Historical Handgun – The 1945 FBI qualification 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 an article credited to J. Edgar Hoover in the July 1945 American Rifleman, the qualification course of fire for the FBI was described.   This vintage 1950’s FBI training film shows some of the techniques taught for shooting the revolver during that time.

The Colt Silhouette target was used during that era. It later became known as the B-21, with a number of variants produced, including the B-21X, with a small X ring in the center, and the B-21M.

I’ve ordered some B-21X targets, but had some B-21M’s on hand, so I used the B-21M for a test run on the 1945 FBI course.

My approximation of vintage gear was a S&W 686 revolver (in .357 magnum, but loaded with .38 special), and a fairly basic leather holster. My interest in historical handgun is as a trainer studying the evolution of technique, not so much as a reenactor.  A more appropriate gun for this drill would be a Colt Official Police .38 special revolver,  which would have had a 4″ barrel, a trough rear sight and narrow blade front sight. My 686 had modern target grade sights and a heavier 6″ barrel.

This particular 686 is a 7 shot model, which added some complexity to the reload, as I was loading with 5 and having to get the cylinder aligned properly so that the first 5 to fire were loaded chambers.  A true 5 shot revolver would have been easier to work with.

In the 40’s and 50’s, speedloaders were not in common use (or available), so reloading was done from pouches or pockets.  Modern shooters running semi-auto pistols can learn to change magazines in under 2 seconds (or even under 1 second).  Modern double action revolver shooters can reload in 3 seconds or less, as demonstrated by Massad Ayoob.  World record holder Jerry Miculek can reload a double action revolver at a one second pace, as shown in this video.

Loading loose rounds into a revolver cylinder is much slower.  A “fast” loose round reload for me was 15 seconds, compared to a 1.5 second semiauto reload, or 3 second speedloader revolver reload.

Course Breakdown

String 1:  7 yards.  Draw, shoot 5 from the hip, double action, reload, shoot 5 more double action.  25 seconds.

What this really means is “draw and shoot 5 in 3 seconds or less, reload in 18 seconds or less, shoot 5 more shots in 3 seconds or less.”  The hip shooting part was fun.  The target below was a 2.5 second run for “draw and hipshoot five shots at 7 yards”.   What I learned from running that drill was that you have to pay attention to where the first shot lands, so you can correct your “pointing” if needed before firing shots 2-5.

In the American Rifleman article, Hoover says the rest of the course takes “5 and 3/4 minutes to complete”.  Not finding a better breakdown of the time, I’ve tried to figure out what the likely string times were, by running the test multiple times.  All string times below are my estimates and may not match exactly how the test was run in 1945.  Assume that all shots fired for the remainder of the test are shot single action, thumb cocking the revolver for each shot.

String 2:  60 yards. Draw, drop to prone (2 handed), and shoot 5.  45 seconds.  Off the clock, reload and holster.

The picture shows the view from the 60 yard line.  The red arrow points to the target.

String 3:  50 yards.  Draw, drop to prone (2 handed), fire 5. Reload, shoot 5 from sitting (2 handed), reload, shoot 5 right hand only (right hand side of barricade), reload, shoot 5 left hand only (left hand side of barricade).  180 seconds. (3 minutes)  Off the clock, reload and holster.  Move “quickly” to the 25 yard line, per Hoover’s article (probably intended to raise shooter heart rate and induce some additional stress.)

The string breakdown is about 30 seconds for each set of 5 rounds, with 20 seconds budgeted for each reload.

String 4:  25 yards.  Draw, drop to sitting, fire 5 rounds (2 handed), reload, shoot 5 right hand only from right side of barricade, reload, shoot 5 left hand only from left side of barricade.  120 seconds (2 minutes).

This breaks down to 25 seconds for the 5 seated shots, 25 for the dominant hand only shots and 30 seconds for the non-dominant hand only shots, with 20 seconds for each reload.

Being faster at reloading with loose rounds buys you a lot of time to make your shots.  I dumped my brass on the ground during reloads.  I can’t find any records indicating the Bureau required agents to pocket their spent brass.


The B21 has “K” values on it: K5 is 5 points, K4 is 4 points and so on.  50 rounds, 250 points possible.  Multiply your “K” score by 0.4 to get your score. (Or just divide by 250 to get a percentage).

Hoover’s article did not specify a passing score, but typically 70% is passing on all other law enforcement tests, with a few requiring 80%.

My target from run #2 on the test:

I got 48 hits on paper, 41 in the K5 zone (205 points), 6 in the K4 zone (24 points), and one visible miss from the first shot after the reload on the hip shooting string.  The 2 hits off paper happened somewhere at 50 yards with the one handed shooting.  229 * 0.4 = 91.6%.  Reloads were my biggest challenge, as they seemed to take forever, leaving me feeling like I had to rush the shots.  At 25 yards I blew through that string in 79 seconds, leaving a lot of unused time.

When my shipment of proper B-21’s comes in I’ll run the test again and update this post with the results. A little work on my hipshooting, reloads, and shot timing should get me to the 100% level.


This is the oldest documented course of fire I can find that requires drawing from the holster and shooting from multiple positions (prone, sitting, from cover, crouched), reloading on the clock, movement, rapid firing at close range.  The design of the course appears to be heavily influenced by the methods and concepts in Lt. Col. Rex Applegate’s “Kill or Get Killed” book.  Famous FBI agent/gunfight Jelly Bryce was also a likely influence on this, at least the 7 yard hip shooting part.

Semi-Auto Update

Because modern semiauto pistols can be reloaded much faster, those that want to run the test can try these updated time limits, still using historical shooting techniques:

String 1: 7 yards. Draw, shoot 5 (one handed from hip), reload, shoot 5 (one handed from hip).  9 seconds

String 2: 60 yards. Draw, drop to prone, shoot 5.  45 seconds (no change).

String 3: 50 yards.  Draw, drop to prone, shoot 5, reload, shoot 5 from sitting, reload, shoot 5 right hand only from right side of barricade, reload, shoot 5 left hand only from left side of barricade.  120 seconds (reduced from 180).

String 4: 25 yards.  Draw, shoot 5 from sitting, reload, shoot 5 right hand only from right side of barricade, reload, shoot 5 left hand only from left side of barricade.  90 seconds (reduced from 120).

Allowing two handed sighted fire, and eliminating some of the reloads, due to the higher capacity of modern semiauto handguns could allow the par times to be reduced even further.

Students attending the 1/2 day and 1 day Historical Handgun classes coming up in August and September 2017 will get to shoot this course of fire, as will the students in the sessions I’ll be teaching at the 2018 Rangemaster Tactical Conference.