Bullwhip
Overview
A bullwhip is a single-tailed whip, usually made of braided leather, which was originally used as a tool for working with livestock
Livestock
Livestock refers to one or more domesticated animals raised in an agricultural setting to produce commodities such as food, fiber and labor. The term "livestock" as used in this article does not include poultry or farmed fish; however the inclusion of these, especially poultry, within the meaning...

.

Bullwhips are pastoral
Pastoral
The adjective pastoral refers to the lifestyle of pastoralists, such as shepherds herding livestock around open areas of land according to seasons and the changing availability of water and pasturage. It also refers to a genre in literature, art or music that depicts such shepherd life in an...

 tools, traditionally used to control livestock in open country. A bullwhip's length, flexibility, and tapered design allows it to be thrown in such a way that, toward the end of the throw, part of the whip exceeds the speed of sound
Speed of sound
The speed of sound is the distance travelled during a unit of time by a sound wave propagating through an elastic medium. In dry air at , the speed of sound is . This is , or about one kilometer in three seconds or approximately one mile in five seconds....

—thereby creating a small sonic boom
Sonic boom
A sonic boom is the sound associated with the shock waves created by an object traveling through the air faster than the speed of sound. Sonic booms generate enormous amounts of sound energy, sounding much like an explosion...

.
Encyclopedia
A bullwhip is a single-tailed whip, usually made of braided leather, which was originally used as a tool for working with livestock
Livestock
Livestock refers to one or more domesticated animals raised in an agricultural setting to produce commodities such as food, fiber and labor. The term "livestock" as used in this article does not include poultry or farmed fish; however the inclusion of these, especially poultry, within the meaning...

.

Bullwhips are pastoral
Pastoral
The adjective pastoral refers to the lifestyle of pastoralists, such as shepherds herding livestock around open areas of land according to seasons and the changing availability of water and pasturage. It also refers to a genre in literature, art or music that depicts such shepherd life in an...

 tools, traditionally used to control livestock in open country. A bullwhip's length, flexibility, and tapered design allows it to be thrown in such a way that, toward the end of the throw, part of the whip exceeds the speed of sound
Speed of sound
The speed of sound is the distance travelled during a unit of time by a sound wave propagating through an elastic medium. In dry air at , the speed of sound is . This is , or about one kilometer in three seconds or approximately one mile in five seconds....

—thereby creating a small sonic boom
Sonic boom
A sonic boom is the sound associated with the shock waves created by an object traveling through the air faster than the speed of sound. Sonic booms generate enormous amounts of sound energy, sounding much like an explosion...

. Many modern "sport" whip crackers
Whipcracking
Whipcracking is the act of producing a cracking sound through the use of a whip. Originating during mustering and horse driving/riding, it has become an art of its own. A rhythmic whipcracking belongs to the traditional culture among various Germanic peoples of Bavaria , various Alpine areas ,...

 claim that the bullwhip was rarely, if ever, used to strike cattle, but this is a matter for debate.

History

The origins of the bullwhip are also a matter for debate and, given the perishable nature of leather, are likely to remain so. Difficulties in tracing its development also arise from regional and national variations in nomenclature. There are claims that it was developed in South America where these were also used, as well as 'Cow-Whips' during the Slave Trade as weapons, generally in North Carolina, or arrived there from Spain, but Roman mosaics and earthenware dating to around the second and third century A.D. show what appear to be tapered drop-lash whips, rather than the two-piece whips often associated with the Romans and other ancient cultures. Given that the same basic design appears in several primary sources, it seems likely that this is not a stylistic coincidence but a depiction of a design of whip in current use at the time the articles were made.

During the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, as rural economies became increasingly mechanised, demand for all types of whips diminished. By the middle of the 20th Century, bullwhip making was a dying craft, with only a few craftsmen left making good quality whips.

In the latter half of the 20th Century, attempts to preserve traditional crafts, along with a resurgence of interest in Western performance arts and the release of films such as Raiders of the Lost Ark
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Raiders of the Lost Ark is a 1981 American action-adventure film directed by Steven Spielberg, produced by George Lucas, and starring Harrison Ford. It is the first film in the Indiana Jones franchise...

(in which the hero, Indiana Jones
Indiana Jones
Colonel Henry Walton "Indiana" Jones, Jr., Ph.D. is a fictional character and the protagonist of the Indiana Jones franchise. George Lucas and Steven Spielberg created the character in homage to the action heroes of 1930s film serials...

, uses a bullwhip as both a tool and a weapon), led to an increased interest in whip cracking as a hobby and performance art, as well as a competitive sport. Whip cracking competitions focus on the completion of complex multiple cracking routines and precise target work; although other whips are also used in such competitions.

Whereas, in times past, the bullwhip was designed for a single specific purpose, modern whip makers design their whips for different purposes and to suit different throwing styles. A few whip makers will refuse to sell bullwhips for specific usage, such as for BDSM
BDSM
BDSM is an erotic preference and a form of sexual expression involving the consensual use of restraint, intense sensory stimulation, and fantasy power role-play. The compound acronym BDSM is derived from the terms bondage and discipline , dominance and submission , and sadism and masochism...

, or as weapons. Regardless of their intended end use, all bullwhips have certain common features.

Anatomy of the bullwhip

A bullwhip consists of a handle section, a thong, a fall, and a cracker. A wrist loop may also be present, although its chief purpose is for hanging one's whip on a hook. Aesthetically, it finishes the handle.

The main portion of the bullwhip's length is made up of a braided body or thong. Made of many strips of leather, the number of braids or plaits is an important factor in the construction of the whip. Often the thong is multi-layered, having one or more "bellies" in the center. Quality whips have at least two bellies, made of braided leather like the surface of the whip, though with fewer plaits. Lower-quality whips may have no bellies at all, and are sometimes stuffed with materials such as newspaper which will break down with use. Unlike in the Australian stock whip, the thong connects in line with the handle (rather than with a joint), or sometimes completely covers the handle.

The handle is usually short, being between 8 and 12 inches long. While some whips have an exposed wooden grip, others have an intricately braided leather covered handle. Leather-covered handles usually contain a butt foundation, which is held in the palm of the hand when cracking, and can have a wrist loop, used for hanging the whip at the end of the day, not for putting around the wrist during use. Some handles swivel, making it easier to do certain types of unsophisticated cracks but making it harder to do others, or to use the whip for any type of accurate targeting. The Australians introduced a longer handled bullwhip to the US, where the bullwhips traditionally had shorter handles. The longer handled whip (handle of 10-14 inches) functions like a cross between a stockwhip
Stockwhip
A stockwhip is a type of whip made of a long, tapered length of flexible, plaited leather with a stiff handle that is used when mustering cattle.- Origin and uses of the stockwhip :...

 and a bullwhip, and is referred to as a "Target Whip."

Bullwhips are usually measured from the butt of the handle to the end of the plaiting of the thong. The thong typically terminates at a fall hitch—a series of half hitches that neatly tie the replaceable fall (or tail) to the whip. Whips range in length from 3 ft to very long bullwhips of 20 ft with some examples being even longer.

A fall is a single piece of leather between 10 and 30 inches in length. It was traditionally made to be replaceable and to take the wear and tear of dragging on the ground when on horse back as it is much easier to replace a solid piece of leather than to re-plait the whip. In lesser quality whips the fall can also be a continuation of one of the strands used in plating the overlay or the fall can be an extension of the core of the whip, with the strands from the overlay tied off, and the core continuing on as the fall. But these types of falls do not allow for replacement and thus are not practical.
Tied to the end of the flexible fall, is an even more flexible piece of string or nylon cord or wire called the cracker or the popper. Some sources state that the cracker is the portion of the whip that makes the loud noise known as the sonic boom
Sonic boom
A sonic boom is the sound associated with the shock waves created by an object traveling through the air faster than the speed of sound. Sonic booms generate enormous amounts of sound energy, sounding much like an explosion...

, but this is misleading (see "whip cracking" for details). A whip without a cracker will still make a sonic boom, but it will be less audible unless you are standing directly in front of it. The cracker functions to disperse the sound so it can be heard more easily. Cracking a whip causes wear to the cracker, and well used whips frequently require new crackers. Crackers can be made of horsehair, twine, string, nylon, polypropylene, silk, polyester or any number of materials. There are several methods of tying the cracker to the fall, usually using a larks head knot as the basis since it tightens on itself when the whip is cracked, reducing the chance the cracker will slip off the fall and be sent flying into the air.

Bullwhips come in many different weights, materials, and designs. Some light whips use shot loading or lead weighting to affect their balance. Though usually made of strips of leather, nylon whips (often using paracord) have become popular—they were initially developed for use in the wetlands of Florida specifically, where leather is difficult to maintain hence the name "Florida Cow Whip" but have recently gained in popularity because they are less expensive than leather. In the old days in America, regular cowhide, rawhide and oxhide leathers were most commonly used for the construction of bullwhips because they were readily available. They tend to be quite thick and sturdy and are good for harsh conditions. Some whip-crackers doing target work prefer a whip made of kangaroo
Kangaroo
A kangaroo is a marsupial from the family Macropodidae . In common use the term is used to describe the largest species from this family, especially those of the genus Macropus, Red Kangaroo, Antilopine Kangaroo, Eastern Grey Kangaroo and Western Grey Kangaroo. Kangaroos are endemic to the country...

 skin and kangaroo hide is preferred by whip makers because it is many times stronger than cow hide and can be cut into fine, strong laces allowing for more intricate braiding patterns that in the past only could only be done with rawhide, which is much harder to work with.

Use as hunting weapon

A Canadian Inuit
Inuit
The Inuit are a group of culturally similar indigenous peoples inhabiting the Arctic regions of Canada , Denmark , Russia and the United States . Inuit means “the people” in the Inuktitut language...

 named Simon Tookoome
Simon Tookoome
Simon Tookoome was an Utkusiksalingmiut Inuk artist. In his youth, Tookoome and other Utkusiksalingmiut lived along the Back River and in Gjoa Haven on King William Island...

 is an expert bullwhip handler and has used it to hunt ptarmigans, caribou
Reindeer
The reindeer , also known as the caribou in North America, is a deer from the Arctic and Subarctic, including both resident and migratory populations. While overall widespread and numerous, some of its subspecies are rare and one has already gone extinct.Reindeer vary considerably in color and size...

, and to kill a wolf:
"Tookoome took the advice to heart and began hunting bigger animals [than ptarmigans] with the whip, even after his family acquired a rifle and a snowmobile. He took down several caribou, and once even used it to kill a wolf that he had shot and injured. He kept the whip with him because operating a rifle was too expensive."
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