A slungshot is a maritime tool consisting of a weight, or "shot," affixed the end of a long cord often by being wound into the center of a knot called a "Monkey's Fist." It is used to cast line from one location to another, often mooring line. The cord end is tied to the heavier line and the weighted end of the slungshot is thrown across the intervening space where a person picks it up and pulls the line across.
The slungshot was often used as an improvised weapon or specifically created or modified for use as a civilian weapon where it functions as a flail. The cord was often tied around the wrist or looped around fingers, the thumb, or the wrist with a lanyard loop woven into the cord. The shot would be carried in the hand, pocket, or some other hiding place about the clothing. When called to duty the shot would be swung in a flail-like manner or, possibly, upon rare occasions, flung directly in the face.
In the 19th Century references to the slungshot as a civilian weapon used by criminals were made in U.S. newspapers such as the New York Times. When weights were listed they varied from a few ounces to over a pound. Details were frequently sketchy in these accounts, however, when details are available, the slungshots being referred to were not specifically made in the maritime manner but, rather, were often any sort of improvised flexible weapon with a weighted end. Terms such as "slapjack" have been used interchangeably with "slungshot." Frequently in these accounts death or serious injury due to head trauma was the result of using the slungshot, leading to the conclusion that the head was the primary target.
The concept of a flexible weapon with a weighted end is not unique to the west nor the maritime tradition. The slungshot bears similarity in design and function with weapons from other cultures such as the Manriki Gusari, the rope dart, and the weighted chain. Similar improvised weapon are common and include perennial classics such as a billiard ball, rock, or bar of soap in a sock, or a padlock on the end of a chain.
In an attempt to reduce violent crime and deny weapons to criminal, most states in the U.S. have banned carry or possession of the slungshot in state legislation. There is some debate over the historical effectiveness of this measure. Some argue that violent crime using slungshot has, indeed, declined while others suggest that the criminals have simply substituted other weapons and that the popularity of the slungshot has declined over time in favor of other weapons.
In a modern context the martial use of the slungshot is beginning to reclaim mindshare. This is due in part to the recognition of its utility by those interested practical and pragmatic Self Defense with concealable improvised weapons and in part due to a comparatively recent resurgence in interest in Western Martial Arts. To that end seminars and texts describing construction and use of the slungshot are being presented.