Holly Klink has an axe to grind. Several axes, in fact. Each Wednesday, Klink gathers her hatchets and a file and sharpens the blades of her trusty tools. Then it’s off to Crabby Axe Throwing in Bel Air, a venue where the 51-year-old Klink takes aim at wooden targets and slings steel, along with others caught up in the craze that’s swept the country.
Axe throwing has been around since the Iron Age, mostly to fell game or do battle. Frontier tales tell of burly lumberjacks hurling axes to split trees (think Paul Bunyan). As urban entertainment, however, the sport only took off in the last decade, spawning the World Axe Throwing League and the annual world championships televised by ESPN.
In 2019, Crabby Axe had just opened when Klink, then an interior designer, strode in. But not to decorate the place. Her aim was to bury the hatchet in a tiny bull’s-eye, 12 feet away. Mission accomplished.
“I’d never thrown before,” she said. “But I’ve been shooting trap with my kids for years, so axes weren’t scary.”
In 2020, Klink’s two-handed efforts with the 3-pound hatchet in league play earned her a trip to the world tournament in Atlanta. Now, the Bel Air resident owns eight axes (”They can take a beating,” she said) and revels in the camaraderie of the game.
“It’s a fun sport, as long as you don’t mind feeling stupid the first time, because nobody is good then,” said Klink. “Some people are intimidated by it, or have misconceptions about the people who do it. You’re unsure when you first get there, but others are willing to help.
“People say, ‘I see you’re throwing like this, which is why your score is off.’ You can see [newcomers] change attitudes in the first hour, after they ‘stick’ a throw [to the target]; it’s fun to watch their brains figure it out.”
‘Safety is No. 1′
Who throws at Crabby Axe? Kids as young as 12 and seniors in their 70s. Doctors, nurses and first responders; teachers, plumbers and car salespeople. People who are deaf and those confined to wheelchairs.
“Once, we had a blind man throw, a former police officer who had been shot in the temple and lost his vision,” owner Tricia Miller said. “He was so thankful to be able to do something with his friends, and to feel normal. He did OK. By the end of the session, we were all crying; it was an awesome experience.”
Whole families will heft axes as a bonding experience.
“People bring their grandchildren here, thinking they can connect with them,” Miller said. “They have a blast.”
At Crabby Axe, patrons stand 12 feet from a 4-by-4-foot poplar target, the center of which is a 1-and-a-half-inch bull’s-eye. Nail the shot and earn six points. Lesser throws score fewer points. It’s like playing darts on steroids.
What is the appeal of axe throwing? Novelty. Fellowship. A sense of danger. The chance to let off steam.
“Safety is No. 1 here,” Miller said. Open-toed shoes and sandals are prohibited. Beer and wine are allowed, but not hard liquor. Staff members, or “coaches,” monitor each of the six throwing lanes, offer advice and bench anyone who appears drunk.
For a sport that you’d think would draw hooligans, the Crabby Axe clientele is remarkably tame.
“We’ve not had lumberjacks, though there are men who dress the part in their buffalo check flannel shirts and beards,” the owner said. “Some get upset if their wives beat them.”
Gender-wise, patrons are split 50-50.
“Women love the sport. It’s an empowering thing,” Miller said.
When couples compete, the results aren’t a given.
“When men first arrive, they don’t necessarily listen to the rules. Women are very good at that and tend to throw better sometimes,” she said.
Many embrace axe throwing to vent or relieve stress. One group, celebrating a divorce party, hung a marriage license on the target. Sometimes, if patrons aren’t throwing hard enough to stick the axe, they are given a pep talk to get peeved.
“We tell them, ‘You’ve got to be mad about something, whether it’s the price of gas or the cost of eggs,” Miller said.
Crabby Axe hosts celebrations of all types: birthday, bachelor and bachelorette parties and even baby showers. Other gatherings have included some unlikely pursuits, from accounting firms to church groups.
“Throwing axes breaks the ice’
At the Route 22 Hatchet House, in Aberdeen, singles’ groups meet to socialize.
“Here, you can hang with someone and have fun without doing a lot of talking. It’s not like trying to make conversation on a dinner date,” owner Mike Jerscheid said. “For some people, throwing axes breaks the ice.”
Jerscheid, a retired police detective, opened the seven-lane Hatchet House last year and soon made note of his patrons’ focus.
“People are so consumed by the competition that no one talks or texts on their phones,” he said. “It is such a socializing game that even the kids actually communicate [verbally] with others.”
Particularly intense was a recent rivalry between doctors from a medical practice. A cardiovascular surgeon and two podiatrists went at it, tooth and nail. The heart surgeon won.
“I guess he had the steady hand,” Jerscheid said.
Many businesses hold team-building exercises here, the owner said.
“They’ll throw axes for an hour [to bond], and then hold a brief business meeting. We have had people ask if they can hang a picture of their boss on the target, but we don’t allow that; it’s not appropriate.”
Most first-time arrivals at the Hatchet House are novices.
“Some have thrown axes at Renaissance festivals, and others say they’ve thrown at trees in their backyards,” Jerscheid said.
Many dress in jeans and cowboy boots. The staff follows suit, serving such snacks as Slim Jim sticks and beef jerky.
Family Nights draw multigenerational households. At Hatchet House, children as young as 8 may throw an axe, with adults at hand.
“Usually, kids will team up against their parents,” Jerscheid said. “Some dads are very competitive, but I see lots of kids sharing high-fives. Honestly, I would take a group of 8- to 10-year-olds over most adults, because 95% of the kids who come here are very athletic and don’t overthink the sport.”
Axe throwing can humble the best of men, said Aberdeen’s Steve Horne, a regular at Hatchet House. The co-owner of a concrete company, Horne recalled his first try there.
“The axe bounced off the backstop,” he said. “When I did stick it, I thought, ‘Wow, how in the world did I do that and can I do it again?’ Once you figure it out, it’s fun.”
Now Horne, 62, and his daughter, Jessica, 33, throw there together, competitively, with mixed results.
“I think she’s ahead of me, overall,” said Horne, who has stepped up his game. “It doesn’t matter how old you are, you don’t want to lose. I hate to even come in second at Home Depot, [when] going to the checkout register.”