Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Clay Projectile for hunting (Clay ammo)

Clay bullets or hardened clay balls as a small game hunting projectile for slingshots

Warning: Some hunting images will be displayed in the context of this post as they are essential to the point of this subject matter. Game was taken on private land where said game is considered a nuisance and permission was granted to harvest said game. If you do not like hunting images please move on or enjoy the blog post :)  
Hardened clay balls as hunting projectiles have been mostly overlooked in today's modern world of iPods' tablets, of course computers and internet forums where it has become convenient to just type in the rhetorical question "what ammo should I use for hunting with a slingshot"" to which the legion of internet parrots will advise "use lead" use steel balls", yes these all do the job as does my favorite natural ammo stones. 
But have people always overlooked clay as a source for making projectiles??
Let's go back in time to a place where people did not have the conveniences of this so called advanced world of ours..

History and background

Archaeological accounts show that, in ancient Europe and the Middle East and  also in Pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica ancient people made large clay bullets that they baked in an oven for their use with the ancient sling weapon. We know the sling differs from our rubber powered slingshot yes. They made large bullets of natural clay which were then baked in an earthen oven and this ammo was used in combat,
yes combat against other human beings.  Clay sling bullets have been found in Hamoukar Syria as early as 35,000 B.C. that were used in warfare.

But I digress as we move along to the hunting oriented uses of the hardened clay projectile.

In Hunter and Gatherer societies there are known accounts of blowgun users that shot clay balls at birds to harvest as a food source, the Maya were notorious for their use of blowguns projecting clay balls.

The Eastern Pomo tribe of California hunted waterfowl with slings and clay balls that had straw within to help density and were baked in the sun.

 Here is an authentic hunting set made by Pomo hunters. From the Phoebe A. Hurst Museum of Anthropology. Ducks and mud hens were taken in the Clear Lake Area with this hunting set.

Around the 16th Century we have accounts of a projectile weapon more related to and possibly the ancestor of our rubber powered slingshot. The stone bow or stone crossbow, of this stone shooting crossbow we have records of it's use for small game. The original projectile was a rounded baked clay ball. 

This 16th Century wood cut depicts  English Hunters shooting rooks in a tree at night with a pellet crossbow which used baked clay balls as ammo. This picture is from an article "Ballistics of the Bullet shooting crossbow"
Whether or not the various naysayers believe that something as simple as hardened mud can be an effective projectile for small game, history has argued in it's favor.
 Present time: My interest in using clay balls as a slingshot hunting projectile was first sparked by some experiments using clay balls as a projectile with blowguns in mid 1990s as those experiments bared some favorable results.
I decided that a larger hardened clay ball suited to the similar sizes as the pebbles I use for hunting with my slingshots would bare fruit.
How I made the clay balls
Last year 2012.  I decided to follow with history and stick with natural clay, but because I live in an area where digging in the places where natural clay occurs would just get me into trouble? I decided to go with the arts and crafts store, there I found a natural clay under the brand AMACO  and having taken various ceramic courses in college? I knew this to be natural simple air dry clay the same stuff like you find in nature (well almost the same, as this stuff is treated to ensure freshness), very dense clay. It comes in a 10 pound block and costs about $8.00 with taxes. A very economic source for ammo I'd say considering I am just now needing a new block of clay and have so far had 300 rounds from this block of clay.
I used a 7/8 inch marble (22.225 millimeters) as my size template, simply for a visual template not an actual mold of any sort. With this visual template I started to roll my clay balls to a visually similar size to the 7/8 marble.
I let these clay balls air dry then baked these in the home oven at a basic 350 degrees for about 2.5 to 3 hours. This does not change their composition, for this to happen you would have to bake the clay in a kiln at high temperatures.
The home oven baking does help harden the clay as if heated in a smoldering fire and that was enough for my uses. The resulting clay balls were weighing between 9 to 9.5 grams after being baked, this for the record is heavier than a 1/2 inch steel ball.
With the clay balls ready to use it's time to take to the field.
Hunting with hardened clay balls
Having slingshot hunted with these fire hardened clay balls off and on during the last two years has proven that these clay projectiles can be absolutely effective with wild fowl within the pigeon sized range.
Many agriculturally fattened pigeons have fallen to these clay balls, of course anyone who has hunted these large feral barn pigeons in the States will tell you that such birds are very tough. This is due to their plumage and over all strength from being the master flyers that they are.
An example of these large pigeons is posted on my blog post regarding the old round solid elastic which was also killed with a clay ball. Like in all small game hunting it's accuracy with shot placement to vitals that has made these hunts so successful.
As successful as I had been employing these hardened clay balls for hunting pigeons, I had remembered something I read regarding the bullet shooting crossbow. It said that small game such as fowl and other animals were taken with the bullet crossbow and baked clay ammo.
The idea started to form in my mind "what other small game"? could these be the furs?  This triggered a memory of my first rabbit I killed with a slingshot in my childhood I had shot it with what I thought was a rock and on impact with it's head discovered it was a natural clay rock.
I wondered can I kill a rabbit with these fire hardened clay balls? Logically if others have killed rabbits with smaller marbles then why could I not kill a rabbit using these hardened clay balls? They after all hit harder than marbles and have proven lethal with neck and crop shots to pigeons.
Preparing clay ammo for a rabbit hunt:
By far my most used projectile for hunting rabbits remains simple natural river stones aka smooth oval pebbles which have different dimensions due to shape and are considerably heavier denser than clay.
What I decided to simply make a clay ball slightly larger, I rolled out a clay ball that was an estimated 22.9 to 23 millimeters, the resulting clay balls after being baked weighed a between 11.6 to 12 grams. This then made a better clay bullet that showed more promise if I were to attempt a rabbit harvest with said clay projectile. My first harvest with these larger clay balls is the large pigeon displayed in the link provided earlier in this post. The damage the larger clay did to that large pigeon's neck was more extensive than made with standard 7/8 clay ammo.
A display of blunt force
Before I share with you my hunter's tale I want to share with you some post hunt pictures I took for my own reference as to type of blunt force being displayed by these 23mm baked clay balls. For this we once again return to our poor man's blunt trauma measurer the steel veggie can in this case an empty can of stewed tomatoes. As this is a post hunt blunt trauma measurement, this means I used the same elastic same bands and ammo used in the hunt I will tell you of shortly. I took my Alambre Resortera wire coat hanger slingshot powered by chained office #64 rubber bands in a 3x3x3 chain and these 23mm baked clay balls and set up my simple blunt trauma test.

I set up the can in a safe place and from about 25 feet took one shot using the same chained rubber bands used in the soon to be described hunt. I took  one shot and the clay ball impacted with the upper part of the steel can near the unopened side. These pictures will show the pebble like impact of the 23 mm clay ball to the steel can. 
Pictured is the same clay ball shot into the can as you can see the clay ball had no damage and the impact to the can was pebble like some serious blunt force. Consider that the clay ball impacted with the supported sealed side of the can and you have an idea of the impact it exerted. 
A rabbit hunters tale and experience
A few weeks back I went on a hunt in the twilight hours. My chosen hunting tools for this day is my trusty Alambre Resortera powered chained #64 office rubber bands in a 3x3x3 chain per band. My projectiles were varied, I took some larger 3/4 inch cat eye marbles, also these special 23 mm clay balls and some 1/2 inch hex nuts, I was prepared for varying circumstances. 
First I decided to try for pigeons and when I saw no pigeons in the palm trees they usually roost, I moved on to a special place I know that has a population of Desert Cottontail Rabbits.  I had a bad foot injury so I could not walk to these places normally I will walk a couple of miles on a hunt but when you're injured things are different.
 I arrived at this special location and I immediately saw several desert cottontail rabbits. They were a bit jumpy due to the local feral cat population, I saw one cottontail near a fence area in which these rabbits normally retreat to when pursued; I drove past this rabbit.
I slowly came out of my car and slowly stalked to a range of 20 yards where the cottontail was excellently camouflaged with the dry grass, as it was twilight this made it hard to see the rabbit.
I used an old trick that helps you see a hidden image better I squinted (lowered my vision) then I saw the complete out line of the cottontail and when I fully opened my eyes I could then see the rabbit's full outline in the dry grass.
 I decided that this was my ultimate chance to try my 23mm hardened clay balls on this rabbit as this was as close as I could get.
I loaded the clay ball in my slingshot shot pouch and without thinking and in one continuous motion drew back and released my shot. The attempt was for the rabbit's head but the way the rabbit was sitting up watching me the shot dropped a fraction and gave a solid impact with the rabbit's neck.
The impact completely stopped the rabbit which fell twitching and doing what some rabbit hunters call the death dance. To ensure there would be no further suffering I moved in immediately and gave it a quick chop with the hand behind head and neck.
Needless to say the clay ball immediately stopped this cottontail rabbit upon impact. I have seen rabbits run with a 22 LR also when shot with pellet guns, yet this humble fire hardened 23mm clay ball immediately stopped this rabbit.
I hope to make some good conejo en salsa as my tia and abuelita used to make for me when I hunted rabbits in Mexico as a kid.

Well there you are, clay balls can take even rabbits. If you practice and hone your accuracy you can with a simple home made slingshot powered by office rubber bands and simple hardened mud feed yourself and your family.

There is no need to look for fancy made slingshots or buy lead balls from some fancy vendor. As long as you have stones and or clay mud you will never be with out suitable hunting projectiles for your slingshot.


  1. Hey Nico i was wondering how you make your wire slingshot frame?

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