of weaving a fiber pouch. I went to a great website called: www.slinging.org to get some ideas of how to design my sling. Back in November I had harvested dying Stinging Nettle stalks in order to obtain their fiber. Stalks that are still green and then dried work best for this as they are not already rotten from the soaking rains that come in the Fall. I decided I wanted to use nettle fiber for my cords and for the pocket/pouch use the deer hide my husband and I tanned several years ago. While on the slinging.org website I found an article by Paul Campbell about sling designs. I found out that the Pomo people of California actually made slings out of nettle and leather.
The first step of my project was to break apart the nettle stalks in order to release the fibers within. Stinging Nettle fiber is incredibly strong and versatile and has been used for thousands of years for projects from cordage to clothing. The fibers are in between the pith or inside of the stalk and the outer bark. Using a rock or a stick I crack the stalk up an down then begin the tedious process of removing the pith from the fibers careful not to tear off the precious fibers. I ended up with a very nice basket full of fibers. Before I begin to work with the fibers I rub them between my hands in order to remove the chaff or outer bark so that they become supple.
Next I began to reverse wrap the fibers in order to make a rope. Reverse wrap is a very ancient and solid way to make rope – it is hard to explain but fairly easy to do. Here is an article on how to do it from Wild Wood Survival.
I decided to make a sling completely attached, or in other words not having two separate cords tied at the pouch. I twisted the first side of the string to the desired length with the very beginning twisted into a loop that fits over my middle finger. At the base of the first length of cord I split this so that I could have the outline of the pocket then reattached the fibers back together on the other side as shown. Then I twisted the other half of the cord to meet the same length of the first tying a knot at the end.
Now I was ready for my leather. I cut out the leather adding extra lengths on either side so I could wrap it around the ends that attach the pouch for added strength. Here is where I hit an obstacle. How do I sew on the leather over the fibers? The nettle fibers alone (not wrapped) weren’t going to be strong enough thread and I didn’t have any real sinew on hand. I caved and went for fake sinew – however once I get some real sinew I will swap it out.
Once sewn, I added a slit in the middle of the pouch for added grip around the stones I will be slinging. After slinging a few times I am very happy with how it turned out. I may shorten it slightly for better snap when it goes around or over my head but I am very excited with how silently it turns in the air!
Practicing the sling can be tricky since you don’t want to actually hurt anything while in practice. Be careful where you choose to throw. Rounded rocks work very well however it can be a pain finding them then losing them. A friend suggested rolling balls of clay and letting them dry without firing them and they simply bust apart when hitting your target!