Throwing one thing at another thing has been a vital skill in man’s repertoire since the beginning of time. Hurl a projectile just right, and you might secure dinner, ward off an attacker or win a baseball game.
Make that projectile a hatchet, and you… should not be on a baseball diamond. But if you can do it accurately, you just might keep yourself alive in the wilderness. Or, almost as good, enjoy a fun diversion at your next backyard barbecue.
Travaasa is a resort and spa nestled among the live oak trees of the Austin hills (there’s also a property in Hawaii). They take adventure and wellness seriously, so it’s the kind of place where you can hike, mountain bike, zip line, paddleboard and enjoy a couple hours at the spa before undoing all that work with big steaks and several glasses of whiskey in the on-site restaurant. It’s all about balance.
Unlike throwing a baseball or football, here you don’t want the big windup and rotation of hips and shoulders. Technique is more important than power.
And that’s where I learned to throw a hatchet. Because when life presents you with the opportunity to throw a miniature axe toward a stationary target, thereby channeling your inner warrior, you don’t say no. That’s what led to my joining a group of other like-minded adventurers one morning in a little clearing stocked with hatchets and a couple of wooden targets.
Our instructor, Jaime, gave everyone a primer on the subject. This is that primer. More or less.
Get your grip right.
You want to hold your hatchet loosely, with the tips of your fingers curled around the handle and your thumb running up the handle. You’re balancing it in your hand, not making a fist and hanging on for dear life. This creates an easy, fluid grip that will allow for a smooth release, which is something you can’t accomplish with a white knuckle death grip.
Face your target.
That one’s pretty obvious, but as far as your stance/footwork, you’ve got a couple options. Set your feet shoulder width apart, and step forward with your opposite foot (righties should step forward with their left foot) as you throw. Or begin with your opposite foot ahead and don’t step at all, just rock your weight back to front.
Leave your wrist and shoulder out of it.
Unlike throwing a baseball or football, here you don’t want the big windup and rotation of hips and shoulders. Just extend your arm straight out to your target, then bring it back, bending your elbow so that the hatchet falls toward your throwing shoulder without going so far as to move below your shoulder blade and down your back. Technique is more important than power.
The release is key.
Once you’ve begun moving that hatchet forward to throw it, you want to release it when your arm is extended straight ahead and parallel with the ground like you’re shaking hands. Don’t break your wrist in a downward motion like you’re throwing a fastball, or you’ll impart too much spin on the hatchet. Release too early and you’ll throw high. Release too late and you’ll throw low. Forget to release entirely and you’ll embed the damn thing into your leg.
If you can accomplish all of the above, you’ve got a fine chance of striking your target. Getting it to stick, however, is another matter entirely. I was great at hitting the target. I was less great at hitting the target with one of the blade’s sharp corners, which is what you need. That was frustrating, but fixable. It required making a couple small tweaks, like locking my wrist to reduce rotation or applying just a touch more power.
Release too early and you’ll throw high. Release too late and you’ll throw low. Forget to release entirely and you’ll embed the damn thing into your leg.
It took about a dozen throws, but things began to come together and I finally got that hatchet to start sticking. Meanwhile, my wife doubled me up, burying her hatchet into the target twice as many times as I did. I pitched in high school. She played the cello. I can throw a spiral. She does pilates. But no matter. When it came to the delicate art of hitting an 18-inch by 18-inch target with a small axe, she had my number. And she hasn’t let me forget it since.
I live in a city, work in front of a computer and procure my meat from a butcher. So it’s unlikely that hatchet throwing will ever play a practical role in my life. But that crash course at Travaasa—a place where I subsequently lounged by an infinity pool, attended a scotch tasting, ate a steak and slept in a plush king size bed—made me want to get a hatchet of my own, set up a target and keep honing the skill outside of the relaxed resort setting. Because at some point down the road, something might need a hatchet thrown at it. Whether I’m just performing a sporting backyard parlor trick, or engaging in something far more serious like personal protection or surviving in the wild.
And if my wife’s not around, I’ll be the one who has to do it.
Photo: iStock/Getty Images Plus/mountaindweller