By Sherri Coner
Luck has nothing to do with throwing an axe at a small red target and making it stick.
“It takes practice, practice, practice,” said Chris Engel, who co-owns Johnson County Axe Throwing with his parents, Don and Laura Engel of Whiteland.
To prove he knows exactly what he’s talking about, Engel stepped over to the nearest lane, threw an axe at a slab of wood on the wall and stuck the chunk of metal dead center – twice in a row.
Three times since 2020, Engel has competed nationally. His wins are proudly displayed across from the reception desk.
If you’ve never seen an axe, much less tried to throw one at a target, every beginner is welcome.
Coaching is also provided cost-free by certified instructors and judges like Engel, including Jimmy Blair of Whiteland and Mike and Merritt Day of Center Grove.
Some people assume that throwing an axe is similar to throwing darts.
But nope, that’s not the case.
“It’s not like darts,” Engel said. “There’s no flipping of the wrist when you throw an axe, like there is when you throw darts.”
Basic body stance is different from playing darts.
Putting power behind the throw isn’t a winning idea, either.
More times than not, too much power results in the axe bouncing off the wood.
Four in-house leagues and traveling for tournaments add to the challenge of this year-round sport.
But no one forgets about the fun of it all or the friendly people cheering each other on.
“We’re also kinda known for our music choices,” Engel said with a laugh. “One hour, we might blast country and the next hour, it’s rock.”
Birthday parties, reunions and families with kids of all ages find plenty of seating and free soda on the family-friendly side of the business.
On the other side of the dividing wall, beer and wine are served at an L-shaped bar handcrafted by Engel’s uncle, Kevin Steinke of Southport.
Across from the bar, Engel pointed at a plaque featuring a photo of the late Jimmy Waters.
“We played football together in school,” Engel said of his longtime friend. “He didn’t make it home from the war. He died July 1, 2011. We dedicated this side of the business to him.”
Also in Waters’ memory, all veterans and first responders receive a 50% discount.
With just enough friendly competition mixed with a lot of encouragement and laughter, Johnson County Axe Throwing is a happening place to be.
“Last weekend, we had a group of 20 come in from Seymour,” Engel said. “And we had an hour wait for lanes.”
Now that Whitt’s Inn in Whiteland provides fast deliveries to this location, friends and families call ahead and pick up their order on the way or have food delivered so they can munch and visit between taking turns at the targets.
Six months after initially opening the business in 2019, Covid-19 shut the doors.
As if throwing an axe isn’t enough of a thrill on its own, Engel occasionally likes to add a little bit of extra fun to the mix. Nothing says adventures in axe throwing quite like a fog machine and a “glow throw,” meaning everyone aims at the target on a black-lights-only evening.