The Air Force Pistol Qualification

This will probably come as a surprise, but the Air Force Pistol Qualification is one of the best qual courses in the entire military, and better than a lot of law enforcement courses. I should warn you, that I am slightly biased in my opinion, since my other job is an Air Force Combat Arms Instructor.

Let’s explain what’s going on here. Most .mil/LEO qual courses are super easy to pass and don’t really test the shooter’s marksmanship in a real way. To be fair, the Air Force Pistol Qualification is easy to pass, but it’s somewhat difficult to score “expert” on. Now, all of this may be subject to change, because there’s been a rumor going around that the USAF is getting a new pistol course, but as of this writing we are using the same one we’ve been using for the past 10 years.

What makes the Air Force Pistol Qualification good? To be a “good” a pistol qualification should do more than just check a box. It should require the shooter to demonstrate a grasp of the fundamentals of marksmanship that exceeds the average gun owner. While just qualifying on the course is easy, as I mentioned above it’s difficult to get an expert score. The course of fire is 45 rounds for score, fired on a Green Ernie target. The Green Ernie is a green silhouette target that has a 6 inch scoring circle in the head and a 10 inch scoring in the chest. To qualify, the shooter must hit the Green Ernie 35/45 times anywhere on the silhouette. Like I said, it’s not hard to qualify.

Scoring expert on the other hand requires some decent marksmanship: you have to get 41 out of 45 hits on the target to start with. I have to aside here – I disagree with that pretty strongly, I don’t think any “expert” level qualification should allow you to completely miss, but that’s not the point. Anyway, to get expert on the Air Force Pistol Qualification, you have to get the aforementioned minimum of 41/45 hits, then of those 41 hits at least 6 have to hit the head box, and 25 have to be in the chest circle. A perfect score, which I’ve done once, would be 45 hits on paper, 32 in the chest and 13 in the head.

Getting a perfect score or even an expert score isn’t easy. The Air Force Pistol Qualification is fired from 7, 15, and 25 yards. All the strings of fire at 7 and 15 are failure to stop drills, which I think is an excellent tactic to drill. There is one six shot string at 25 yards, all of which is fired at the target’s center of mass. Making things more complicated, there are only two strings of fire at 7 yards, giving the shooter only two “easy” head shots. The remainder are made from 15 yards. Even a talented shooter would have trouble going 100% on a six inch circle at 15 yards. There are 11 required head shots at 15 yards, so if the shooter made their two at 7, they still need to hit 36% of their remaining heads to get that expert score.

I think military and LEO shooting quals should be challenging. The golden standard of “hard to shoot” quals is the old DHS FAM qual. The FBI qualification is solid, but if you’re looking for another solid course, the Air Force’s course is pretty good. Here’s a link to the publicly available USAF document if you’d like to read it for yourself.

Caleb Giddings
Caleb Giddings is a scotch enthusiast with a writing problem, which is apparently common for writers. He also shoots some guns or something, and is a Master Class shooter in IDPA and NRA Action Pistol. You should definitely follow him on instagram