Pistol Qualification Exams Are Good Shooting Practice

A number of people out there who routinely train using pistol qualification tests as a benchmark, since they are good defensive shooting practice. After all, qualification shoots are how professionals such as the armed forces and law enforcement are graded.

Pistol qualification tests demonstrate marksmanship while taking shots that would (likely) be made in a combat scenario. They also quantify these skills with scoring.

Why Use Pistol Qualification Tests

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Both law enforcement and the military have to go through pistol qualification tests in order to carry a handgun in the line of duty. They aren't the hardest thing in the world, but a certain amount of skill is required in order to pass.

In the civilian realm, these tests are popular with some members of the shooting community. You can find blog articles and various forum where people talk about the test, how they scored and so on.

There's an inherent value. The recreational or target shooter can learn how reliably they hit target areas. The person who carries for self-defense can learn how reliably they are hitting vital areas, which is important. After all, if one is going to walk out of the house with a pistol, holster and a good gun belt, one may as well know how to use it.

FBI Qualification Test

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One of the qualification tests that's become somewhat popular among shooters is the FBI qualification test. Somehow, the testing protocols (or "course of fire") of the Federal Bureau of Investigation got out (granted, it's not like they're classified information or anything) and have made the rounds on the interwebs.

The course of fire was drastically changed in 2013. The Bureau analyzed a massive amount of data and found that most law enforcement shootings occurred within three to seven yards. The new exam retains the previous maximum distance of 25 yards, but it doesn't count as heavily in the scoring. Of 60 total shots in the exam, 40 are fired within seven or fewer yards of the target.

There are a bunch of websites you can find the course on, such as this article on The Truth About Guns.

The course of fire is as follows:

  • 12 rounds at 3 yards in three strings: 2 three-second strings of 3 shots and 1 eight-second string of 6. Draw from concealment with each string and shoot with only one hand, then re-holster. During the last string fire three shots with strong-side hand and three from weak-side hand. Reload as necessary. All other stages shoot with strong-side hand supported with weak-side hand as one normally does.

  • 12 rounds at 5 yards: 4 three-second strings of 3 shots. Draw from concealment, shoot thrice, and re-holster

  • 16 rounds at 7 yards: 2 four-second strings of 4 shots and one string of 8 shots in 8 seconds. Draw from concealment, fire and re-holster. In the 8-second, 8-shot string, start with four total rounds in the pistol. Draw, fire, reload and then complete the string.

  • 10 rounds at 15 yards: two 3-shot strings in six seconds, one four-shot string in 8 seconds. Draw, fire, re-holster each time.

  • 10 rounds at 25 yards behind standing-height barricade: draw from concealment and fire five shots standing behind the barricade in 15 seconds. Re-holster and kneel. Fire five more in 15 seconds.

A score of 80 percent (48 of 60 shots hitting) is a pass. The target is the QIT-99 target, a "bottle" shape target simulating the trunk of the body. Granted, they're just paper - rather than really neat reactive targets but they are darn cheap - usually they go for $1 per or less. Every hit in the bottle scores 1 point.

USMC Pistol Qualification Course

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The USMC pistol qualification course - dubbed the Combat Pistol Program - is likewise employed by a wing of the federal government that knows about marginalizing offensive personnel. The Marine Corps redesigned their pistol qualification program with much the same thing in mind as the FBI - a pistol test that mirrored combat shooting - and launched the new exam in the same year. You can find a more detailed explanation of the course on if you'd like, but the test itself is described below.

Just like the FBI test, a silhouette target is used - the MPMS-1 target, available in white or tan and for about the same amount as the QIT-99 target - but it uses graded target areas. Like a bulls-eye target with concentric circles, the score diminishes the farther a round gets from vital areas. The face, throat and center-chest is the 10 ring, the upper abdomen scores an 8, the upper arms a 6, lower arms a 4, etc, with the higher the score, the better.

The 10 ring is about the size and shape of a butternut squash. Hitting it isn't terribly difficult, but doing so reliably isn't the easiest thing in the world for all shooters.

There are actually several courses a person has to pass before getting to the actual qualification exam, but the exam itself isn't fantastically complicated. Every stage begins the sidearm (M9 pistol, a.k.a. Beretta 92) holstered, de-cocked and safety on. After disengaging the safety, the first shot is in double-action mode and subsequent shots are single action. The course of fire is as follows:

  • Stage One: Six shots from 7 yards, in 5 seconds. Draw, unsafe, fire three controlled pairs, scan the area, check the pistol, engage the safety and re-holster.

  • Stage One: Six shots from 7 yards in 7 seconds. This stage uses the Mozambique/Failure to Stop drill. Draw, unsafe, deliver controlled pair to the body, one to the head, scan the area, check pistol, safety and re-holster.

  • Stage One: Four shots from 7 yards in 9 seconds. The pistol is loaded with two total rounds and the shooter carries an additional magazine. Fire controlled pair, change magazine and fire another pair in 9 seconds. Scan, check, safety, re-holster.

  • Stage Two: Six controlled pairs at 15 yards in 6 seconds. The pistol is loaded with seven rounds, with an additional magazine containing seven rounds. Draw, unsafe and fire. During the third controlled pair, reload with the second magazine containing 7 rounds. Scan, check, safety and re-holster.

  • Stage Two: Two controlled pairs from 15 yards in 12 seconds. Just like the last stage at 7 yards, just at 15 yards and with three extra seconds to complete it in.

  • Stage Three: 8 controlled single shots at 25 yards in 7 seconds. Draw, unsafe, fire 8 controlled shots. Scan check, safety and re-holster.

The course is 40 shots, 20 fewer than the FBI. Since the target is graded, a 400 is a perfect score. A score of 264 is a score of Marksman (in other words you pass), 324 is Sharpshooter grade and 364 is Expert.

Granted, neither of these courses will mean a person will shoot as well under combat conditions as an FBI agent and certainly not a Marine. However, it will mean at least some of the same shooting skills are there.

Sam Hoober  

About The Author

Born in southeastern Washington State, Sam Hoober graduated in 2011 from Eastern Washington University. He resides in the great Inland Northwest, with his wife and child. His varied interests and hobbies include camping, fishing, hunting, and spending time at the gun range as often as possible.

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