This is a bit of a different kind of post, usually I go through a complicated or simple build of whatever I felt like building, but this time I am going to talk about the kind of slingshot ammo I like to shoot: the humble B.B.
Just to be clear, I am talking about the tiny ones, the .177 (4.5mm) kind, not the larger kind. It is pretty common to call anything steel and round a BB but really, a TRUE BB is .177 calibre and has its roots in shot gun shell ammo. I am going to go through why I like shooting them and a few of my favourite band measurements so you can enjoy this inexpensive, addictive, fire-and-forget ammo.
One of the biggest (or smallest if you prefer) reasons why I love BB’s is the cost. At the time of this article, a bottle of Copperhead 6000 ct BBs is about $16.99 Canadian. After taxes (here in Manitoba) that’s just shy of $19 for 6000 rounds. That’s 1/3 of cent per round. Yes, a FRACTION of a single cent per round. You can understand why I call these fire-and-forget ammo.
Don’t want 6000? They also come in 1600 ct bottles, which equates to 1 cent per round. Considering we don’t even have pennies anymore, 1 cent per round is VERY affordable.
I was pretty aggressive on shooting these little guys all spring, summer and fall, and even gave away a whole bunch and only managed to make my way through about 3/4 of a 6000 rounds.
2. Band life
A typically BB weighs in at 5.1 grains, this equates to nearly nothing when it comes to slingshot ballistics calculations. To properly throw a bb, extremely light weight bands and a pouch combination has to be used. As such, light weight bands that throw BBs typically last an extremely long time compared to the mere 100’s of shots you get with most other types of bandsets. A BB can travel in excess of 250 ft/s, so even at a standard tournament distance of 33ft (10m), a BB will travel in a very flat trajectory.
BB pouches have to be light weight and sized correctly. I found a single layer kangaroo was the best pouch material, at least to date.
I cut my pouches at 10mm wide x 50mm long, with a 2mm center hole.
Since discovering the joys of shooting BBs, I’ve done a lot of testing in the types of bands. Here are the combinations that work well. When I write active length, for those who don’t know, it is the measurement of one of the sides of the bands from the pouch tie to the frame tie. These calculations are based on a 32″ draw length, so when you go and cut your own bands, you can scale up or down based on your draw length.
Dankung 1632 tubing @ 7″ active length (based on a 32″ draw length)
I found that the 1632 was actually a but stiffer than the pure amber latex tubing, so it was almost too heavy for BB’s hence the extra inch of length to decrease the snappiness of the bands.
Pure latex .125 Amber tubing @ 6″ active length
This is one of my favourite slingshot rubber in general, let alone for bbs. The pure latex has very good elastic properties and retains a very comfortable 500-600% elongation rate before beginning to show signs of stress.
Theraband Gold @ .25″ wide x 7″ active length
TBG is known as a the ‘gold’ standard for slingshot rubbers, fast, snappy and long lasting due to its additives. It’s almost too much for BBs, but at very thin widths, it’ll work great. The thin strips excel on TTF frames.
Theraband Black @ .5″ wide x 7.5″ active length
TBB is a VERY zippy band set, again, topping out at .5″ wide since it is a very fast retracting rubber. The biggest downside to TBB is it’s tendency to tear if cut incorrectly. I’ve had a set of TBB BB bands last for nearly solid a month of shooting nearly everyday.
Theraband Blue @ .65″ wide x 7″ active length (or shorter if you want REAL fast speed)
TB Blue is my favourite flat band BB rubber. For some reason, the incredibly light draw and the extreme speeds from that light draw is satisfying and wholesome. While it is the thinnest of the Therabands, TB Blue last just as long as TB Black, and will likely tear near the pouch tie if the bands are taken care of. Unfortunately, since it is so thin, it will tangle up the most after release, which can be annoying.
3. Frame Design
Now that we’ve discussed the KINDS of rubber that throw BBs well, this section will deal with frame design. Most of the frames uses as examples in the band life section where quite small (with except of the olive natural fork). This is not a coincident, BB’s are so light, the tips of the slingshot do not need to support the extreme pressures of a double layer TB Gold frame would need to. BB frames are often small, palm size and as such, pocket sized.
PFS (pickle fork shooters)
PFS bbs shooters are awesome, it takes all the fun of shooting a PFS and removes the FEAR of shooting a PFS. PFS novice shooters often get a little overwhelmed with the lack of a fork gap, but when shooting BBs, fork hits are much less severe. The light weight bands are perfect for practicing on a PFS.
OTT (over the top)
Frames designed with OTT band tips make for fantastic BB shooters. Again, using the advantage of a light weight band set, small pouch design and small diameter ammo, there very little gap needed to make it work. Unlike a PFS, there is room for the pouch to clear the forks, but since the pouch is so small, even a mere 1″ is enough.
TTF (Through the Fork)
Frames with TTF bands are toted to be the most accurate, I always say the most accurate slingshot is the one you have with you. Regardless, TTF slingshots with BB bands don’t really receive the benefits that larger slingshots with wider bands configured with TTF. Full size TTF frames, especially with flat bands, project ammo in a more accurate fashion because the bands follow a more natural path, remaining flat throughout the bands retraction. OTT bands, typically need to twist a bit before letting go of the ammo. That being said…since BB bands (flat bands) are so narrow, they don’t receive the same benefit as wider, full size bandsets get.
That was a long winded way of saying that TTF and OTT band configurations perform nearly the same, and are just as accurate as each other. The only downside to TTF shooting is that your sight picture and aiming point maybe below the frame (when shooting sideways, this isn’t the case when shooting upright). Luckily, as previously discussed, BB frames are typically smaller, so the sight picture typically remains open.
Leather Tabbed Bands
When using leather tabs for BBs, it’s the same solution as the pouch, strong, but thin leather. The leather has to follow through with the rubber to avoid skewing its trajectory. OTT or TTF, leather tabs offer a lot of advantages and disadvantages. Advantages include decreased band friction on the frame thus leading to extended band life, consistent band length and decreased rubber consumption. Disadvantages include increased difficulty making the band set (accurate length is crucial), possible differential leather stretching and premature leather breakage.
Another factor in choosing to shoot BBs most of the time is the portability. Not only are the frames smaller and easier to conceal and carry, but a hand full of BB is potentially 100’s of rounds. I usually keep a couple of Altoids tins full of BBs so I can throw them in a bag while on vacation or driving around and have plenty of ammo to shoot and share. Heck, keeping two, even three BB shooters in the range bag is a great way to introduce people to shooting slingshots.
A pocket full of BBs can keep you busy for hours if you wish, or convert a walk in the woods into a literal cornucopia of target opportunities. Downside is if you forget you have a pocket full of BB’s, your dryer is going to make a lot of noise for next few cycles.
*tip, use a small neo-magnet to keep them in check in your pocket. Clumping IS your friend.
Shooting BBs is great training for the eventual time when you want to move up to larger ammo or train for an upcoming tournament. Shooting BBs is challenging because the light weight bands can be easily misaligned or accidental frame cant could occur, there is very little feed back on the frame’s squareness to the band set. Ideally, the bands and the frame form a perfect isosceles triangle. Shooting with light weight bands forces the shooter to pay attention to their form, their frame position, frame grip and pouch draw and release. Essentially, it trains all aspects of proper slingshot shooting form.
Once you get the hang of the band’s weight and the smaller scale pouch, when you move up to a larger frame with larger ammo, everything should be much easier. You gotta walk before you run right? Well, in this case, you gotta shoot BBs before big 1/2″ cannon balls.
Thanks for reading up to this point, its kind of a long winded way of expressing my love for BBs.
I’ll shoot them till the day I die, one BB at at time.