Can You Outshoot an FBI Agent? [Part 2: 1980s] By: Chris Baker

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Our series on historical pistol training continues with a look at the FBI’s qualification tests from the 1980s (catch part one here if you missed it). This time, I’m shooting two tests: the early 80s Revolver Qualification Course and the late 80s Pistol Qualification Course (the FBI’s first semi-auto test).

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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 LuckyGunner.com and today we’re going to see if I can pass two different FBI pistol tests from the 1980s.

This is the second in a three part series on the evolution of handgun training over the years. We’re using the FBI’s qualification standards as a way to explore that.

In part one, we looked at the FBI’s Practical Pistol Course from the 1940s. I shot the course using 40s-era techniques, and then I tried it again using more modern techniques. It’s a pretty challenging course, but the scoring is somewhat generous. You can completely miss the target 30% of the time and still get a passing score.

So, can you outshoot an FBI agent? Well, I’m sure most of you could at least pass the 1940s test. But keep in mind members of the Firearms Training Unit (or FTU) were expected to shoot a perfect score on that course on demand. Regardless of the relevance of those 40s-era techniques, that requires some serious skill.

Training in the 1980s

So now we jump forward from the 40s to the 80s. The 1980s was an eventful decade for the FBI – especially for the Firearms Training Unit. A lot of that history is documented in the book The Guns of the FBI by Bill Vanderpool who was an agent assigned to the FTU during that time.

Up until the 80s, the FTU was very resistant to new ideas, especially if they came from outside the Bureau. But in the early 80s, a lot of new forward-thinking personnel joined, and that mentality started to change. Especially after they brought in a former FBI agent named Bill Rogers as an expert advisor. This was the Bill Rogers of the elite Rogers Shooting School where many of the world’s best pistol shooters have trained. Rogers exposed the FBI to equipment and techniques that had become popular in the combat pistol competition world.

This led the FBI to officially adopt the Weaver stance to replace the old hip shooting and one-handed shoulder point positions. When they showed the agents Weaver, no matter how long they had been using the old techniques, their shooting immediately improved, both in accuracy and speed.

FBI Weaver stance

The FTU developed multiple training courses for teaching various skills. They had the close range course I mentioned last time. There was a combat course with obstacles and shoot/no shoot targets. They even had force on force scenarios with a laser training system, and a scenario-based video simulator.

The 80s also began the FBI’s long and tumultuous transition from revolvers to semi-autos. But we’ll come back to that later.

Then, of course, the infamous 1986 FBI shootout in Miami had ramifications across the entire agency. It’s mostly associated with triggering advances in ammo and ballistics research. But it also led to changes in firearms training and tactics.

Because there was so much change during this decade, today, I’m going to shoot two FBI courses. A revolver course from the early 80s and a semi-auto course from the late 80s.

Revolver Qualification Course

Let’s look at the revolver course first.

I’m going to be using a Smith & Wesson Model 64 again. It’s a 3-inch .38 Special K-frame. The last revolver the FBI issued was a 3-inch Model 13. That was basically the same as this gun but with a blued finish and chambered in .357 Magnum. The Bureau did have magnum loads available, but those are a bear to shoot out of a little K-frame, so the vast majority of agents carried and qualified with .38 +P ammo.

The 80s-era revolver course has a lot of the same elements as the 1940s course. The biggest changes were in the techniques required. Agents had to use the Weaver position for the standing stages. For the prone stage, instead of laying in a straight line, they used Bill Rogers’ rollover prone position.

They also changed how reloads were handled. The old course required loading loose rounds out of a pants pocket. Later on, they allowed use of a dump pouch, but only for one of the eight timed reloads in the course.

In the early 80s, the FBI finally gave agents better options. The 2×2 pouch was a Bill Rogers design. It holds six rounds grouped into three pairs. You grab and load two rounds at a time. Still not super fast but it’s more reliable than a dump pouch.

Agents also had the option to carry Safariland Comp II speedloaders. I’m a big fan of the Comp IIs. There are faster speed loaders out there, but I think the Comp II still offers the best blend of speed, size, and reliability. They carried these in another Bill Rogers creation – the Split Six pouch. This holds the rounds straddling either side of your belt which minimizes the bulk of the pouches.

Now, crazy enough, agents were still only allowed to use a speed loader once during the qualification course, even if they normally carried two or three on duty. The rest of the rounds had to come from a pocket.

On one hand, maybe they did this to keep things moving on the firing line. They didn’t want to have to wait forever in between strings of fire for everyone to refill their speed loaders. On the other hand, that’s a really stupid rule. I’ve decided I’m not loading loose rounds from a pocket this time because this is my video and I can do what I want. I’m going to use speed loaders and a 2×2 pouch.

Aside from that detail, I am trying to stick to the original instructions for these courses as much as possible to get the full experience. I’m going to use 158-grain +P ammo. I’ll try to shoot with a textbook Weaver stance and all the other techniques they used in the 80s.

Revolver Qualification Course (RQC)

Okay, let’s look at the course of fire for the 1980s FBI Revolver Qualification Course or RQC.

The target is the same one as the last course – the enormous Colt B21 Silhouette. Again, we’re using a 21X target with the 5X circle, which was not used for this course.

This is broken down into four phases. Phase one has two stages, the others are just a single stage. Each stage has you start by running up to the firing line before you draw. There’s a barricade at 50 yards and another at 25 yards. It’s 60 rounds total with reloads on the clock at every stage except the last. One stage has two reloads, so you need a way to carry at least 12 extra rounds.

Phase I: Stage I

Phase one starts at 60 yards. Run to the 50 yard line, draw, drop to the rollover prone position and fire six rounds.

Stand up, get behind the barricade, reload, and fire three rounds with your non-dominant hand around the non-dominant side of the barricade and three rounds from the dominant hand side. The time limit is one minute, 25 seconds.

The barricade portion is not fired one-handed. You grip the gun with the same hand as the side you’re shooting around. But use your other hand for support and touch the barricade with the back of that hand.

Phase I: Stage II

For the second stage of phase one, run from 50 to 25 yards. Kneel and fire six rounds from the dominant-hand side of the barricade. Reload while being careful to stay behind the cover of the barricade. Fire six rounds over the top of the barricade. Then reload and fire six rounds from the non-dominant side. The time limit is 1 minute, 15 seconds.

You kneel with the same knee down as the side of the barricade you’re shooting around. It’s meant to be kind of like a kneeling Weaver position.

I’m not sure what the official height of this barricade is supposed to be. I think it’s meant to simulate firing over the top of a patrol car, so maybe four and a half to five feet. You can rest your hands on top of the barricade for support.

The rest of this is pretty straightforward.

Phase II

Phase two: run from 25 to 15 yards. Fire six rounds, reload, fire six more. You have 30 seconds.

Phase III

Phase three: Run from 15 to seven yards. Fire six, reload, fire six. 25 seconds for that one.

Phase IV

Phase four: Step up from seven yards to five. Fire six rounds in five seconds.

RQC Scoring

Add up your K values and divide by 3. That’s your percent score. You need 75% to pass.

I did not feel like I did that great on this one. I’m pretty sure most of my bad shots were from the barricade. Shooting left handed at long range is just something I have never worked on, and throwing in the barricade only makes it more awkward. Having said that, when I totalled up my score, it was 92%, which would have been considered pretty good by FBI standards.

I can’t imagine trying to do those last few stages without a speed loader. It would be very difficult to meet those time standards loading with loose rounds.

The Transition Years

Okay, so that was the early 80s; the peak of the revolver days. The transition from revolver to semi-auto was not a clean one for the FBI. Back in the early years, they had used some 1911s on occasion, but by the 80s, everyone had revolvers. The first agents to be issued semi-autos were SWAT teams. They got the Smith & Wesson Model 459 – a 15-shot 9mm.

In the late 80s, they replaced those with the Sig P226 which they also issued to new agents, followed soon after by the compact Sig P228. Both of those were in 9mm. Agents were also allowed to carry personally owned revolvers or semi-autos as long as they met certain criteria. So by the end of the 80s, there were plenty of semi-autos in the field. But the Bureau had yet to adopt a standard semi-auto to issue to all agents. That wouldn’t happen until the late 90s, but we’ll save that story for next time.

For now, let’s look at the semi-auto course.

The FBI Pistol Qualification Course (PQC)

The first Pistol Qualification Course or PQC was devised in 1988 as part of a three-day training class for agents switching from revolvers to semi-autos. They tweaked the course a little over the next few years, but it was mostly unchanged until 2013. It’s very different from the revolver courses.

For this course, they finally ditched the old B21 targets in favor of the FBI Q silhouette. I’m going to be using a later modified version of the Q with additional scoring areas. For the purposes of this qual, the entire milk bottle shape counts as a hit.

The course is 50 rounds across four stages. It starts at 25 yards and ends at 5 yards.

In the 80s and early 90s, all of the Bureau’s semi-autos were double action/single action, so this course has instructions for when you’re supposed to decock.

We don’t have any of the early FBI semi-autos in the company gun collection. So I’m going to shoot the course with a Sig P239. It’s essentially a single-stack version of the P228. I think the P239 was approved for off-duty use at one time, so it’ll work for the test.

If you’re running a single stack with a 7-9 round capacity, you’ll need three magazines and two mag pouches for the course. Double stack guns will only need two mags.

PQC Course of Fire

Okay, here’s the course of fire.

Stage 1

Stage one starts at 25 yards with a fully loaded gun. This stage is 18 rounds and you’re going to just reload whenever necessary.

On the command, draw, drop to the prone position and fire six rounds. Decock and stand.

Fire three rounds kneeling from your dominant-hand side of the barricade.

Then six rounds standing over the top of the barricade.

Finally, fire three rounds kneeling from the non-dominant side.

Reload, decock, and holster.

You have one minute and 15 seconds for that stage.

Stage 2: String 1

Stage two is 10 rounds across five strings of fire.

For the first string, start at 25 yards. On the command, run to the 15-yard line. Draw and fire two rounds in six seconds.

Stage 2: Strings 2-5

For strings two through five, start at a low ready position. I’m not sure what the FBI considers low ready, but it’s probably with the muzzle pointed at the base of the target stand. On the command, fire two rounds in three seconds. Decock and return to low ready. Do that three more times for a total of four repetitions.

At the end, decock and holster. Do not reload before the next stage unless your mags hold 10 rounds or less.

Stage 3

On the command, run from 15 yards to the seven yard line. Draw and fire 12 rounds with an emergency reload somewhere in there. You have 15 seconds.

Stage 4

Stage four starts with five rounds loaded in the gun and a spare mag with five rounds. On the command, move up from seven yards to the five yard line. Draw and fire five rounds with the dominant hand only. Reload and transfer the gun to your non-dominant hand and fire five more rounds. You have 15 seconds for this stage.

PQC Scoring

Scoring is pretty straightforward. Count your hits that are touching or inside the bottle. Maximum score is 50. Originally, you needed 40 to pass. Some sources say that was later changed to 43 and firearms instructors had to get 45.

I managed a perfect score on this one. The target is smaller than the B-21, but eliminating the 50 yard stage obviously makes things a little easier. The hardest part for me was trying to remember to shoot from a Weaver stance. The time limits seemed pretty reasonable to me. Not overly generous, but not too challenging.

I am all for including some weak hand only shooting in a test like this. But I don’t see the point of shooting with your non-dominant hand if there’s nothing wrong with your strong hand. Shooting right handed around the left side of a barricade does not expose any more of your body than doing it left handed.

But aside from that one detail, I think this is a pretty well-rounded qualification course for law enforcement. If you’re able to set this up at your range, it’s definitely worth a try. You can always play around with the target size or par times to adjust difficulty.

I hope you guys enjoyed this one. Next time, I’m going to shoot the 2019 FBI course. Until then, if you need some ammo, be sure to get it from us with lightning-fast shipping at LuckyGunner.com.

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