Competition Self Defense

The Old West Test

Five shots at five yards in five seconds into a 3x5 playing card. Pass or fail. That’s the Old West Test.

A few days ago, I got into a discussion about the profile picture I use on twitter. It’s a cropped image of an ace of spades playing card with five bullet holes in it signed by Tom Givens. That discussion led to me telling the story about what that card means to me, a description of the drill used to yield the artifact, and the history behind the drill which is quite interesting. The person whom I shared the story with suggested that it would make a good post. I agreed and that’s how we got here.

I was first introduced to this drill when I attended the Rangemaster Combative Pistol course in 2020. Even though I’ve been exposed to it twice more, once during the Rangemaster Instructor Development course and again during the Rangemaster Advanced Instructor Development course, I can’t for the life of me recall what Tom Givens called this drill in any of the classes. However, it is documented in John Daub’s Drills, Qualifications, Standards, & Tests book where it is referred to as the 5/5/5 drill, the Playing Card Test, the “Old West Test”, or “The Ace Drill”. I’m going to stick with calling this drill the “Old West Test” due to its history. At least until Tom Givens informs me that I’m using an erroneous name for it and corrects me.

The drill, or test, is a very straightforward and short pass-or-fail course of fire: place five (5) shots from five (5) yards in five (5) seconds into a 3×5 vertically placed playing card. A 3×5 index card or inventory label will work as well and are likely to be easier to find and more economical than a 3×5 playing card. The test can be shot from a ready position. Shooting from a holster increases the difficulty of the test especially if done from concealment.

As the “Old West Test” moniker implies and as Tom Givens briefed us in class, the drill has its roots in the Old West. It was a test used to demonstrate whether or not one was fair handed with their pistol. Being fair handed with a pistol was often a requirement for peace and law enforcement officers to be sworn in to service. A 3×5 playing card could be obtained from the local saloon and placed on a fence post or a tree just outside the town where the person demonstrating their fair handedness would empty their six shooter into the card while standing five paces from it. Five rounds was what was commonly carried in a revolver while the hammer reseted on an empty chamber to prevent an unintentional discharge that was quite possible if the firing pin on the hammer rested on a primer given the state of firearm technology during that time period. After the test, the shooter was deemed to either be fair handed with a gun or not.

I’m particularly fond of the Old West Test, as one may infer from my Twitter profile picture, because the results from my three attempts at it have in a way documented my development as a pistol shooter. In the Rangemaster classes, Tom Givens uses a Rangemaster branded ace of spades playing card which he signs if the student passes the test. The signed card serves a nice memento of the accomplishment.

I failed my first attempt at the Old West Test which took place in June of 2020 when I attended the Rangemaster Combative Pistol course. Looking back now, I regret not taking a picture of it. However, I recall having three shots placed into the card, one that broke the boundary of the card, and one that landed on the target the card was stapled to. At that point in time, I was just getting into pistol shooting and was a novice at best. I had previously received eight hours of training before the Rangemaster class and had competed in no more than three matches. Dry fire practice was a foreign concept and live fire practice was infrequent. Not being able to pass that test made it evident that I was far less skilled than I believed myself to be.

Two years passed between my Old West Test failure and my next attempt that took place in August of 2022 when I attended the Rangemaster Instructor Development course. Those two years were filled with dozens of matches, at least 100 hours of additional instruction, much more frequent live fire practice, and dry fire practice had become a common occurrence. Nevertheless, facing the Old West Test again rattled my cage and made me question whether or not the confidence I had in my skills was once again misplaced. I was pleased to find that I managed to get all five shots in the playing card that time. There was one flier just northwest of the four shot group that made its way into the center ace of the card. Receiving that signed card from Tom Givens was a proud moment for me that validated my development and confirmed my confidence had not been misplaced.

In January of 2023, I faced the Old West Test once again when I attended the Rangemaster Advanced Instructor Development course. Even though I had passed the test a few months prior, the test rattled my cage once again. I was nervous, but I didn’t question my abilities and confidence. The result was a nice five shot group with a diameter approximately the same size of quarter that had a small left bias of the center of the card. Receiving a second signed card was also another proud moment that was highlighted with Tom Givens saying, “now you’re just showing off”, as he handed the card to me. 

The test isn’t particularly difficult and is very doable assuming one has put in a modest amount of effort towards developing and maintaining their marksmanship skills. As skills progress, folks should consider reducing the time limit for the test to increase its difficulty so that it continues to challenge the current level of skill. For example, in a Rangemaster newsletter Tom Givens shared his personal goals for the test as 2-2.5 seconds when shooting the test from a ready position, or 3-3.5 seconds when shooting the test from a concealed holster.

Give the Old West Test a try and let me know how it went. 

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