The New(ish) USMC Pistol Qual By: Travis Pike


We normally tackle police pistol qualifications, but today we are looking at the USMC pistol qual. Specifically, their newer, higher speed qual. “New” is a relative term—the qual was adopted almost ten years ago. That was right about the time I dipped from the Marine Corps, so I had never shot it in uniform. 

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I’d undertaken the old course of fire about half a dozen times. As a machine gunner, I rated a sidearm, and I had to earn it. I made a big enough stink about having to carry an M16A4 and M240B that eventually, they agreed to issue us pistols. The clincher was that we had to qualify with no prior training. It’s almost as if they didn’t want us to qualify. Yet I did, and so did several other machine gunners. 

Would we have been so lucky under the new qual? Maybe….but it would have been a bit trickier for sure. Let’s dive into the USMC Pistol Qual. 

USMC pistol qual

What do you need for the USMC Pistol Qual? 

This doesn’t require a ton of ammo. In fact, you only need forty rounds. You’ll need your handgun of choice, and this course of fire is built around a duty-sized handgun. You’ll need two magazines and a spare magazine pouch. Predictably you’ll need a holster, specifically a duty-style rig. 

duty pistol in HTC holster
Use a duty style holster…I miss HTC.

The Marine Corps uses the MPMS-1 Target. This target replaced the traditional bull’s eye target and works as a silhouette. The silhouette has a face and then several zones. They took a cue from IPSC and used various hit zones that coordinate different points. There is an A, B, C, and D zone. 

Don’t forget to bring your shot timer, eyes, and ears. 

USMC Pistol Qual — Scoring 

Scoring is fairly easy, but you need to pay special attention to the target and the drills you are shooting. Each area offers different points. 

  • A: 10 Points
  • B: 8 Points
  • C: 6 Points
  • D: 4 Points 

When you shoot a failure-to-stop drill, the scoring changes slightly. A failure-to-stop drill requires you to place two rounds into the torso and one into the head. When shooting the torso portion, headshots equal zero points, and when shooting headshots, torso shots equal zero points. 

You get 40 rounds, and you have the potential to earn 400 points in the USMC Pistol qual. You have to achieve at least 264 points to pass. There are several scoring classifications that reward you for higher points. 

  • Expert: 364-400 Points
  • Sharpshooter: 324 – 363 Points
  • Marksman: 264 – 323 

Shooting the New USMC Pistol Qual 

Alright, alright, alright, this qual has three stages and a total of six phases. Each stage represents a different range. Stage 1 is shot at seven yards, stage two is shot at fifteen yards, and stage three is shot at 25 yards. 

Stage One: 7 Yards 

Phase 1: Phase 1 is a nice warm-up. Start with a magazine loaded with 14 rounds in the gun and load your second magazine with nine rounds and pouch it. Your par time is five seconds, and you start with your gun holstered. 

At the beep, draw and fire a controlled pair. A controlled pair is two shots fired, but each round has a sight picture. It’s not a double tap. 

Travis Pike drawing duty pistol from holster for USMC pistol qual
Drawing is a big part of the course of fire.

You’ll repeat this specific phase two more times for a total of six rounds fired in Phase 1. 

Phase 2: Holster and set your par timer to seven seconds. At the beep, you’ll draw your firearm and fire a failure-to-stop drill. That’s two rounds to the torso and one round to the head. You’ll run this drill twice for a total of six rounds fired. 

Phase 3: If you’ve been tracking your round count throughout the USMC Pistol Qual, you’ll know that you only have two rounds left in the magazine. We are coming up on a reload, boys and girls. 

Set your timer to nine seconds. At the beep, draw and fire two rounds and then conduct a speed reload and fire two more rounds into the target. That’s it. You’ve finished Stage one of the USMC Pistol Qual. 

Stage Two: 15 yards 

Go ahead and grab that empty magazine and fill it with seven rounds. Pouch it. It’s a tool you’ll use later. Back up to 15 yards and get ready. 

Phase 1: Set your timer to six seconds. At the beep, draw and fire a controlled pair. Now repeat this drill for a total of six runs. Now, what you’re thinking is, “I only have seven rounds in the gun!” 

USMC pistol qual reload at stage 2 phase 1
Reloading is on the shooter.

Yep, you’re gonna have to reload. After the 3rd drill, the reload is a tactical reload, which means you’ll retain the pistol magazine and reload with a fresh magazine loaded with seven rounds. Complete your seven runs, and you should have two left in the gun. 

Phase 2: Before we start, load that empty magazine with ten rounds. Set your timer to 12 seconds. Draw and fire two rounds, then speed reload and fire two more rounds. Not too hard by any means, but take advantage of that long twelve seconds to make your hits count. 

Stage Three: 25 Yards 

Take a walk to the 25-yard line and get ready to exercise those marksmanship skills. This course of fire was originally designed with the Beretta M9 in mind. The course of fire allows you to fire this portion with the weapon cocked into single action. With the adoption of the M17/M18 handguns, this might be out of date fairly soon. 

If you’re a cool guy like me, you’re using a DA/SA gun anyway, so take advantage of that single-action mode. 

firm grip on single action handgun in USMC pistol qual
Rock that single action boys and girls.

Phase 1: There is no holster and drawing in this phase. You’ll use the Tactical Carry. With the USMC, the tactical carry is a high ready with a pistol. You have seven seconds to fire a single round. You’ll repeat this drill eight times in total. 

The Marine Corps Tactical pistol carry from the front.
The Marine Corps Tactical pistol carry from the front.

Seven seconds from the high ready is fairly easy to accomplish. Take your time. Make those rounds count. Eight rounds can be eighty points if you can land them into the ten zone. People get worried at this range, but to me, this is where you make your money. 

What I Like and What I’d Change 

Like almost all quals, the time constraints are a bit generous. Not too bad, but you could shave a few seconds off each easily. I feel like I’m crawling through the drill if I try to get close to the par times. I like the simplistic nature of the course of fire, and I love the target that encourages realistic shot placement. 

I’d like to see some additional distance added to the training with a focus on more combative shooting at a longer range. Sidearms are just that, sidearms. The USMC pistol qual should focus on transitioning from an empty rifle to a pistol and make that part of the drill. The USMC is supposed to be a Corps of riflemen, so add the rifle in. 

This is still a fun bit of training. I understand that it’s simple because it’s very unlikely a Marine would ever use his handgun. A lot of things have to go wrong to hit that point. Still, I’d like to see the Corps excel and make the best gunslingers they can.