The sign over the entrance reads: “Yosemite Axe Throwing, Coming Soon”; inside, two men measure and saw down a plank, the thick scent of pine and cedar mingling in the afternoon.
Everything about the scene is consistent with the words “axe” and “throwing”, evoking a classical sense of the woods and the occupation of lumberjack.
Which makes sense, since the owner, Nate Hodges, has been a competitive lumberjack for over twenty years.
Hodges is bringing the Yosemite Axe Throwing concept to Mammoth from Oakhurst, on the other side of the Sierra, where he’s been letting customers try their hand at their sport since the end of 2019. While on the west side of the Sierra, there’s competition from another axe throwing business in Fresno, Hodges will own the lone axe-throwing business in the Eastern Sierra.
“I think it’s awesome here,” Hodges told The Sheet on Monday, noting the outdoor lifestyle of the Eastern Sierra and adding, “that’s what axe throwing is all about.”
The axe throwing trend has been rapidly growing since the mid-to-late 2000’s, with clubs popping up in cities across the country and even the world. The sport has even found it’s way onto some major television networks. Celebrities and professional athletes have posted videos of themselves trying out the sport with varying results.
Hodges was born in North Fork, Calif., a small logging town on the west side of the Sierra; the town plays host to the Loggers Jamboree, a lumberjack competition running well into its fifth decade. When he was about 18, Hodges decided to train to compete in the Jamboree, taking 3 months to hone his skills. He won it on his first try, beginning a two decade career as a professional lumberjack that led to placing second overall in the U.S Stihl Timbersports Championship in 2019, winning the Loggers Jamboree numerous times along the way.
The business in Mammoth, once complete, will have seven 12-foot throwing lanes, one of which will have two targets for those who wish to throw head-to-head, for a total of eight people throwing at one time. Hodges told The Sheet that each of the lanes will be named after local outdoor spots like Twin Lakes and Mammoth Mountain, with an accompanying information plaque with information about the spots.
Hodges demonstrated the axe-throwing motion, standing at the end of the lane and lining up the target with his throwing hand in a stance similar to that of throwing a football with his chest towards the target. After a few steadying 10-2 motions with the hand holding the 2.5 lb axe, he brought his hand forward, releasing the axe when his elbow reached 45 degree angle. It flipped end-over-end twice and struck the target at the 3-inch bullseye in the center, sinking into the wood with a muffled thud.
“I could do this all day,” Hodges said with a laugh.
The targets, large Ponderosa Pine cross sections weighing between 200-300 lbs, are unique among axe-throwing businesses, Hodges explained. The vast majority of targets used by other ranges are cut wooden planks, which need to be replaced often and produce a loud noise when hit by an axe.
By contrast, the cross-section targets Hodges uses, harvested locally from dead trees, require a little bit of water to smooth the surface and can be repeatedly shorn down for resurfacing.
The goal, Hodges explained, is to “give people a true outdoor environment for axe throwing” at a place that’s “as woodsy as you can get indoors.”
The Mammoth location has been in the works for over a year, Hodges told The Sheet, with an initial opening date in March of this year. The Covid-19 pandemic forced Hodges to nix those plans and he still has no concrete opening date for the business. On getting direction from local authorities: “I can’t get a straight answer from anyone,” Hodges said.
In the meantime, he’s putting the interior together and getting the range, which sits in the storefront formerly occupied by Bongo Froyo in the Mammoth Mall on Old Mammoth Road next to Good Life Cafe, ready for customers. Unlike other axe-throwing ranges that serve alcohol and food, Yosemite Axe Throwing is all about the axes and nothing else.
“It’s more or less my passion,” Hodges said, “Other people will enjoy this.” Gesturing to all the raw lumber decorating the interior, he added, “It’s the mountain vibe.”