Blog :

Getting Started in Pin Shooting

Getting Started in Pin Shooting

OK, you’ve heard about it, and you want to start. The first step is to do an online search and find pin shoots, and clubs that shoot pins, close enough to travel there. It doesn’t do any good to find a pin shoot that is 1,000 miles away. Unless, of course, it is The Pin Shoot, the Big Leagues in Central Lake. But to get started, find some place close.


What do you need?

Let’s begin with the Main Event. To start with, you need a handgun (revolver or pistol) and enough magazines or speedloaders to manage a “set” of pin tables. A set, in the classic, original sense, and the way things are done at The Pin Shoot, is three tables of five pins each. So you basically need a pistol and four magazines (you’re going to have to reload, trust me). A lot of shooters plan on six magazines, a back-up for each table, just because why not? If you are a revolver shooter, you’ll need that wheelgun and three or four speedloaders.

Local clubs might run things a bit different, because of the number of tables they have. The classic process is to arrive at the line when your name is called, and once the line is hot, load your handgun. On the start, shoot the first table. Once you are done (or time runs out) reload and step to the second table. Repeat. And so-on with the third.

Once you have fired three tables, unload and show clear. The pinsetters will re-set the tables, and while they do so you can reload your magazines or speedloaders, catch your breath, and figure out how to do the next set better.

A full score for an entry in the Main Event is two sets of three tables.



Scoring is simple in the Main Event: you are timed from the start signal, to the last pin hitting the ground. No scoring rings, no alibis, just you and the pins. You are allowed to use any load, in any handgun that fits the category rules, that doesn’t damage the tables.

If the ammo in the gun to start hasn’t been enough to clear the table, you can reload and keep going. Pins left on the table keep the clock ticking, up to fifteen seconds.

Each table is scored and recorded. Your five fastest of your six tables are totaled for your final score. Your worst score is not added to the total, but held as the tie-breaker. If you and another shooter have the same totals, then your worst scores are used to break the tie.

You will “time out” in fifteen seconds per table, just because there are other shooters waiting. So the maximum time would be 75 seconds. At fifteen seconds, the timers will tell you to stop, so everyone can move on to the next table.


But wait, there’s more.

Up at The Pin Shoot, there are four categories in the Main Event. They are: Pin Gun, Stock Gun, Space Gun and Concealed Carry gun. A local club might have all, one or two, or other categories that are in favor there. The category rules can be found here on The Pin Shoot web page. You do not have to enter all of them.

You can, if you enter them, shoot all four categories. You can shoot them all in one day, in any order, or one or two each day of The Pin Shoot. Local pin shoots are likely to be one-day affairs, so you’d better be hopping to get them all in.

Here are a few tips to make the experience easier, more fun, and increase your returning.


You can “Shoot up”

Let’s say you have an entirely suitable Stock Gun, but not one of the other three. So what? You can always shoot up. A Stock Gun is kosher in Pin and space, but not the Concealed Carry gun Event. Yes, you will be at an equipment disadvantage, using a Stock Gun in the Pin Gun event. So what? The idea is to have fun. If you find you like it and really want to do more pin shooting, you have a year to buy/build/trade into a Pin gun, or a Space gun, or both.


Bring ammo. A lot of it.

Yes, five pins should not require more than five shots. In fact, the mantra among pin shooters, is “one shot, one pin.” In a perfect world, we’d all show up with 30 rounds for each set of six tables. A fifty-round box of ammo for each six-table Main Event is a good idea, and the standard most shooters plan on.


Bring your usual gear.

Eye and ear protection are a must. In this day and age, no-one will let you shoot otherwise. A hand towel is a good idea, because you will be sweating. Unless it is a bitterly cold day, the stress will have you sweating.


More magazines

And speed-loaders, if you use a revolver, are a good idea. You have time to reload between tables, but as long as your magazines work, more is better.

If you use a revolver, a block that holds ammo in sets of six will make reloading a lot less stressful.


Move out

Once you are done, pick up your gear and get off the line. Others want to shoot, and they need the time to get set up. Be sure and collect your scorecard once the recorders are done with it.



The Optional Events run a bit differently. OK, there are the same three tables in front of you, but the number and array of pins will be different. They will be arrayed in the specific layout for that particular Optional you’ve entered.

You will shoot them in sets of three, but you can shoot more than two sets if you wish. In fact, you can shoot pretty much as many Optionals as your wallet, hands/shoulder or ammo supply can take. That, and daylight.

Scoring on Optionals is done one of two ways: cleared, or tipped.

The Optional Events that require a cleared table are scored the same as the Main Events: all of the pins have to hit the ground, time stops on the last one. These would be the Shotgun, 8-Pin, Two and Three-man events.

The tip-over events only require that all the pins be tipped over. This would be the 9×12 event and the PCC. You only have to tip the pins over, but there is one catch: you must shoot the bottom row first.

Why? Shooters learned early-on that by tipping over the top pins, those pins could fall down to the bottom, and tip over some of the pins on the bottom row. Since this is a shooting contest, and not a lucky-roll event, you now have to shoot the bottom row first.

Power Factor

The nature of bowling pin shooting means there are no scoring rings, no chronograph, and the pins are self-regulating as far as power is concerned. Hitting a pin with enough power will clear it off the table.

The question is: how much is “Enough?”

Bowling pins weigh three and a half pounds, give or take a few ounces. They are covered in a hard plastic skin. A bullet without enough power will simply tip a pin over, or skid it back but not off of the table. The two scoring methods used in pin shooting call for different power levels. To clear a pin off of the table is one, to tip it over the other.

The standard method of measuring handgun power is the Power Factor. Here, the weight of the bullet in grains is multiplied by the velocity in feet per second. This produces a six-figure numeral. A .45 ACP, with a bullet of 230 grains, going 800 feet per second, generates a Power Factor (PF) of 184,000. For convenience, we both round down and also drop the last three digits, so that load produces a 184 PF.

Here’s the important part: decades of experience has shown us that a 195 PF is the threshold of consistent bowling pin performance. That’s what it takes to push a pin off the back of a table with assurance.

This is complicated by the design of pins. They are round objects, and as your bullet impact moves off of the centerline, the surface it strikes is angled. An edge hit, even with a 195 PF load, is not always going to take the pin off of the table. It may (and many have) just spin around, and then fall over and stay on the table.

That is why so many pin shooters use hollow point bullets, or semi-wadcutters with a large flat, or meplat, on the bullet nose. The hollow point or meplat allows the bullet to “dig” in a bit, and could save a shot from being a bad hit, and make it just a slow roll.

The list of cartridges that can easily and consistently produce a 195 PF is not large, but it is large enough. At the bottom end we have the .357 Magnum. Moving up in revolvers, we have the 10mm (yes, they make revolvers in it) .41 magnum, .44 Special, .44 Magnum and .45 Colt.

In pistols, we have the 10mm, the .45 ACP, and any bigger ones.

The 40 S&W is not one of these.

Fans of the .40 always object to this, and sometimes loudly. Each year after it was introduced, we had shooters show up at The Pin Shoot with “hot 40 loads” that they assured us would “Clear the tables.” This rarely happened. Why? Numbers.

The common 40 S&W bullet weighs 180 grains. To produce a 195 PF (the threshold) that bullet has to be going 1,084 fps. No factory load produced goes that fast. To make that figure, you have to handload, and you have to be using a full-sized .40 pistol, one with a five-inch barrel. A comped Pin Gun, with a 5.5” barrel, gives you more speed. But if you come up short in velocity, you will be disappointed.

The 195 PF threshold is just that, the starting point. Many experienced pin shooters use hotter loads, with PFs of 200, 205 or 210. Some do more, but if you go much past 210 you begin to run into the law of diminishing returns. Yes, the load is more effective at pushing pins off the tables, but you are slower shooting it, taking time to recover from recoil. A 40 with a 180 grain bullet, to make a 200 PF, has to be going 1,112 fps. If you are going to be doing that, let us know so we can be someplace else.

The “sweet spot” on a bowling pin is just about the size of a playing card. A hit there, even with a barely-sub-195PF load, will push the pin off of the table. But, the clock’s ticking, and a slow-rolling pin can cost you half a second, a full second, or more.

If you take a quick look at the Power Factor threshold chart, you will see that revolver shooters catch a break. Let’s compare a shooter with a .45 ACP, using 200 grain JHPs, against a wheelgun in .45 Colt, with 255 grain flat-nosed bullets. The .45 ACP has to churn up 975 fps, compared to the revolver shooter and his sedate 765 fps. The revolver shooter has another advantage, in that he/she can be using a full wadcutter, hard-cast bullet. That one will “bite” into a pin on an off-center hit, better than the .45 ACP JHP.

The pistol shooter will have to find .45 ACP+P ammo, or load his own. The revolver shooter has a plethora of factory ammo that will more than do the job. At the other end of wheelguns, the shooter with a .357 Magnum has his work cut out for him.

The need for power, and the volume of shooting to be done, almost requires reloading as a hobby, but careful handgun and caliber selection can mitigate that.

Oh, and the tip-over events? Any factory 9mm load, no matter how wimpy, will do the job. In fact, a lot of shooters who compete in the tip-over Optionals don’t even reload 9mm. they simply buy the least-expensive bulk-pack 9mm, when it is on sale, and they are good to go. The numbers? Let’s say you enter the 9×12. That means twelve shots per run, 36 per three-table set. A box of fifty gives you 14 extra shots per three-table set to clean up, or get warmed up, or finish that last, stubborn pin.

A bulk purchase of 1,000 rounds of 115 grain FMJ (no need for JHPs when you just need to tip them over) is good for 20 sets, or 60 tables of 9×12. Nobody shoots 60 tables, not even the dedicated, obsessive pin shooter. Buy cheap 9mm and don’t worry about PF there.

How does my ammo stack up?

First, don’t believe press statistics. Yes, the ammo maker will tell you the bullet in question is going “X” fps, but out of your pistol, does it really? You must chronograph your ammunition to be sure. It must be absolutely reliable. There are no “alibis” or re-shots in pin shooting. Once you lift your gun off the rail, your run counts, is timed, and will be recorded.

At twenty-five feet, all handguns are more than accurate enough to keep all their shots well inside the borders of the playing card sweet spot.

Check your ammunition over a chrono. Then load lots of practice ammo, make sure your handgun is sighted-in for 25 feet, and practice, practice, practice.