Weapon's Of The Bible : The Sling
The sling is a very powerful and very accurate weapon. In the hands of an expert a sling can have an effective range of up to 1,300 feet (400 meters). Most slingers are accurate up to 500 to 650 feet (150 - 200 meters). One slingers club recorded a member slinging a projectile over 500 meters, that is over 1600 feet. A typical sling would use either small stones, hardened clay, or even lead shot for ammunition. In all cases the ammunition would weight approximately one pound. The ammunition would leave the sling in excess of 90 miles per hour and would certainly be lethal at a range of up to 500 feet, or more. The Roman military considered the sling to be the equal of the bow and arrow. The bow and arrow required less room to use but was more expensive and ammunition harder to produce.
An interesting note. A modern 45 caliber handgun is considered accurate up to 75 feet for the average person and 150 feet for a good marksman. This would mean a person armed with a modern day firearm such as the 45 would likely never get off a shot against a skilled slinger. According to the U.S. Military you would not be much better off with a 9 millimeter which has an effective range of 165 feet.
A sling is very easy and cheap to make. It consists of a patch of cloth or leather with two straps which would be tied to each side of the cloth. The stone, or other ammunition, would be placed in the center of the cloth. The operator would then swing the sling in a small circle, perhaps multiple times, until it was at the desired speed. One of the two straps would then be released and the stone would be thrown toward the target. With careful and consistent practice at releasing the stone, the thrower can improve their accuracy as well as the velocity at which the stone is propelled. An experienced person can launch a projectile at speeds at or exceeding 90 miles per hour.
A sling was so accurate and so powerful that one Roman writer made comments that soldiers in leather armor were in more danger from a sling stone than from an arrow. The stone, even if stopped by the leather armor, was capable of inflicting lethal injuries. It was recorded that unarmored bodies could be easily penetrated by a sling stone and medical books used by ancient doctors even contained instructions on the proper method to remove sling stones from a human body. It was also noted that most ancient slingers could strike their target in the head and could in fact, hit specific locations of the head or face.
Most people believe a sling is thrown in an overhead motion and takes several rotations to gain the speed needed to launch the projectile. Both of these are in error. A sling is generally used in a underhand motion and there is often only one rotation prior to releasing the projectile. While estimates vary, most agree the rate of fire for a good slinger is 16 to 18 shots per minute. That is one shot every three and a half seconds.
The sling, also commonly referred to as the Shepherd's Sling, was not only very easy to make, it was very inexpensive. A sling could be constructed from scraps and its ammunition could be collected from any creek-bed. Because of these factors, slings were very often the weapon of choice for shepherds. A shepherd was not well paid and would need an inexpensive weapon. He would also like a weapon which was compact, did not require special ammunition, and which could have lethal force if required.
Shepherds were solely responsible for the protection of their flocks. If wild animals threatened the herd the only person who could stop the attack was the shepherd. A lion, wolf, or other predator would pose a serious threat to a herd of goats or sheep, and could also pose a threat to the shepherd. A sling was the perfect weapon in these instances. With practice the shepherd could easily kill or frighten away a predator threatening their herd. Shepherds had plenty of time on their hands since there was not much to do while the sheep grazed. Time to practice and become very proficient with the sling for self protection, the protection of the herd, and for bragging rights.
Cheap, easy to use, a rapid rate of fire and lethal power, a sling met all the requirements for shepherds to protect themselves and their flock. It therefore makes perfect sense the biblical David would have had a sling, would have known how to use it, and if needed, could make it a very lethal weapon.