By Mickey Fowler
Photos by Ichiro Nagata

Originally published in
American Handgunner Magazine ©1999
Click on bordered images to see larger size.

Ever since man decided it's as much fun to shoot bowling pins off a table as it is to knock them over with a bowling ball, shooters have been trying to come up with a magic gun and load that will knock five pins off a table in the fastest time.

I’m not a pin shooting specialist, but I have made one appearance at what is the Superbowl of pinshoots, the Second Chance match, and also a few lesser pin championships. These events were lots of fun and are an excellent test of accuracy, power and speed for both the handgunner and his pistol.

Bill Laughridge, master pistolsmith and head honcho at the Cylinder & Slide Shop, has been building high quality pistols for many years. Cylinder & Slide manufactures and markets a line of custom parts for 1911’s, S&W revolvers and Browning Hi-Powers. Bill’s shop is in Fremont, NE.

For years, Laughridge has been towing his portable gunsmithing trailer loaded with parts and machinery to selected major pistol competitions around the U.S., offering emergency on-site repair service to competitors who have mechanical problems. Needless to say, he keeps very busy. One of his stops is at the Second Chance Bowling Pin Shoot in Michigan.


Pin Shooting Primer

For readers not familiar with pin matches, a short description is on order. Regulation bowling pins are the targets, usually scrounged from local bowling alleys. The pins are placed on heavily constructed tables, 6’ long by 3’6" wide.

Three pins are centered on the table top 16" apart, 6" back from the front edge. Two more pins are placed on a 6" wide shelf above the lower pins. One pin is slightly to the left side, another placed slightly to right. From a shooting position, the pins form a wide "U" shape.

Mickey FowlerThe shooter stands behind a rail 25 feet from the pins and rests his pistol on the rail at a 45° angle. On an audible start signal, the pistol is raised, and the pins are shot off the table as quickly as possible. The shooter can fire as many times as necessary to take all the pins off the table. The time stops when the last pin hits the ground.

The pins must be knocked back about 3 feet to clear the table. The total combined time for the best five out of six runs is added up and the fastest time wins. Competitive times for individual runs are around 3.5 seconds. The winning total time for five runs is about 17 seconds. These times are quite fast, and many people think that pin shoots are purely speed matches, but they are really accuracy matches as well.


Big Bore Revolvers

Some early pin matches were won by shooters using big bore revolvers. However, as more experience was gained, the advantage of the 1911 .45 Auto became apparent. The pins could be cleared off the table just as fast, and you didn’t have to make every shot count. A wheelgunner had to go six-for-six or face a slow reload time.

However, some top shooters are still very successful with their wheelguns. Many pin matches have special classes for revolvers.

Taking the bowling pins all the way off the table requires a fairly heavy bullet at moderate velocity. The 230 gr. .45 ACP loaded with jacketed hollowpoints does the job well. Pin shooters push this type of bullet from 850 to 1,000 fps.

The hollowpoint design digs into the hard surface of the pin without skidding off and is more reliable for taking the pins cleanly off the table. The ‘sweet spot" on a pin is only about 3" wide and 4" high. Hits out of this area cause the pins to fall over, but not necessarily go off the back of the table.

When a poorly hit pin falls over, it sometimes spins and there’s a good chance it will knock over the pins next to it. This creates a real mess and makes clearing pins off the table time consuming. It definitely pays to make good hits in the "sweet spot" if you want fast times.

Perfect Revolver


Holes in the muzzle
flutes are gas ports to
reduce muzzle jump.
Aristocrat sight rib
was customized
from a PPC unit.

The features necessary to build a competitive pin revolver are a good smooth trigger pull and minimal recoil for quick shot-to-shot recovery. This can be accomplished with a combination of a muzzle brake or porting and added weight. The pistol should balance to the shooter’s liking. A good set of sights and custom grips finish off the package.

Laughridge has built many custom pin guns. Because of his attendance at so many matches, Bill has great insight into what it takes to build a competitive pistol. The custom Smith & Wesson Model 625 revolvers featured in this story are two of his latest creations for "scoring strikes" at pin shooting.

Bill has a highly skilled staff and much of the work on these revolvers was done by his shop foreman, Chris Hagemann. Chris started with a pair of Model 625’s. The 625 is a stainless steel version of the Model 25, an N-framed chambered in .45 ACP.

This revolver is built to use half moon and full moon loading clips. The moon clips are the fasted system for speed loading a revolver. Both custom pistols are constructed with the highest quality material and with meticulous craftsmanship. In fact, these guns are working pieces of art.

Work is started on the revolver by removing the barrel and stripping it down to the bare frame. The stock barrel is replaced by a Bar-Sto match barrel with a 1:16 twist. These are truly fine quality barrels.

The barrel blank is threaded to fit the action and the cylinder gap is set at .005" to .007". The forcing cone is cut and the muzzle is crowned at 11° . Flats are cut on both sides of the barrel.

Five .125" flutes are machined on the front of the barrel. Eight ports are drilled, on a 60° angle from top dead center. These ports help to reduce muzzle rise. The flats on the barrel are polished to a mirror finish and the rest of the barrel surface is done is a soft glass bead. This creates a very attractive look.

The next step in the construction is to install an Aristocrat rib. The Aristocrat rib is the standard by which all other adjustable iron sight ribs are judged. These sights are used on more PPC revolvers and PPC autos than any other type. One reason Laughridge chose this sight is to add weight to the revolver.

Bill modifies the Aristocrat rib especially for pin shooting. The standard rear blade, which is a square notch, is replaces with an Ashley style speed notch rear sight blade. The wings on each side of the front sight are machined off, the sides of the rib are chambered, and the four flutes are milled. A single gold dot is installed on the front sight, and rear sight blade has a single gold dot placed in the center of the V. The top of the barrel is drilled and tapped for the machine screws which fasten the rib to the barrel.

More attention is given to cosmetics. The cylinder flutes are buffed to a high polish. Laughridge then masks the flutes and glass beads the cylinder. The frame is also glass beaded.

Bill installs an Aristocrat underlug on the barrel which adds weight and helps dampen recoil. A crane ball lock is then installed on the underlug. This makes for a very solid lock up of the cylinder and frame. The flutes are machined on the underlug to enhance its appearance.


Heart Of The Action

One of the most important features on any competitive pistol – unless of course you happen to be Jerry Miculek – is a smooth action job. Laughridge is noted for his excellent double-action trigger jobs. He polishes all the contact surfaces and replaces all the stock springs with Wolff springs. End shake is adjusted to .002" to .003". The cosmetics are finished off with a Cylinder & Slide logo on the right side of the frame.

The revolver I test fired came equipped with exotic kingwood stocks from Hogue. This adds the perfect finishing touch to the whole package.


At The Range

The shortest distance that I’ll test most pistols for accuracy is 25 yards. These revolvers are meant to be shot a targets only 25 feet away. It’s obvious that this pistol has far more accuracy built into it than is required for bowling pin shooting.

However, it’s always nice to know that you have a pistol capable of great accuracy should you ever need it. Needless to say, this gun will put all six bullets in the same hole at 25 feet.

I tested different types of factory ammunition and handloads in the custom 625. The load I settled on was very controllable. The bullet design makes it very effective on pins.

Mickey Fowler
Above, Champion shooter
Mickey Fowler put the
C&S Pinwheeler
through its paces.

The revolver was easy to shoot quickly and accurately. It has a smooth consistent trigger pull with no stacking. The trigger pull springs were set with enough weight to give reliable ignition with all different brands of primer. The added weight and special porting keeps muzzle rise to a minimum.

My average time per run on five bowling pin targets was a little less than tree seconds. I have the typical problem of most shooters over the age of 40 – I’m becoming farsighted and black sights are almost invisible to me. The gold dots on the front and rear sights really helped me in picking up a fast sight picture. On the occasion that I required more than six shots to knock down all the steel pins, the full moon loading clips make reloads quick and easy.

Mickey FowlerOver the years, I have tested many different guns. This is one of the few I have ever tested that I thought was almost too beautiful to fire. The handwork and fitting on these guns are on a level rarely seen in these days of mass production.

For the shooter who wants not only a top quality competition revolver, but also a work of art, the Cylinder & Slide pistols are just the ticket. The price on one of these revolvers as tested is $2,500.00 and change. (Pricing at time of modification, please visit our online store for the latest pricing.)  The great thing about owning one is that no matter how you shoot, you’ll still have the best looking pistol at the match.