Historical Handgun – even more on the 1945 FBI course of fire

Over the past year I’ve been developing a new course for KR Training, Historical Handgun, that teaches the history & evolution of defensive handgun skills.  Part of that effort has been searching for old handgun qualification courses of fire, and shooting them using the techniques and equipment used in that era.  In a previous article, I discussed the 1945 FBI qualification course of fire. A follow up article added more detail.   Several books I’ve read since writing those articles provided more details and insight the specifics of the FBI course, sometimes called the Practical Pistol Course.

In Jeff Cooper’s 1958 book Fighting Handguns, he includes two pictures showing a range set up to run the FBI 1945 course in its original format.   That format required shooters to start prone at 60 yards and move downrange quickly to firing positions at 50 and 25 yards, firing additional rounds, all run as one long string with a 5 minute, 45 second time limit.

Unless all shooters completed each string at the same pace, moving as a group, following that protocol would put the fast shooters as much as 35 yard downrange from the slowest shooters. The FBI solution to this issue, back in the late 40’s, was to build the range with lanes that fanned out, creating more space between shooters as they moved downrange, as shown in these pictures.

This doesn’t really solve the problem of shooters being downrange of each other. It reduces the risk of being shot somewhat, but still violates basic range safety protocol.

In another book I reviewed recently, the 1974 book Introduction to Modern Police Firearms, the authors address this problem and their solution to it.   When I ran the course during a Historical Handgun class, we split the FBI qual into separate strings with shorter par times for each position.  Roberts and Bristow did the same in 1974. Here are their string par times:

  1. 7 yards, hip shooting, 10 rounds, 25 seconds
  2. 25 yards, three positions, 15 rounds, 90 seconds
  3. 50 yards, four positions, 20 rounds, 2 minutes, 45 seconds (165 seconds)
  4. 60 yards, prone, 5 rounds, 35 seconds

When I split the course into individual strings, I divided up the 5:45, leaving the total time intact.

Roberts and Bristow reduced the total time from 5:45 down to 4:50, using an estimate of how long it took shooters to run from 60 to 50, and 50-25 yards.  By removing the requirement to run to each new firing position, that reduces the physical stress and made the course easier – likely something the firearms instructors that designed the course would have objected to, but their reduced par times for each string does a better job of simulating how much actual time shooters had for each string than my version does.

Another interesting artifact:  many modern shooting timers designed for high speed, short duration courses of fire typical in USPSA, IDPA, Steel Challenge, even NRA Action pistol were designed with a maximum par time of 99.99 seconds, making them ill suited to older courses of fire with par times longer than 100 seconds for a single string.  To run many of the older drills, I had to get my old PACT MK IV timer out of the closet, because it could handle those longer par times.  It’s yet another example of how concepts of shooting training and competition have changed over time.

For future sessions of Historical Handgun, I’ll use the Roberts and Bristow timings in place of my own variation of the FBI 1945 course.