1941 Pistol Combat Course

My historical research team sent me this article from a 1941 issue of American Rifleman magazine. It details a “pistol combat course” shot using a silhouette target w/ center bullseye and a scoring system that is a distant cousin to the Time Plus scoring using in IDPA and the Comstock scoring used in USPSA. The stage design is very similar to the Steel Challenge stage “Five To Go”.

I went to the range to shoot the course of fire. Step 1 was figuring out what target to use. Here is a military L bullseye target that was in common use in the 1940’s.

It has a 4″ center, roughly 8″ 9 ring and roughly 12″ 8 ring…very similar to the modern NRA D-1 tombstone target used in the Bianchi Cup and the Glock Shooting Sports Foundation matches.

The D1 looked closer to the targets drawn in the article, so I used some previously-used targets for the video. Some of the D1s have little stickers in the X ring, others do not.

I got out my classic 1911 in .45 ACP, loaded it up with full power .45 ball ammo and ran the course of fire using the vintage one handed technique described in the article. After the first couple of shots, the fiber in my front sight came out (apparently I didn’t cut the fiber long enough and when I melted the ends there wasn’t enough to hold it in place under recoil). Since they didn’t have fiber optic front sights back in 1941, I left the fiber out and shot the course without the fiber insert.

Vintage 1911 on the 1941 Pistol Combat Course.

As the video shows, my score was 27+26+28+29+28 = 138 out of possible 150 points

String times were 4.68, 3.66, and 3.61 for a total of 11.95, 3.05 under par of 15.

Using the scoring method from the article, I got 138 pts plus 30 pts time bonus for being faster than 15 seconds, for a total of 168 points.

For comparison I reshot the course of fire, using modern technique and gear (my Glock 48 with Holosun 507C green dot optic).

For that run I shot 30 + 29 + 28 + 29+ 29 = 145 points

Times were 3.51, 3.14, and 2.82 for a total of 9.50, 5.50 under par of 15.

Total score was 145 plus 55 points time bonus = 200 points

All the drills you see on video were my first runs not only on this drill but cold runs with no dry fire or live fire warmup. The targets had been used for other drills in the past, thus the pasters and stickers. I have no doubt that if I had done multiple runs, faster times and better hits were likely.

The difference in score was not surprising. Switching from .45 major to 9mm minor ammo, and using two hands vs one made a big change in speed, and switching from irons to a dot improved accuracy.

The historical significance of this course is that it introduced multiple ideas that became commonplace in handgun training during the Modern Technique (Jeff Cooper) era.

It simulates a threat moving toward you, requiring you to fire one round per target at a pace roughly equal to the time it would take for someone to run that distance. It requires consistency (3 runs), similar to the “best 4 out of 5” approach taken in the Steel Challenge decades later. It uses a scoring system that rewards those that shoot with both speed and accuracy, not just a static par time (as was used in bullseye and later, PPC matches). It rewards the use of double action firing for revolvers, in an era where almost all revolver shooting was done single action at a much slower pace. The change in par time for .22 vs .45 is a precursor to major/minor scoring in IPSC & USPSA. It even introduces the concept of a minimum acceptable time standard (5 sec par) and could have easily been expanded to include a minimum acceptable score, if hits outside the 8 ring were counted as misses and passing score of 150 points was used.

My run times in the 3.0-3.5 sec range align with the article’s discussion of what “most shooters” could do, although from the example published my points were quite a bit better than the author’s, even one handed with iron sights. Given that the article was for a general interest magazine (American Rifleman), it’s possible that a low score was used as an example for editorial reasons.

The author’s final comment: “it’s just what the draft army needs, instead of puttering months away trying to hit a little black spot with a gun that was never intended for anything but to hit a big, nearby target, and to hit it quick” was exactly correct, although the military and law enforcement training world, and gun culture generally, didn’t actually put it into mainstream use until wasting decades with close range hip shooting and long range slow fire. The author’s concept of using quickly aimed fire, incorporating target transitions, a more relevant target and a scoring system rewarding speedy accuracy was visionary for its day.

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