GILLETTE — Larry and Shawn Reznicek and John and Sage Bear walked into Axe House Wyoming already having spent some time earlier shooting pistols at the gun range on a recent Friday. The couples thought they’d get some practice throws in before competing against each other.
Sage’s first throw stuck on the board, while Shawn’s throw was less successful. Right away, Larry turned to Axe House co-owner Rusty Bell, gestured to Sage and asked Bell, “Have I introduced you to my partner?”
“One time and you’re dumping me?” Shawn asked.
As the husbands took their throws, John was surprised by the success he was having. He’d done ax throwing once before in Colorado, and he wasn’t nearly as good that time.
“It’s all falling together,” he said. “It’s the pressure of Larry, he’s always pushing me.”
John soon got multiple bullseyes while Larry’s throws kept hitting the board with a thud and bouncing to the floor.
Shawn then turned to Bell, gestured to John and asked, “Rusty, have you met my partner?”
“Oh, how she turns!” Larry lamented.
Gillette is just the latest community to jump on the trend of ax throwing. There are hundreds of establishments all over the country dedicated to it, and it even has had some air time on ESPN, officially making it a sport in some people’s minds.
Dave and Faith Harvey and Rusty and Toni Bell are co-owners of Axe House Wyoming, which is located in the building formerly occupied by Jakes Tavern. It will soon share the space with Grinners, a bar and liquor store, and AllDimensions Fitness, both of which will open this summer.
The business first opened its doors on Valentine’s Day, just five weeks after getting a liquor license from the city.
“We jumped on it. We wanted to get it going as fast as possible,” Dave said.
Axe House is the first ax throwing establishment in Wyoming, but just barely. Huckers Wyoming Inc. opened in Rock Springs on Feb. 29.
The Harveys were surprised when they learned Wyoming was late in getting on the ax-throwing bandwagon.
“Wyoming’s always the last frontier of anything,” Dave said.
They haven’t done a lot of advertising yet. Many people have come from seeing a post on Facebook or by word of mouth. Most of them are first-time throwers, Faith said. And often, they’re back to try it again before too long.
It can be intimidating at first, Dave said, but once people get the hang of it, the fear is gone.
Shawn was one of those people. She admitted she was nervous at first. But when she got the ax to stick for the first time, it was “pretty exhilarating.”
“I was really nervous coming in because I’m kind of a klutz,” Sage said.
A lot of people will stay after they’re done throwing just to watch others throw, Faith said. People of all ages can watch, but they must be 12 years or older to throw.
Beth and Kyle Raab welcome the new pastime to Gillette.
“It’s new, it’s something different,” Kyle said.
“We don’t really have a lot to do here,” Beth said.
Kyle tried it in Canada last year for a team-building exercise.
“It took me a few tries to get it going, but after you figure out what ax you like, it then becomes second nature,” he said.
Beth said the toughest part was figuring out which ax was best for her, then getting it to stick. She was using the lightest ax available, an all-steel hatchet. But there’s no shame in that, her husband said.
“I mean, whatever ax is most comfortable for you, that’s what you should throw,” Kyle said.
Beth said she’s streaky when it comes to ax throwing, while Kyle’s more consistent. But for some reason, Kyle hasn’t challenged his wife to a one-on-one match.
“You’re trying to set me up for failure, aren’t you?” Kyle asked.
Jeanie Perry was the only person throwing with the two-handed approach, where she lifted the ax over her head before throwing it.
“I tried it with the one (hand), and it kept bouncing off and I just couldn’t get it,” she said. “I felt like I had more stability doing it two-handed.”
For a throw to count, the ax must make at least one rotation in the air.
“I think it’s easier than it looks, if you don’t overthink it,” Randy Adams said.
In the lane next to Perry, Ron Eastman was getting the ax to stick on nearly all of his throws. He’s tried it before in Salt Lake City. He compared it to another sport that involves throwing a sharp object at a target.
“Darts require good technique, very consistent throwing action. This is the same thing,” he said.
“Just like shooting free throws,” Bell said.
All it takes is practice.
Eastman’s advice for first-time throwers is to keep the elbow of the throwing arm pointed straight at the target and avoid having the elbow go out to the side.
“It’s not like a baseball or football,” he said.
If you’re throwing the ax faster, you should stand a bit closer to the target, Eastman said. But if you’re throwing it more slowly, stand back a bit. Don’t try to spin the ax, he added, or it will over-rotate and won’t stick.
“If you throw it naturally, it automatically rotates,” Adams said.
As John and Larry kept sticking their throws, their wives came to the realization that perfection can get monotonous.
“You guys are boring,” Shawn said. “Who wants to get it every time?”
“You’ve got to be consistent to be good,” Eastman said. “But to have fun, it doesn’t matter.”