'Slingshots, or "Flips"

When I was a young lad of about four or five years old, my dad decided that I needed a toy that most boys in the South had and that was a slingshot or in local language, a flip. Of course, most people know what I am talking about so there is no need to describe a slingshot. The unique thing about my first flip is that it was crafted from the wooden part of an old mouse trap. That would produce a flip just about right for my five-year old hand. So, he carved it. Masterpiece, I thought. Two rubber bands about 1/4" wide provided the power with which I could sling rocks at any target I desired. Not too much power, but just enough to make it fun and functional. Of course, I was warned about windows, cars, other people and such. The danger of hitting someone in the eye was drilled into me and I was instructed never to shoot in a person's direction.

So, from an old mousetrap, I had my first slingshot. It was one of many that I would make for myself over the years and they improved as my slingshot making skills increased. I found a certain kind of wide rubber band that is the best for making a slingshot I ever saw; highly stretchable with excellent rebound qualities. Prior to finding that particular rubber band, I would cut strips of rubber from old tire inner tubes. Yes, that's right! All tires used to have inner tubes which were inflated inside the tire casing itself. Almost none of them are used today except in tractor tires and such. Inner tube rubber worked very well but nothing like the rubber bands I later found. My "flips" were famous in the neighborhood. Plenty of velocity and long range. Others wanted one just like mine. I never gave up the secret.

I was good with a slingshot which requires that a person have the ability to shoot "instinctively". You can't "aim" a "flip" very effectively. You just have to learn how to shoot the projectile (usually a smooth rock) by looking at the target and "lettin' 'er fly! I made my flips by either carving a "staff" or cutting one out of a bush or tree. They were shaped like a "Y" which is standard. Crepe Myrtle trees usually have a number of flip staffs in them. I used them a lot.

The term "flip" actually comes from a slingshot that has only one single "staff". The rubber band is attached at the top of that single staff. It is hard to aim and is really a "flip" in the truest meaning of the word. My dad made me a single staff "flip" when I was about seven years old. I got pretty good with it but it is not as good as a true slingshot with the "Y" staff. I remember a funny story about my "flip." I was over at my cousins' house one day and spied a bird on the telephone line (remember telephone wires?). My Uncle didn't really like me having the flip at his house. He was worried about whether or not his kids were safe from it. But, anyway, I saw this bird and just took a quick "flip" of a shot toward it on the telephone line. Believe it or not, I hit that unlucky bird right in the head and killed it dead as a doornail. I tried to act nonchalant about hitting the bird but it didn't do any good. My Uncle, who was watching out of their front window, immediately sprang onto the porch and excoriated me for killing his bird. I never felt so guilty and sorry for something in my life. He told me to never bring that flip into his yard again. And I didn't! I really didn't blame him but it was an unfortunate "accident."

I used to go squirrel hunting with my slingshot when I was a teenager. My skills had really gotten good at that point. And, if one hits a squirrel with a good rock or a ball bearing, you can heat up the frying pan if you eat squirrels. I tried it one time. Tastes like other things you tried once and didn't know if you really wanted to or not.... Chicken. I tried fried rattlesnake once! Chicken. Alligator...Chicken. Everything you thought you would never eat tastes like the poor ole Chicken. Several of my "buddies" from those years still talk about how I could shoot a slingshot. I don't think I was a good as they remember (you know how years enhance things). But, they were not totally wrong. I always had a "flip" with me and my left front pocket would have several smooth stones just waiting to be used. My hip pocket had a worn spot where I carried my favorite weapon. Sort of like some people today have the shape of a snuff can worn on their hip pocket. You've seen it.

I kid you not, flips I make today are so powerful that they are seriously dangerous. Recently I stood on my daughter's front porch in the country and shot ball bearing projectiles about 200 yards down into the woods. People don't believe that but it is true. I lie not! One can't do that with a rock but a smooth ball bearing shot will travel that far because of the lack of wind resistance. You could hear the shot hit a tree down in the woods with a loud "plock".

Kids today don't play with such primitive "toys." Flips don't have a "mouse" to make them work and they have no electronic parts or a screen. But they work!! If they tried getting going into the woods with a good slingshot they would get "hooked" and it just might get them out from in front of a screen and show them that there are other fun things to do besides electronic games and television. They would work off calories and be in better health as well. I am so thankful that I lived as a kid in an era which championed such primitive and mesmerizing toys as my Slingshots.

William F. Harrell

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