Whenever temperatures go above 85° Fahrenheit (29.4° C) in The Brushlands you can expect to see rattlesnakes. The temperature varies but I’m giving you an average. In past years I was an avid rattlesnake hunter but not anymore. I’ll kill a rattler if it’s around camp but otherwise I leave them alone. Uninhibited brush clearing over the last four decades has left the upland region void of sufficient rattlesnake habitat. The few remaining areas still harboring diverse brushland have withered to the extent that rattlesnakes are few in number especially compared to the millions that existed years back.
When I was little my grandfather and two uncles would gather around the cabin to shoot their slingshots. Uncle Bill was a medical technologist so we had latex tubing long before it became a popular slingshot material. When woods roaming we’d look for suitable orquetas or branched Ys of mesquite and chaparro prieto. At my father’s ranch in Mexico, El Cuervo, we’d search for the best slingshot wood of them all, barretta.
My grandfather and my two uncles could easily hit tin cans thrown into the air or bust rattlesnake heads fifteen feet away. The people at Moore Air Force Base northwest of my hometown of Mission even invited Uncle Bill to come out every evening he could and clear the runways of rattlesnakes with his slingshot.
Nonetheless, as a boy we’d often just use long sticks to crush the heads of rattlesnakes lying coiled on the cow paths we followed. The method was perhaps a bit nerve wracking for the uninitiated but for those of us who’d spent our lives in the woods it seemed natural. Slowly, we brought the stick straight forward into the snakes’ heads even as they rattled and prepared to bite. The trick was to wait until the last second when the end of the stick was but an inch or two from the snake’s head and then jab the stick with all our might and thus pin the head to the ground. A thorough twisting of the stick was all it took, and the method was sound and practical since no expensive bullets were consumed or precious marbles fired from a slingshot. Our tactics were never questioned until one afternoon a friend of mine picked up a mesquite branch to deliver the coup de grace and when he thrust the stick into the rattler’s head—it was a big snake with a head the size of a man’s fist—the stick snapped and my friend fell forward. Somehow he was able to keep from falling for he was well motivated, and even though the snake sent its head outward like a missile, no contact was made. From that point on an amendment, perhaps in the form of a mental footnote, was attached to the formula: Never use dry sticks.
Nowadays, I usually carry two slingshots with me when I’m in the woods. I gave my last two slingshots away so over the past week I made two new shooters.
During a break in the work I found some shade and as I looked around I saw a nice orqueta of chaparro prieto wood. The day before I’d found a good mesquite Y as well. I’ve added one of my “working” crooked knives to my little shoulder pack gear and I’d brought along my Gransfors Bruks mini axe and a rat-tail file just in case I had the chance to work on a slingshot.
I used the Swiss Army Knife’s saw to cut the piece of wood. Then I used the crooked knife to remove the bark and do the final shaping after accomplishing some preliminary work with the mini-axe. Afterward I used the rat-tail file (pushing it forward at an angle across the wood) to smooth up the entire orqueta. Then I used my trapper model pocket knife’s sheep’s foot blade (not pictured) as a scraper to get a smooth finish on the wood. From there I used the rat-tail file to make the two grooves where I tied on some monofilament line in order to secure the rubber tubing. The entire project took about thirty minutes. When I got back to the cabin I rubbed Tung Oil on the wood then went out and shot dirt clods for about forty minutes. Like my ancestors I can spend hours shooting a slingshot. Work, nighttime and the midday heat are the only things that get in the way.
Above are my two finished slingshots. The one on the left needed a parachute cord wrapping in order to get the handle size large enough to fit my hand. I decided to add a bit of wrapping to the areas where my fingers brace the wood. I like the look and it’s comfortable too. The slingshot on the right came out perfect for my hand and needed no further work.