By Kim Hoey
An axe to the head is a sure way to stop a zombie. But based on the axe-throwing proficiency of participants at the Battle Axe Zombie Training Camp recently, it’s not looking good for humanity.
Brett Bailey hit two out of 10 zombie targets. Jake Kisner hit one, and Jeff Pilgrim whiffed every throw. The three Wilmingtonians fared about as well as others at the camp, but that didn’t stop them from having a good time.
OK, so this was not a new survivalist group, but a fun night at Liquid Alchemy Beverages in Wilmington. The participants were not fearful for their lives but taking part in a rediscovered recreational pastime: axe-throwing.
The training camp gave people a chance to try their hand at throwing an axe at a target, in this case one that looked like a zombie. Participants had 10 throws to sink the axe into a zombie head. If after 10 throws they didn’t make one “head shot,” they were sent to a make-up artist to be painted up as a zombie.
“I think it’d be safe to say that if this was a real zombie apocalypse, we wouldn’t have survived,” said Bailey, an electrician by day. The training was his first try at axe throwing, but he didn’t think it would be his last.
Axe-throwing is a growing sport in Delaware and around the country. Two years ago, there were no axe-throwing businesses in the First State. Today there are four, with a fifth operating seasonally at Constitution Yards.
Axe-throwing has been around for years, but mostly at lumberjack competitions and Renaissance festivals. The hatchet-throwing trend seems to have started in Canada around 2011, when Backyard Axe Throwing Leagues became popular. It’s since spread to bars and standalone gaming centers in American cities.
Many people point to popular TV shows like “The Walking Dead” and action movies like the “John Wick” series for the popularity of the sport. Some owners say it’s a much simpler reason. It’s not very difficult and it’s a very social activity.
“It’s the hipster modern version of bowling,” said Phil Nannay, managing partner of Camp Adventureland, which offers axe-throwing at its Middletown location.
It’s one of the hottest trends right now, he said. Indeed, the local companies all have axe-throwing leagues that compete weekly.
Usually, it’s a group of six people with two people throwing while the other four talk and often drink, Nannay said.
“Axe your Ex” events are popular along with bachelor and bachelorette parties, said Natalie Hauch, co-owner of You Bet Your Axe in Elkton, Maryland.
Women are usually the best throwers, in part, because they’re generally more patient, she said.
It’s a game of finesse, not strength, added Mike Evans, owner of Battle Axes in Newark, the company that started the trend in Delaware a year ago.
A good coach will help you find your distance to get the axe to stick. Once the thrower can get the axe to stick, then it is a matter of working on aim and consistency. Points are scored on a standard bullseye target with extra points for hitting small targets near the corners of the board. Many people at training camp said it was a great stress reliever. A lot of his day business comes from corporate retreats, Evans said.
Clientele range from ages 12 to 50, depending on whether alcohol is being sold. It’s generally even numbers of women and men taking part. Pricing ranges from $25 to $35 per person for an hour.
Even with the alcohol, Evans maintains that the sport is very safe. Referencing a recent viral video of a woman having an axe bounce back at her after throwing it, Evans blamed the metal hatchet handle. His hatchets all have wooden handles that would break before bouncing. A good axe bar will also provide a coach, Evans said.
Local axe-throwing company owners realize that the sport is trending right now, but think the sport will stick. Evans said that he hopes to keep the popularity high by keeping events fresh and light, like the zombie apocalypse event he held on Oct. 25 at Battle Axes.
While owners admit the popularity of throwing hatchets might be just a passing fad, they are betting it will continue to have a presence.
After all, Nannay said, people still go bowling.