Minimum Competency for Defensive Pistol – Definition

So then, what is minimum competency? The Texas Legislature and Department of Public Safety think the TX CHL Shooting Test is minimum. Karl Rehn formulated the “3 Seconds or Less Drill” that’s based around the typical gunfight, and this test gets used in the various Defensive Pistol Level 1,2,3 classes at KR Training. I could be remembering this wrong, but I swore one of Tom Givens’ students only took Rangemaster’s Level 1 class and was able to successfully defend themselves. Claude Werner seems to come up with different statistical analyses of gunfight realities, and one could argue it’s mostly (only?) important to have a gun and draw it.

Defining “minimum competency for defensive pistol” is hard.

However, just because it’s hard doesn’t mean we should avoid doing it.

I think before we can answer the question, it’s important to define and frame the problem. If we’re going to define minimum competency for a self-defense situation, then we need to first know what is a self-defense situation. We’re not hunting. We’re military nor police (tho it’s possible there’s some overlap). We’re talking about private citizens going about their daily lives, but having to deal with robbery, assault, burglary, rape, etc. and refusing to be a victim of such crimes.

Tom Givens has examined incidents of FBI and DEA agents, along with the 60+ student incidents he’s had. What are the common threads?

  • Distance between victim and assailant? up to about a car length. But exceptions can occur (e.g. out to 25 yards)
  • You’re in plain clothes, gun is concealed, you need fast access.
  • Occur in public areas such as parking lots, shopping malls. Home is rare.
  • Shots fired? 3-5, on average
  • Multiple assailants are not uncommon

What Tom’s data concludes is that a typical private citizen “incident” is:

  • armed robbery in some form
  • 1-2 assailants highly likely
  • 3-7 yards
  • limited response time
  • “3 shots, 3 steps/yards, 3 seconds”

I know I lean on Givens’ teaching and data a good deal, but Tom’s a top-notch researcher. Certainly to an extent he’s biased, but what Tom is biased towards isn’t necessarily “pro gun, rah rah rah”. Rather he has a bias towards helping people stay alive in the face of a violent world (like Memphis, TN), and to do so you better have a solid, methodical approach towards finding the Truth and what really works; anything else will get people killed. So I consider Tom’s research serious and genuine. Besides, you don’t have to take his word for it: the data is out there, so you can see for yourself.

Another way to look at it? It’s the ability to get:

  • multiple hits
  • in a small area
  • from “close” range
  • quickly

Unfortunately, if you just say that, everyone’s going to define it their own way. So we need to have clear definitions and create standards based upon the clear definition.

Next, we’ll start to formulate a definition. In doing so, we’ll come to see how the acceptable minimum is higher than you think.

(This post is part of a multi-part series. For now, you can find other published parts of the series by looking at the “minimum competency” tag or category).

Minimum Competency for Defensive Pistol – An Introduction

Minimum Competency.

Minimum – the least or smallest amount or quantity possible, attainable, or required.

Competency – the ability to do something successfully or efficiently.

When it comes to the use of a pistol for self-defense, minimum competency would be the least amount of skill and ability needed in order to use that gun to successfully defend yourself.

What would that be?

I got to thinking about it. I see people at gun ranges that blaze away at a target 3 yards in front of them, and they are barely hitting paper. I see people slow plinking, taking one slowly and carefully aimed shot, checking their target, taking their time to set up again for another shot, repeat. I see videos of people attending “tactical band camp” training, throwing lots of lead, but are they hitting anything? are they doing anything effective? I see people passing their Texas CHL shooting test, and their B-27 target looks like it was peppered by a shotgun blast. I see people who are really good at shooting competitions, but struggle with defensive concepts.

Will this cut it? Is this enough true skill and knowledge to survive and win? Or is it a false sense? Sometimes in life it doesn’t matter if our assessment of our competency is different from the reality. But in a case like this, when your life is what’s at stake, you need to be soberingly aware of your skill and ability.

As friend and fellow KR Training Assistant Instructor Tom Hogel likes to say, “you don’t know what you don’t know”. If you don’t know what it takes, if you don’t know what you can and cannot do, well… what’s that going to get you? So, I started to think about what a minimum set of drills would be to try to illustrate this concept to folks. That is, if you shot these drills and could not do them cleanly on-demand, then you don’t have the minimum competency. That someone who thinks “I’ve got what it takes”, you give them this drill(s), have them shoot it right then and there, and if they cannot do it no they don’t have what they think they have.

This isn’t to say once you can do these drills then you are done and can rest here; no, because this is minimum. Karl Rehn likes to point out something he learned from Paul Ford (former Austin Police SWAT member). Paul pointed out that in a gunfight you will do about 70% of your worst day at the range. Think about that: take your worst day (under the ideal circumstances of the range), and now make it a lot worse, and that’s how you’ll do. If this is how it goes, how good do you think you really need to be so when the flag flies and your skills degrade to being “worse than your worst”, then that level is still high enough to get you through? So, you must train well beyond these minimums.

But that said, if you cannot perform to the minimum, the sooner you can know that the better. The sooner you can work to remedy it.

Hasn’t this already been defined? Well, maybe. Take a look at this extensive collection of handgun standards. If we have so many standards, do we really have *a* standard? Well, we do have to consider these standards are likely within a particular context, e.g. qualifying for police, carry permits, etc.. Furthermore, every trainer out there wants to have their own set of standards and performance assessment, but are their standards truly testing something? are they well thought out towards achieving a particular end? or did they just string together a bunch of stuff so they could slap their name on a drill? And is there really a “standard” or “drill” that is trying to answer the question I’m asking?

Ultimately, my motivation is trying to bring some cold truth to folks. I speak to people all the time that passed the Texas CHL shooting test, maybe even got a perfect score. They are quite proud of their accomplishment, and consider that the end – that they have passed the CHL test, they know all they need to know, that they are as proficient as they need to be, and will be able to handle themselves should they ever need it. I speak with people who grew up around guns, learned to shoot in the back pasture, but it’s evident from watching them they really couldn’t shoot their way out of a paper bag much less deal with a response to being assaulted. I’m no expert, but I’ve learned enough to know that I don’t know. Furthermore, I know it’s better to have your bubble burst when it doesn’t matter, than to see your world fall apart when everything is on the line. If I’m in the business of helping people protect themselves and their loved ones, I’d like to see what I could do to come up with a simple way to help people assess if they truly have the minimal skills or not.

The next some postings will be a short journey to examine this question: what is the minimum competency required for defensive pistol use?

(This post is part of a multi-part series. For now, you can find other published parts of the series by looking at the “minimum competency” tag or category).

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.

FBI Pistol Qualification Course – an evolution

(Updated: adding the 2019 revision of the course).

During the Rangemaster Instructor Course I attended in 2013, one of the tests we had to pass was the FBI Pistol Qualification Course.

It’s worthy of note that just a few months ago (in 2013), the FBI changed their qualification course.

QUANTICO, Va. — The FBI has quietly broken with its long-standing firearms training regimen, putting a new emphasis on close-quarters combat to reflect the overwhelming number of incidents in which suspects are confronting their targets at point-blank range.

The new training protocols were formally implemented last January after a review of nearly 200 shootings involving FBI agents during a 17-year period. The analysis found that 75% of the incidents involved suspects who were within 3 yards of agents when shots were exchanged.

The move represents a dramatic shift for the agency, which for more than three decades has relied on long-range marksmanship training.


“The thing that jumps out at you from the (shooting incident) research is that if we’re not preparing agents to get off three to four rounds at a target between 0 and 3 yards, then we’re not preparing them for what is likely to happen in the real world,” says FBI training instructor Larry “Pogo” Akin, who helps supervise trainees on the live shooting range…. A Justice Department analysis of 63 killings of local police in 2011 found that 73% were ambushes or execution-style assaults.


Until last January, the pistol-qualification course required agents to participate in quarterly exercises in which they fired 50 rounds, more than half of them from between 15 and 25 yards. The new course involves 60 rounds, with 40 of those fired from between 3 and 7 yards.

The new exercise also requires that agents draw their weapons from concealed positions, usually from holsters shielded by jackets or blazers, to mimic their traditional plainclothes dress in the field.

So of course during the class, we shot the new qualification course.

I asked Tom Givens for a copy of the new FBI test and he was kind enough to provide it. So with that, let’s look at the old test vs. the new test.

Old FBI Test

This is the previous FBI Pistol Qualification Course, as documented here.

This standard, revised April 1997, is used to qualify both agents and instructors.

Target: FBI “Q”
Ammunition: 50 rounds service ammunition
Scoring: Hits in our touching “bottle” count 2 points; misses and hits outside bottle count 0 points
Qualification: 85% to qualify, 90% for instructors


Starting Point: 25 yard line
Time Allotted: 75 seconds
Total Rounds: 18

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, the shooter will conduct a magazine exchange and holster a loaded weapon.


Starting Point: 25 yard line
Time Allotted: 2 rounds in 6 seconds; 4 strings of 2 rounds in 3 seconds each
Total Rounds: 10

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 –ed].


Starting Point: 15 yard line
Time Allotted: 15 seconds
Total Rounds: 12

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
Total Rounds: 10

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.

New FBI Test (2013)

The following is the new FBI Pistol Qualification Course (revised January 2013), as provided to me by Tom Givens, of Rangemaster. I’ve retyped it only for format/layout.

Target: QIT-99 silhouette
Ammunition: 60 rounds
Scoring: 1 point per hit
Qualification: 48/60 (80%) for agents; 54/60 (90%) for instructors

All fired from concealed carry (you will draw from your concealed holster).

Stage 1 is the only stage involving one-handed shooting. All other stages are shot two-handed.


Starting Point: 3 yards
Total Rounds: 12

  1. 3 rounds, 3 seconds, SHO
  2. 3 rounds, 3 seconds, SHO
  3. 3 rounds SHO, switch hands, 3 rounds WHO, 8 seconds


Starting Point: 5 yards
Total Rounds: 12

  1. 3 rounds, 3 seconds
  2. 3 rounds, 3 seconds
  3. 3 rounds, 3 seconds
  4. 3 rounds, 3 seconds


Starting Point: 7 yards
Total Rounds: 16

  1. 4 rounds, 4 seconds
  2. 4 rounds, 4 seconds
  3. Start with only 4 rounds in the gun (1 in the chamber, 3 in the magazine). 4 rounds; empty gun (emergency) reload; 4 more rounds; 8 seconds


Starting Point: 15 yards
Total Rounds: 10

  1. 3 rounds, 6 seconds
  2. 3 rounds, 6 seconds
  3. 4 rounds, 8 seconds


Starting Point: 25 yards
Total Rounds: 10

  1. Move to cover; 3 rounds standing; kneel, 2 rounds; 15 seconds
  2. again

Commentary (comparing 1997 vs 2013)

The differences are pretty stark. Neither test denies the “other case” is possible, but the emphasis is certainly different. The old test certainly puts the emphasis on long-range shooting, with more than half of the test being shot at 15 yards and beyond. In fact, very little emphasis is placed on anything “close-in”. The new test is mostly about close-in, with two-thirds of the test being at or within what the old test considered “close”!

But this is all good. If you look at private citizen encounters, FBI agent encounters, DEA agent encounters — all similar in the sense that they are people in plain clothes and thus all look “like potential victims” to criminals (just the criminal failed the victim selection process) — it all added up to what became the established “typical gunfight”: 3 shots, 3 steps/yards, 3 seconds. So if that’s what the typical gunfight is going to be, shouldn’t we ensure people can perform in that capacity?

For those of you that think this is easy, good for you, because you evidently have the necessary skill. No one is born with this skill. I teach many levels of classes, and I see many people who cannot pass this test. I see many people who cannot manage “3 shots, 3 yards, 3 seconds”. Or rather I should say, 3 acceptable hits. Of course, through instruction and practice, it doesn’t take too long for folks to achieve this level of skill.

Back to the tests.

I appreciate the new test’s one-hand shooting at 3 yards. This isn’t to say that within 3 yards you should be shooting one-handed, but rather that you ought to be able to. Why? At that distance, you may well be using your other hand for other things, like moving someone out of the way, blocking a punch, etc..

One thing that’s a bit of a bummer about both tests? Scoring is “anywhere on the target”. Take a look at the targets. While they are fairly correct in their shaping, it’s an acceptable hit to get it anywhere within the main outline. Now while I can understand that from a procedural and regulatory side, it’s not really an ideal thing from a personal-defense side. I mean, if you have to pull your gun, it’s because your life or the life of someone you are responsible for is in imminent jeopardy of death or serious bodily injury; thus you need to get the attacker to stop as quickly as possible, and a marginal hit through the belly fat doesn’t do it. So make the test harder on yourself: use that QIT-99 but only count as acceptable those hits within the inner rectangle.

I like the new test. I think it presents a better representation of modern reality. Try it out and see how you do. Be honest with yourself. If you can clean it, awesome; you obviously know what to do to achieve a high level of skill, so keep moving forward. If you cannot clean it, analyze where you need work (25 yards!!), seek instruction, and get to work.

2019 FBI Test

In January 2019, the FBI released another update to their qualification course. Tom Givens had direct input into this update of the qual, and some good improvements were made.

Target: QIT-99 silhouette
Ammunition: 50 rounds
Scoring: 2 points per hit
Qualification: > 90 for instructors (45 acceptable hits)


Starting Point: 3 yards, One handed

  1. Draw, 3 rds SHO, switch, 3 rds WHO, in 6 seconds


Starting Point: 5 yards, Two handed

  1. Draw, 3 rds in 3 sec
  2. Ready, 3 rds in 2 sec
  3. Ready, 6 rds in 4 sec


Starting Point: 7 yards, Two handed

  1. Draw, 5 rds in 5 sec
  2. Ready, 4 rds, empty gun reload, 4 more rds, all in 8 sec (start with only 4 rnds in gun)
  3. Ready, 5 rds in 4 sec


Starting Point: 15 yards, Two handed

  1. Draw, 3 rds in 6 sec
  2. Ready, 3 rds in 5 sec

Stage V

Starting Point: 25 yards, Two handed

  1. Draw, 4 rds standing, drop to kneeling, 4rds, 20 sec

Commentary (comparing 2013 vs 2019)

When you look at 2013 vs 2019, the differences are not as stark as vs. the 1997 version. What I’m going to say here is my review of the differences (not Tom’s, the FBI’s, or anyone else’s reasoning for why the changes).

The first thing that jumps out is the qual is now 50 rounds, which helps administration since ammo commonly comes in boxes of 50 rounds.

One-handed shooting changed a good bit. It went from 3 strings to 1, and the 1 string in 2019 is akin to a string in 2013 but with a tighter par time.

At 5 yards, the round count is the same, but the strings vary. Instead of 4 of the same, it varies up each string. I think this is good because it tests different skills and provides opportunity to see where something might break down so it can be fixed. For example, maybe someone can’t make draw and 3 in 3 but can make ready and 3 in 2 – that would expose slowness on the draw.

I also like how at both 5 and 7 yards you get a longer string, akin to Bill Drills, which can better help assess recoil control issues, eyesight, and other things that Bill Drills are good for.

The loss of cover at 25 I reckon may be to facilitate administration.

Also, notice how some strings are “draw and shoot X in Y”, followed by “from the ready, shoot X in Y-1”? That’s not quite a 1-second draw, but it is a 1-second get the gun out and into ready – because from there both strings are the same (going from ready). That’s still peppy.

If you like the 2013 version, nothing stopping you from using it. It’s still a good qual. I’ll probably continue to use the 2019 version because of ease of administration and being part of my training to date.

CSAT Standards

Paul Howe has a set of Pistol Instructor Standards.


The drills below drills are designed with three purposes in mind:

  1. A measurable standard to maintain.
  2. An efficient stair-stepped workout program that covers all the bases.
  3. To test the individual shooter at various times to show areas needing improvement.

Only score shots in the center box and head of the CSAT target. If an enemy turns sideways, that will be all the shooter has to engage, resulting in a worse case scenario.

1. Ready 1 shot 1 target 7 yards 1 SEC
2. Holster 1 shot 1 target 7 yards 1.7 SEC
3. Ready 2 shots 1 target 7 yards 1.5 SEC
4. Ready 5/1 shots 1 target 7 yards 3 SEC
5. Ready 4 shots 2x target 7 yards 3 SEC
6. Ready 4 shots 2x weak/2x strong (1 target) 5 SEC
7. Ready 1 shot Malfunction drill (1 target) 3 SEC
8. Ready 4 shots 2 Reload 2 (1 target) 5 SEC
9. Rifle up 1 shot Dry fire/transition 3.25 SEC
10. Holster 1 shot Kneeling (1 target) 25 yards 3.25 SEC

Total: 25 Rounds


-All stations shot at 7 yards except #10.

It’s a reasonable standards course. However, the description of the course leaves out some important details. If you’ve taken Paul’s classes, I’m sure all is known, but for those of us that haven’t (yet) studied with Paul, we’re left scratching our heads a bit.

With reader Shawn’s help, because Shawn attended Paul’s Pistol Operator course, I’ve gained some clarification. So here’s a rewrite of Paul’s standards with hopefully a bit more explanatory detail. Thanx for the help, Shawn!


Shot on a CSAT target. Note, this target is IPSC-like, but CSAT is 23″ wide and IPSC is 18″, which is going to affect scale; plus the IPSC has a smaller head A-Zone. I’m sure you could use an IDPA target in a pinch, but that’s not quite the same either. I reckon if you don’t have the CSAT target, shoot on the IPSC target and only count A-Zone hits… it’ll be more difficult.

You need 2 targets. No specification of how they are set up, but given what Shawn told me (you just shot the target of the guy next to you), I reckon setting them at the same height about a yard apart is reasonable.

Shoot with your normal gear, whatever that is. So if you’re just a private citizen carrying concealed, shoot with that setup. If a LEO, shoot with your duty gear, etc.. Shawn mentioned there was an adjustment for retention holsters but couldn’t remember the specifics. You will need 2 magazines, due to the reload string.

Scoring is a simple “hit or miss” manner. Either you did the string under time and hit the proper zone, or you didn’t. Pass/fail on each string, and an instructor-level shooter must pass at least 8 of the 10.

25 rounds total.

“Ready” means from the “high compressed ready” (position 3 of the draw). However, Shawn notes Howe isn’t super-picky about this because gear (e.g. armor, chest rig) may have different requirements.

All strings start from the standing position, except #10.

All strings are shot at a distance of 7 yards, except #10.

All strings are shot from the ready position, unless otherwise noted.

All strings are fired onto a single target, except for #5.

String 1
1 shot (body)
1.0 seconds

String 2
From holster
1 shot (body)
1.7 seconds

String 3
2 shots (body)
1.5 seconds

String 4
5 shots body, 1 head (6 shots total)
3.0 seconds

String 5
2 shots (body) on target #1, then 2 shots (body) on target #2 (4 shots total)
3.0 seconds

String 6
2 shots weak-hand-only, transition gun to other hand, 2 shots strong-hand-only (4 shots total)
5.0 seconds

String 7
Start with an empty chamber, and a full magazine inserted
Press out, press trigger (click!), tap/rack, 1 shot (body)
3.0 seconds

String 8
Start with 1 in the chamber, 1 in the magazine; full reload in mag pouch.
2 shots (body), speed reload from slide-lock, 2 shots (body)
5.0 seconds

String 9
Start with rifle shouldered/ready
1 dry shot from rifle, transition to pistol, 1 shot (body)
3.25 seconds

String 10
25 yards
From holster
Start standing
Kneel and fire 1 shot (body)
3.25 seconds

And that’s how it seems the standards are to be, from my read on Paul’s site plus some help from Shawn.

If I have it wrong, I do want to be corrected.

I wrote this up because I think it’s a good set of standards, just not presented 100% clearly. When I first read it I wasn’t 100% sure of all the details, and when Karl, Tom, and I shot it this past weekend we weren’t 100% sure on a couple parts either. I had a similar experience with the Rangemaster Level V Handgun Qualification Course, and I think it’s worthwhile for good standards/courses to be presented clearly, correctly, and in a manner that ensures everyone can and does shoot it the same… else it’s not really a standard, is it?

Three Seconds or Less

I knew USCCA had published the KR Training “Three Seconds or Less” drill in their magazine, but I only just realized they also put it on their website.

It’s a great drill based around the oft quoted statistic that the average gunfight is “3 shots, in 3 seconds, at 3 yards”. While many say we shouldn’t train to averages, if you cannot perform to that average I’d say you should seek some professional instruction and further practice.

It’s a simple drill to run since the timer never has to be adjusted (3 seconds throughout), only 20 rounds, and it puts you through a basic battery of skills for defensive pistol use.

Go try!

Corrected Rangemaster Level V Handgun Qualification Course

I shot the Rangemaster Level V Handgun Qualification Course…. or so I thought.

When I saw the listed course it did look like a Rangemaster course, but doing the math on the course didn’t add up. So I dropped a line to Tom Givens to ask. He sent me the corrected course:

  1. 3 yards – Draw and fire 3 rounds. 2.5 seconds. Repeat.
  2. 5 yards – Draw and fire 5 rounds, dominant hand only. 5 seconds.
  3. 5 yards – Start at (low) ready and fire 5 rounds, non-dominant hand only. 5 seconds.
  4. 5 yards – Draw and fire 3 to the chest and 2 to the head.5 seconds.
  5. 5 yards – Draw and fire 3 to the chest and 2 to the head, dominant hand only. 6 seconds.
  6. 7 yards – Draw and fire 5 rounds. 5 seconds.
  7. 7 yards – Start at (low) ready, 3 rounds only in gun. On signal, fire 3 rounds, reload, fire 2 rounds. 8 seconds.
  8. 10 yards – Start at (low) ready, stove-pipe malfunction in place. On signal, fire 2 rounds. 5 seconds.
  9. 10 yards – Start at (low) ready, dummy round as top round in magazine (live round in chamber). On signal, fire 2 rounds. 7 seconds.
  10. 15 yards – Draw and fire 3 rounds. 5 seconds. Repeat.
  11. 25 yards – Draw and fire 4 rounds. 8 seconds.

There are 50 rounds total, 250 points possible, 200+ to pass.

According to Tom Givens, on an RM-Q2 target the rings are scored 5, 4, 3, and that would work on an IPSC target.

To understand the context of this course, it is fired during the Rangemaster Level V class as a progress check. According to Mr. Givens, 90% or better is pretty good performance.

Big thanx to Tom Givens for sending me the corrected information and fielding my questions about the course.

Gunsite and Rangemaster standards

Did a little shooting today. No strict practice. I wanted to run a couple standards against a timer and see how I do.

The Courses

Gunsite 250

It’s been hard to find a clear description of the Gunsite 250 standard. For instance, what target? I figure from a holster, but open carry or concealment? Is there a particular scoring, or just you “hit in the right spots” else it’s a miss? So I just filled in the blanks for myself and this will be “my standard”, if you will. Even if this winds up not being exactly like the Gunsite standard, well, this is the course I shot.

I shot at a home-make IPSC target. I get lots of cardboard from UPS deliveries or Costco or wherever, so on pieces big enough I keep them and trace out my own IPSC target at the official size. It’s cheap, and works with that “reuse” portion of recycling, and then I can still recycle it when I’m done. 🙂  I shot my Springfield XD-9 Service from an IWB holster, drawing from concealment (t-shirt, pulling it upwards). No race, no gaming, like I carry.

From what I can tell, the standard looks like this:

  1. 3 yards – 1 head shot in 1.5 seconds
  2. 7 yards – 2 rounds to the body in 2.0 seconds
  3. 10 yards – 2 rounds to the body in 2.0 seconds
  4. 15 yards – 2 rounds to the body, standing to kneeling, in 3.5 seconds
  5. 25 yards – 2 rounds to the body, standing to prone, in 7.0 seconds

I couldn’t get to 25 yards nor go prone, so #5 was shot standing to kneeling at 20 yards.

My times:

  1. 1.72 seconds
  2. 2.3 seconds
  3. 2.39 seconds
  4. 3.39 seconds
  5. 4.63 seconds

Not bad, but not great. I also didn’t get 100% A-Zone hits. On the whole you can see I’m running just a couple tenths of a second slow. I’ll analyze in a moment.

Rangemaster Level 5 Handgun Qualification Course

This is the way I found the test. While the description only said “fired on an RM-Q2 target”, given the nature of the Rangemaster classes I’m going to assume this course of fire also assumes things like a concealment draw, carry guns (i.e. not race guns), and so on. I shot this using the same equipment and setup as above, including using an IPSC target instead of the RM-Q2.

  1. 3 yards – draw and fire three rounds in 2.5 seconds
  2. 5 yards – draw and fire 5 rounds with dominant hand only, in 5.0 seconds
  3. 5 yards – from low ready, fire 5 rounds with the non-dominant hand only, in 5.0 seconds
  4. 5 yards – draw and fire 3 to the chest and 2 to the head in 5.0 seconds (the write-up I found didn’t say “dominant hand only”, but I shot it that way because the next string did explicitly say “non-dominant hand only”, thus I figured this string must be dominant hand only).
  5. 5 yards – from low ready, fire 3 to the chest and 2 to the head with the non-dominant hand only in 5.0 seconds
  6. 7 yards – draw and fire 5 rounds in 5 seconds
  7. 7 yards – start at ready, fire 3 rounds, reload, fire 2 more rounds, in 8.0 seconds
  8. 10 yards – start at ready with a stovepipe malfunction in place. Clear the malfunction and fire 2 rounds in 5.0 seconds
  9. 10 yards – start at ready with a dummy round at top round in the magazine. Fire 2 rounds in 5.0 seconds (my assumption here was a live round in the chamber, so bang, click, tap-rack, bang).
  10. 15 yards – draw and fire 3 rounds in 5.0 seconds
  11. 25 yards – draw and fire 4 rounds in 8.0 seconds

Supposedly the total possible score is 250 with a 200 to pass. Trouble is, I can’t figure that out. If my math is correct, only 44 rounds are fired, and assuming 5 points for each proper hit, how do you get to 250?

Updated: Here’s the proper course.

Nevertheless, I had only 3 non-A-zone hits: 2 were in string #5, the 2 to the head with the weak hand (they were just below the A-Zone), and then one Charlie. My times:

  1. 2.16
  2. 4.110
  3. 4.05
  4. 4.41
  5. 4.23
  6. 3.30
  7. 4.60
  8. 3.37
  9. 4.04
  10. 3.71
  11. 6.28

Seems acceptable, but more analysis in a bit.

Bill Drill

I didn’t plan on doing a Bill Drill but I figured why not and ran it. Target at 7 yards, from concealment, same equipment and setup as the above. I did 3.03 seconds.


I’m no Rob Leatham, but I’m happy to see I’m improving.

I shot this cold. Just set up the targets and off I went. I only let off 2 shots prior to starting so I could ensure the shot timer was working (more on that in a bit), and then those weren’t even trying… just for the noise. The Gunsite 250 wasn’t that good, but it all came down to a simple thing: I need to get faster and more efficient. I need to get simply faster. The primary place for this is my draw; concealment draw is just slow but I know I can get quicker with even more practice. Speed can come in other ways like just getting my brain to shorten the reaction time between when my eyes see the “good enough” sight picture for the distance I’m shooting at, my brain processes that, then brain tells trigger finger to move. That’s just going to take more live fire to get there. The efficiency part comes with compounding movement, like getting on the trigger sooner.

The thing is, I didn’t go into shooting this with any particular mindset… just shoot. What I saw is some improvement areas from long ago are becoming natural. What I also saw was the recent improvement areas are not yet natural. This goes back to what I’m working on now, which is getting the finger on the trigger sooner and working to just generally speed up. Dry fire can help me with the draw speeds and getting on the trigger. I will need live fire to help improve my eyes and brain processing.

I am happy with how I shot. I had a couple true “WTF” moments, especially with the malfunction drills, and my body just moved… no thinking, just doing. I am also really happy with my 15 and 25 (well probably 20) yard performance; it’s just applying fundamentals of trigger control and sight picture, and not going too fast. But I know I can do better. Accuracy is good enough, so for now I’ll work more on speed: getting on the trigger sooner, improving draw from concealment times, and so on. Yes more dry fire is in store, but I also need more live fire practice than I’ve been getting.

To me, the key for today was to continue to establish hard data points for myself, and to shoot some courses of fire I haven’t shot before. Practice practice practice, then shoot them again. Work to beat the par times and shoot them 100% clean. Quantified performance is useful.

Updated: for later reference, how to improve split times.

Other Tidbits

Snake Loads

Some time ago foo.c gave me a bunch of old .38 ammo, and included in them were about 8 .38 Special shotshells. Check out what The Box O’Truth has to say about them. I’ve been curious to try them out. I don’t think they’re good for anything except as snake-loads. Given the place I was at today is known for having venomous snakes about, I not only had my snake gaiters on but figured to load my snub revolver with these loads.

Before packing up, I shot two of them to see how they would perform. Both shots were on cardboard out of my snub revolver, one at 3 yards and one at 5. They shot fine, but the pattern is very wide. I would say, at least out of this snub, that 5 yards is kinda pushing the limit for a pattern that hopes to hit a snake on the ground… 3 yards is perhaps even a bit much, but that pattern did seem to be “hand sized” (my hand, spread out). Not horrible. Certainly I plan on carrying these things in my snub when I go into the field… I see no reason not to.

SureFire Shot Timer

SureFire made a free shot timer for the iPhone. I tried it once before but it failed miserably where a real shot timer succeeded. My guess? We were shooting under a tin roof and all that echo created too much noise. Probably could fiddle with adjustments to get it just right, but meh… didn’t bother at the time.

Today I was out in the open country: nothing above me but blue sky. Furthermore, there was no one else around, no other shooters, no other sources of noise. So I figured this would be a good “ideal situation” to try out the timer again.

I fired one shot, it didn’t pick up, adjusted the sensitivity to 100% and it picked it up, so I left it there. I used that timer in all of my work today. Just set it to beep for a random start, then I’d shoot. It recorded all the shots and split times just fine. Even caught some slide racking a couple times. I’m pleased.

One thing I noticed was the difficulty in finding the start button. I’d find the button, press, search the screen with the sun glare to ensure it started, then I’d get ready to shoot. While I was shooting I found this annoying because it rushed me. There were more than a few times I would finish verifying it was running (and of course that meant maybe a second went by), look at the target and then immediately heard the beep… I wasn’t ready! It was a little irritating. But looking back on it now, I’m glad it did that because it added a dimension of pressure and stress to me… it took away my ability to have a 100% clear head that was 100% “game focused”. I didn’t have time to start the timer, then clear my head and settle in ready for the buzzer. No, I had to get right to shooting. I’m glad it happened, and I’m glad it annoyed me, because it gave me what I needed: pressure.

Anyway, I’m happy with the timer, especially given it was a free app. For now I’m going to continue using it instead of buying a dedicated timer. It’s “good enough” for my needs. I’m sure eventually a dedicated timer will be purchased, but meantime there’s other things that need my financial attention. 🙂


Daughter came with me for all of today (setting up the game camera, filling the feeder, shooting… she would tell me the course of fire and record my times). It was good to spend time with her. 🙂