Tobacco Spitting and Tomahawk Throwing

Go to the Sum­mer Red­neck Games,  if that's your thing. I'd like to point out that a true Red­neck Games would have tobac­co spit­ting con­tests instead of water­mel­on seeds.

I feel like ram­bling and riff­ing, as some­times hap­pens when I'm not writ­ing well, so bear this post with good humor, if you will.

When I was a kid, my par­ents and broth­er belonged to a reen­act­ment group called the The Ameigh Val­ley Irreg­u­lars Black Pow­der Club–pre-1840s dress and sup­plies rec­om­mend­ed and some­times required.The club was loose­ly orga­nized under the aegis of the NMLRA. This was a good time, believe me. The club would meet every month or so and shoot at the range a cou­ple times a month, or maybe once a month, I can't remem­ber. When we first cleared a cou­ple fields to set up the fir­ing range, I was ten tears old or so, and my idea of fun includ­ed run­ning the hills with the owner's Ger­man Shep­herd, Fudgie, or swim­ming in the large pond called Packard's Pud­dle, or sim­ply lying on the ground and watch­ing the adults brush­hog every­thing. Then I'd bur­row into the grass and tree limbs pile before we burned it lat­er in the day. The mess made a great fort.

Maybe twice a year we'd have a shoot, where we'd com­pete against anoth­er gun club, maybe Land of the Senecas, or Whis­per­ing Pines, both still exist. These times pro­vid­ed the most oppor­tu­ni­ty for me. I wasn't old enough to com­pete and wouldn't have com­pet­ed had I been old enough, because I had a prob­lem: flinch­ing. It's one thing to shoot a cen­ter-fire or rim-fire rifle, where all the explod­ing is done in the bar­rel of the rifle. The three-stage igni­tion of a flint­lock muz­zle­loader is some­thing else again, because all that action is hap­pen­ing an inch in front of your face. You see the spark when the flint hits the frizzen, see the hiss and puff of the prim­ing pow­der going off, then the boom of the rifle as the spark enters the touch­hole set­ting off the charge. If you're not expe­ri­enced, you'll flinch at the first explo­sion of pow­der, close your eyes, and not hit any­thing. It's dif­fi­cult to get used to, and I nev­er did.

On the oth­er hand, things I could and did do includ­ed both tobac­co spit­ting and throw­ing tom­a­hawk and knife. The tobac­co-spit­ting came nat­u­ral­ly, as these were the late 70s days of Skoal and Copenhagen–"just a pinch between your cheek and gum"– at the very least, and if you were hard­core, like my grand­fa­ther and my broth­er, and ALL of his friends (who were mine as well) it was loose-leaf or plug tobac­co like Red Man, Beech Nut or Levi Gar­rett. Now, the idea of spit­ting is easy, as near­ly  every­one who chews tobac­co has to do it. Spit­ting the 20 feet or more required for com­pe­ti­tion takes some pow­er and finesse.  You could spit neat­ly between your teeth and look cool if you had the mouth to do it, but you wouldn't get dis­tance. Bet­ter by far to get up a good half-a-mouth­ful of loose leaf tobac­co and hack a plo­sive loogey. I watched a guy lose once because he spat the entire thing–tobacco, juice and all–when it's sup­posed to be, you know, just the juice you spit. I'm hap­py to report I quit the nasty stuff by about 13, part­ly because I was grow­ing out of my big brother's influ­ence (he also quit, though I don't remem­ber when). I won­der if I'll ever feel as cool, though, as when I walked into school with the fad­ed ring of the Skoal can marked on the back left pock­et of all my jeans. It was quite a sta­tus sym­bol once, though nev­er as impor­tant to me as the tom­a­hawk and knife.

The tar­get was made of logs nailed togeth­er in a rough tri­pod, the tar­get log being about a foot and half in diam­e­ter, and the tar­get itself a sim­ple play­ing card set side­ways. There was no required dis­tance from the tar­get. As long as your hawk or knife made a com­plete rev­o­lu­tion with every throw, you were fine. A sim­ple stick got you one point, if I remem­ber right, three points if you hit the card, and five if you cut it in half. I spent lit­er­al hours, even days, at this, every week­end, either at the club or in the barn at home. It became sim­ple physics to me after a while. I dis­cov­ered when I took  four  steps from the tar­get and turned around, I had my sweet spot, and could stick every time, same thing with 8 paces, 12, 16, and final­ly 20. This came in handy when impress­ing young Scouts dur­ing my sum­mers on staff at Camp Brule, but didn't pro­vide much for com­pe­ti­tion. I became bored, and just stopped throw­ing for a while.

My broth­er made things more inter­est­ing when he and his friends made their own  throw­ing stars, weld­ing togeth­er four mow­ing machine blades into a very heavy and lethal machine about the size of my adult hand. He got good enough with it to split the tom­a­hawk han­dle of the unfor­tu­nate some­one who threw first. More than a cou­ple times, that was me, who would then have to spend hours glass­ing down the neck of a new han­dle so it would fit the hawk and still bal­ance well.

In my late teens, my friend Ed and I got good enough to throw in tan­dem and cut a card, and do var­i­ous and sundry tricks too. Many of these were made pos­si­ble by my next-door neigh­bor, who pro­duced great throw­ing knives out of scrap met­al, quar­ter-inch-thick pieces of steel; about the size of my fore­arm, riv­et­ed with leather han­dles, as well as a notch cut on the blade for the bal­ance point. Dad had a big one but didn't throw it much, and mine was some­what small­er. In time, I inher­it­ed Dad's knife too, even­tu­al­ly, as the gun club ran its course of pop­u­lar­i­ty and fell apart, and he didn't need to throw it anymore.

I miss throw­ing, miss that sol­id sat­is­fac­tion of blade meet­ing wood, the rest­ful rhythms of the walk back and forth to pull the blade, the deep, near­ly fer­al sat­is­fac­tion of being so good at some­thing so use­less. I still have a tom­a­hawk, bought recent­ly from the same Dix­ie Gun Works I bought from twen­ty-five years ago, and in hon­or of hav­ing bought our house. Right now, the back­yard is filled with the beau­ti­ful flow­ers and a nice wood­en fence the house came with. It needs a tar­get. I'm going to find a log (not so easy to find in the city) and set up a range soon, and see how much my throwing's been affect­ed by my twice-bro­ken right elbow. Plus, I can't wait to hear what the neigh­bors say. 🙂

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2 Responses to Tobacco Spitting and Tomahawk Throwing

  1. Throw­ing tom­a­hawks is an art form. Some peo­ple have learned how to do it, most haven't.

  2. Jeff says:

    I made my own throw­ing stars out of these pieces of steel you would some­times find beside the road. They were shaped like a bowtie about 10 inch­es across. At the time, I had no idea where they came from, they would just appear in the tall grass beside the road, like man­na. Lat­er I worked at a steel fab com­pa­ny and real­ized they were scrap met­al pieces from a punch.

    When you cut one in half it made a pair of big train­gu­lar pieces of met­al. I used a gring­ing wheel on the points and would stick 9 times out of 10. I usu­al­ly had five or six on me at all times. I always want­ed to use them in case I ran into a pack of fer­al dogs, but I nev­er got the chance to engage in such noble bat­tle. There might still be one or two stuck to a tree and rust­ing in the woods somewhere.

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