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How to throw a tomahawk


For First timers

Youíll need a target made of boards nailed close together, a cross section of a log, or even hay bales, to get started. Donít use plywood. Then make sure spectators are several paces behind the thrower.

When I teach hawk throwing I tell students to imagine they are throwing a hammer. Grip the hawk like you would a hammer. Take 4 steps from the target. Stand facing the target with feet apart. Raise your arm above and a little behind your head and throw the hawk, blade first, toward the target. As your arm gets out in front of your nose just relax your grip and let the hawk slide out of your hand. No pushing with your shoulder. No flipping your wrist. As in golf, archery, or bowling, what your want is to develop a comfortable style that is your own, then stick with it and be consistent. You want to always throw the same way. Memorize it. Practice until your muscles have memorized it too. If you did it right the weight of the hawk will make it rotate one turn before sticking in the target block.

If it doesnít stick, watch closely as it hits the target. If it hits with the handle down you are too close. If it is hitting the target with the top of the hawk head you are too far. Move yourself up or back until your hawk makes one turn before sticking. Then mark that spot on the ground and practice.

Jeff Nason, first place Hawk
& Knife, Nehalem River  Rendezvous, Oregon with an early Kelley Custom Competition Hawk.


For Experienced Competitors in Rendezvous hawk and knife trails

Youíve probably learned by now that your muscles stretch as you warm up. This translates to sticking your hawk at a shorter distance as you start a hawk trail and longer as you warm up. Remember that as you walk the trail. Thatís why itís always good to warm up with some practice throws. The best competitors carry their own hawk blocks for practice.

Now that you have mastered hawk throwing you can play around with technique. You may know that you can stick a hawk at close ranges by choking up on the handle a bit and adding a wrist flip to your release. Be careful because itís hard to be consistent. Conversely, if you have a long target you can grip down on the handle, cock your arm back farther and lob the hawk so itíll stick with one turn from a greater distance. Donít forget to keep a spare handle pre-fitted to your hawk and cut to your length when you go out. No use in letting a broken handle spoil your fun. Speaking of handles, unless the rules say ďsteel on steelĒ I wouldnít throw my knife and hawk at the same time. Throw one, retrieve it, then throw the other. When you get good you invariably hit one on the other causing damage to both.

Some buckskinners throw their hawk, then step forward to throw their knife because the knife rotates faster than the hawk and sticks at a closer range. This is a cause for inconsistency and inaccuracy. I prefer to find the distance from which to stick my knife, then keep throwing the hawk and shortening the handle until it rotates the same as my knife (which has a very long blade) so they both stick from the same distance. This way Iíve eliminated one variable that could cost me a point or two.

I donít have space here, I should write a book, but you might also practice throwing underhand, sidearm, one-and-a-half rotations, and two rotations. Some folks who prepare the knife and hawk courses have a perverse sense of humor, requiring you to stick in a target between two trees, under a log, swinging from a chain, or dangling in a creek. Itís all for fun, and a challenge for those who havenít seen that kind of target before.

Actual ístickí on an overthrow
in competition with a
 Large Kelley Competition Hawk.

Hereís another thought. If youíre trying for real precision, like cutting string, or a playing card, and you stick consistently on one part of the block, but not where you aimed, CHANGE YOUR POINT OF AIM. In other words, if you are always sticking to the left of your target about six inches, donít change your stance, or your delivery, just look six inches to the right as you line up your shot. Shift your aim and youíll more likely hit where you meant to. And donít be tempted to look back at the target at the last second when you throw. Keep your eye on the new aiming point. Eventually your new aiming point and your sticking point will get closer together until you are hitting where you are looking.