The Art of Throwing a Tomahawk

It’s seductive, manly, and primal—and really damn hard. After a few whiskeys, our writer tries to master the art in Jackson Hole with the guys at New West KnifeWorks.

Jan 18, 2016
Outside Magazine
new west knifeworks

Best not to drink and throw    Photo: Ashley Merritt

I had been drinking whiskey for a solid 30 minutes before I started throwing the tomahawk, so maybe it was the alcohol talking, but when I held that ax in my hand, standing in a cold back alley in Jackson Hole, I felt like I had finally come home. 

The handle was smooth and a little worn from use; the steel head was weighted but not heavy. Hurling the hatchet toward the massive crosscut target was reminiscent of the first time I stood up on a wave. It just felt…right. All I had to do now was learn how to throw the damn thing. The tomahawk hit the wood sideways and bounced off, falling to the pavement with a clank. Embarrassing. Still, I was hooked. I wanted to throw that ax again. And again. 

I first handled a tomahawk (let’s just call them hawks for brevity) as a college freshman meeting my now father-in-law for the first time. He took me to the backyard and showed me how he could hit the end of a stump with a hatchet from ten yards out. Then he let me try it, and the ax grazed the wood before falling into the grass. Message received: he was a man who could throw sharp things at small objects. I was not. I’ve been nice to his daughter ever since. 

The tomahawk that wooed me in Jackson Hole, the New West Thrower, is a thing of beauty. A hand-forged 1095 steel head slips over a tung-oiled hickory handle for a relatively lightweight, perfectly balanced hatchet designed for throwing. It’s all handcrafted in Idaho Falls by the same guys who make the drool-worthy New West KnifeWorks. When I’m not throwing it, I’m going to hang it above my fireplace. 

Survivalists love hawks because they’re so multifunctional. Beyond fulfilling the lumbersexual lawn-dart niche, you can use a tomahawk to skin a deer, split the pelvis of a bison, cut wood, or hack ice—none of which I’m going to do since I drive a minivan and spend a lot of time building Legos with my kids. But put a Miller High Life in one hand, a hawk in the other, and set up a crosscut target in my backyard? Hell yeah. 

Even a Strava-using softy like me can’t deny the primal joy of throwing a tomahawk. I’d argue there’s nothing more manly than hurling an ax at a hunk of wood. That simple action of letting a weapon fly and wallowing in the instant gratification as it sinks into your target—you might as well be beating your chest with one hand and carrying Jane with the other. 

Actually getting the tomahawk to sink into the target is a different story altogether. The process is less macho and more Zen. The key to throwing hawks successfully is learning how to get out of your own damn way. It’s like skiing on powder skis in a knee-deep fluff—you have to let the gear do what it’s designed to do. Don’t try to muscle it. Your job is to set the tomahawk in motion, then let the ax do all the work. 

You should be five paces away from your target. Any less and the hawk won’t have enough time to rotate; any more and you’ll have to muscle it too much. Grip it like you’re holding a hammer. Don’t put your thumb on the back of the handle—let it wrap around and touch your forefinger. With your throwing foot forward, eye the target and swing the hawk lightly up and down. It should be a straight motion. When you’re ready, bring the hawk ax up, just behind your ear, and swing your forearm forward, bending slightly at the waist and following through with your hand pointing at the target. Listen for that primal thud, and give in to the manly seduction of throwing sharp things at small objects. 

Oh, and don’t drink whiskey before you throw it.

Filed To: Axes, Gear

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