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“Why would you throw away your weapon?” asks my girlfriend every time somebody throws an axe in a movie.
True, you don’t want to throw away your last weapon in a survival situation (not even in a Hail Mary last-ditch throw!)…
…but axe throwing is a fun, satisfying hobby.
And, if you have several tomahawks on your belt, you can use your ‘hawk or hatchet as a ranged weapon to take down a wild rabbit you need for dinner.
But you can’t just bury a hatchet in a far-off piece of wood after five minutes of practice.
There are tricks to axe throwing to get that satisfying “thunk!” rather than a “crack!” as you break your third handle on the target!
The first “trick” is to choose the right axe.
How to Choose a Throwing Axe
One of the images people have of axe throwing is a bearded Viking in a period-inaccurate horned helmet throwing their wood-handled bearded axe.
This won’t be you for now unless you like hanging handles onto axes.
That’s because hitting a target with your axe imposes a harsh shock right where the axe head meets the handle.
Good hits give a minor shock. Bad hits give a stronger shock.
Hitting handle-first is worst of all.
So, when you’re new to axe throwing, put away the Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet (an otherwise-excellent bushcrafting axe) and grab one of two options:
- A metal-handled one-handed axe
- A wood-handled tomahawk
I generally don’t favor metal-handled axes but making the head and handle out of one piece of metal makes for a very durable throwing axe.
Though, throwing competitions typically disallow metal-handle throwing axes.
Tomahawks are another great choice and are near-perfect throwing axes.
A true tomahawk has an oval eye through which the handle is impermanently inserted.
That way, when you hit your target (or the ground!) the energy that would shock the handle causes it to instead eject out of the ‘hawk head.
This vastly extends the handle’s lifespan. Plus, the simple design makes it easy to replace handles in the woods.
Just give the ‘hawk a swing to tighten the head on the handle before you throw.
While you can throw a two-handed axe, doing so requires more skill and is even more liable to damage the handle.
Stick with one-handed axes until you can embed the axe almost every time.
- CRKT Woods Nobo Tomahawk
- Thrower Supply Competition Tomahawk
- Estwing Sportsman’s Camping Hatchet
- SOG Tactical “Tomahawk”
Axe Throwing Targets
The traditional, and best, target for your throwing axe is a wood stump.
But not a wood stump left over from when your neighbor snuck onto your property to cut down the tree blocking their view of the lake.
You don’t want to throw an axe at a vertical tree trunk, whether alive or dead.
The curved surface increases the chance for your strike to deflect, causing your axe to go who-knows-where.
(Plus, if the tree is alive, you will injure or kill the tree with your strikes!)
Instead, get a cross-section from a tree stump. We want the flat area!
The stump should be at least 24 inches in diameter, though wider is better for learning.
Soft wood is preferred.
You can find these at lumber mills.
Paint several concentric circles to form a bulls-eye target.
You can build a fancy target hanger or set the target facing you atop a stump or even some sawhorses you don’t mind getting nicked.
If you can’t get a tree stump then you can use plywood instead.
It’s harder to stick your throw with plywood but a vertical plywood board, held in place so it won’t fall over, makes an acceptable target.
Make sure to keep your axe sharp when throwing at plywood!
Where to Put the Target
Make sure to put the target someplace safe!
There should be nothing beyond the target which you mind risking damaging with an axe.
And make sure to position the target far away from where any people will be walking or children will be playing!
Once you have your axe and target in a safe location with suitable backstop, let’s move an appropriate distance from the target.
Axes rotate as you throw them.
You want to hit the target with the axe’s toe for maximum chance of sticking into the wood.
Hitting flush with the blade, so the handle is parallel to the target’s face, is acceptable but not preferred.
You can also stick the axe into the target by the heel but that’s dangerously close to hitting with the handle.
Hitting with any other part of the axe will cause the axe to bounce off the target.
This means only about 60 degrees out of 360 are viable!
Many axe-throwing competitions (such as NRLHF) require at least one full rotation in order to count.
This means that most people stand about 12 to 15 feet away from the target, depending on the axe’s handle length and individual factors
Observe your hits to see if you hit with the appropriate part of the blade.
Move closer to bring the strike point closer to the heel and further away to bring the strike point closer to the toe.
Throwing the Axe
Now, with all that in mind, are you ready to throw the axe?
Sorry, but there’s one more aspect to cover!
Axe Throwing Stance
Your success when throwing an axe, like with many disciplines, improves when you use a good stance.
Stand facing toward the target.
Bring your dominant foot (the one on the same side as your dominant hand) backward.
When you start to throw, you’ll move your weight over this foot as you bring the axe back then step forward with this foot as you swing the axe forward, completing the step right as you release the axe.
However, you don’t have to step forward as you throw the axe.
You can stand firm as you heave the blade, but I have more success with the step.
If you do stand still then start with your dominant-side foot forward.
It’s generally recommended that axe-throwing newbies start with two hands as it gives you more control over the axe.
Start by holding the axe in front of you, in line with the center of the target.
Grip the bottom of the handle with your off-hand and put your dominant hand either around your other hand or atop it on the handle, whichever feels more comfortable.
Keep your thumbs wrapped around the handle–don’t put them parallel to the wood shaft!
Keep your elbows slightly bent and your wrists straight throughout the entire movement.
Bring the axe up and behind your head as you move your weight onto your rear foot.
Now, swing your arms forward and down as you move your weight forward.
Release with both hands once the axe hits the line from your eyes to the bullseye!
Keep those arms moving, though. Follow through is important!
Axe throwing with one hand is a more advanced technique that requires a bit more strength but more advanced axe throwers tend to prefer it.
Grip the axe at the bottom of the handle and hold the axe in front of you.
Let the axe drop down to your side then behind you.
Once it’s past your leg, bring it forward, up, and behind your head.
From behind your head straighten your arms forward with speed and confidence.
The time to let go and release the axe is when your arm is straight and parallel to the ground.
Keep that arm movin’, though. Remember to follow through!
Axe Throwing Tips and Tricks
Here are some pointers to help you get that axe or tomahawk embedded in that block of wood:
- Many people find it harder to stick blades in new wood targets. Wet it down with a spray bottle until the wood starts to get chewed up from repeated impacts.
- The toe will stick better than the full blade in a new board.
- Many axe throwers apply chalk to their hands for better control and a smoother release. You can wrap your handle with leather, paracord, or electrical tape, too!
- Your axe will spin more if you release late and will spin less if you release early, which can be used to adjust the impact angle if you can’t change your distance.
- Larger axes require more strength to throw properly and rotate slower than smaller axes.
- Double bit axes can stick upside down but they’re rotating away from the target at that point so you won’t gain much advantage to throwing one.
- Watch your competition. You may learn something or may even be able to find a way to one-up them if they hit with the full blade and you can regularly stick the tip into a new target!
Sticking an axe into a wood stump is a satisfying experience which anyone with at least one hand can experience.
It’s a cheaper sport to get into than archery and it’s easier to carry the tool around with you.
Not to mention how you can use a good camping hatchet as a throwing axe, covering utility and recreation with one blade.
Just don’t throw away your last cutting tool!