Historical Handgun – S&W model 459 – shooting the 1980’s FBI qualification course of fire

As part of the KR Training Historical Handgun project that teaches the history & evolution of defensive handgun skills, I’ve been purchasing specific guns and holsters associated with specific times in handgun history. The guns will be used in demoing the drills shot in the Historical Handgun course.

The S&W 459

According to Ed Mireles’ book, the S&W 459 was the semiauto handgun model FBI agents had during the 1986 Miami shootout.

I purchased a used 459 that had probably been a cop’s gun. Lots of holster wear.  One magazine had lots of rust on the inside, with a rusted spring, likely from riding in a holster in the Texas heat.

The double action trigger pull was well over the 8 lb max on my cheap trigger pull gauge. The single action trigger pull was just under 7 pounds.  The sights on the pistol were small. Solid black rear with a serrated, ramped blade that was very difficult to see compared to a squared front post.  I painted the front post with some orange fingernail polish before I used the gun to shoot the 1980’s FBI qual for the first time.

Mireles said the standard holster used by the agents of that time was a DeSantis leather belt holster.  I found a ‘vintage’ used Bianchi holster from that period that was very similar in design to use with the gun.

It had a leather snap thumb break – a feature I’m not used to working with.

Shooting the FBI qual

The old FBI quals (from the 1940’s to the 1980’s) all required starting at one distance and running to the next before drawing and firing. When I’ve shot the qual course in classes, that part is usually omitted — but the time to move from one spot to the next is a task that’s included in the par time for that string. So those that have shot the drill without the movement, but with par times unmodified, got additional time the agents did not have.  Since I was on the range by myself, I included the movement when I (literally) ran the course of fire, in the 100+ afternoon August heat.

“Old” FBI Pistol Qualification Course (1980’s)

Target:  FBI “Q”

Scoring: Hits in or touching “bottle” count 2 points; misses and hits outside bottle count zero points.  50 rounds service ammunition.

Qualification: 85% to qualify; 90% (45 hits) for instructors



Starting Point:  25 yard line

Time Allotted:  75 seconds

Procedure:  Start with a fully loaded weapon. On command, shooter draws and fires 6 rounds prone position, decocks, fires 3 rounds strong side kneeling barricade position, 6 rounds strong side standing barricade position, and 3 rounds weak side kneeling barricade position. Upon completing stage I, the shooter will conduct a magazine exchange and holster a loaded weapon.



Starting Point:  25 yard line, on signal run forward to the 15 yard line.

Time Allotted:   2 rounds in 6 seconds, come down to Ready

4 strings of 2 rounds in 3 seconds each, from the Ready, Then


Procedure:  Start at the 25 yard line. On command, the shooter moves to the 15 yard line, draws and fires 2 rounds in 6 seconds, decocks, and returns to low ready. The shooter will fire 4 strings of 2 rounds in 3 seconds, decock and return to low ready after each string. Upon completing Stage II, the shooter holsters a loaded weapon [without reloading unless gun capacity is only 10 rds ]



Starting Point: 15 yard line

Time Allotted: 15 seconds

Procedure:  Start at the 15 yard line. On command, the shooter moves to the 7 yard line, draws and fires 12 rounds in 15 seconds, to include a reload. Upon completing stage III, the shooter holsters a loaded weapon. Shooter then arranges remaining 10 rounds to have 5 rounds in the weapon and 5 rounds in a spare magazine.



Starting Point: 7 yard line

Time Allotted: 15 seconds

Procedure:  Start at the 7 yard line. On command the shooter moves to the 5 yard line, draws and fires 5 rounds with strong hand only, reloads, transfers the weapon to weak hand and fires 5 rounds weak hand only. Upon completing stage IV, the shooter will unload and holster an empty weapon.

Since I was running the drill by myself, and it involved a lot of movement, I did not take video of the test.  Apparently no one else ever has either, since I could not find a youTube video of anyone shooting the old test, with movement, to include here.


Other than checking the zero on the pistol at 25 yards, and a few minutes of dry practice on both DA and SA trigger pulls, I didn’t do a lot of warm up or practice before I shot the drill with the 459. It was also the first time I had shot the FBI drill with the included movement.  I passed the drill with 45 hits (90%) at instructor level.

After I shot the drill I did more experimenting with painting the front sight, and ended up changing the orange color with some gold model paint that made the front sight easier to see than the orange did.  Running a gold or brass front sight is something recommended in many older books on shooting.

I also realized, after I finished the drill, that I should have been using the Weaver stance as agents were trained to do during that time.  When I get around to doing a video of this drill shot with the movement I’ll run the gun with the gold front sight and shoot using the Weaver stance.  I also ordered a kit of Wolff springs to replace all the internal springs in the gun and the springs in both magazines, which all likely need replacing. Wolff does offer a reduced power hammer spring that will likely reduce the trigger pull a pound or two.  The old gun ran reliably even with the rusted mag spring.

The elements of the test that have faded away in more modern qualification courses of fire – running to position and more shooting at longer distances (25, and even 15 yards is now considered “long” by some), plus the longer heavier trigger pulls on the DA/SA gun made the test more difficult than shooting the current FBI qual with a striker fired gun.  Many that advocate for DA/SA guns in the current era are running guns with 6-8 lb DA and 2-4 lb SA pulls, which are considerably easier to shoot than the 10-12 lb DA and 6-8 lb SA factory trigger pulls.  I’m going to leave this gun as close to factory as I can stand, so that students (and NRA instructor candidates) can gain experience running a duty-grade trigger.