Can You Outshoot an FBI Agent? [Part 1: 1940s] By: Chris Baker


How do you think you’d fare shooting the official FBI pistol course from the 1940s? This is the first of a three part series where I’m going to find out how my skills measure up against various FBI standards through the decades using (mostly) period-correct equipment.

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Details are in the video below, or keep scrolling to read the full transcript.

Hey everybody, I am Chris Baker from and today we’re going to see if I can pass an FBI shooting test from the 1940s.

A few weeks ago, we talked about how the FBI was responsible for the nationwide hip shooting trend in pistol training from the 1940s through the 80s. The FBI has always had a major influence on the fireams world in general. Sometimes that’s been a good thing. Sometimes not so good. The hip shooting thing was a bit misguided, for example, but they also pushed things like more realism in firearms training. So it’s a mixed bag.

Over the years, the FBI has used a bunch of different shooting courses for training and qualifying agents. Each of those courses acts as a kind of window into the trends in handgun training from various eras. So this is going to be a three part series. Today, we’re going to look at the first official FBI pistol course from 1945. Next time we’ll look at one from the 80s. And then we’ll check out the most recent one from 2019.

The FBI Practical Pistol Course

Our course for today is the 1940’s FBI Practical Pistol Course. Different variations of this course were used by law enforcement agencies for decades. Eventually, it even evolved into its own sport called Police Pistol Combat or PPC. I’m going to use the version of the course that was published in the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin in 1946. The FBI has PDFs of the back issues on their website and this was published in installments over three issues. If you want to check this out for yourself, we’ve consolidated those into one PDF you can download here.

This version has a ton of photos and it details exactly how you’re supposed to shoot every part of the course of fire. It also shows you common mistakes to avoid. So I’m going to try to follow this as much as possible to get the full retro FBI experience.

I’m not going to wear a tie and high-waisted pants, but I will use a strong-side behind the hip belt holster. At the time, agents were issued a 4-inch Colt Police Positive revolver in .38 Special. I’m going to be using a 3-inch Smith & Wesson Model 64. It’s not quite the same as the Colt, but it’s pretty close – they’re both medium/small frame .38 Specials with fixed iron sights. The only modern convenience I have here is the orange nail polish on the front sight.

The pistol course is 50 shots broken up into four stages (or steps, as they call them). It starts at seven yards, then it goes back to 60, then up to 50, and finally 25 yards. There’s a time limit of 25 seconds for the first stage. Then you start the clock again at 60 yards and you actually keep it running until you finish the course. You get five minutes and 45 seconds to complete stages two, three, and four. That comes to six minutes and ten seconds for the entire course.

Everything is done in five shot strings of fire. This was before speed loaders and the FBI didn’t issue any kind of ammo carrier in the 40s. So all reloads are done with loose ammo from a pants pocket. Also, since you’re loading five rounds into a six shot revolver, you have to make sure to index the empty chamber so it’s under the firing pin when you close it. All of that makes for a very slow and tedious reload process that’s performed eight times on the clock during this course.

The target they used is the original Colt Silhouette, later known as the B-21. This was the first mass produced silhouette style target designed for police and combat style shooting. The target we have here is actually a B-21X which adds the 5X target circle in the middle. The original didn’t have that.

The target has “K” and “D” values. The K is for “kill” and the D is for “disable.” That concept was already pretty outdated by the 1940s. The instructions for the pistol course point out that “special agents shoot only in self-defense, so only the K value is scored.”

Course of Fire

Okay, let’s look at the course of fire.

Step one starts at seven yards. At the command, draw, fire five rounds double action from the hip shooting position. Reload with loose rounds from a pocket and fire five more rounds. The time limit is 25 seconds.

This is the only stage that’s specifically requires double action. For all the other stages, it’s assumed that you will thumb-cock the hammer before each shot, but I don’t think double action was disallowed. I will probably fire most of this double action because that’s what I’m used to.

Stage 2

Step two takes us to 60 yards. Once you start the timer again, it doesn’t stop until the end. But before that, load five rounds in the gun, holster, and then dump another 35 rounds in a pocket for reloads.(Ladies, I guess this was before they had female agents, because I know y’all don’t have pockets big enough for that much ammo.)

At the command, the timer starts again, drop to your knees, draw, then get into a prone position and fire five rounds.

Stay in the prone position and reload. Then get up to a kneeling position to reholster, and move up to 50 yards.

Stage 3

The 50 and 25 yard positions require a barricade six and a half feet tall by three feet wide. We’re going to use these V-Tac barricades instead.

At 50, drop to a sitting position, draw, and fire five rounds. Swing around to a prone position, reload, and fire five more.

Next, get up from prone and reload behind the barricade. Then, fire five shots left hand only from the left side of the barricade. Reload, fire five shots right hand only from the right side.

They want you to use the barricade for support. So for the left-handed shots, brace your right hand against the barricade with the thumb flagged out. The left wrist sits on top of the thumb so the whole gun and left hand are out past the barricade.

They’re pretty adamant about not exposing any part of your body more than necessary. They want you to aim with your left eye on the left side and your right eye on the right side.

Regardless of eye dominance, the original FBI course required agents to aim with the left eye when shooting around the left side of the barricade and the right eye on the right side.

After that, move up to 25 yards for the last stage.

Stage 4

This is going to be a repeat of the 50 yard stage except we’re skipping the prone position. We’re going to do five shots sitting and then go straight to the barricade. At the barricade, we’re going to start on the right side, right hand only, and then go to the left side, left hand only. Fifteen shots total, and that’s the end of the course.


To score your target, add up all the K values. The maximum possible score is 250 points. Multiply your point total by .4 and that’s your percentage score. The FBI instructions actually don’t mention the minimum for a passing score. Most of their later tests require 70-80% to pass.

My score for this run was 72.8% with plenty of time to spare. Passing or not, I’m not at all satisfied with that performance. I totally missed the target nine times. I may have done better if I shot it slower or single action, but what really got me was all of the unfamiliar shooting positions and techniques. I’m going to take another shot at it, but first, let’s talk about some of the pros and cons of the 1945 FBI course.

Reviewing the 1946 FBI Course

There’s a lot about this course that feels pretty dated by modern standards. But you have to remember that in the 1940s, the vast majority of pistol training was very formal one-handed slow-fire bullseye shooting. Compared to that, the FBI course is pretty cutting edge. It involves drawing and reloading on the clock. There’s enough movement to get your heart rate up a little. You get to practice using cover. These were all innovative concepts at the time.

It’s a fairly difficult course by modern standards. Today, most pistol shooters don’t practice much at 25 yards, let alone 50 and 60 yards. On the other hand, you have plenty of time to thumb cock the hammer and fire single action, which makes it a little easier. The target is also huge. And if you hit anywhere in this massive torso area, you’re getting either four or five points for each shot. It’s still a challenging course, but maybe not as difficult as it seems at first glance.

The old Colt B-21 target is substantially larger (especially in height) than modern cardboard silhouette targets.

The real question is whether it’s challenging in the right ways. 80% of this course has you at 25 yards or more. You could argue we don’t practice those longer ranges enough these days. But most gunfights take place at seven yards or less. That’s probably where we should spend most of our training if we’re trying to prepare for real-world violence.

The sitting and prone positions were an attempt at realism that, in hindsight, were not very realistic. I think most instructors today would agree that if you’re out in the open and you’re being shot at, the last thing you want to do is limit your mobility. But at least this course gets you thinking about how you might adjust your shooting based on the distance to the target and whether you have cover.

Obviously, hip shooting at seven yards is not ideal, either. At that range, we want two hands on the gun at eye level. That’s not to say some form of hip firing is never a good idea. In the 80s, the FBI introduced the Close Shooting Course, which was 50 rounds all fired at one to three yards. They used techniques that resemble some of the retention positions commonly taught today.

I’m not even going to get into the barricade shooting thing. I’ve seen a number of different techniques for shooting around cover. They all have strengths and weaknesses. This one is by far the most awkward I’ve ever tried.

The inclusion of timed reloads was a very progressive concept. That didn’t become the norm in law enforcement for decades after the FBI did it. But I do wonder about the training value of making the agents do so many reloads with loose rounds from a pocket. Were they really carrying loose ammo in their pockets on duty?

Some agents might have purchased their own dump pouches or cartridge loop belts or something, but I don’t believe anything like that was standard issue in the 40s. Later on, they did have 2×2 pouches for carrying spare ammo. I believe those came around in the 60s. I’m sure some agents had speed loaders eventually, but those were not really commonplace until the 70s and 80s.

A 2×2 ammo pouch for reloading a revolver two rounds at a time.

The one thing that makes this course feel completely different from other qualifier-style shooting tests is the fact that the clock is running almost the whole time. It makes it feel more like a really long stage in an action pistol match. You have to remember what you’re supposed to do at each stage and do it all in the correct order. That’s a good way to test whether you’re able to shoot at a subconscious level. If you have to think too much about your shooting, you’re going to mess up the procedure part of it.

Of course, that only works the first few times you shoot it. Once the course of fire is in your subconscious memory, that’s not really adding any extra mental load.

Second Attempt

Okay, I am going to shoot that again. This time, I’m going to do a freestyle kind of thing. I don’t think it helped that I was using a bunch of techniques that I don’t ever do. So this time, I’m going to use the same distances and shot counts, but I’m going to shoot it all standing and two-handed. I’ll shoot left handed around the left side of the barricade and all that, but I’m not going to aim with the weak side eye because that’s just a disaster.

I didn’t have any problem with the time limit, so I’m not going to bother with loading loose rounds. I could do speed loaders but that feels a little too much like cheating. So instead, we’re going to split the difference. I’m going to use speed strips just to make it not quite as tedious.

Hopefully I’ll get a much better score this time. Let’s find out…

This run started out strong. I easily cleaned the first stage in less time than it took me to do the reload the first time around. Shooting everything standing felt much more comfortable than trying to do it prone or sitting. For the barricade, I decided to try out a technique I saw in Jim Cirillo’s book. It didn’t feel great, but it was much better than the old FBI technique. I missed my first shot at the barricade. I also had a miss at 60 yards. But I managed a final score of 92.8%.

If you have a range where you can shoot this, I suggest giving it a try. You could even shoot it with a semi-auto and a modern holster. It’s just a fun challenge that’s a little different than the way most of us normally train.

Okay, I hope you guys enjoyed that. Until next time, if you need some ammo, be sure to get it from us with lightning fast shipping at

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