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Arkansas 4-H offers axe throwing at 4-H Outdoor Skills Challenge


LITTLE ROCK — Successfully throwing an axe is tougher than it looks, but Arkansas 4-H members had a unique opportunity to give it their best shot at the 4-H Outdoor Skills Challenge, held June 10 at the C.A. Vines Arkansas 4-H Center.
Arkansas 4-H is the only 4-H program in the nation to offer axe throwing as part of a contest. In addition to axe throwing, youth tested their skills in knot tying, fire building, canoeing, kayaking and atlatl, an ancient device used to throw spears. Forty-five members from 11 Arkansas counties attended the competition, first held in 2023.
Jesse Bocksnick, extension 4-H outdoor skills coordinator for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said Arkansas 4-H decided to include axe throwing in the contest to help draw interest. Only senior level 4-H members, aged 14-19, can participate in the axe throwing.
“Axe throwing was kind of a throwback,” Bocksnick said. “We wanted to do something that was kind of cool, that nobody else did and was kind of edgy. We also noticed it was huge out in the public, with all those axe-throwing facilities.”
Participants each got two practice throws and five scoring throws. Points were given if participants successfully lodged their axes in tree cookies — cross-sections cut from a fallen pine tree at the 4-H Center. The tree cookies were soaked underwater for more than a year to soften them for the competition.
Bocksnick said axe throwing teaches concentration and other important skills.
“It’s all about life skill development,” he said. “Anything to get kids to pay attention, concentrate, and help their self-confidence, that’s what it’s all about, and doing it in a fun way. We have to have a fun hook. Anything we can do to keep their interested and keep them hooked into the 4-H program, that’s what we do.”
Arkansas 4-H Outdoor Skills Challenge results
Seniors overall, individuals
First place: Caitlin Cooper, White County
Second place: Brooke Duvall, Conway County
Third place: Aaron Smith, Faulkner County
Seniors overall, teams
First place: Addison Kennon and Ava Kennon, Stone County
Second place: Justin Morris and Dominic Neal, Craighead County
Third place: Cheyanne Marshall and Christian Trombley, Howard County
Juniors overall, individuals
First place: Carleigh Cooper, White County
Second place: Mia Hefler, Conway County

Third place: Wesley Webb, Lonoke County
Juniors overall, teams
First place: Asher Howard and Rhett Young, Howard County
Second place: Calia Connelly and Molly Jackson, Grant County
Third place: Declan Barnard and Levi Jackson, Grant County
Outdoor skills for all
Creenna Bocksnick, Arkansas 4-H camping coordinator for the Division of Agriculture, said she and her husband Jesse Bocksnick began teaching extension 4-H agents about the outdoor skills program prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Then we really focused on it in 2020, as counties were looking for activities to get their county programs back up and going,” she said.
In 2023, they implemented the contest for the first time.
“The whole concept came about because we wanted to offer more outdoor skills, more outdoor involvement with Arkansas 4-H,” Jesse Bocksnick said. “Creenna and I started putting this together, and we thought about all the stuff we do at the 4-H Center, all the stuff we do in 4-H, that we could actually use as a hook for life skills development.
“We could bring in shooting sports kids, we could bring in fishing kids, forestry kids, livestock kids, anything outdoor-education based — this will bring them all together in one spot and might expose them to another part of 4-H,” he said.
The contest is designed to expose participants to a variety of outdoor skills, which they learn and practice over the course of a year. A month prior to the Outdoor Skills Challenge event, they reveal to teams which four or five skills will be included in the upcoming contest.
“What that does is it allows them to practice the skills for the contest, whether it be mountain biking, fishing, hiking, gear judging — all that you see here today, plus several more,” Bocksnick said. “They can practice that all year long, and it doesn’t get dull. That way, their coach isn’t honing them in on four or five activities all year and burning them out. They get a fully encompassed learning experience all year long, and then they get to show off for it.”
Crenna Bocksnick said the variety of activities appeals to county agents and their club members.
“With all the possible events for this contest, agents and club leaders have multiple activities that can be conducted within the county,” Bocksnick said. “It gives youth an introduction to a wide variety of outdoor activities. It is also designed so that no one event is more important in the scoring. They are all weighted the same.”
Alicia Hugen, Conway County extension staff chair for the Division of Agriculture, said her 4-H members benefit from the mix of old and new skills.
“Each year that they compete, they’re gaining new skills and building upon skills from last year, and I think that is just awesome,” Hugen said. “For example, with fire building, we don’t know if it’s going to be matches, or flint, or a lighter, so we have kids practice with all of those. Last year, we boiled water, and then they just announced today that they’re going to be burning through a string. Kids love this kind of thing, so we’ve had a lot of interest.”
Hugen said that the outdoor skills in-services helped revitalize the county’s 4-H program after low numbers resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Introducing this was a huge draw, not only for the current 4-H’ers, but it also brought new families in, because this was something new and different and honed in on those outdoor skills that families truly love,” Hugen said. “It has really impacted our program positively, bringing those kiddos and those new families in and introducing them to the 4-H program in a different light. A lot of people still think, ‘Oh, I have to have cows or chickens to do this,’ and that’s not the case at all. This really hit the nail on the head.”