Axe Throwing Competitions

Axe throwing has gone a long way from the time it was exclusive just for lumberjacks. It has grown into a national pastime in many countries around the world. Although people have been throwing axes for thousands of years, it was only recently when axe throwing venues started to sprout throughout the United States as well as in Canada and the United Kingdom. In 2010, Matt Wilson founded Backyard Axe Throwing League in Toronto after years of organizing axe throwing competitions in his backyard.

As axe throwing continued to grow in popularity, more venues were established. Each facility hosted their own competitions and awarded cash prizes. Eventually, this passion grew even further such that BATL founder Matt Wilson and others founded the National Axe Throwing Federation (NATF) in 2016. In 2019, NATF became the International Axe Throwing Federation (IATF) symbolizing its global expansion. Today, the IATF spans 4 continents and 85 cities. Its leagues culminate in the National Axe Throwing Championship.

Another organization that organizes axe throwing competitions is the World Axe Throwing League (WATL). It represents 19 axe throwing countries and has over 175 member companies. It organizes international tournament events such as the U.S. Open, Canadian Open, and the most notable one being the World Axe Throwing Championship.

Axe Throwing Rules Explained

While the rules for playing the game varies depending on the facility, competitive axe throwing tournaments adhere to the rules of the WATL and the IATF.

The Board

Let us first take a look at the board.

At any sanctioned location, the board will consist of four rings and a bullseye in the center. The two small dots on the outer ring have a high-risk reward trade-off and known as the killshot. You can only attempt killshots at certain times during the game.

The board should be relatively new and of sound quality before the league starts. When targets deteriorate to a point that the axes wiggle or move excessively and risk good throws, the boards should be switched out to ensure fair play.

If a large piece or chunk of wood falls out during play, players can request for a board change. But it is the axe throwing referee who will ultimately decide. Targets must be sprayed with water from spray bottles before the start of league play. If the board is still hard, members may request for further spraying of the board.

Game Play 

A standard game consists of 10 throws followed by tiebreakers. Players compete 1-on-1 and the winner is the one with the highest number of points after ten throws.


The scoring system is as follows:

  • 6 points for the bullseye
  • 4 points for the 2nd ring
  • 3 points for the 3rd ring
  • 2 points for the 4th ring
  • 1 point for the 5th ring
  • 8 points for the killshot
  • Green dots in the corner are worth 7 points

Players must declare that they are going to throw for the Clutch before calling it. They can only do so on their 5th and final throw of the round. Accidental clutch is not valid, even on a 5th throw. No call, no points.  Once Clutch is called, only the point area is valid. Other areas have a value of zero.

Most games follow the ‘majority rule” policy. Scoring is based on where majority of the blade lands and stays in the target. The area where the axe sunk into a target is the area that is breaking the surface of the target.

The maximum score in each game is 64(8×6) + (2×8) and the previously mentioned killshot is available for scoring on the 5th and 10th throws of the match. Players swap sides after their first 5 throws to ensure they get equal advantage or disadvantage if a target is less than optimal.

The winner is the player with the highest number of points after 10 throws. In case of a tie, there will be  sudden death until a winner emerges.

Throwing Distance

Players position themselves in the boxed area marked on the floor 12-15 feet away from the targets. The boxed area is 3-feet wide. Lead foot must be in boxed area when throwing the axe. The back foot may be behind and outside the boxed area. There will be no penalties if their back foot is touching any lines in the box.

If any part of their foot crosses the front line at the start of their throw or after the release of the axe throw, their throw counts as zero. On the other hand, if their foot is over the line after release, it is counted as a valid throw.

The Axe

Axes to be used for the tournament should conform with the following standards:

  • Axe head can have a maximum weight of 2 pounds
  • The blade on the head should be longer than the maximum width of 4.75”
  • Handle may be made of wood, steel, or plastic and should be at least 12” long including handle in the eye of the head and axe

Game Variations

 Aside from the standard gameplay, there are couple of variations you can play.

Around the world

Around the world is designed to test a player’s skills in aiming at the entire target not just the bullseye. The goal is to hit each point region in succession starting from the left side of the board working your way across.

In Around The World, you cannot progress to the next portion of the target until you hit your current one, no skipping ahead and coming back. The game is played head to head with the aim of completing the full array of throws before your opponent.

If played in a tournament, the player to beat is the one with the fewest throws instead of the highest points.


Duals requires a team of two playing against another team of two. This variation follows the standard game format with two exceptions. Teammates throw their axe at the same target and both players on the same team must have released their axes before the first axe released touches the board. This can be easily achieved with a countdown before throwing.

In duals, the highest possible points is 128 per game. The scoring system is still the same but doubled because of the number of players. Because the bullseye is so small, one player should attempt to get a bullseye and the other to score in the ring just outside 4 points.


Cornhole is very popular in the American Midwest usually played during backyard barbeques or in the park during the weekend. In the axe throwing version of cornhole, players split into teams and the game is a race to 21. Your team must score exactly 21 to win.

For example, if your team is already at 19 and get 4 points for a total of 23, the score isn’t valid and your score is reset at 19.

Benefits of Joining Axe Throwing Competitions

Now that you are familiar with the organizations responsible for holding events worldwide, let’s see what benefits you can get when you compete at axe throwing.


The obvious benefit of participating in axe throwing competitions is the prize. While you may not be able to win a prize the first time you compete, the prizes is nothing to be ignored about. For instance, the prize pool in NATF’s Wilson Cup is $25,000 as well as an opportunity to donate to charity. You do not only bring home cash but also get the opportunity to beat the best axe players in the world.

Stress Relief

Not everyone enters axe throwing competitions to win prizes but to relax and relieve stress. Throwing an axe at a target is a great way to eliminate the extra stress you feel inside.

Meeting new people and having fun

Although competitive in nature, these events also provide participants with an opportunity to meet other people and have fun.


Axe throwing competitions are held in different venues not only in the United States but also worldwide. Being an axe thrower will allow you to travel around the world and places you have never seen before. The NATF alone hosts events across 8 different countries.