“Choppers, here we go!”

At this command, four competitors swung their axes: over their heads and down between their feet, into the horizontal log segment each was standing atop. As spectators cheered them on, the participants in the horizontal hardhit event of the 2019 Missoula Pro-Am logging sports show raced to be the first to cleave their log in two.

This heat was won by Lionzo Escovedo, a Colorado State University senior who came here with his school’s logging sports team. Panting from the exertion afterward, he said he plans to pursue a career in forestry. For people already inclined to work with wood, competitive logging sports has a natural draw.

“I’ve always been a chainsaw fan,” he said, explaining how he got involved in logging sports three years ago, “and they got me with the chainsaws.”

Power saws were their own separate event at Saturday’s tournament, part of Forestry Days at Fort Missoula. Other events included pole climbing, log rolling, horizontal sawing, and, of course, ax throwing.

“A lot of it is just keeping the old craft alive,” said event organizer Scott Kuehn. “They’ve been around for 100 years.”

Kuehn, chairman of Fort Missoula’s Forestry Interpretive Area, has been involved with this tournament throughout its 23-year history. He took up logging sports as a member of the University of Montana Woodsmen’s Team, and honed his skills over 20 years as a professional competitor.

This weekend, he estimates 40 professionals have come to compete in Missoula, along with about 60 college students from the Rockies and Pacific Northwest. Kuehn sees the tournament as a way to transfer skills. “We use this as a learning experience for the college kids,” he said, explaining how the tournament alternates between college and professional heats, and professionals offer demonstrations and tips when the day’s competition is done.

Some of the skills the tournament tests — like chopping away at a trunk while standing on a plank driven into its side high above the ground — aren’t always relevant in this age of mechanized forestry, Kuehn said. But logging sports nonetheless has appeal for the next generation of foresters.

Another of the horizontal hardhit competitors, Remy Altasserre, is studying forest resource management at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, with plans to work in that field. When he saw the university’s team at an activities fair, he remembers thinking, “‘Hey, this might be cool,’ so I tried it out, liked it and stuck with it.”

Both he and Escovedo have found plenty of camaraderie in this esoteric sport.

Asked what he liked most about the activity, Escovedo replied, “definitely the community, man. Everyone’s super nice.”

“I just love Montana,” he added, “it’s super nice, super welcoming.”

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