Handgun World Podcast – top 10 drills, plus 2

In the Dec 24, 2017 episode of the Handgun World Podcast, John Daub and I discuss 10 drills we think make a good baseline set of drills handgun shooters can use to maintain and develop skills.

I classify the difficulty level of drills by comparing the speed and accuracy requirements to what is required to shoot a 100% score on courses of fire used by the US Practical Shooting Association for national classification.  To be a Grand Master, you have to shoot scores that are 95% or higher. The 100% level isn’t the absolute maximum skill level a shooter can attain (those at the national and world champion level are capable of shooting 110% or more of the USPSA 100% level), but because there are so many classifier stages with known 100% levels, it’s possible to come up with baseline values for draw time, reload time, split time, target transition times, etc. that can be used to evaluate almost any drill.

For those interested in how to analyze drills for difficulty on this scale, I’ll address that in upcoming blog posts as a separate topic.

Minimum Acceptable (25% of Grand Master)

The first three drills emphasize basic marksmanship and shooting at a moderate pace.

Most state carry permit qualification courses of fire and beginner shooting program drills fit into this category, and all these drills require skill no better than 25% of GM to shoot perfect scores.

1) NRA Basic Pistol Qualification

The 2017 version of the NRA Basic Pistol courses uses 4″ circles.  Shooters must put 5 shots into a 4″ circle, at a minimum of 10 feet.  Those able to pass the minimum level can repeat the drill at 15 feet (5 yards) and 20 feet (almost 7 yards).  NRA Pistol instructors are required to be able to put 16 of 20 shots into a 6″ circle at 15 yards.  These drills have no time limit.

2) Texas License To Carry Test

The Texas LTC (formerly known as the Concealed Handgun License) shooting test has been in use since 1995, with well over 1 million shooters meeting this standard.  It uses the B-27 target, counting the traditional 8, 9, 10 and X rings all as 5 points, with the 7 ring scored as 4 and anywhere inside the humanoid shape and outside the 7 ring counted as 3 points.

This adds the skills of bringing the gun from a ready position to the target quickly, and firing the required shots within a time limit, to the basic marksmanship tested by the NRA Basic Pistol qualification.

The test is:

3 yards, 20 rounds

  • 1 shot, 2 seconds, 5 times
  • 2 shots, 3 seconds, 5 times
  • 5 shots, 10 seconds, 1 time

7 yards, 20 rounds

  • 5 shots, 10 seconds, 1 time
  • 2 shots, 4 seconds, 1 time
  • 3 shots, 6 seconds, 1 time
  • 1 shot, 3 seconds, 5 times
  • 5 shots, 15 seconds, 1 time

15 yards, 10 rounds

  • 2 shots, 6 seconds, 1 time
  • 3 shots, 9 seconds, 1 time
  • 5 shots, 15 seconds, 1 time


To give you a sense of scale, a perfect score (250 points) on the Texas License To Carry shooting test equates to roughly 25% of the USPSA Grand Master level).  That means a Grand Master, starting from a ready position, could shoot a 5 point (center mass) shot in 0.5 seconds, instead of the 2 seconds allowed on the test.

3) The 5×5 drill

This drill, originally created by Gila Hayes of the Firearms Academy of Seattle, starts at the ready position. 5 shots into a 5″ circle, at 5 yards, in 5 seconds. This video shows the version modified by Claude Werner.

Start Shooting Better Episode 2: 5×5 Drill – Lucky Gunner Lounge

The target can be printed out here.

This drill is more challenging than the previous two.  It requires shooting at a one shot per second pace, similar to the fastest parts of the Texas LTC test, but at a much smaller target.  (Based on what I’ve seen teaching the Texas LTC class for more than 20 years, Texas LTC holders that shot less than 90% on the state test would have a difficult time passing the 5×5 drill.)

Reasonable Level (50% of Grand Master)

When I looked at the difficulty of many different law enforcement academy and police department qualification standards, most of them required being able to draw, reload and clear malfunctions, with speed and accuracy requirements in the 40-50% of GM level.  We chose some widely used and well known drills and defined some par times roughly aligning with that difficulty level.

(4) Bill Drill – draw and fire 6, USPSA or IDPA target, 7 yards, 5 seconds (from concealment).  All hits must be within the A-zone or 0-ring.

In the video, Bill gives a 3 second par time (from open carry) as a goal for a good shooter.  In his book, Practical Shooting, Brian Enos uses a goal time of 2 seconds (from competition holster) as a Master class benchmark.   We chose a par time of 5 seconds, assuming a 2 second draw from concealment, and 0.5 second split times between shots.

(5) F.A.S.T.

The Fundamentals, Accuracy and Speed Test (FAST) was created by late trainer Todd Green. It tests concealment draw, slide lock reload, and the ability to shoot at two different speeds – a slower speed to get two hits in the 3″x5″ box, and the faster speed necessary to get 4 hits in the 8″ circle.  Typically the split times (shot to shot times) required in the 8″ circle are twice as fast as those required for the 3″x5″ box.

Todd considered runs under 5 seconds to be Master level. We chose 10 seconds, from concealment, as our goal time for those training to the 50% level.

(6) Three Seconds or Less

The drill we use most often in our Defensive Pistol classes is the Three Seconds or Less drill. It’s 9 strings, each 3 seconds long, requiring a variety of shooting skills on a USPSA or IDPA target at 3 and 7 yards.

In addition to the skills tested by the Bill Drill and F.A.S.T., it adds one handed shooting, turning draws, and shooting while moving, in a series of 1, 2 and 3 shot strings.

A score of 90% or higher, working from concealment, requires roughly 50% of Grand Master skill.

(Those seeking to make the test more difficult can decrease the per-string par time down to 2.5 seconds, and change the start position for every string to “hands at sides”.)

(7) Farnam Drill/3M Test = draw, reload, malfunction, 15 seconds

John’s written extensively about the Farnam Drill/3M Test in the past. It was originally developed by John Farnam for use as a qualification drill in his classes. It requires drawing & moving, reloading and moving, clearing malfunction and moving, all in one long drill.  The linked article contains the full instructions, including the evolution of the drill to the current version used by Tom Givens of Rangemaster.

We recommend a par time of 15 seconds (midway between Farnam’s beginner student par of 18 and slower than his instructor par of 12 seconds) as the 50% skill level goal.

More Challenging (70%+ GM, or IDPA Master)

These three drills are well known, widely used and very popular with high skill level shooters.  My review of qualifications for national level instructor programs that use scored shooting tests for instructor certification (Rangemaster, Massad Ayoob Group, Paul Howe, FBI, many law enforcement programs) indicates that skill at the 70% GM (roughly IDPA Master level) is a common threshold.

(8) “The Test”

This test is shot using an NRA B-8 bullseye target.  10 yards, 10 seconds, 10 rounds.  90 points or better to pass.  Made famous by Larry Vickers but often attributed to Ken Hackathorn.  There are many variations with more strings at different distances, working from the holster instead of ready, for those that want more challenge from this type of drill.

(9) FBI qualification test (current version)

The current version of the FBI qualification test is also used in several national training programs.  It has multiple strings at distances from 3 to 25 yards.

(10) Dot Torture

Dot Torture was developed by David Blinder.   Like the NRA Basic Pistol test at the top of this test, it has no time limit and is purely a test of marksmanship.  It uses small dots and requires two handed, and one handed shooting, reloads, drawing, and other skills.


Two bonus drills we discussed in the podcast.


The Walkback drill was documented on Todd Green’s Pistol Forum site. I’ve seen variations of it used in several classes I’ve taken.  The common theme is to work at maintaining constant accuracy (keeping 5 shots in a 3×5 card, for example), as you move backward. Some variations include a time limit – 3 shots in 3 seconds, working backward 1 yard at a time until you cannot keep all 3 shots on the card.

Rangemaster Core Skills test

The Rangemaster Core Skills test is similar to the FBI qualification course of fire.  Multiple strings, multiple distances, many skills.  It can be used as the basis for practice sessions, or to verify skills are maintained at an acceptable level.


Any shooter, at any level, can use these drills as a guide to measure, maintain or improve skills.