During a preview visit, Bad Axe wasn't much more than a bare-bones warehouse decked out with raw Home Depot supplies. The lower half of one wall was covered in plywood, then topped with heavier boards painted with large circular targets, similar to dartboards. Each pair of targets was in its own “lane,” which looked like a horse stall, separated from neighboring ones by a high wooden wall with a higher chain-link fence. I felt like I had stumbled into a lumberjack fight club.
“You don't have to be a lumberjack to work here,” said Nick Jahl, 24, who instructed me in the art of ax throwing, “but we have a lot of beards and flannel in the company.” (He checked both boxes himself.)
I've never thrown an ax before, and as my lesson got underway, I was admittedly skittish about them, moving well out of range as other attendees swung the 16-inch hatchet behind their heads and flung it at the target 12 feet away. Would one of us drop the sharp blade on our foot? Would an ax miss the target and rebound into another person's legs?
Short answer: No. After three or four throws, I began consistently hitting the target, even nailing a few bull's-eyes, and quickly understood why ax-throwing is trending. It's much more exhilarating and primal than target shooting: You aren't pulling a trigger that starts a reaction that leads to a bullet hitting a target. You're using your own strength to propel the ax forward, and you feel it in your muscles afterward — even the next day.
If you want to try it, the easiest way to is to get a group of at least eight people together and make a reservation: For $44.25 per person, you get a lane with two targets for up to three hours and an ax-throwing coach. (In Chicago, where weekend time slots can fill up a month in advance, bachelor and bachelorette parties are popular outings.)
Jahl said they'll probably keep one of the three lanes left open for walk-ins on weekends, but the $20 per-person, per-hour fee doesn't include coaching. Also, the schedule may change due to private events, so the the Bad Axe website is updated every Monday for details about when — and if — walk-in lanes will be available that week.
Bad Axe allows ax-throwers to bring in their own food and drinks, though there's no alcohol permitted yet, and a league night will start in January. It's not a team sport, like bowling, but an everyone-for-themselves competition that lasts eight weeks and ends with an elimination tournament. You've got a month to practice.
Bad Axe Throwing, 2419 Evarts St. NE. $20-$44.25. Hours for private and group events vary. Walk-in hours are generally 6 to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.