The overhead hurl at Stumpy's Hatchet House.
The overhead hurl at Stumpy's Hatchet House.

Stumpy's Hatchet House

Field review by the editors.

Eatontown, New Jersey

Hurling an ax used to be antisocial: an act of Bunyan zen, a pastime limited to lumberjacks and rogue boy scouts (We're talking about you, Troop 531). Silence, the swing, the release. Who knows where it will go? Then a pleasing thunk into a target.

Stumpy's Hatchet House.

Now, throwing an ax has become a bonding exercise and an anywhere-indoor attraction, on par with black light mini-golf. The folks at Stumpy's Hatchet House have figured it all out.

Co-founder Mark Oliphant told us about how he, his wife Trish, and friends Stu and Kelly Josberger, would play a game throwing axes at a dead tree, later adding an easel and target. After Mark retired from 38 years as a union carpenter, he was ready to try something new. "Sitting around the Cape May Brewery," Mark said of the foursome, "we had the inspiration to take that backyard game idea and turn it into a business." Opened in April, 2016, Mark said it was the first indoor ax throwing attraction in the USA. They plan to open Stumpy's Hatchet House franchises in other states.

Mark Oliphant and a souvenir plank.
Mark Oliphant and a souvenir plank.

Stumpy's is designed to evoke a rustic Pacific Northwest setting with carved signs and woodsy details courtesy of Mark's carpentry chops. Individual throwing areas -- pits -- are sectioned off with chain-link fencing, safe standing zones, and targets. Since axes keep reducing everything to splinters, there are ready piles of replacement targets and other Hatchet House furnishings.

The hatchets are basic metal boy scout-style hand axes -- Mark said they'd tested fancier styles and models, and these had the best feel and durability.

One intriguing aspect of Stumpy's Hatchet House is that wine and beer are permitted. Groups typically have a two hour session of tossing and BYOB contemplation. Patrons must be 21 or over. There's a Wood Shed Party Room, and special events, such as "Axe Your Ex" night, when participants are encouraged to bring photos to augment the targets.

We performed some throws, getting past assumptions that a badly released ax would head straight for a foot or shin. The forward motion, like a bowling step, kept the rotating ax moving away. But there's a trick to getting the sharp edge on the head to sink in to the target. Ax throwers we watched improved with more attempts, hitting the painted targets, but sticking was tougher. Styles alternated between one-handed flings, two-handed overhead tosses. Successful throws were rewarded with a ring of the "Bullseye Bell."

Hilarity in the Brad Pit.
Hilarity in the Brad Pit.

Eatontown struck us as an odd location choice for an "attraction" -- not a vacation mecca, far from Cape May, miles from the Jersey Shore, and buried inside an industrial park of warehouses and offices. Property sign rules forbid a hatchet billboard near the road, or even over the front door. But Stumpy's is near three major highways and a venerable shopping mall. Monmouth County is home to many corporations and affluent metaphorical skull cleavers, who can be reached through social media and word-of-mouth about Stumpy's "Social Throwdown."

Groups make reservations, and some weekends the throwing cages are a cacophony of thwacking and laughter. During our visit, a local Kiwanis Club conducted a fundraiser; Stumpy throwing coaches led the orientation and brief training required of participants. Everyone signed injury waivers.

Mark said "We decided to emphasize parties -- we can accommodate up to five, depending on the group size. There are a lot of tech companies in the area, and we get friendly competitions, 'Sales versus Engineers,' that sort of thing."

There are other ax-throwing establishments that have cropped up: Axe Monkeys, Urban Axes, the dozen locations of Bad Axe Throwing (mostly in Canada). "Those are 'leagues,'" Mark said, "not like us."

Stumpy's Hatchet House

Address:
22 Meridian Road Unit 5, Eatontown, NJ
Directions:
West of Rt. 35, north of Industrial Way W on Meridan Rd.
Hours:
W, Th 5-10, F, Sa 5-12, Su 2-8 (Call to verify)
Phone:
732-544-5069
Admission:
1 or 2 hr sessions, prices vary with group size.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

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October 17, 2017

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