World Axe Throwing League(WATL) Rules Explained

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The World Axe Throwing League rules are pretty common in most throwing establishments. Here is my breakdown:

Which Facilities use WATL Axe Throwing Rules?

As of right now, all major Axe Throwing bars/facilities are using the WATL rules. So better get familiar with all the things you should/shouldn’t do.

Some of their rules might be a little hard to understand for beginners, so we’ve made this guide to help you on your axe throwing journey.

They cover everything you might want to know from axe safety all the way to how you should design your target boards.

Going through the list, some items are straight forward and some can be a bit more confusing. Let’s go one by one and make sure we all know what we are doing:

Is There an Age Requirement to Throw Axes?

According to the the League, there is no age requirement or limits to play in the league. However they do state that each individual location will most likely have their own age limits.

2 main things to take away from this:

-Keep in mind that most of these places serve alcohol, so expect a 21+ on most of the bars.

-Playing in official tournaments with your son/daughter is no problem !

Pre Game Rules


They are big on fair play, and they try to implement this in most aspects of the game. One example is the target quality.

-Wood targets can sometimes be too battered to go on, or too hard for a regular throw to stick. Rules say that if targets are too damaged they may request to be replaced by the player.

-Similarly, if the targets appear too hard it is encouraged to ask for extra water to be sprayed to soften the wood.

-If your axes continue to fall bounce off the target or large chunks splinter out.. tell the instructor and they will be replaced.

Note: The decision to change out or water targets lies with the coach.

WATL Certified Axes Must Be

-Minimum of 12 inches total length.

-Axe Head can weigh 2LB Max.

-Blade should be up to 4.75 inches max.

-Handle can be made of almost any material you’d prefer.

WATL Official Throwing Axe
WATL Official Throwing Axe

Get your Official WATL Throwing Axe here

Warm Up Throws

Out of fairness, you do get some warm up throws before starting. However, they are pretty strict on when and how many.

-Before your first match, you are allowed 5 warm up throws. After the matches have started, you are allowed only 1 warm up throw

for every following match.

-It can be OK to get your practice in beforehand, when everyone is setting up, but they mention that even this type of warm up is up to the referee out of fairness.

These axe throwing rules sound a little strict to me, only 5 throws to warm up before starting really does separate the men from the boys.

Getting into the Gameplay

In a typical League play, you will have 4 different matches with 10 throws each match. The winner is the one who has the most points left after 10 throws. Very simplistic approach.

Players change sides after 5 turns out of fairness so each player is using both boards evenly.

This regular play goes on for 7 weeks!

Elimination style means that slowly the top players go to face each other in the 8th week for the playoffs

If you happen to get in a tie or a draw (which does happen from time to time) there are sudden death throw offs to determine the winner.

This is a straight forward approach that works really well with this play style. You are trying to beat yourself, not the opponent. This makes the game very fun and challenging at the same time.

How to Score an Axe Throwing Game?

If you look at a Throwing Axe Target, it looks just like any other bulls eye you’ve seen before, but with 2 extra blue circles on the upper left and right hand sides. The black lines divide the points value.

Points are accumulated depending on where your axe lands on the target.

Those 2 extra blue circles are normally worth just 1 point, except for the last shot. The last shot of the game is different than all the other throws.

The coach or instructor counts down from 3, 2, 1! And both players must throw at the same time.

If on this last attempt you manage to nail one of the blue circles, congratulations you just got the “Kill Shot” worth 10 points. (This is usually a game winner if played right)

All other throws prior have a scoring system that follows:

-Bulls eye gets you 6 points

-Landing within the second ring gets you 4 points

-Landing within the third ring gets you 3 points.

-Landing within the fourth ring gets you 2 points.

-Landing within the fifth ring gets you 1 point.

Note: keep in mind that the last throw needs to be timed with the instructor. If you throw too soon before the coach yells 3,2,1! You can end up with a score of 0!

What happens if the axe lands right in between 2 lines?

In this case, if the blade is touching both lines at the same time, you will be awarded the higher value every time. This does not count if the axe is close to or almost touching.

What happens if my axe falls out of the target?

If at any time the axe falls out before you can retrieve it – it counts as a 0 points even if it hit the bulls eye and then fell out a second later.

Trying to delay your throw in any way hoping that your opponents axe will fall out is a strict violation.

What if a different part of my axe sticks into the target?

If you stick your axe in backwards, or by the shaft ( would that even happen?) it is no different than if the blade got stuck in. Points will count as normal based on the location of the axe.

Best way to Throw an Axe According to WATL

You can throw using one or 2 hands, holding the axe over or behind your head. The league will not accept any other forms of throwing, so if you really like the underhanded method.. you are in for a disappointment.

Check out how to throw an axe and hit the bullseye to get a better idea of throwing techniques and the best way to throw in general.

Note: The League wants every player to attempt a rotation of the axe after it is thrown. They do mention that even if a full rotation does not occur, but only 50% or so of the axe rotates and it happens to stick to the target, that will still count as a good throw.

It is good practice to make your axe rotate once or more during your throws, but it is not something to worry about too much. More importantly is your hand placement and the way you throw.

What is the Official Axe Throwing Distance?

The throwing setup should be as follows:

-Players stand in a box 3 feet wide and throw at a target 12 – 15 feet away. The exact distance away does vary and can be 12, 13, 14 or 15 feet. Final decision on exact distance is left to the establishment.

-Your front foot must be behind the thick black line when you throw. Your back food could be anywhere you feel comfortable.

-Your lead foot may touch the line but may never cross it during your throw. This is important as new players like to throw their whole body and may move their foot up when releasing the axe without knowing.

-Practice releasing with good form. This will not only help your axe fly much more straight, it’l also prevent you from getting a 0 if the ref sees you lean too much forward and your foot coming over the line before the axe hits the target.

What if I Come Late or a Player is Absent?

Lateness is definitely frowned upon, however the league does give you a bit of leeway.

Officially, players are allowed 1 hour for lateness’s or early departures. Meaning, if you come late you will still get to play, but if you are over an hour late – the win will automatically go to your opponent.

Also, if you are granted a win due to someone’s absence or lateness, you still get 10 throws to record your points. Who knows, maybe you throw a perfect 10 bulls eye in a row game..

Tip: if you think you will have a delay or something like that, the League does advise you to call ahead and let them know. Consent of opposing players and the approval from the referee usually will give you extra time to get your stuff together even if you are coming way later than 1 hour.

Keep in mind, this is what they do for a regular league game, but the rules are much more strict for the playoffs.

Only a 10 minute grace period is allowed after the playoffs start. If you come after that, sorry but you’ve already forfeited.

Even if you arrive during the grace period but you are late for your next match.. you are also disqualified.

The moral of the story is – playoffs are serious business. Be there on time or consider it a loss!

Can a Player Make Up Missed Games?

Surprisingly, yes! If you couldn’t make it for whatever reason and were absent from your competition, league rules say you are allowed to miss up to 2 days of regulation play and make them up at a later time.

If you are planning to make up any missed games, make sure to do it before week 7! (before the playoffs)

How Does This Work?

Simply notify the referee at least 1 day in advance if you know you will miss a game and they will almost always grant you a redo at a later time.

Don’t worry too much if you happen to miss a game or 2. 8 weeks is a long time to dedicate and things do come up unexpectedly. Worry more on your accuracy and throwing techniques than showing up on time.

Axe Throwing Lanes and Throwing Etiquette

To keep everything safe – Throwing lanes are designed with fences or walls to block other incoming axes from entering your area. The Lanes, or throwing areas are only available to the 2 participants and the coach or referee. This is good to reduce distractions and keeps everything nice and safe.

The league states that whoever is throwing needs at least a 6 foot radius around them to be free of obstruction. This is something that the coaches look out for – but if you notice your area getting a little cramped, step back and wait till everyone is out of your way.

Axe Throwing is different from bowling in that people do not take turns. Keep throwing until you are finished, no need to wait for the other person to go first. However, if you wait too long after the other player hits the target to throw the ref might call you out on it.

All chopped off fingers must be taken back with you at the end of your round. (ok, this one is very situational)

How Playoffs work in Axe Throwing

After the 7th week, all players points are tallied up and the top 16 are now in the playoffs.

In the event of a draw at the end of a season, a tie breaker in a form of the amount of match wins will decide who gets placed where for the playoffs.

Playoffs consist of no more than 16 players and no less than 8 players due to fairness of play.

WATL uses the following matchmaking system to determine who gets placed where for the axe throwing playoffs:

-The lowest scoring player will face off against the highest scoring player.

-The second highest will be matched with the second lowest.

-Matchmaking continues this way until the 2 median players are playing against each other.

10 throws per game in the finals, business as usual.

At this point in the tournament, the rules switch to a single elimination style for each round but the last.

When we start nearing the end and are only left with the top 2, a clear winner will be named after winning 3 out of 5 games.

This allows someone who got unlucky with 1 or 2 throws to catch up – and is something we think is a great addition to make the sport of axe throwing a bit more fair, at least when it comes to the final rounds.

Note: each player will throw 5 times before switching sides. This will continue until one of the players wins 3 out of 5 matches but will last a maximum of 50 throws each.. or the game might go on forever.

Do We Really Need Coaches and Referees for Axe Throwing

Whether you like it or not, coaches and refs will always be watching you and looking out for your safety.

They are the only ones allowed to come into your 6 foot personal space to explain something, fix a problem or settle a dispute.

For those of you still learning, remember that an axe should never be thrown until the ref or coach clears you to do so. You don’t want to be thrown out before you have a chance to really learn the game.

As stated before, it doesn’t matter who goes first or second, what referees look out for is if you wait too long after your opponent throws to get going.

As a general rule, if the other guy threw you should be throwing right away. Of course some people are there to have fun rather than to be competitive, so the judges look the other way if you take a few extra seconds here and there. For the playoffs, these rules are strictly enforced.

Generally you will get only 2 warnings if you are throwing too late, after that they can disqualify you.

What Do Coaches Watch For When Throwing?

How long it takes you to retrieve your axe.

– Make sure an axe is retrieved before allowing the other player to throw.

-How long it takes you to throw after your opponent has went.

– Invading another throwers space

– General misconduct (We are playing with sharp axes, so of course safety is a big thing)

The Axe Throwing Leage Championships

The World Championships of axe throwing are always held at the end of the Fall season.

Every location will chose its top 2 people to compete for the title of World’s Best Axe Throwing Champ.

All rules mirror the regular tournament rules and regulations, except each player now gets 50 throws! All points to be counted and tallied for every player.

The winner is simply whoever has the most points after all 50 throws are finished.

The fun happens when there is a tie in this situation. In this case, it is a showdown with another 50 throws to be done side by side. This may take a little while longer, however is exciting to watch the best players go head to head, throw for throw.

WATL Target Specifications

Every target in the League should be made as follows:

The 2 parts of every target are the Backboard and the actual target itself.

Layering the target boards in this way has shown to be the most effective in terms of having axes stick to the board and overall general fairness for everyone.

The actual targets get drilled into the thicker backbone, usually a few of them are layered together for best results.

The actual target consists of 6 2×10 boards vertically placed very tightly together on the supporting backboard.

5 vertical boards with 2 horizontal ones (called headers and footers) in parallel on top and on the bottom make up the whole board.

Once you have the wooden board ready, its time to draw out the bulls eye – and there is a specific process for doing so.

A special WATL stencil is used to trace out the rings around the bulls eye to exact specifications.

This has a small hole which is drilled into the center of the board and every line can be traced by using the bigger holes going around. Remember making circles with a protractor in math class? This is the same deal.

The Exact Specifications for Targets are as Follows:

-The center of the bulls eye will be 57 ¼ inches up from the floor for all targets.

-Lines should be no more than 20mm thick.

-Bulls eye has to be colored red.

-All targets must stand level to the ground.

-Bulls eye must be 24 inches from the bottom of the board.

-Kill shots have a 3” diameter and placed within the 1 point ring. Must be positioned 45 Degrees to the right hand side and 135 degrees on the left hand side (from the bulls eye)

We recommend setting up a DIY Axe Throwing Target and practice, practice, practice!

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