Bullseye!Feb 01, 2022 09:00AM ● By Karin Knaus
When Marshall and Jennifer Winters began exploring the idea of opening their own small business, the husband and wife had plenty to ponder. As they started kicking around ideas, one critical refrain kept echoing in their heads—“That’s boring.” Until Marshall suggested throwing axes at the wall.
The family, whose passions include hunting, hiking, and exploring, considered the friends they’d seen on social media throwing axes in venues closer to larger cities, and inspiration struck. “Why not Williamsport?”
Once the conversation commenced about the anything-but-boring idea, it ignited their adventurous spirits. The next Saturday, the pair took their boys on a road trip to give it a try. Their first experience, says Marshall, “wasn’t great.” They tried again at a spot near Harrisburg. After throwing there, they knew they wanted to give it a shot and immediately began looking for a location in Williamsport. They also learned what they didn’t want to do—leave untried customers without the instruction and direction they needed to have the best experience possible.
The Hatchet House opened in July 2019 at 362 Market Street. Prospective amateur lumberjacks are greeted by one of the twenty friendly “Axeperts” employed there. Groups are assigned their very own Axepert, ready to demonstrate how to wield a hatchet safely and heave it accurately in one of the many lanes available. Green throwers first learn the safety rules, including staying behind a line when another is throwing, and never handing an axe directly to another thrower. Instead, you’ll leave it on the stump for the next person to heft themself.
At the far end of each lane lies the Everest every guest hopes to conquer—a massive wooden target tall and wide enough that even someone who doesn’t feel particularly savvy with an axe is sure to get at least a few successful throws in.
The thunking of hatchets hitting their marks resonates. If you’re really lucky, you’ll hear the familiar “Kill shot!” chant, signaling some brave soul is going “all in” on a chance at striking one of two special, but challenging, spots on the target. Hit one and it means added points and even greater glory. But should they miss? Well, they score a zero and leave their glory resting on the stump.
The Axeperts make the whole experience safe, rel-axe-ing, and memorable. Says Marshall, “We definitely search for those who are outgoing, trustworthy, and reliable. It’s important for our Axeperts to not only keep our customers safe while throwing, but also to engage with them and show them an unforgettable time.”
After demonstrating how to throw an axe at the target both one-handed and overhead, the Axepert ensures each thrower has time to hone their craft. Then, let the games begin! It’s not simply an hour of taking turns throwing axes. It’s sister against brother and every man or woman for themself to see who can score highest and walk out with bragging rights. Popular games include High Score, where each thrower gets ten throws, and Cornhole, where the winner is the first to hit twenty-one points without going over.
If there’s time remaining, some Axeperts will demonstrate a few trick shots and give customers a chance to try them out. An underhanded “granny” shot, holding the blade instead of the handle, and a two-hatchet stunner spice up anyone’s throwing repertoire.
As if the myriad of games and trick shots wasn’t enough, the Winters have remained committed to making sure no one ever gets bored. They’ve added the popular “Glow Throw” on the First Friday of every month. It’s everything you’d imagine—abundant blacklights, hypnotizing neon, and bright, bold bullseyes. They’ve also incorporated Tuesday night doubles leagues in fall and winter. Each session lasts about eight weeks and culminates in tournaments with prizes donated by other local businesses.
The Hatchet House offers their own “Snaxe Bar”—what else could they call it?—and customers may bring their own beer or wine to enjoy while competing.
Shortly into their tenure with the brick and mortar business, the couple decided to expand to offer outdoor Mobile Axe Throwing. The mobile business caught on quickly and was a great pivot for the team during covid, when indoor businesses were shuttered and people preferred outdoor activities, particularly in warm weather.
In 2021, the Hatchet House’s two mobile trailers offered the excitement of axe throwing tomfoolery at retirement parties, weddings, corporate events, and more. Marshall reports they’ll have three trailers available for the 2022 season. “We encourage customers to book as far in advance as possible,” he says.
Whether in-house or on a trailer, the business sees bachelor and bachelorette parties and gender reveals. They’ve even seen their share of surprise engagements.
Anyone who walks into the Hatchet House, tries their hand at the bright red bullseye, dares to track down the elusive kill shot, or just laughs at their own inadequacy is certain to have a day to remember. That’s exactly what Marshall and Jennifer wanted.
But they’re not done yet. The team is planning to launch a catering business, “Dad’s BBQ” for 2022. The Hatchet House will continue to evolve, too, as general manager Cody Park plans to launch a series of new games and “fun new things up our sleeves in 2022.”
If you choose to try your hand at the Hatchet House, the Winters can’t promise you’ll win a game or get the bullseye, although they’ll certainly try to help you get there. They can promise it won’t be boring. Learn more on their website, pahatchethouse.com, or call them at (570) 800-AXES. Follow their Instagram or Facebook page to see updates.