Slingshots depend on strong elastic materials, typically vulcanized natural rubber or the equivalent, and thus date back no further than the invention of vulcanized rubber by Charles Goodyear in 1839 (patented in 1844). By 1860, this “new engine” had already established a reputation for juvenile use in vandalism, as well as at least one homicide.
For much of their early history, slingshots were a “do it yourself” item, typically made from a forked branch to form the “Y” shaped handle, with rubber strips sliced from items such as inner tubes or other sources of good vulcanized rubber and firing suitably sized stones.
While early slingshots were most associated with young vandals, they were also capable hunting arms in the hands of a skilled user. Firing metallic projectiles, such as lead musket balls or buckshot, or steel ball bearings, the slingshot was capable of taking game such as quail, pheasant, rabbit, and dove. Placing multiple balls in the pouch produces a shotgun effect, such as firing a dozen BBs at a time for hunting small birds. With the addition of a suitable rest, the slingshot can also be used to fire arrows, allowing the hunting of medium sized game at short ranges.
While commercially made slingshots date back to at least 1918, with the introduction of the Zip-Zip, a cast iron model, it was not until the post World War II years saw a surge in the popularity, and legitimacy, of slingshots. They were still primarily a home-built proposition; a 1946 Popular Science article details a slingshot builder and hunter using home-built slingshots made from forked dogwood sticks to take small game at ranges of up to 30′ with No. 0 lead buckshot(.32 in., 8 mm diameter)
The Wham-O company, founded in 1948, was named after their first product, the Wham-O slingshot. It was made of ash wood and used flat rubber bands. The Wham-O was suitable for hunting with a draw weight of up to 45 pounds force (200 newtons), and was available with an arrow rest.
The 1940s also saw the creation of the National Slingshot Association, headquartered in San Marino, California, which organized slingshot clubs and competitions nationwide. Despite the slingshot’s reputation as a tool of juvenile delinquents, the NSA reported that 80% of slingshot sales were to men over 30 years old, many of them professionals. John Milligan, a part-time manufacturer of the aluminium-framed John Milligan Special, a hunting slingshot, reported that about a third of his customers were physicians.
The middle 1950s saw two major innovations in slingshot manufacture, typified by the Wrist-Rocket Company of Columbus, Nebraska, later renamed Trumark. The Wrist-Rocket was made from bent steel rods that formed not only the handle and fork, but also a brace that extended backwards over the wrist, and provided support on the forearm to counter the torque of the bands. The Wrist-Rocket also used rubber tubing rather than flat bands, which was attached to the backwards-facing fork ends by sliding over the tips of the forks, where it was held by friction.
By 2001, the flat band slingshot had disappeared from commercial production in favor of the tubular band. Flat bands are preferred by custom makers and shooters in national competition, however, as they provide more efficiency and accuracy. Saunders Archery, who for years manufactured the original Wrist-Rocket, consulted with national slingshot champion Bill Herriman, to develop a new, high power flat band slingshot, the Wrist-Rocket Pro. Not only was it the first commercial flat bland slingshot on the market in years, but its design was based on competition slingshots, and exhibits a large number of modern slingshot features. Made almost entirely of plastic, it features a wrist lock and an extended fork, allowing good stability and a long pull with heavy bands.
Optional features include a bubble-level fiber optic sight, set up for firing with the slingshot canted sideways, and a stabilizing weight to moderate movement of the slingshot under recoil. The Wrist Rocket Pro also folds into thirds to reduce the overall length for carrying and storage, and has provisions for a lock that will lock the slingshot in the folded position, preventing unauthorized use.