Isaac Gibson and Matt Ahlfield say that they are used to the “thunk” sound they hear whenever their business is open. Every weekend, the “thunk” is part of the ambiance, along with the sound of people talking, laughing and having a good time.
The “thunk” is why people visit Backwoods Axe Throwing between Carbondale and Murphysboro and each time Ahlfield and Gibson hear the sound, the pair of entrepreneurs knows another three-pound axe has hit its target.
“These are league-standard axes, just hatches with 14-inch handles,” Ahlfield said. “They’re easy to handle for everyone. We’ve had people from age 12 up past 70 throw them.”
Backwoods Axe Throwing has eight throwing lanes, featuring large targets as well as a bar where beverages are available and lots of space for groups to gather and enjoy one another’s company. Like darts or bowling, throwers compete against one another to achieve the highest score. Upon their first visit, customers are given a safety and throwing briefing. An hour of axe throwing is $20 per person.
“We will coach you, give you a 5- or 10-minute lesson on throwing and how to do it safely,” Gibson said. “Then we just kind of let you go, but we’ll periodically check on you, making sure you’re going to ‘stick.’”
To “stick” a throw means to have the blade of the axe penetrate the target board, earning points based on numbered rings comprising the target. The targets are replaced after six hours of throwing.
Ahlfield says each throwers’ approach and style is unique, but most people have had a similar reaction to their first visit to Backwoods Axe Throwing.
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“Oh, everybody is nervous when they first walk in in because it’s something new,” he said with a grin. “We’re giving them something sharp and they can have a beer if they’d like. Then about 20 minutes later, you see everybody getting way more comfortable and they really have a great time. Even those who come just to watch their friends soon see others throwing and then they want to do it, too. I guess it’s contagious.”
“For everybody, it’s kind of trial and error,” Gibson said, explaining finding the right personal axe throwing style. “It’s really different for each individual thrower.”
The pair says once a thrower gets the technique down and muscle memory takes over, scores go up.
He says while most of their customers are first-time axe throwers, many of previous visitors are returning and bringing others with them.
“For instance, just the other day, we had a couple come back again and they brought eight couples with them,” Gibson said.
The pair opened the facility earlier this year after Ahlfield visited a similar axe throwing establishment on a family vacation.
“While axe throwing is new to Southern Illinois, it’s been around the U.S. and Canada since 2016. It’s just now really starting to take off in the urban areas. We thought we should bring it back to the rural areas where we all grew up in the woods doing this anyway,” he said.
Backwoods Axe Throwing is open 4 to 10 p.m. Thursdays; 4 to 11 p.m. on Fridays; noon to 11 p.m. Saturdays; and noon to 6 p.m. on Sundays. It is located at 48 Murdale Gardens Road in Murphysboro, and can be reached at 618-565-0836 or www.backwoodsaxethrowing.com.