DICKINSON, N.D. -- Logging has been a part and parcel of American history and folklore since the expansion of the U.S. in the west, and dates as far back as the early 1600s. By the 1800s, loggers were well acquainted with loggersports aimed at determining who the best lumberjack was. Competitions amongst rival logging camps brought axe throwing to the U.S.
The once outdoor-centric hobby transitioned indoors, and in the process, evolved into a worldwide craze and hot commodity for many North Dakota businesses — many of which combine local brews with sharp objects.
“My wife and I took our 50th anniversary trip on a cruise to Alaska. On the cruise, there were lumberjacks demonstrating this old outdoors hobby turned sport and they invited a bunch of people up to try it out and I ended up winning the contest,” Edward Dick, the chief executive officer of Indoor Ranges LLC, said. “When we returned I started hearing all this news about how the world is starting to throw axes, and since I didn’t have a building, I decided to make a portable facility to supply area bars and restaurants with this growing hobby.”
Dick added, “It’s grown so much since then that I’m really surprised at the success.”
In North Dakota alone there are more than 15 businesses operating commercial entertainment venues catering to axe-throwing enthusiasts and individuals who want to try something new. The trend appears to be still gaining momentum in the state, with insiders predicting a boom equivalent to that of bowling in the 1950s as more and more people become exposed to the fun and challenge of the hobby.
In western North Dakota, Dick is a fixture at the weekly First on First: Dickinson Summer Nights community event in downtown Dickinson, where his mobile stall garners hundreds of participants each Thursday night.
“I contacted the event organizers in charge of First on First and asked if she would like to have us show up with our trailer and they said yes. Other than the music performers, we are the only adult entertainment at the event,” Dick said. “Anyone that calls me and wants this at their event, celebration or what have you, I’ll show up. Medora, Glen Ullin Country Fest, you name it.”
According to Dick, costs can be rather high on initial set-up with the most expensive aspect being acquiring insurance. Many insurers have yet to fully comprehend the growing sport and fail to grasp the business as a model which results in ranges reaching upwards of $25,000 in premium per month for liability coverage. Dick found that with some simple financials most were willing to insure the business and his is fully insured through Utah-based Evergreen.
According to the National Axe Throwing Federation, participants and hobby enthusiasts have thrown nearly 51 million axes to date and have yet to experience a single egregious injury.
Other business expenses include the cost of throwing axes, which retail from $20 up to $150 per axe. For Dick, operating his mobile axe-throwing practice range came with the added costs of building a 360-degree enclosed trailer to travel between venues and events.
For Dick, and others like him, the recurring expenses include insurance, utilities, and maintenance on the equipment and related gear which includes the periodic replacement of safety gear.
How much profit can an axe-throwing party business make? Well that depends on the earning potential of the area, but typically businesses bring between $100,000 in its first year with good marketing and strong community presence. Some of the larger metropolis venues have seen revenue swell to $1 million per year.
“This is a great way for people to get up and learn something new,” Dick said. “Many of the women who have seen us at events or venues have said, ‘I can’t do that’ and it’s amazing because in five minutes they are hitting bull's-eyes. It’s an equalizer because it’s an acquired skill that anyone can learn, perfect and become competitive in.”
Dick said that his clients span the gamut of social and economic spheres, with lawyers, doctors, oilfield hands, ranchers, hipsters and even a ladies club.
“When people hit a bull's-eye they’re hooked, and it only takes a few minutes to get good enough to hit dead center on occasion,” Dick said. “The key becomes when you can do that regularly and competitively, and that is when a hobby becomes a sport.”
Most axe-throwing facilities are part warehouse and part tavern. These places have vaulted ceilings, heavy-duty walls with spaces divided by chain-link fencing on the sides and top. The wooden targets vary, but typically include three concentric circles of different sizes and values. Throwers typically will take aim at the target in an attempt to garner points in a larger and heavier version of darts. Striking the bull’s-eye earns five points, with each subsequent circle surrounding it garnering three and one point respectively.
Most targets have a “clutch” which is more or less a pair of green dots at 9 and 3 o’clock from the bull’s-eye and above the concentric circles. Should throwers verbally announce they are aiming for clutch prior to throwing and score a positive strike they earn seven points.
In axe throwing, a perfect score is 81 — which is quite the lofty goal and is as hard as scoring a 300 in bowling.
But according to Dick, it’s not about keeping score so much as it’s about having fun when throwers first start.
“We are placing one of these facilities inside our indoor gun range when it’s completed and while people are waiting to get a chance to shoot they can throw some axes and have a good time,” Dick said. “I love that we’ve taken something that has traditionally been a male-driven outdoor activity and have seen it become an indoor version that is fun and safe for everyone.”
Those interested in trying their hand at axe throwing can do so by joining groups online, visiting their local axe throwing facilities or by finding a good stump with a sharp axe and developing the confidence to get out there and shoot for 81 — known as The Lumberjack.