The Farnam Drill

My quest to sort out “The Farnam Drill”.


A few years ago I took a course with Tom Givens and Tom had us shoot a really good drill. I believe the drill went something like this:

Target: 8.5″ x 11″ sheet of paper
Ammunition: 9 live rounds, 1 dummy round
Scoring: All rounds must be on paper, within the time limit.
Time Limit: 15 seconds (tho I think in our class, he made it 12 seconds and I recall he did it in something like 8.5).
Starting Condition: 6 rounds and 1 dummy in the gun (so, a live round in the chamber, then the magazine has 5 rounds with 1 dummy mixed in somewhere). 3 rounds in another magazine. Gun is in the holster, concealed.
Procedure: On the signal, draw and fire until empty, reload, then fire 3 additional rounds. Fix the stoppage when it occurs. You must sidestep on the draw/presentation, on the stoppage, and on the reload.

And that’s all there is to the drill. It’s simple, straightforward, and forces you to do just about every sort of skill you’ll need in a defensive shooting context. I really like this drill because of that efficiency.

But this isn’t the Farnam drill. It’s similar, but it’s Rangemaster’s drill.

Updated 2015-10-06: I spoke with Tom Givens. Scroll to the bottom for more information.

Modified Farnam

Some years ago I saw this post that talked about a “Modified Farnam Drill”. hasn’t been updated in years, but hasn’t gone away, but just in case something gives, here’s a reprint:

Named for John Farnam, this is probably the best general purpose defensive shooting drill that I have seen. This is a good benchmark for measuring your shooting performance and progress. You will need some inert/dummy cartridges, at least two magazines, and a shot timer. The total round count for this drills is eight live rounds and one dummy round. The setup is as follows.

In the Gun:

  • 1 live round in the chamber.
  • 5 live rounds in the magazine. (Some sources say 4 live rounds.)
  • 1 dummy round in the magazine. (Not the first or last round.

In the Reload:

  • At least three live rounds.

The drill is shot as follows:

  • On the buzzer draw and start shooting.
  • Perform immediate action when you encounter a malfunction.
  • Speed reload when you reach slide lock
  • Shoot twice more.

If you followed the directions correctly you will end up with two empty magazines (one on the ground, one in the gun) and one live round in the chamber.

The “standard” is shooting a 8.5″x11″ sheet of paper at 8 meters with a disqualification for a miss. Farnam expects his students to complete this in 18.25 seconds and his instructors to complete it in 12 seconds.

Now for the “modified” part of the drill:

  • Add one second to your total time for each miss. This allows you to capture your progress. It’s not perfect but it is kind of helpful to see improvements.
  • Change the distance. Both closer and farther away.
  • Reduce the size of the target.
  • Add a step of movement on the draw, immediate action, and reload.
  • Add verbal commands throughout the drill.

The people that seem to have the best success at this drill are the ones with the most efficient gun handling. Being able to quickly and precisely clear the malfunction and speed reload will give you more time to get your hits.

You can see how this is similar to the Rangemaster drill, but also different.

But this still was second-hand information with some uncertainty (e.g. “some sources say”). I wanted to know the proper “Farnam Drill” (or at least, verification the above was in fact correct). Alas, Google wasn’t turning up much solid information, as I recounted a few months ago. I mean, what good is a standard if there’s no standard? If there isn’t one true way of doing something and everyone does it a little different, how can you measure progress? how can you accurately compare?

Of course, I should have just contacted John Farnam and asked… but for some reason I felt I should do more homework before bothering him.

Then I came to see…

The Farnam Drill (maybe)

What helps? Looking not just under “Farnam” but also under names like “DTI Pistol Standards” or his book The Farnam Method of Defensive Handgunning, which is where this came from (the “DTI Defensive Handgun Proficiency Test”). But even then, the words and labels are tossed around a bit, and you’ll find two things.

First, I found what tended to be referred to as the “proficiency test”. The follow comes from this compilation of standards:

TDI’s Defensive Handgun Proficiency Test starts with a holstered pistol with one live round in the chamber and four live rounds and one dummy round (inserted at random). The magazine to be used for reloading is in its carrier and is fully charged with live rounds (no dummies). The student starts moving laterally (staying behind the line) at random within a three-meter area, and at the signal he moves and draws, then continues to hold on the 8 X 10 inch target, trigger finger in register. On the next signal, the student moves laterally again before shooting and fires continuously at the target. The shooter must be in continuous movement during his stoppage clearance and reload. Once the gun runs dry, the student reloads and fires two more rounds. Movement is required during the reload. The student achieves a passing score if he or she hits with all shots within the 22 seconds and does not commit any safety or procedural errors. Safety errors include getting a weak hand or arm in front of the muzzle or a trigger finger that enters the trigger guard when it’s not supposed to. Procedural errors cover failing to move when required, incorrect stoppage clearing, incorrect reloading and the like.

Now you can see this is somewhat like the other two, but not really. Then I read another telling over at the pistol-training forums:

Setup: 8×8 target at 8 yds. Gun loaded with 5 rounds (4 live, 1 dummy, position of dummy unknown to shooter). Dummy should not be first or last round. One mag for reload in carrier with at least 2 rounds (drill is 7 shots total).
Start in interview stance. At the command “Start moving” begin moving laterally at random, scanning area (must scan behind you at least once). At second signal, move and draw, hold on target until timer beeps.
At the beep, move laterally and start firing. When stoppage is encountered, reduce it while moving (tap, rack, bang) and continue firing. After last round reload (while moving) and fire 2 more rounds.
*basically if you’re not shooting you’re moving, and your trigger finger must be in register while moving*
100% hits, no safety violations and proper malfunction and reload procedures to pass. Must move during draw, TRB, and reload; must scan before start signal.
Standard: 22 sec.

Seems to be the same thing, just a different way of saying it. But still, some differences. I saw this version:

Farnam Drill (after John Farnam)

Setup: Target is an 8.5 x 11″ sheet of paper at 8 meters. Shooter begins with gun in the holster (concealed), retention strap engaged if holster is so equipped.

Semi-auto: the gun has a round chambered, with four rounds and a dummy round in the magazine. The dummy round may not be the first or last round in the magazine, and the shooter is not to know which round is the dummy. One magazine on the belt contains two live rounds.

Revolver: cylinder loaded to capacity, speedloader on the belt.

Drill: from interview position (hands at sides, not touching gun), draw and fire into the target. When the dummy round comes up, clear it with tap-rack. Continue firing until you run dry, then speed load and fire the last two shots. Revolvers just draw, shoot all rounds, reload, and then shoot two more.

All shots must hit the target to count, and all procedures (draw, malfunction clearance, reload) must be done correctly. Any miss or any failure to perform the correct procedure disqualifies you.

Par times:

First shot Split times Tap-Rack Reload Total Time
Basic level 25.00
Student Semi-auto 3.00 1.50 3.25 4.50 18.25
Revolver 3.00 1.50 N/A 6.00 18.25
Instructor Semi-auto 2.00 0.75 2.75 3.50 12.00
Revolver 2.00 0.75 N/A 5.00 12.00

All times are measured from shot to shot, and all procedures must be performed in the allotted time to pass. For instructor qualification, the drill must be successfully completed twice in a row.

And while that seems even better, it just adds more murk to the mix.

You want to get yet another version? From the same handgun standards PDF they list the “DTI Pistol Standards”

  • Test uses a standard full size B-27 target resembling the miniature shown on the left
  • Distance will be 8 meters
  • 100% of all rounds must hit inside the target’s 9-ring or break the 9-ring line.
  • Pistol will be drawn from concealment
  • 1st magazine will have 6 rounds, one of which will be a dummy round. The dummy round will not be the first or last in the mag.
  • 2nd magazine will contain at least 3 rounds.
  • Student will start from an interview stance

DIRECTIONS: Draw and fire until the slide locks to the rear. Perform an emergency reload and fire 2 additional rounds. Clear any malfunctions that occur during the test. (dummy round will cause at least one failure to fire)

Student Level Time Instructor Level Time Skill Standard
3.75 2.75 Draw and fire first shot
1.50 (6.0-T) .75 (3.0-T) Average time between 5 additional shots
3.50 2.75 Clear failure to fire caused by dummy round
4.75 3.50 Reload and fire 2 additional rounds
18 Seconds 12 Seconds TOTAL TIME

Confused yet?

Will the real Farnam Drill please stand up?

All of these are close. But let’s turn to The Farnam Method of Defensive Handgunning where the last chapter of the book is titled “DTI Defensive Handgun Proficiency Test”. I’m going to rewrite things slightly, just for format and layout.

Shooter Setup: Interview stance. Gun in holster with retention devices, if any, active. Concealed or in duty rig. Strong hand is not touching or hovering over the pistol.

Weapon Setup – Autoloader: 1 live round in the chamber, 4 live and 1 dummy in the magazine. The dummy is mixed in, but should not be the first nor last round in the magazine, and the exact location unknown to the shooter. Another magazine with at least 2 rounds in it (tho Farnam says it should be fully charged with live rounds). 7 (live) rounds total are used in the drill.
Weapon Setup – Revolver: All chambers loaded with live rounds (regardless if 5 or 6 shot revolver). A speed loader, fully charged with live rounds, and in its carrier. All rounds will be fired, a reload performed, and 2 more live rounds fired. So, there could be 7 or 8 rounds total fired, depending upon the revolver’s capacity. No dummy rounds used.

Target Setup: target is approximately 20cm x 30cm (about 7.87″ x 11.81″), rectangle or oval, steel or paper. Target will be 8 meters (8.74 yards) from the shooter.

Standard/Scoring: Pass/fail. 100% of shots must hit within the time limit in order to pass. Furthermore, no safety errors nor procedural errors in order to pass. A single miss, a single error, fails.
Safety Errors: Shooter’s body parts end up in front of the muzzle. Shooter’s trigger finger enters the trigger guard before the signal to fire, during reloading or stoppage reduction, or when moving.
Procedural Errors: failure to move laterally during draw. Failure to move during stoppage reduction or reloading. Failure to scan prior to the start signal. Incorrect stoppage reduction procedure. Incorrect reloading procedure (e.g. old magazine dropped from the magazine well before new one has cleared the carrier). Incorrect slide manipulation (e.g. hand too far forward, “slingshotting” the slide).


  • Autoloader
    • Student reports to the line, assumes interview stance, and faces downrange.
      • Command “Start moving”
      • Student starts moving laterally (tho remaining behind the line) at random within a 3 meter area
      • After this command but before the start signal, the student must scan all the way behind them at least once.
    • The start signal is given
      • Shooter simultaneously moves and draws
      • Movement must be lateral and displace the shooter at least 1 meter
      • Shooter continues to hold on target (trigger finger in register) until he hears the timer’s start beep.
    • The timer beeps/starts
      • Before shooting, student must move laterally
      • Student fires continuously at the target.
      • When stoppage encountered, immediately reduce the stoppage then resume firing. Student must be in continuous movement when reducing the stoppage.
      • When the last round is fired, immediately reload and fire two more rounds. Student must be in continuous movement when reloading.
  • Revolver
    • The test is essentially the same, except the first string will be 5 or 6 shots, depending upon the revolver’s capacity.
    • When reloading, all chambers must be reloaded. Still, only 2 shots are fired after the reload.
    • Qualifying times with 5 or 6 shot revolvers are the same, “because the difficulty of accurately shooting the small guns is compensated for by the fact that the shooter is required to shoot 7 rather than 8”.

Qualifying Times: 

  • Student: 22.00 seconds (autoloader or revolver)
  • Instructor: 15.00 seconds (autoloader), 16.00 seconds (revolver)

So there we have it.

I have not (yet) had the good fortune to train with John Farnam, so I can only go upon what I’ve read. It’s well possible that Mr. Farnam has changed things over time. Maybe it was 22 seconds originally then it became 18.25. Maybe it was 4 in the magazine then became 5. I just don’t know. It’s interesting to see such variation in things, where times came from, where procedure came from. And yes, while before I thought I should do some research before contacting Mr. Farnam, I think it may be at the point where it’d be good to ask him if he has any comment. He could provide corrections, authoritative statement of what the drill is, and perhaps if there was evolution or some perspective on these other approaches, maybe he could shed that light.

Nevertheless, I was introduced to this through Tom Givens’ flavor and I think I’ll continue to stick with that. First, I think it’s a slightly tougher version of things because there’s more to do and in less time. Second, since it is what I’ve done before, I already have some baseline data that I can use to track my progress. If you haven’t shot these drills before, I’d say to pick one flavor and stick with it so you can measure your progress over time.

Updated 2015-10-06: Yesterday, Lynn Givens made a Facebook posting referencing her performance on this drill. After some back and forthing on it, Tom Givens sent me this formal write-up of the drill (I’ve reformatted it for display here). Because this is Tom’s version of the drill, he’s called it:

The 3M Test

The 3 M’s are:

  • Marksmanship
  • Movement
  • Manipulations


For many years, Larry Nichols was the Rangemaster of the Burbank, California, police department. He devised the original, simpler version of this drill. He showed it to John Farnam probably 30 years ago, and John modified it to fit his curriculum. John showed his version to me [Tom Givens] 20 years ago, and I made changes to fit my curriculum. This is the version we currently use.

Target & Scoring

Scoring can be Pass/Fail, or modified for Comstock Count Scoring.

One silhouette target at 5 yards. For our purposes, we will use an RM-Q scored 5/3. Or a VSRT, scored 5, 4, 3. Or an IDPA target, scored 5/3/0 for the Comstock Count version. If pass/fail scoring, only the highest value hit zone counts.


Shooter starts with handgun loaded with 6 live rounds (1 in chamber, 5 in magazine) and one dummy round in the magazine. Dummy is not the top round nor the bottom round in the magazine. Someone else should load the magazine so the shooter does not know where in the magazine the dummy round lies.

Shooter starts holstered, hands in interview stance. On signal, side step, draw, and fire until a malfunction occurs. On the malfunction, side step, fix it, and continue to fire. When the gun runs empty, side step, perform an emergency reload, and fire 3 additional shots.

Shooter must move on the draw, move on the malfunction, and move on the reload. There will be a ten point penalty for any shot that misses the target, on Comstock. If pass/fail, any round outside the highest value zone is a failure.

Score Calculation

Comstock Count Scoring

Possible score = 45 points. Points divided by time = Index. Index X 30 = Score.

Example: 42 points, fired in 12.15 seconds = 3.46
3.46 X 30= 103.8 Score = 103.8
Par Score = 100
Anything over 100 is very good work. Anything over 125 is extremely high skill.

Pass/Fail Scoring

On Pass/Fail scoring, shooter fails if he:

  • Does not move on the draw, the malfunction, and the reload
  • Does not tap the magazine before running the slide on the malfunction
  • Places a single hit outside the highest scoring zone on the target
  • Time limit is 15 seconds for a Combative Pistol student, 12 seconds for instructors.


This drill tests movement off the line of force, a rapid presentation from concealment, accurate placement of multiple fast shots, a malfunction remedy, and an empty gun reload, all under time pressure. It only requires 9 rounds [,one dummy round], one target, and a timer or stopwatch to test/measure all of these skills.

October 2016 Update

According to a post by Tom Givens himself (in a private Facebook group), there is a new variation on the 3M Test (Tom just started doing it here in the Fall of 2016). From Tom:

Actually, we just started this about 2 classes ago. After the reload, 3 shots to the chest, then 1 head shot to stop the clock. Total of 10 rounds. Par time is 15 seconds for students, 12 seconds for instructors.

Hsoi’s Comments

The 3M Test is almost the same test that I took some years ago with Tom. I certainly recall shooting it on a 8.5″x11″ sheet of paper, and I do believe we shot it at greater than 5 yards (tho if it was 7, 8, or 10, I don’t recall). Still, I think the closer distance and the smaller target, it all evens out.

All in all, I think this is an excellent drill.

Thank you, Tom, for the official write-up.

10 thoughts on “The Farnam Drill

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  6. Nice write up!

    Just to add a bit…

    I’ve been a Staff Instructor with John for 14-years, and the time/distance/target area has some variables.

    Generally, John likes to use the Rotator steel target manufactured by the Ravelin Group, which have 8″ x 8″ plates. However, they can only be shot at safely from 8-meters and beyond, and the plates move when hit. Granted, the basic test requires all hits to be on the top plate, but it will still move and cause momentary pauses by the shooter since the plate gets smaller as it moves away when hit in rapid succession. Thus the 22-second time.

    When John only has paper available, he will sometimes alter the time to a lesser number. Sometimes he will move the distance up, as well, and/or change the size of the hit area and make it smaller.

    John also sets “expert” and “intermediate” times, as well as the “instructor” level time, depending on conditions. 22-seconds is the normal time, but 18-seconds has been used, as well, with a 25-second “intermediate” time. He will also alter it for students who have physical disabilities, etc…

    Most of the Staff Instructors regularly run it in under 13-sec, but most of us never practice it – we prefer to hit it cold when demonstrating it to students, as it keeps us from shooting it too fast, which can make students think they need to race and beat our times when the reality is that they should only competing against themselves individually. And, it’s really easy to build muscle memory when you go out and run the same drill for hours in an attempt to shave a second or two off your time. My concern is that in a fight I might automatically reload my gun after 5 rounds since that’s what I was doing all week at the range. So, these days I leave it for test time at classes.

    One last variation is to go from the holster on the beep – Henk Iverson incorporates that, as well as 10 shots on a 4″ x 6″ target, instead of 7 on an 8″ x 8″. That can get a bit tricky!

    Frank Sharpe

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