April 21, 2022
By Lynn Burkhead
Last spring, my son-in-law graduated from law school after several years of hard study and work. And in the aftermath of getting a big diploma that said he could now take the bar exam and become a card-carrying attorney, the family celebrated at his brother’s house.
As I recall, there was the usual Lone Star State cookout where grilled meat and other back-deck appetizers were present. There also were a lot of giggles and grins, good times punctuated with stories that remembered when, celebrated the present accomplishment of Tim and my daughter Katie, and looked forward to the future.
And there were also games, lots of games, Backyard Ready versions that ended up delivering even more smiles, bigger laughter, and more than a little bit of good-natured ribbing among brothers who love to compete.
The highlight of the evening may have very well been a backyard version of an ax-throwing game with a few small and single bladed axes, a big wooden target board with a bull’s-eye painted on, and some carefully explained instructions and ground rules about throwing techniques, overall safety rules, various scoring procedures, and lots more.
And if there was a scoring dispute, then the family now had an attorney who could help settle things, right?
As springtime continues to emerge all across the country and families turn to their yard landscapes, there is a smorgasbord of backyard games that can offer good times and lots of smiles to go along with the good food and good company of a back-deck cookout and party.
And while throwing an ax at a wooden bull’s-eye is fun—if you have the space to safely do so—there are plenty of other games that hit the target, too.
From old St. Augustine or Bermuda standbys like croquet or bocce ball to table card games of blackjack, poker, Rook, or even Go Fish!, to traditional games like Scrabble, Yahtzee, and Monopoly, to new electronic or video games played on a big screen TV hanging under a covered patio, a roofed deck, or an outdoors den outback, there are all kinds of fun game options to include in your backyard entertaining.
And there are also a few other options to consider, too, some with a unique twist and/or outdoors flavor:
If there’s one backyard game most people are familiar with, it’s probably the simple, yet incredibly fun competition of throwing darts. From an inexpensive foam dart board to electronic soft points to the time-honored steel points tossed in bar-like settings, the concept of a darts game is simple as players step behind a line, toss the darts at a circular board with points and bull’s eye configurations painted on, and keep score in some manner.
With some 16.6 million people playing darts across the U.S., there are many different skill sets involved and games possible, according to the American Darters Association. The sky is the limit with a dart board and set of darts.
When you get your dart board set up in a backyard setting, you’ll want to keep safety considerations in mind, following the old shooter’s adage of knowing what’s beyond and off to the side before throwing. You’ll also want to place your board where an errant throw can’t end up damaging an expensive window, fall into a firepit or grill, or cause any other sort of unwanted consequence.
While a little bit different than the traditional game mentioned above, you can also try the lawn darts style of the game, where bigger, beefier, weighted darts are tossed into the air with a circular ring downrange. Find your aim, let the dart fly underhanded into the evening sky, and try and hit the target with a little bit of backyard accuracy!
- Cool idea: Make it hunting-related and throw darts at a game target, decoy or poster tacked to the dartboard.
The bean-bag-throwing game cornhole has become so popular that it’s played in backyards, tailgate parties and camping areas everywhere. There's even an official association, the American Cornhole League, and pro tournaments are frequently televised.
And since outdoors gear retailing spots like Academy, Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s, and wholesale warehouse spots like Sam’s or Costco usually sell such cornhole boards, most people are familiar with what the game sets look like. Perhaps even enough to make your own.
Cornhole sets may be made of wood, aluminum or composite material, and often include a sports logo, patriotic symbol or maybe something hunting- or fishing-related.
- Cool idea: How about a fishing version of cornhole? Bass anglers at the party can show off their jig-flipping prowess, with casted jigs replacing the bean bags. Like cornhole, extra points for flipping the lure into the hole.
There’s not much explanation needed here since the horseshoe game is a universal one familiar in many parts of America. All you need is a couple of metal or plastic stakes driven into the ground, a set of plastic or metal horseshoes to throw a few ringers with, and a good eye and a great appetite for a whole lot of backyard fun!
If you have backyard landscaping to consider, it’s best to get a plastic set, because metal stakes and shoes will tear up some grass. If you’ve got the space out back, especially with some ground you don’t mind disturbing, definitely go with metal gear.
- Cool idea: A similar game to horseshoes is the old southern tradition of throwing washers. Not clothes washers, mind you, but the ones used with nuts and bolts. My two western Tennessee grandfathers were fans of the backyard washer game, either pitching the half-dollar sized washers to a hole dug into the ground or at a strategically placed old metal coffee can. If tossing washers is something you’d like to try, there’s a place you can go find out more info: The International Association of Washer Players teaches you how to play.
If you’re an outdoors enthusiast who likes to bowhunt, odds are you’ve got a Rhinehart or Delta McKenzie 3-D archery target, a Block style cube target, a Morrell Yellow Jacket bag target, a bull’s-eye field target, or even a paper target face and a hay bale hiding somewhere in the corner of a backyard, a garage, or the shop out back.
If so, shooting a few arrows can provide hours of fun. While some archers are quite particular about who it is that shoots with one of their good bows, many have an old compound bow, a well-worn traditional bow, or even a National Archery in the Schools bow (that works for any draw length) stored somewhere.
And if they do, such a bow can provide some good-natured target shooting fun in the Backyard Ready environment. As noted previously, safety is a key consideration here and you’ll want to make sure that your backyard is spacious enough and doesn’t have any potential danger lurking behind a target just in case an arrow misses the mark.
Please note that certain bows may also feature draw lengths and draw weights that will make it difficult for some backyard-party guests to participate—the last thing you want is to have a bow get dry-fired accidentally.
But if your yard is set up to safely handle bow-and-arrow shooting, there’s nothing more satisfying than some time spent outback thumping a downrange target with some arrows and field points. Keep score, play a game, or just have some arrow-shooting fun!
- Cool idea: There are some less-dangerous archery games available. Nerf’s Dude Perfect Signature Bow can be shot by anyone. (And, truthfully, you can’t really go wrong with Nerf at a party).
Avid anglers almost always have an old baitcaster, a worn-out spinning rig, or even a fly rod that has seen better days, hanging out in the corner of a backyard shed, shop, or garage.
If so, these can easily be converted into target-style games when a crowd is coming over for a cookout on the backyard patio or deck. Whether a casting plug or old lure without the hooks, you can use various targets, ranging from the backyard wood pile, a hula hoop on the lawn, a chalked line, or even a certain tree to test casting skills for distance, accuracy, and anti-backlashing abilities.
While casting is something that many people can readily do—if we love the outdoors now, then odds are, we grew up with a fishing rod in our hand at least part of the year—make the games as simple or complex as various skill sets allow.
For the fly fishers in the crowd, similar games can take place with an old fly rod, a fly line, and a piece of yarn tied onto the end. Whether you’re trying to see the distance that someone can accurately cast, trying to land the yarn (or a fly with the hook point snipped off), or whether someone has the ability to lay a fly underneath a tree or bush’s overhanging limb, there’s all kinds of fun ways to pass the time casting away, before or after the evening’s food is served.
- Cool idea: Use fishing accuracy in an obstacle course that might include pitching a jig into a cornhole hole, casting a bobber into hoop on the ground, then tying on and long-casting a plastic plug into a tub of water. Fastest caster wins.
BB Target Games
While shooting safety is certainly the name of the game with a BB rifle or pellet gun, these can also provide a lot of smiles, satisfaction, and friendly competition if your backyard is set up to safely allow for such activities.
One of the better options is a BB or pellet target trap, a box that traps the shot after someone has taken aim at a paper target, a clay target, or some sort of metal silhouette shape.
There are even stakes that will hold up an aluminum can or a clay pigeon target above ground, as well as silhouette targets that spin freely on a metal rod after they are struck by a BB or pellet. And in a pinch, you can simply tape a circular paper target to a cardboard box or staple such a target to a bale of hay outback, providing hours of simple, safe, and cost-effective shooting fun.
- Cool idea: Soft target choices, such as Nerf, easily replace BBs and pellets. Like the fishing accuracy idea above, create a course with various targets to hit.
Giant Board Games
Last, but not least, are board games, played out back. And while that can include a regular-size chess or checkerboard set up on a patio table, deck bar, or even on a table next to a pool, it can also mean something a little bit bigger and perhaps more entertaining.
What’s that, you ask? A GIANT backyard chess or checkers set, something like the Chess House Giant Chess Set or the Giant Checkers Set from Northern Tools.
In both the giant checkers or chess outdoors games—and there are other giant backyard games available too, including Giant Jenga —you get a weather resistant layout board, a set of giant pieces, and a well-known game.
- Cool idea: For something different, Jackbox.TV is an app that features several crowd-pleasing games (trivia, drawing, etc), in which players use their smart devices to play and interact on a TV. Really fun on a back-deck television with a group of friends.
Add it all together and such a game can provide hours of laughter, smiles, and fun, all while the sun is setting on the western horizon, the springtime wind is softly blowing in the trees above, and the cool temperatures and early season fireflies beckon everyone to step outside into the Backyard Ready world!