Jim Buchanan

Jim Buchanan

I suppose it was the inevitable result of a mix of the outdoorsman craze of the 1960s and 70s (Daniel Boone and Davey Crockett) mixed in with comic book heroes, a dash of Bible study and the rise of ninja movies, but the thought occurred to me that we had an awful lot of handmade weaponry back in the day.

As usual, the thought also occurs that it’s a mild surprise any of us are left to tell the tale.

Before the rise of video screens and the movement of society from the front porch to the basement, there were the sports that enjoy popularity today – football, basketball and baseball. The main difference was that an adult wasn’t necessary or even desired in organizing such events.

But after a while those sports got a little boring, so to add a little spice to the mix one’s thoughts would turn to weaponry. All it took to craft something was a little ingenuity, some wood, some string and maybe a bit of leather.

Here’s a brief guide to the arsenal of Back Then, the size of a target needed for it to be effective, and the type of target it most often actually encountered.


Bow and arrow:


A sapling, some string and some notched cane made a quick bow-and-arrow set.

Size of target needed: Undetermined due to field testing failure.

Target most often hit: Best case, the arrow would plunk weakly about five feet before gently settling to the ground. Most often, the seagrass string would pop off, the bow would break, or the poorly notched arrow wouldn’t release from the string. Sure, we could have worked to correct the first-off-the-drawing-board design, but were already busy with…




A “Y’’ cut sapling, piece of leather and piece of strong rubber band.

Size of target needed: Child-sized thumb, apparently.

Target most often hit: See above.




A short piece of rope or chain and two sticks, and look! You’re Bruce Lee!

Size of target needed:  Any target within arm’s length of swinging Nunchuck will suffice.

Target most often hit: Nunchuck owner’s skull, delicate nether regions were surprisingly effective at stopping swinging Nunchucks.




An actual purchased, manufactured product obtained by brother Gary, from Sears if I recall. The long metal tube came with a mouthpiece and a bunch of thin metal rods; you’d clip a rod to the desired length, five inches or thereabouts, heat on end of the rod and let it melt into small plastic balls the diameter of the tube, let it cool, put it in and blow.

Target size: Woodshed.

Target most often hit: Woodshed. Only target I could actually aim at and hit.

Addendum: Do not use when suffering hiccups.




Not sure how that landed in the arsenal, but also a manufactured weapon. There was some superhero of the day, Disney’s “Zorro” if I’m not mistaken, who used a whip from time to time.

Target size: Anything within reach of an 8-foot length of leather.

Target most often hit: Anything within reach of an 8-foot length of leather. As with many other weapons of the time, the wielder was smack in the middle of the radius.

Fun fact: Despite its popularity, Disney’s “Zorro’’ was canceled after two seasons.




Straight from the tale of David and Goliath, a sling could be crafted by a couple of lengths of leather and a leather pouch. Grab some rocks and you’re ready for some giant-slayin’.

Size of target needed: Saturn (rings included).

Target most often hit: None. The slinging I observed resembled someone spreading grass seed – rocks flying straight up, backward, any random angle. There were a lot of rocks no one ever did see land.

For all I know some are still suspended in the air over Savannah Creek.

Buchanan is editor of The Sylva Herald.