bowling pin shooting set up

When it comes to shooting sports, many enthusiasts think of classic disciplines like target shooting, skeet shooting, or archery. However, there’s a lesser-known but incredibly exciting shooting sport that adds a unique twist to the world of marksmanship: bowling pin shooting. Pin shooting combines speed and accuracy in a friendly-yet-competitive environment; and it’s more complicated than you might think! Let’s take a closer look at what makes bowling pin shooting one of the most fun ways to put your handgun skills to the test.

The Origins of Bowling Pin Shooting

Bowling Pin Shooting, often abbreviated as BPS, originated in the United States in the 1970s. It was originally developed by Richard Davis, a Detroit Pizza parlor owner who created Soft Concealable Body Armor-aka the bulletproof vest. Oddly enough, simply shooting himself in the chest whilst wearing the armor failed to inspire local law enforcement to incorporate the vest into their uniform. 

It was when Davis followed his dramatic self-shot by mowing down a row of bowling pins that ultimately sealed the deal. The pins were cheap, easily recognizable, and readily available no matter where he set up a demo. Most importantly, the pins reacted visibly to the bullets, proving that Davis was, indeed, using live ammunition. 

Bowling pin shooting was eventually adopted by firearms enthusiasts who wanted to combine target practice with an element of excitement and rapid-fire action. The sport quickly gained popularity among shooting clubs and evolved into a formal discipline with defined rules and regulations.

Format of Bowling Pin Shooting

The basic idea behind bowling pin shooting is simple: participants must shoot down a set of bowling pins arranged in a specific configuration as quickly as possible. However, there are several variations of the sport, each with its own rules and formats. Two of the most common formats are:

  1. 3 pins are in a line on a high waist table. 2 more pins are lined up behind the first three on a second tier, making a squat “u” shape. 
  2. 5 pins are set up on a flat 4×8 ft table, 3 feet from the back edge of the table or 1 ft back from the front edge. 

Shooting can be done individually, in which a single shooter clears three tables of pins and receives an average time. The player with the shortest time wins. In other cases, shooting might be done in pairs, or “bracket” style. Each player has his or her own table and competes to clear their table first. The winner is then paired with the winner from another match, and so on. 

Rules of Bowling Pin Shooting

Firearms: shooters can use a variety of firearms, including handguns, rifles, and shotguns, depending on the specific event rules. Most shooters choose high caliber varieties, since large-bore guns can more easily knock the pins over. However, minor caliber weapons are not disqualified and, in some cases, users may be permitted to shorten their shooting distance to stay more competitive. 

Distance: shooters line up 25 feet away from their tables, with pins placed according to the chosen format (see above).

Time Limit: Most events have a time limit, typically 8 seconds. Shooters must aim to clear the pins within this time frame.

Knockdown: Pins must be completely knocked off the table or platform to count as a “hit.” Pins that fall but remain on the surface are sometimes called “deadwood” and are especially difficult to clear off the table. 

Scoring: Shooters aim to clear all pins as quickly as possible. The fastest time wins the event. In some variations, a “shoot-off” may be required if multiple participants have the same time.

Safety: Safety is paramount, and strict firearm safety rules are enforced. Participants must adhere to range safety guidelines, including the proper use of hearing and eye protection. 


Bowling pins: traditionally, bowling pin shoots use standard, 4 lb wooden pins that have been discarded by bowling alleys. In some competitions, a separate match may be held for .22 long rifle shooters. Pins that can no longer stand upright have the tops sawed off to be used for the .22 match, since the bullets are not generally capable of knocking off a full-sized pin. Winners will have no less clout, however, since it is a much smaller target!

Why Bowling Pin Shooting Is So Exciting

Bowling pin shooting offers a unique blend of excitement and precision that sets it apart from traditional shooting sports. Here are some of the reasons why it remains one of the most popular types of shooting competition:

  1. Speed and Accuracy: Participants must balance speed with accuracy, as they aim to clear the pins in the shortest time possible. It’s a test of skill and marksmanship under pressure.
  1. Variety of Firearms: The sport accommodates various firearms, allowing shooters to choose what they are most comfortable with and tailor their equipment to their preferences.
  1.  Social and Competitive: Bowling Pin Shooting events are often social gatherings, where enthusiasts can meet and compete against others. The friendly competition and camaraderie make it a fantastic sport for building a sense of community.
  1. Accessibility: It doesn’t require a massive investment in specialized equipment, making it accessible to a wide range of shooting enthusiasts.

Bowling Pin Shoots in Omaha

Bowling Pin Shooting is a thrilling and dynamic shooting sport that combines precision with excitement. Its unique combination of rapid-fire action and accuracy has garnered a dedicated following within the shooting community. Whether you’re a beginner looking to try something new or an experienced marksman seeking a fresh challenge, bowling pin shooting offers a unique and enjoyable experience that’s well worth trying.

At the Marksman, we offer several pin and pinhead shoots every month. Visit our events page to see our upcoming bowling pin shoots. They sell out fast, so be sure to book yours today! 

author avatar
Heather Kleinman