We have a New Year's Day tradition: Pumpkin Bowling!

You can join in the tradition. All you need are some pumpkins and some "pins." We make pins by filling plastic 2-liter soda pop bottles with water and freezing them. In Minnesota, we can freeze them by leaving them outside in a snowbank, but if you live in a warmer climate you'll have to put them in the freezer. If you're feeling creative, try making designer pins by adding food coloring or shiny objects to the water prior to freezing the pins.

To make sure we'll have some pumpkins available two months after Halloween, we put several pumpkins in our chest freezer. That ensures we'll have some very hard pumpkins available on January 1. We also try to keep some non-frozen pumpkins on hand until New Year's Day, but since we can't be certain they won't spoil by then, we have the frozen ones as a back up. The rock-hard frozen pumpkins really pack a wallop when you bowl with them, but they tend to split apart easily.


International Rules Established for 2003

Pumpkin Bowling has come of age in 2003! In the modern era, pumpkin bowling has been conducted as a recreational sport, played under varying conditions and rules. But with the sport's explosive growth in recent years, some standardization was needed. Especially if the sport is to ever be added to the Olympic Winter Games.

Toward that end, the International Pumpkin Federation has set down rules for official competition. The first world championship tournament under the new rules -- the International Pumpkin Federation Ultimate Nationals Invitational (IPFUNI) -- was held January 1, 2003, in St. Paul, Minnesota, USA. Since then, the annual IPFUNI competition continues to be held every New Year's Day in St. Paul.

The IPF set the official distance from the release line to the first pin at 36 feet. Conveniently, that is the length of six sections of standard sidewalk in St. Paul. The ten pins are to be set up in conventional bowling pin fashion, in a triangle 30 inches on a side. (see diagram below)

An official tournament game is 10 frames, just like in conventional bowling. But keep in mind that your recreational game can be whatever length you like, perhaps depending on the wind chill factor and how long you'd like to stay outside. Scoring is the same as in conventional bowling.

A Brief History of Pumpkin Bowling

According to a leading expert on Pumpkin Bowling, the sport had its start at the first Thanksgiving, way back in 1621. Of course, the Pilgrims didn't have plastic 2-liter pop bottles. So they had to use the old style glass, returnable bottles. They had to watch out for broken glass, but they didn't plan on returning to Europe, so they knew they wouldn't be getting their deposits back, anyway.

The first tournament was dominated by the Indians. The secret of their success has been lost to the ages, but legend says it had something to do with what was previously believed to be the only part of the buffalo that the Indians didn't use.

Over the years, the sport has changed little, although some failed improvements have been attempted. Ben Franklin tried attaching his pumpkin to a kite. And George Washington is thought to have favored a wooden pumpkin. The tumult of the Civil War almost brought the sport to an end, but it came back strong in the Prohibition era, when people realized that after bowling with the pumpkins, they could be used to make some bathtub pumpkin ale.

American GIs spread the sport around the globe during WWII, giving it a foothold on four continents, as well as in the South Pacific. (The South Americans never warmed to the sport. All they ever wanted to do was kick the pumpkin around.)

In the 1960s, Pumpkin Frisbee Bowling developed as a brief-lived offshoot. But that was just a fad. As had been underwater pumpkin bowling and phone booth pumpkin bowling in the previous decade.

Now, in the 21st century, pumpkin bowling's status as a major sport seems assured. The game is so popular that a pumpkin bowling video game will soon be available for all major game platforms.

Dressing the Part

Pumpkin Bowling is even more fun when done while wearing silly hats. Pumpkin ale is the traditional beverage of choice while Pumpkin Bowling.


First-time winner Colin Downing claimed the trophy for 2022, with a record-setting score of 113!

Jen Hunt took runner-up honors, with a score of 69.


In our fully outdoor, socially distanced event, pumpkin grower Dan Downing successfully retained his trophy, bowling a 90 (with 35 pins in the last two frames!). He beat out brother Dave Downing, who rolled a 66.


Pumper grower extraordinaire Dan Downing is the champ once again in 2020, bowling an impressive 89! He topped runner-up Colin Downing, who took home his first trophy, rolling an 81. This is the sixth title for Dan, who fancies himself the Tiger Woods of pumpkin bowling. He won 4 times early in his career, then after an extended title drought, has won two of the last three championships.


Tammy Downing is the champ of 2019, with her third title, but first since 2012. Tammy bowled a 75, topping Jen Hunt's 65. This was Jen's first time taking home the hardware.



We were joined for pumpkin bowling Jan. 1, 2001 by KARE-TV sports reporter Erik Perkins, aka "Perk at Play," and cameraman "Rabbit." They prepared a report on pumpkin bowling that was broadcast on the 10 pm news Jan. 2.