By Matt Hecker
When I was a young boy I was never allowed to have a BB gun, so I got a slingshot instead. I carried a slingshot almost everywhere I went for many years, and so did several of my friends. We spent countless hours in the woods, shooting anything that caught our attention. Over time, I began to appreciate unlimited, cheap ammo, the simplicity of the slingshot, and the satisfaction of hitting my target. I never missed that BB gun. I have very fond memories of those days, so when the opportunity to attend and cover the East Coast Slingshot Tournament for Woodsmonkey was offered to me, I gladly accepted.
The East Coast Slingshot Tournament is held annually at the East Huntingdon Sportsmen’s Association in Alverton, PA. This year, the event was held on June 5, 6, and 7, and my host for Saturday was Nathan Masters. He is the owner of SimpleShot Shooting Sports, a leading company in the modern slingshot industry. Nathan was accompanied by his fellow members of Team SimpleShot, a group of friendly people that simply love everything related to slingshots. He and his team traveled up from North Carolina for the event. My editor at Woodsmonkey, Tim Stetzer, met Nathan at PWYP (Practice What You Preach), which is a yearly camping retreat in North Carolina at which participants focus on outdoor survival and bushcraft practices. It was there that Tim found out about the yearly East Coast Slingshot Tournament. I contacted Nathan to get the details, and I began my research and preparation for the upcoming day. Much of what I read reminded me of my earlier days, and I quickly realized that slingshots are becoming more popular each year.
While talking to Nathan, I learned all about the resurgence in the popularity of slingshots. His company alone sells over 20 different types of slingshots, in addition to all different types of accessories. Modern slingshots are made of a variety of different materials, including exotic woods, micarta, G-10, high density polyethylene, and wood laminates. In the past several years, Nathan’s company has sold tens of thousands of slingshots, in addition to all types of accessories.
For the tournament, there were many events and happenings, but the 2 main attractions were the shooting range and the 3D walk-through-the-woods course.
The shooting range was for anyone who just wanted to relax and have fun shooting a variety of targets. Nathan walked me down to the range, where I met twenty or so people already shooting away. The range included many different types of targets to hit. There were large saw blades hanging from poles, a mechanically rotating set of targets, diamond-shaped spinner targets, traditional paper targets, and other random metal objects hanging from poles.
The first thing I noticed was the different types of slingshots each person preferred. There were large slingshots that extended forward from the shooting hand and a long brace that rested on the middle of the forearm. Others had more traditional models that were smaller and made in a “Y” shape with a regular simple handle. I also noticed that some shooters preferred to hold the “Y” vertically, while others held the “Y” at a 90 degree angle, or sideways.
For the ammunition, this group used steel ball bearings of varying size almost exclusively. They buy them in bulk, and reuse most of what they shoot. At the back of the shooting range, there were large sheets and blankets hung up to act as a backstop. Periodically, the group would stop shooting and retrieve the ball bearings using long sticks with magnets at the ends.
At the shooting range, I met several people that really have a passion for slingshots. Ray Bazonski, who has attended the tournament since 2010, traveled up from Georgia. He was the winner of the tournament in 2012, 2013, and 2014. Ray gave me some background information regarding the general style of slingshots. He explained that some shooters like slingshots that shoot the projectile through the “Y”. These are called “through the fork” slingshots. Others prefer a style called a “pickle fork” slingshot that has a very small “Y” fork, and the projectile flies over this small fork. Ray said he really enjoys coming to this tournament to be with others that share his passion and to learn from them.
Nathan also introduced me to Richard “Blue” Skeen, affectionately just called “Blue” by everyone there. He is considered to be one of the great legends in the slingshot community. “Blue” is from Virginia, and, even though he is in his early 80’s, he is still one of the best. “Blue” got his start in Michigan when someone at a conservation club introduced him to the slingshot. He says he got his greatest enjoyment from hunting small game with a slingshot. He told me he once harvested 57 squirrels in one year. Through the years, he was National Champion 5 times, appeared on the Wide World of Sports, and has attended countless slingshot tournaments and events. He has been shooting competitively since 1970. He also enjoys making traditional slingshots out of simple wood forks from branches.
I also met another slingshot enthusiast named Bill Hays, owner of a slingshot company named Pocket Predator Slingshots. Bill traveled from central Texas for this event, and this was his second year attending the East Coast Slingshot Tournament. He designs and makes all different types of slingshots which he sells and gives away. He also spent time with me talking about his passion for the sport, explaining that shooting slingshots provides a safer outlet for one’s desire to shoot. Bill invited me to tag along with him and a group of other shooters as they walked through the 3D course.
The 3D course and the other accuracy shoots were the main events for the competitors. The course consisted of 30 separate targets located at various points along a winding trail in the woods. Each shooter had to stand in the same location, and they had one chance to hit a metal target in the shape of a turkey, a pig, or some other animal. If they hit the target, they got a point. In addition, there were other events that were scored, such as 5 shots at 70 yards, 5 shots at 40 yards, a standard and expert target at 11 yards, a 25 yard target, and a timed can shoot at 11 yards. Points for the 3D course and the other shoots were added up to create a final score. Nathan Masters came in first place with a score of 135. Ray Bazonski came in second place with a score of 129, and Bill Hays came in third with a score of 128.
After our walk through the 3D course, I got to do some shooting of my own at the range. Nathan gave me some pointers, and away I went. Memories from my childhood came rushing back, and I couldn’t help but have an appreciation for this popular sport and the people I met. Overall, I had a great time. Everyone I met was friendly and laid back. I learned a lot from everyone who took the time to talk to me. If you are interested in anything related to slingshots and shooting, you should attend the next East Coast Slingshot Tournament in early summer of 2016.
Check out Nathan Masters and his company at www.simple-shot.com.
Bill Hays and his company can be found at www.pocketpredator.com.
Click through to see more pics from the Tournament