CCW Quals to Test Your Skills — And Sanity

Firearms qualifications have a narrow but important application. Quals are not designed to build skills. Rather, they’re a measurement of competency. For some, that competency may be safe firearms handling or basic marksmanship skills. Concerning defensive pistolcraft, how do you measure competency? Therein lies the purpose of many CCW quals.

Before venturing into a list of CCW quals, let’s discuss what a firearm qual is — and isn’t. When properly constructed, firearm qualifications (“quals”) measure a shooter’s competency in a given shooting category. Quals can focus on accuracy, speed, movement, or any other number of skill sets. Ultimately, the qual should focus on skills relevant to the evaluated application. Accordingly, CCW quals need to evaluate an individual’s competency with a defensive firearm.

Boundaries of CCW Quals

If offered an endless supply of ammunition, would you take it? I hope the answer would be a resounding, “Yes!” While some of us would like an endless supply, time and financial commitments restrict our ability to relentlessly plug away with rounds. Accordingly, CCW quals, or any qual for that matter, shouldn’t require hundreds of rounds to complete. After all, don’t build competency. They measure competency.

mag change during ccw quals
CCW quals are designed to test skills. Ideally, these quals should integrate skills like changes in shooting position or magazine changes, as seen above.

CCW quals should measure skills relevant to proper firearms handling and marksmanship. When referring to firearms handling, it’s more than just safe gun practices. These skills include manipulating the magazine release, manual safeties (if equipped), and malfunction clearance. Furthermore, CCW marksmanship is more than just slow-fire bullseye from 21 feet. Rather, CCW marksmanship encompasses shooting targets at different distances, precision shooting under stress (e.g. headshots), multiple targets, and movement while shooting. Does this seem like a lot to cover in the course of 10, 20, 30, or even 50 rounds? Yes, it is. Instead, CCW quals should try to cover as many of these skills in as few rounds as possible.

Why are CCW quals important?

Arguably, the most important reason behind a qualification is it establishes a baseline for the shooter’s competency. Time, score, or any combination thereof are more than just a matter of passing or failing a qual. Instead, it’s a measurement of your competency within the qual. If you pass certain parts of a qual while failing others, this should direct your attention towards areas of improvement. As you shoot the qual between training sessions, quantify your progress by identifying areas you’ve improved while working on your deficiencies.

A second point on the importance of a CCW qual is from a legal perspective. In my experience, your qual score is rarely, if ever, a point of contention in legal proceedings (whether civil or criminal). Rather, your training and experience with firearms and personal defense are the most common points addressed in legal proceedings revolving around lethal force. Your training resume is far more important than if you shot a perfect on your CCW qual. Nevertheless, it’s worthwhile to have some documentation showing you demonstrated proficiency with a defensive firearm (e.g. a qualification).

B-8 target shot up from qual
This qualifying score on a B-8 target with the FBI Bullseye qual indicates proficiency with a firearm while also identifying areas in need of improvement. In this qual, the author intentionally rushed his shots to find his limits of marksmanship.

Now that I’ve confused and confounded the topic of CCW quals, what are some reputable ones to apply to your regimen? From my time in and out of uniform, I’ve shot my fair share of qualifications and have grown attached to a few — both challenging and easily achievable — that you may want to try your hand at as well.

FBI Bullseye Qual

The FBI Bullseye Qual is a relatively simple qualification requiring a nominal amount of ammunition. This qual requires the shooter to demonstrate accuracy under some time constraints at distance with progressively more difficult time constraints at slightly shorter distances. The qual is three stages with the first stage shot at 25 yards and the final two stages shot at 15 yards. The final two stages require proper recoil management with a focus on accuracy. A B-8 bullseye target suffices for this qual and is scored by the target rings. All strings are shot from the low ready.

Qual Standards

Stage String Distance (yds) Rounds Fired Time Total Points
1 1 25 10 (5-reload-5) 4 minutes 100
2 1 15 5 15 seconds 50
2 2 15 5 15 seconds 50
3 1 15 5 10 seconds 50
3 2 15 5 10 seconds 50


For FBI instructors, a passing score is 260 out of 300 points. If you want to make things more challenging, 240 out of 300 is considered passing when shot one-handed. This is a great CCW qual because it is a national standard qualification from a federal agency.

Federal Air Marshal Qual (Tactical Pistol Course)

The FBI Bullseye Qual is one of many relatively achievable CCW quals. Now, if you find that qualification to be somewhat inadequate in challenging your marksmanship skills, the original Federal Air Marshal qualification (also known as the Tactical Pistol Course) will prove a worthy adversary. Without delving too far into the history of the Air Marshal qual, its origins begin at Fort Bragg, North Carolina around the early 1990s. The course has since been regarded as one of the most difficult CCW quals ever constructed. This course combines significant time constraints with exceptional accuracy.

FBI QIT 97 target
This is the standard FBI-QIT-97 target used in the Air Marshal Qual. This target can be loosely replaced with a standard IDPA or B-27 target, but the “A” zone areas are slightly different.

The course of fire is conducted entirely from the 7-yard line. This course is shot “cold” – meaning you aren’t allowed to warm up or re-shoot the qual on the same day for a qualifying score. The target is the FBI-QIT-97 bottle target, but the “A” zone on most IDPA targets can suffice as a surrogate. Shots within the scoring area count for five points, while shots on target, but within the bottle, score for two points. The passing score is 135 out of 150 points. Effectively, you’re allowed five rounds outside of the main scoring zone.

Qual Standards

Stage Strings Starting Position Shot Sequence Targets Total Time (seconds) Total Rounds
1 2 Concealed 1 1 3.30 2
2 2 Low Ready 2 1 2.70 4
3 1 Low Ready 6 1 3.00 6
4 2 Low Ready 1-Reload-1 1 6.50 4
5 2 Low Ready 1-1 2 (3 yards apart) 3.30 4
6 2 Concealed (back to targets to start) 1-1-1 3 (3 yards apart) 7.00 6
7 2 Low Ready 1 standing-Reload (slide lock)-1 kneeling 1 8.00 4


While most CCW quals utilize a single time constraint for a stage, the Federal Air Marshal qual uses cumulative times over one or two strings of fire. For example, the first stage has a 3.30-second par time. If you shoot the first string in 2 seconds, you only have 1.30 seconds in the second string to make the time. If you miss the cumulative par time per stage, you fail the qual. I’ve heard some folks say that those passing this qual are amongst the top 1% of shooters. While I have no data to support such a claim, I can attest it is exceptionally difficult to accomplish the accuracy and speed required of this course of fire. If you fail the drill, don’t quit – I’ll discuss why a little more in detail shortly.

targets from air marshal qual
The author recently passed the Air Marshal Qual using these homemade FBI-QIT-03 targets. The target area is smaller but garnered a passing score under time to his contentment. The qual was shot with a high-ride Kydex OWB holster using a Glock 17 MOS with Holosun SCS. There’s no benefit to running “range gear” when shooting CCW quals. It only cheats the shooter out of developing a realistic baseline of their skills.

Bonus CCW Quals

While not traditional CCW quals, these drills/quals are excellent metrics of a shooter’s capability. They require accuracy and mastery of the fundamentals while under time constraints. Here are a few worth trying.

10-10-10 Drill

Known simply as “The Test”, this drill has its origins with legendary instructor Ken Hackathorn. The drill is simple. 10 shots at 10 yards in 10 seconds. The target is a standard B-8 bullseye target and scored out of 100 points. I’ve seen two variants of this drill: one requires the shooter to pass with 90 points or higher, while the other requires all rounds within the black (9 ring or higher). The Test is shot from low ready and is relatively achievable with some practice. This drill requires accuracy and proper recoil management.

No Fail Drill

The No-Fail Pistol Drill is the brainchild of Chuck Pressburg. This drill is simple in concept but exceptionally difficult in practice. The No-Fail Pistol Drill is conducted from 25 yards with 10 strings of one round. With a 3.5-second par time, the shooter draws from concealment or duty retention and fires one round on a B-8 target. This is then repeated nine more times. Shots outside the black mean you fail the drill. You’re allowed to exceed the par time once. Oh, and as if that wasn’t difficult enough, this drill is shot cold like the Tactical Pistol Course.

Final Thoughts on CCW Quals

The ultimate goal in any qual is to demonstrate competency and capability with a firearm. However, you are not guaranteed to pass all the aforementioned CCW quals on your first run. Be reasonable about your expectations surrounding these qualifications. If you pass some strings of fire but fail others, use those results as a learning opportunity. Why are you failing that portion? At a minimum, these quals help expose deficiencies in your skills. If you’re not meeting the standard, focus on those areas of improvement. Don’t get discouraged – get motivated. You’ll be better for it. I hope to see you on the range!

Tom Stilson began his firearms career in 2012 working a gun store counter. He progressed to conducting appraisals for fine and collectible firearms before working as the firearms compliance merchant for a major outdoor retailer. In 2015, he entered public service and began his law enforcement career. Tom has a range of experience working for big and small as well as urban and rural agencies. Among his qualifications, Tom is certified as a firearms instructor, field trainer, and in special weapons and tactics. If not on his backyard range, he spends his time with family or spreading his passion for firearms and law enforcement.

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