Become a Lumberjack at Nova Scotia’s Wild Axe Park

Axe-throwing at Wild Axe Park in Nova Scotia

All photos © Robin and Arlene Karpan

Axe-throwing at Wild Axe Park in Nova Scotia
Arlene with Darren Hudson after hitting a bull’s eye with her axe.

How would you like be a lumberjack? We’re not talking about working hard in the bush all day, just doing the cool stuff like throwing axes, balancing on floating logs, and wearing plaid shirts. At Wild Axe Park in Nova Scotia, you not only have the chance to play at being a lumberjack for the day, but learn those skills from a guy who is as close to being a genuine traditional lumberjack as we’ll find anywhere.

For five generations, Darren Hudson’s family harvested logs in the Nova Scotia forest and floated them down the Barrington River to the coast to be milled and used in shipbuilding and other industries. The family still operates a sawmill nearby.

Darren Hudson with axe that he made.
Darren Hudson with a double-bit axe that he made.

Wild Axe Park Lumberjack Activities

Darren’s mission is to keep lumberjack traditions alive. He set up Wild Axe Park in the rural community of Barrington in southern Nova Scotia, near the mouth of the Barrington River. Visitors come here to learn, or at least have fun trying to learn, skills such as log rolling, cross-cut and bow sawing, tree climbing, and axe-throwing.

Cross-cut saw, Wild Axe Park, Nova Scotia.
Cross-cut saw.

Axe-throwing has become hugely popular almost everywhere. While people have been throwing axes at targets for centuries, it’s only in the past few years that it has become a mainstream sport. It has even been dubbed the “new darts”. There’s no doubt that flinging a huge axe at a target is much more dramatic and satisfying than tossing a tiny dart.

Axe-throwing, Wild Axe Park, Nova Scotia

Head to many communities across Canada, as well as in many other countries, and you can likely find an axe-throwing venue. The big difference here is that you learn from the best. It would be an understatement to say that Darren is a qualified teacher. He has won lumberjack competitions around the world, including becoming a seven-time world champion log-roller. He has appeared on the Rick Mercer Show and the Late Show with David Letterman, and acted as a stunt double for Steve Martin in a movie.

Darren Hudson.

When not wielding axes and balancing on floating logs, Darren runs a tree service where he specializes in tricky tree removals from confined spaces, such as where a large dead tree might fall on a nearby house. No fancy high-lift cranes for this guy. In true lumberjack style, he climbs the trees and cuts them down a bit at a time.

It’s as easy as falling off a log

Log rolling is usually the kids’ favourite activity, according to Darren. He showed the technique by casually standing on a floating log and rolling it around at faster and faster speeds. This was an important skill for log drivers who stood atop the precarious and constantly moving logs as they floated down the river. Darren calls those early log drivers the original extreme athletes.

Log rolling, Wild Axe Park, Nova Scotia.
Darren Hudson demonstrating log rolling.

To take things up a notch, he jumped up and down on the log, and showed how competitors would splash each other and devise tricks to throw the other off balance and into the water.

Keeping your opponent off balance sometimes takes an imaginative twist. Darren related the story of attending a lumberjack competition in Europe a few years ago. On the evening before the event, he and a teammate went to a pub with competitors from the United States. They kept buying drinks for the Americans while being careful not to drink too much themselves.

The ploy paid off. The Americans were still a bit hung over the next day and were easier to dump off the logs.

Bull’s eye!

Now it was time to try axe-throwing for ourselves. Darren handed us hefty double-bit axes with a sharp blade on both sides of the head. He showed us how to grab the handle with both hands, bring it over your head until it almost comes to your back, then swing it forward with a lot of power while aiming at the target, releasing it when your arms are about a 45-degree angle forward.

Wild Axe Park, Barrington, Nova Scotia
Taking aim.
Axe-throwing, Wild Axe Park, Nova Scotia.
Robin with a reasonably good throw, but no bull’s eye.

Most of the half dozen novice axe-throwers in our group had mixed results at first, occasionally hitting the edge of the target, but more often seeing the axe fly past or glance off the target. Our aims improved with practice and we actually hit the target a few times. When Arlene had a series of misses in a row, Darren corrected her stance, and on the next throw she scored the first perfect bull’s eye. After that, it would indeed be hard to go back to playing darts.

Bulls-eye axe-throwing, Wild Axe Park, Nova Scotia.


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