Throwing Away Your Shot: The Basics of the Big Shot

A trigger release takes the sting out of repeated Big Shot setups. TCIA staff photo.

If you are young, scrappy and hungry, don’t like throwin’ away your shot (with a nod to Hamilton) and just want to place your climbing line in a tree, then give a Big Shot a try. These heavy-duty slingshots-on-a-stick, available from  Notch Equipment and Jameson, can really improve your distance and accuracy with a throwline, especially for hard-to-access tie-in points.

The cordage used for a throwline is thin and slick. At roughly 1.75-2.5 mm in diameter, with a throw weight attached it can be launched with amazing accuracy through tree-branch unions as high as 70 feet or more, to assist in climbing-line installation. Throwline in newer condition will be easier to pull through the tree than line on which the slick outer coating has worn off.

A Big Shot sling with fiberglass launching pole and extension. Photo courtesy of

Because it is so thin and slick, throwline does have a tendency to tangle easily. Folding storage cubes are a popular way to keep your line tangle free. The wide opening allows for quick line flaking for tangle-free storage – most of the time. Sometimes, no matter how careful you are, the line will come out in a giant blob of a tangle, but that’s how things go. Most cubes have storage pockets for additional weights and fold down to a compact size for stowing in a gear bag.

You’ll probably want at least one other throw weight or ball in your kit in case the first one gets stuck, which it will at some point. Some people like three to five extra throw weights ranging from 10 ounces to 16 ounces, and two folding cubes of line.

Big Shot setup

• Check for any overhead electrical conductors that could interfere with installation or retrieval of the line.

• Carefully inspect the rubber tubing and pouch for tears or other damage.

• Remove any debris from the area that could tangle in the line.

 • Make sure the area under the tree is clear of parked cars, pedestrians and other potential targets.

 • Attach the line to the weight. There are many ways this can be done. Some common knots and hitches are:

        ° girth hitch

        ° slippery clove hitch

        ° pile hitch

        ° clove hitch with a half hitch

        ° figure-of-eight

 • Place the cube directly in front of your left foot so the line deploys straight toward the target.

 • Place the weight on its side in the pouch and turn the Big Shot so the pouch is on the underside of the pole. If the rubber bands or the pole itself break during loading, then they won’t be pulled back toward your face.

 • Brace the pole at an angle into the ground.

• Bend your elbow and pull on the bands as you kneel on the ground. This is easier than trying to bend your elbow with the band fully stretched.

 • Take aim and release the bands.

 • Keep your hands away from the line as it deploys.

• Isolate the line into the desired position by swinging the weight or strumming/rolling the line. Or attach a throw weight to each end of the throwline, which can then be pulled over branches to maneuver the line.

If you miss the limb you are trying for and the weight goes over another branch, you can either try to pull it out or let it fall to the ground for another try. When pulling the weight from high in the canopy, it will fall uncontrolled, potentially causing injury or damage. Make sure everyone on site is aware when you pull on the weight to dislodge it. It’s usually best to just let the weight lower to the ground and pull the line back for another try.

It can take several throws to accurately place the throwline. Stay calm and just accept that it will take as long as necessary to get a reliable tie-in. Missed shots and tangles are a regular feature of the throwline-installation game.

With a little (OK, a lot of) practice, you’ll be able to shoot for higher tie-in points with greater accuracy. The more you practice, the better you’re going to get, which is true with everything you do in tree care and in life.

Now go out there and get that line in that tree. Don’t be throwin’ away your shot!

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