With an expert throw — not too hard, not too soft — Bobby Ragot, 22, released a small hatchet, watched it spin and then thunk into a soft pine target. It’s a throw he’s made dozens of times before and will make countless times in the future.
Ragot is a throwing coach at the new Stumpy’s Hatchet House in Towson, one of about two dozen franchise locations dotted around the country. For $25, customers can walk in, get a hatchet-throwing coach like Ragot to talk them through the process, and then spend an hour trying to stick the throw. For $45, one can stretch that time to two hours. Visitors can come and watch for $15.
Stumpy’s officially opened in early June and held a grand opening inside Towson Commons on June 22. The 7,400-square-foot location is decorated like a log cabin, with wood paneling and an abundance of red and black flannel.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Ragot, adding he was glad to be working at Stumpy’s and not a “regular restaurant job.”
Ragot has been tossing hatchets, knives and other pointed objects at targets for about a decade, he said, ever since his dad took him to the Renaissance Festival in Anne Arundel County when he was 12.
Ax-throwing as a social activity took off first in Canada, local franchise co-owner Brad Wurtz said. A few companies have spread into the U.S. — like Stumpy’s Hatchet House, Urban Axes and Bad Axe Throwing — but the trend is still relatively new.
Wurtz describes it as a social activity, although some locations, like Urban Axes, have a more competitive edge, with customers joining teams and leagues rather than the casual, drop-in play at Stumpy’s.
Hitting a target with a hatchet can be cathartic, a fact Stumpy’s recognizes in its advertising: Its website encourages visitors to come for any reason, be it to blow off steam, work out getting over a breakup or celebrate a birthday.
That said, the company takes safety seriously. Anyone who’s registered to throw a hatchet has to go through a training session of 15-30 minutes, depending on group size and comfort. The soft pine wood that the targets are made of keep hatchets from bouncing too far back, and pits are clearly marked with lines to show how far back spectators and throwers alike have to stand.
Stumpy’s has 10 throwing pits, each with two targets, and each pit has a maximum party size of 10 throwers. Throughout a group’s use of a pit, a throwing coach is on hand to answer questions and make sure customers are behaving safely.
Ragot said he liked the homey feel of Stumpy’s and that it “looked the part” of somewhere people would go to throw hatchets, unlike a place like Urban Axes — which has a Baltimore location in Highlandtown — that can look more industrial.
Eli Leek agreed. She said she first held a hatchet when she was 6 years old, growing up in North Carolina.
“It was just that kind of family,” she said.
Leek, who now lives in Lansdowne, is also a throwing coach. She’s had other hatchet-throwing jobs before, but was happy to have landed at Stumpy’s.
“I like that we’re not in a warehouse,” she said. “It feels homey.”
Stumpy’s doesn’t serve food or drinks, but allows customers to bring their own. Because the establishment is BYOB (for beer and wine only), customers have to be 21 or older. Wurtz said the location is planning college nights for 18-20 year olds to come to Stumpy’s, since it’s in a college town.
Wurtz, one of four owners of the local franchise, said Stumpy’s in Towson was “already busy,” despite opening in summer in a college town. He got into hatchet throwing as an investment about two years ago when the wife of a friend went to a hatchet-throwing event and kept talking it up, he said. Not only did hatchet throwing seem like it could be lucrative, it struck him as a fun business opportunity.
Wurtz said he was glad to be in Towson, which he described as having a “constant buzz,” between the college campuses and restaurants and Cinemark movie theater. Wurtz, who lives in Philadelphia, said he had already has had conversations with the Towson Chamber of Commerce and local police about how Stumpy’s could fit into the community.
He said the location was targeting customers who would want to come to Stumpy’s for events — be it corporate team building, a birthday, a bachelorette party or anything other occasion.
One thing he won’t be doing, Wurtz said, is staying open after midnight on the weekends. In Towson, that can mean a large bar crowd and lots of business, but it also could create a safety hazard and could dampen the warm atmosphere. Customers have to sign a waiver before playing, too.
Wurtz wasn’t born hatchet throwing, like some of the coaches at Stumpy’s. But he’s practiced, and wants to be able to welcome people into what he says is a unique social experience.
He said it took him about 30 minutes to stick a hatchet into a target the first time he tried throwing. The sensation was like being a young kid again, he said.
Landing a bull’s-eye for the first time is almost like getting three consecutive strikes in bowling, Wurtz said.
Wurtz said a new Stumpy’s location in Howard County is in the works to open later in 2019. More information, including reservations, hours and pricing, can be found online at https://stumpyshh.com/towsonmd/.