The Pin Shoot!

Your correspondent here has been competing in shooting contests since the late 1960s. For much of that time, it has served as part of the skill-testing and -maintenance component of training. But — dirty little secret here — it’s also fun!

Let me share with you my favorite of all those matches. It’s known today as The Pin Shoot (www.pinshoot.com), and it is held the second week in June every year in the quaint resort town of Central Lake, Michigan.

Founded as The Second Chance match by Richard Davis, the inventor of soft body armor whose company Second Chance led that industry in saves, Pin Shoot is a festive and extremely social celebration of Second Amendment rights. The event offers a smorgasbord of shooting games, all of which involve reaction targets. Thus, it’s extremely visual, and one of the rare matches where there are bleachers to watch those targets fall. While some of the knockdowns are steel, the standard target for most of the event is the humble bowling pin.

An AR-15 rifle laying on a table
An AR15 awaits the long-distance challenge of the tiny white steel targets seen at the 100-yard line.

There are events for rifle and carbine, shotgun, revolver, and auto pistol, and even a couple of .22 matches. The prize tables are deeper and richer than at most shooting tournaments. Richard Davis’ son, Matt, now pretty much runs this event (which he literally grew up at) and told me at the end of the 2023 shoot, “We gave away 83 guns in total,” most of them made by sponsor Springfield Armory. Among those guns was some multi-thousand dollar JP Custom AR15 joy. And that didn’t count a bunch of ammo and other merchandise prizes, nor the cash won in some events.

The Names of the Games

Main Events involve three different three-tiered “pin-sets,” repeated for a total of six timed tables. You keep the best five for your primary score, and the worst one is your tie-breaker, just in case. There will be a specified number of rounds depending on your category. There will be five ordinary white tenpins on each table, and your time begins with your gun on a rail in front of you and ends when the last pin hits the ground. Timekeepers behind you with stopwatches average your time and, new in 2023, upload them to PractiScore.

Stock category means your auto pistol can have no longer than 5.0” barrel, and your revolver no longer than 8 3/8″ inches. Iron sights only, no compensators (though Magna-Porting is allowed), and no more than eight rounds in the gun to start. You need momentum to blast those big chunks of wood three feet back off the table. .45 ACP is by far the most popular choice, followed by 10mm, .357 Mag with heavy bullet handloads, and .44 Mags downloaded a bit for more controllable recoil. One straight-shooting contingent has had great luck with .50 GI.

Pin Gun is the same except recoil compensators are allowed, but not optical sights.  Space Gun is the same as Pin Gun except that your handgun can mount optics.

Two Revolvers
Custom S&W .45 ACP revolvers by Al Greco, for Space Gun (top) and Stock Gun and Pin Gun, below.

Stock Minor, new in 2023 and due to continue, is geared for the 9mm auto. Still only eight cartridges in the pistol to start, but the pins are set further back from the table so the smaller bullets can take them all the way off.

Stock Concealed Carry allows only six rounds in the gun. Barrel length was originally 3.5” max, but of late has been extended to 4” – and currently published rules allow carry optics in a concession to modern trends.

Optionals

After you’ve shot your main events, at which you get only one chance per gun category, you can now try the optionals, so called because if you don’t like your score you can re-enter and try again. 9 X12 as the name implies puts you up against 12 pins, and as a concession to the usually used 9mm, the pins only have to be tipped over, not shot completely off the table.

Mas shooting a Prodigy at pins
Author shoots his first of a 12-pin array with Springfield Armory Prodigy 9mm.

As with the main events, there are “hostage pins” identifiable by bright colors, which cost you a five-second added time penalty for each one that is knocked over. The same is true in Revolver, in which you start with a wheel-gun and only six rounds in the cylinder and perform a mandatory reload to blow eight pins completely off the table. Here, the S&W .45 ACP revolver with moon clips rules.

The Denny Reichard Memorial Big Push is named after a regular pin shooter no longer with us, who carried a .44 Magnum on police duty and used one with Elmer Keith loads to win NRA Action Pistol matches against light-kicking target pistols. Here, you have to blast three bowling pins almost 15 feet down a steel trough and into the dirt. The winner generally runs a big X-frame S&W in either .460 or .500 Magnum.

There are Team Events, 2-person both with handguns, and 3-person, one handgunner and two shotgunners. With rifle, you can team up with one of you shooting off the bench at targets out to what looks like 100 yards, and the other partner firing the AR15 or similar from offhand.  Shotguns with slugs vie to knock over steel plates out to 100 yards, and with buckshot, to clean pins off the table faster than anyone else from 25 feet away. The match provides a 10-shot S&W K-22 with which to shoot seven pin heads off a table and a Ruger 10/22 rifle with which to knock over distant tiny steel plates, all on the clock. The .22 events have cash entry/cash payback in lieu of the usual trip to the prize table.

Finally, there are morning shootoffs which you pay to enter, in return for cash payback to the last few folks standing.

Man shooting a shotgun at pins at 2023 Pin Shoot
This pin-shooter is on his way to winning a shotgun shootoff for cash.

And if I’ve left anything out, you’ll find it under the “events” section at www.pinshoot.com, where you’ll also find many more details on the shoot.

Fun Factor

This is the national-level match where great champions like Jerry Miculek and Bill Wilson first shot their way to fame, and which they agreed with me was perhaps the most enjoyable of the countless matches they had shot. When the pinsetters are resetting the tables and the shooters are refilling their magazines, host Richard Davis plays Trivia Quiz for prizes with the audience. There’s more space at the pinshoot.com website than I have here, and you want to go there and review their blog and collected articles. 

The Pin Shoot is a unique and wonderful part of America’s gun culture, and once you’ve gone, you’ll understand why I made room for it in my schedule every year for literally decades.  It’s family friendly, and if the rest of the “fam” ain’t shooters they can be boating, fishing, or hiking in a wonderful green vacationland while you are there pulling triggers.

Jeff and Kim Chudwin at Pin Shoot
The Pin Shoot is an ideal family affair. Meet Jeff and Kim Chudwin, the “power couple” of AR15 shooting, and both tough to beat in handgun matches.

I hope to see you there in 2024.

Massad "Mas" Ayoob is a well respected and widely regarded SME in the firearm world. He has been a writer, editor, and law enforcement columnist for decades, and has published thousands of articles and dozens of books on firearms, self-defense, use of force, and related topics. Mas, a veteran police officer, was the first to earn the title of Five Gun Master in the International Defensive Pistol Association. He served nearly 20 years as chair of the Firearms Committee of the American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers and is also a longtime veteran of the Advisory Bard of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association. A court-recognized expert witness in shooting cases since 1979, Ayoob founded the Lethal Force Institute in 1981 and served as its director until 2009. He continues to instruct through Massad Ayoob Group, http://massadayoobgroup.com.

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