Throw a tomahawk

Despite the way many old Westerns dramatize it, throwing a tomahawk in combat is not a recommended tactic. (Always hold on to your weapon!) Nonetheless, throwing competitions have long been popular. Champion tomahawk-throwing expert and instructor Cliff “Awol” Hill shows how it’s done.

American Cowboy Picture

Gearing up
In conventional spin throwing, competitors work their way through five throwing distances up to 2 1/2 spins. In “Mountain Man” competitions, contestants dress in period-correct rendezvous attire (nothing newer than 1840), and throw hawks with a wooden or bone handle that extends through a metal head (no one-piece, forged tomahawks). Attend an event before buying a hawk, advises Hill, where “the pros are happy to offer advice and let you try their weapons.”

The target
To make a target, cut a 6- to 7-inch slice from a large-diameter log and paint a four-inch bulls eye in the center. Mount it on a tree, fence, or on a stand. “Here in Texas, we use a lot of pine,” says Hill. “But cottonwood is about the best, because it heals back up after you stick it.” Water your target occasionally to keep it from drying out and cracking and avoid aiming all of your shots at the bullseye. (Otherwise, the center will quickly get chewed out.) Hill says a good target can last eight months or more if you’re making 700 to 800 throws a day. Will you throw that many? Probably not.

The setup
For a one-spin throw (when the tomahawk makes one full rotation before sticking), stand approximately one foot away from the target for every inch of the tomahawk’s length, as measured from the top of its head to the bottom of its handle. If you’re right handed, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, and your left foot slightly forward; vice-versa for a left-handed throw. Grip the hawk at the very bottom of the handle like you would a hammer, with the blade facing the target.

The throw
Flexing at your elbow, raise the hawk up and directly behind your shoulder about as high as your ear. Lean forward on your front leg and arc the hawk at a moderate speed directly over the top of your shoulder. Loosen your grip, and let the hawk slide from your hand to release when it comes down toward the target; follow through with your hand. “Let the momentum of the tomahawk do the work,” advises Hill. “Don’t muscle it toward the target.”

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