Bullwhip squadron

Bullwhip squadron

Welcome to the bullwhip squadron. A group of manly men and a couple of awesome women who like to play with whips and other “manly” things. Our club is devoted to different types of whips and the western legacy. We met up to train with whips, have friendly competitions and engage in activities with ties to the old west such as trick roping and trick riding.

On this website you can read about some of the things we do and their history. You can also read about different types of whips.

Use the contact form if you would like to come to one of our events. Most of our events are held in Texas and New Mexico.

Bullwhips

A bullwhip is a tool for working with livestock in open country. A typical bullwhip will be single-tailed, tapered and made of braided leather. It can be thrown in such a way that part of the whip (toward the end of the throw) moves quick enough to exceed the speed of sound and create a small sonic boom.

In some contexts, the bullwhip has been used as a hunting weapon. Bullwhip expert handler Simon Tookome, a member of Canada’s indigenous population, did for instance use his bullwhip to hunt caribou in the 20th century.

How long is a bullwhip?

The shortest bullwhips tend to be around 3 ft in length, while the longest models exceed 20 ft.

The length of a bullwhip is measured from the butt of the handle to the end of the plaiting of the thong.

What material is a bullwhip made from?

Traditionally, bullwhips were made from strips of leather. Today, nylon whips (typically paracord) are also quite common. The nylon whips were originally developed for use in Florida’s wetlands, where leather doesn’t fair well.

Example of leathers traditionally used to make bullwhips in the United States are oxhide, rawhide and regular cowhide.

In Australia, bullwhips made from kangaroo skin or kangaroo hide are available. They are popular among some whip-crackers doing target work since the material is so strong and can be cut into really fine laces. With fine laces, highly intricate braiding patters can be achieved.

The different parts of the bullwhip

The bullwhip consist of different parts: the handle section, the thong, the fall and the cracker. Some models also have a wrist loop; chiefly used to hang the whip when not in use.

Some very light whip models use shot loading or lead weighting to achieve the desired balance.

The handle

The handle of the bullwhip will typically sport exposed wood or be covered in braided leather. Leather-covered handles often have a butt foundation.

How long is the bullwhip handle?

Bullwhips made in North America tend to have fairly short handles; usually within the 8-12 inches span (approximately 20 – 30 cm). In Australia, bullwhips normally have considerably longer handles. A bullwhip with a long handle can function like a bullwhip – stockwhip hybrid.

Should I put the wristloop around my wrist when I use the bullwhip?

Despite its name, most bullwhip users do not put the wristloop around their wrist when using the bullwhip. The wristloop is just there to make it easier to hang the bullwhip on something when you’re not using it.

The thong

The braided body (made of strips of leather) that make up the main portion of the bullwhip’s length is called the thong. The thong connects in line with the handle (there is no joint) or the same material covers the handle. The thong of a typical bullwhip will end at a fall hitch, which is a series of half hitches that tie the fall to the whip.

An important aspect to take into consideration when buying a bullwhip is the number of leather braids used to create the thong. Generally speaking, multi-layered bullwhips with one or more “bellies” in the center are desirable. Quality whips normally have at least two bellies, while cheap low-quality bullwhips might have just one belly or no belly at all. To add bulk without having to pay for leather, cheap bullwhips can be filled with low-cost materials such as newspaper. Newspaper and similar materials are less resilient to wear and tear than leather.

The fall

The fall of a bullwhip is found at the end of the bullwhip (but before the cracker/popper). Since the end of the bullwhip is exposed to more wear and tear than the rest of the whip during typical use, the fall part is fairly easy to replace on traditional bullwhips. That way, you don’t have to discard the whole whip or replace the whole thong when the end part gets worn out – you just replace the fall. The fall consist of a single piece of leather. A solid piece of leather is easier and cheaper to replace than the more complex braided thong.

In low-quality bullwhips, the fall is sometimes just the continuation of one of the strands used in the plaiting of the overlay or an extension of the whip’s core. This is the type of whip that people tend to replace rather than repair if any part gets worn out.

How long is the fall on a bullwhip?

The exact length varies depending on the bullwhip design, but most bullwhips have falls within the 10-30 inches range (approximately 25-75 cm).

The cracker / popper

The cracker, also known as the popper, is a piece of string or wire tied to the end of the fall. While the fall is more flexible than the thong, the cracker is even more flexible than the fall.

Despite its name, the cracker is not necessary to produce the sonic boom. Remove the cracker, and you can still make the whip go boom, although the sound will be less noticeable and people and livestock not located right next to you and your whip might not hear it. The cracker isn’t necessary to produce the sound, but it will be a great help in dispersing the sound.

During normal bullwhip usage, the cracker is subjected to a lot of stress and you should expect to replace it quite frequently.

How is the cracker connected to the fall on a bullwhip?

How the cracker is tied to the fall depends on the design of the bullwhip. A common method is to use a larks head knot, since such a knot will tighten itself when the whip is cracked.

What is a bullwhip cracker made from?

Traditionally, crackers were made out of horsehair, silk or other natural materials. Today, the cracker can also be made from a synthetic material such as nylon, polypropylene or polyester.

History of the bullwhip

We don’t know when or where the earliest bullwhips were invented, but they probably originated out of earlier whip models and adapted for the various needs of the cattle keepers. Throughout the world, many different models have been in use, displaying regional variations of the basic bullwhip characteristics.

Some of the earliest depictions of tapered drop-lash whips are found on mosaics and earthenware from Ancient Rome, dated to the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. This is interesting, since the type of whip most commonly associated with the Romans isn’t the bullwhip but the two-piece whip.

Decline of the bullwhip

Changes in cattle raising practises during the late 19th century and early 20th century reduced the need for bullwhips. As a result, bullwhip making became a dying craft. During the second half of the 1900s, fairly successful attempts were made to preserve this traditional craft and save it from extinction.

Today’s skilled bullwhip makers tend to make highly specialized bullwhips for very specific purposes, e.g. a specific throwing style. Many of the whips are made for use in Western performance art rather than to become tools for everyday cattle keepers.

Famous depictions of bullwhips in popular culture

  • Professor Indiana Jones uses a bullwhip during his explorations.
  • A bullwhip is used to remove articles of clothing in Devo’s music video for the song Whip It.