The H-S Precision HRT (Hostage Rescue Team) .308 sniper rifle is today’s current-issue for Bureau SWAT team snipers. It’s a far cry from the agency’s first sniper rifle — a Remington pump-action Model 760 with a 4x scope! Photo: H-S Precision
The classic FBI hip shooting position seems awkward now. One wonders why it lasted so long. It couldn’t be used effectively if the target was at an angle up or down to the shooter, as on a stairway. Photos: FBI unless otherwise noted.
Lester Limerick, an FBI gunsmith, later became the supervisor of the Gun Vault and held that position for many years.
Agents are now taught the Isosceles position and shoot Glock G17 and G19 Gen 5 9mms.
New agents fire ARs on semi-automatic only. Iron sights are used on the training ARs. The yellow painted stock identifies this as a school gun.
Agents are required to shoot onehanded with both strong and weak hand. Note: In training and during the PQC (Pistol Qualification Course), the agents are required to wear a jacket to cover their handguns.
The FBI Firearms Training Unit staff in the mid–1960s. Front, L to R; Al Booth, Don Hoeting, Don Warter. Back; Bill Ahrens, Bob Cohrs, Bob Monroe, Larry Schmidle.
The tactical shotgun still has a place in the FBI, but training is done more for familiarization than actual use.
FBI Agent Walter Walsh’s registered .357 Magnum revolver. Photo by author
An old postcard shows what an agent might have seen at the old FBI Academy.
A well-known sight to students as they arrive at the FBI Academy.
Author during ammunition tests with shot up ballistic gelatin.
These three rounds were the principal subjects of the ballistic testing at Quantico — 9mm, 10mm, and .45 Auto. Photo by author
Delf “Jelly” Bryce had killed several men while with the Oklahoma City PD and more while with the FBI.
After the Underhill shootout in December, 1933. Front row, L to R, FBI Special Agent in Charge Ralph Colvin and Detective D. A. “Jelly” Bryce, OKCPD. Back row, Special Agent Paul Hansen, Detective Clarence Hurt, OKCPD and Special Agent Kelly Deaderick. Not pictured was Special Agent George Franklin.
Baby Face Nelson’s mug shot. He would kill two FBI Agents and countless civilians before he died.
Special Agent John W. Core firing a Colt Monitor at Quantico in 1936. His son would fire what is probably the same gun five decades later.
New agents in the mid–1980s firing S&W Model 13s.
This set of bookends was made by the Gun Vault and FBI Exhibits Section, using two Colt Official Police revolvers from excess stock. The set was presented to Director J. Edgar Hoover and was displayed in his office for many years. Both revolvers were part of a shipment from Colt to the FBI dated February 23, 1951. This set was shown in the Rock Island Auction Company catalog of September 2015. Photo courtesy of Rock Island Auction Company
This S&W Model 19, heavily engraved, was presented to FBI Director Hoover in 1958 by William Sweet, a Smith & Wesson sales representative. The gun was sold by Rock Island Auction Company in its December 2017 catalog. Photos courtesy of Rock Island Auction Co.
Early FBI sniper rifles were surprisingly basic. Today’s FBI HRT (Hostage Rescue Team) models are the tip of the spear in long-range shooting accuracy and features.
Advancements in FBI sniper rifles:
Early FBI sniper rifles were crude tools, but still performed when called upon.
The Bureau modified many Model 700s and Model 70s at the USMC Armorer at Quantico.
Today’s FBI H-S Precision .308 rifle is state-of-the-art. And it’s available for civilian purchase.
On Friday, July 23, 1971, Special Agent Ken Lovin of the FBI’s New York Field Office found himself at Kennedy Airport, carrying a Remington Model 760 rifle in .308 caliber. About 125 to 150 yards away was Richard Oberfall, who had hijacked an airliner out of La Guardia and then allowed it to return after the pilot advised he couldn’t fly that aircraft to Italy.
After landing at La Guardia, Oberfall forced an airline mechanic to drive him to Kennedy with a stewardess as a hostage. There he threatened her life, keeping a revolver pointed at her head as he stood next to a plane bound for Italy. With a reputation of being “one hell of a shot,” Agent Lovin was given the “green light” to take down the hijacker.
When Oberfell, clearly agitated, shifted his gun away from his hostage, Agent Lovin took the shot, hitting the gunman center chest. Lovin shifted his position slightly and took a second shot, not knowing Oberfell was already dead or dying from the full metal jacketed round.
The striking thing about this sniper incident is that Special Agent Lovin was not a Bureau sniper (the FBI had no SWAT teams in 1971). Nor was he an FBI firearms instructor at that time. And the rifle he used was a basic pump-action hunting rifle, fitted with a Bausch and Lomb 4x scope that he had never fired before! There was no legitimate sniper rifle in the Bureau’s inventory. That was the status of the FBI’s sniper program in 1971. But things would soon change.
Colonel Walter R. Walsh, USMC Retired, was in the first FBI new agent class to be officially armed after Federal legislation, in 1934. “We had Winchester Model 07s in .351 caliber and a few, beautiful Springfield sporters with micrometer sights, he said. “None of these rifles had scopes.”
In 1965, Special Agent Terry Anderson was killed in a shootout with two “mountain men” near Shade Gap, Pennsylvania. In the manhunt that followed, Special Agent Jack Kirsch, then the Pittsburg Division’s Training Coordinator, issued four scoped Winchesters from inventory.
As Kirsch relates, “They were pre-war Model 70s, in .30-06 with wood stocks and standard barrels. All four had four-digit serial numbers. Two were scoped with 2 ½ power Lyman Alaskans and two with 4-power Weavers. I also borrowed four similar rifles from agencies in the area and a couple agents used their personal hunting rifles.”
After being transferred to the FBI Academy at Quantico, Kirsch found the Bureau had adopted Remington Model 760s in .308 caliber. The reason given was that they had a similar action as the 870 pump-action shotguns then in use.
The original order was for 800 carbines with “iron sights” but the order was changed to include 400 of the rifles with Baush and Lomb 4x scopes with external adjustments. Unfortunately, it was found the rifles’ accuracy was no better than the carbines.
These carbines and rifles were issued to the field but they were, by no means, adequate sniper rifles. Many were kept at Quantico for training purposes. Special Agent John Cox, assigned to the Firearms Training Unit at the academy, used the 760s in training and demonstrations but in 1971 at the standoff at Wounded Knee he and other agents there used M16s borrowed from the military.
These 760s saw very little use in the field. Instead, they were used at the Academy for new agent and initial sniper training when that started. A two story “sniper tower” was erected at the range complex, with a steel fronted target area about 50 yards out with reactive military bobber targets in the windows. Ammunition used was .308 plastic short range training rounds by Dynamit Nobel. This ammunition was also used by new agents on the standard 50-yard ranges for familiarization firing.
About this time, the FBI purchased its first precision rifle, the Remington Model 700 with heavy barrels in .223 caliber. The rifles were extremely accurate in spite of not being tuned or glass bedded. They had standard Redfield 3-9x hunting scopes. Ultimately it was learned that the scopes and light caliber would be limiting factors in a sniper application.
However, it is known that a number were used for sniper practice in the Western U.S. in populated prairie dog town areas. I personally know of one Special Agent in Charge who kept one in his Bucar [Special vehicle for FBI agents – Ed.] in case he was attacked by the rodents while traveling throughout his territory.
Although issued to the field, some were kept at Quantico for the initial SWAT training then being conducted for police officers. Agents Cal Ford, Ken Lovin, Tase Bailey and others ran these one-week classes even before the FBI had its own official snipers.
In the early 1970s, attempts were made to acquire adequate rifles from other sources. Lou Padula, Principal Firearms Instructor at the Washington Field Office acquired several pre-64 Winchester Model 70s in .30-06 from the Bureau of Prisons.
In addition, he obtained a number of Springfield 03A3s from the military. These rifles were in almost new condition and were scoped with either the Lyman Alaskan 2½-power or the Weaver in 4x. Many were shipped to the field as stop gap weapons and some were used at Quantico for training. In addition, Special Agent Padula acquired some match-grade M14s with ART (Automatic Ranging and Trajectory) scopes that were distributed to the field offices.
I entered the FBI in 1973. My second assignment was at the Washington Field Office where I became a firearms instructor in addition to duties on the fugitive squad. In December, 1978, I attended a three-week police sniper school at Fort Meade, Maryland, taught by the Army’s Advanced Marksmanship Unit there. Shortly thereafter, I was assigned as a sniper on one of our field office’s SWAT teams.
My issue rifle was an old Winchester Model 70, pre-64, in .30-06 with a Redfield 3-9x hunting scope. The rifle had a wood stock, standard barrel and was not glass bedded. The only match-grade ammunition available for it was military M72 in full metal jacket.
Concerned with using FMJ rounds, I converted a batch of M72 to “Mexican Match” by replacing the original projectiles with Sierra 168-grain MatchKings. It was unofficial but effective.
In early 1979, I went to Larry Schmidle, then the FTU Unit Chief, and told him that I believed the FBI’s sniper rifle program was seriously lacking. I mentioned that the Bureau-issued Remington Model 700 heavy barrels in .223 and 760s in .308 were inadequate. “What’s your point?” he asked. I then asked his permission to buy a personal 700 heavy barrel in .308 for official use as a sniper. He thought a few moments and then said, “Do it.” No paperwork was required then, just Larry’s OK.
I bought the rifle and mounted one of those wonderful Weaver T10s on it, then used on the Secret Service’s rifles. FBI gunsmith Joe Kiesel glass bedded it for me and added a rubber butt pad. I scrounged Federal .308 Match ammunition from the Marines and was in business. That rifle shot to less than a half minute and I kept it for years, finally letting it go to a local police sniper who had to supply his own. I was transferred to the FTU late in 1979 and never had to use that rifle in a SWAT operation.
In the meantime, it was finally recognized that the FBI needed better rifles. Tase Bailey, Lon Lacey and others had to go no farther than next door to find out what they needed. The Marine’s Weapons Training Battalion and Scout Sniper School’s gunsmiths and instructors lent their expertise.
One was a Gunnery Sergeant named Carlos Hathcock. They examined the FBI rifles then in use and advised “take them to Lunga (the reservoir near the academy) as anchors.” Their minimum requirements included a heavy, match-grade barrel, glass bedding and better scopes. The Marines also recommended fiberglass stocks but that would have to wait.
FBI gunsmiths Joe Kiesel and former Marine Corps armorer Ray Sweet built prototypes, using pre-64 Model 70 actions and stocks and Douglas heavy barrels. The first couple of rifles utilized Redfield scopes. The Marines used the Unertl fixed 10-power but the Bureau wanted a variable scope for the much shorter ranges anticipated in domestic law enforcement.
They settled on the Leupold 3.5-10x with a matte finish, the first with this finish the now infamous optics company ever built. These rifles were chambered in .308 caliber and the ammunition of choice was Federal .308 Match, using the Sierra 168-grain hollowpoint boat-tail bullet. It remained the primary sniper round for the Bureau until recently.
Early in 1980, I was part of a committee establishing the specifications for the new sniper rifles. Selected was the Winchester Model 70, pre-64 action (the FBI had a large inventory of these), heavy Douglas barrels in .308 caliber, and the 3.5-10x Leupold scope.
The committee also wanted McMillan fiberglass stocks but were overruled, at least at that time, and the original wood stocks with glass bedding were used. Rifle building commenced and the guns were instant hits, quickly accepted in the field. As the pre-64 actions were used up, a switch was made to post-64 Model 70s but shortly thereafter the FBI started buying Remington Model 700 actions.
Actually, they purchased barreled actions as Remington would not sell the actions without barrels, even to the FBI, until recently. There were a lot of standard-weight Remington .308 barrels stacked around the Gun Vault. Douglas barrels were used for field SWAT use, but Hart stainless steel barrels were installed on the rifles used by the Hostage Rescue Team.
Later, all rifles were fitted with Hart barrels. The fiberglass McMillan stocks were finally adopted and used on all FBI-built rifles from then on. The field SWAT teams continued to use the 3.5-10x Leupold but HRT started using the same Unertl 10x as fielded by the Marines.
The rifles were found to be extremely accurate and very reliable. The “Quarter Inch Club” was founded and any Bureau sniper who shot a three round, quarter-inch group at 200 yards was eligible. With minor variations, this rifle was in use throughout the 1980s and 90s.
Manufacture and maintenance was handled by a group of FBI gunsmiths and former USMC armorers then working at the FBI Gun Vault, including Ted Hollabaugh, who helped with some of the design work and set up the original Quarter Inch Club. Many of these rifles were still in use until recently.
Originally, the Firearms Training Unit was tasked with teaching rifle marksmanship and sniper tactics. (FBIHQ prefers to call us countersnipers, a less harsh nomenclature.) Course outlines were prepared and modified and sniper courses were taught at Quantico and around the United States. Classes were also taught overseas.
Supervisory Special Agent Urey Patrick, later to become Assistant Unit Chief at FTU, wrote a manual entitled, Advanced Rifle Training for the Observer/Sniper. In addition to sniper tactics, the excellent manual included ballistics tables based on the Federal Gold Medal .308 Match, using the Sierra 168-grain match hollowpoint, our sole sniper round at that time.
Improvements were constantly being made to the rifles assembled at Quantico. The original McMillan black stocks were replaced with the three color urban variation and these were then replaced with the A3 with adjustable length of pull and cheek piece.
A limited number of rifles were issued with Aquila (Litton) P/N MWS2500 night sights in 4-power but this required a separate rifle dedicated to this scope. In 2002, the FBI announced a procurement for a new sniper rifle.
Strick specifications were set for accuracy, reliability and use. Thousands of dollars and man hours were spent to wring out the offerings and when the smoke cleared, a dual award was made to H-S Precision and FN. Virtually all the rifles purchased have been H-S Precision and there are no FN rifles in the field. The rifles are a complete package, including case, cleaning gear and required tools.
More important, all repairs were to be made by the manufacturer, releasing the Gun Vault from this requirement. Deliveries have been made and, to date, show outstanding performance. These rifles are scoped with the Leupold Mark 4, 3.5-10x Long Range with the 30mm tube and side focus. The scopes are mounted on McCann rails. Now a decade has passed and the H-S guns have proved to give excellent performance.
Also issued with these rifles is the Universal Night Sight by Optical Systems Technology of Freeport, Pennsylvania. These devices can be mounted in front of the existing scope, allowing the same rifle to be used day and night. The sale of these night vision devices is limited to law enforcement and military.
By the way, the H-S package as selected by the FBI can be purchased by other agencies and even civilians. You just can’t get the “FBI” serial number prefix.
This package has also been adopted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and the Israel Defense Forces, among others. Indeed, when it comes to sniper rifles, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has come a long way from the days of old wood-stocked .351s and pump-action 760s.
Contrary to public opinion, the Thompson submachine gun was not only used by Prohibition-era gangsters. In fact, the “Tommy Gun” was a favorite among early FBI agents as well.
The Thompson can be fired from 20-round box mags, or 50- and 100-round drum magazines.
Rate of fire of the Tommy Gun is 1,500 rounds per minute.
The Thompson was used in the FBI until the early 1970s.
The Thompson submachine gun was created by retired General John T. Thompson, who founded the Auto Ordnance Corporation to develop the design. The original gun had no stock or sights and fired at a rate of 1,500 rounds per minute. The design was modified and, in 1920, Auto Ordnance signed a contract with Colt Firearms to build 15,000, which were designated the Model 1921AC.
This model was equipped with a removable shoulder stock and an elaborate rear sight. It could be fired with 20-round box magazines or 50- (L) or 100- (C) drum magazines that required disassembly to load and featured a spring that had to be “wound up” like an alarm clock.
The military version had a horizontal forearm, but the FBI purchased theirs with a vertical foregrip. Most versions originally had a finned 10.5-inch barrel and a Cutts compensator to help control the recoil in full-auto mode.
The gun weighed about 10 pounds and with stock attached was just over 31 inches long. The design was based on a bronze lug that retarded unlocking the action, called the Blish Principle.
However, experiments years later showed that this didn’t have much effect and the weight of the bolt assembly controlled the pressure. The rate of fire of the Model 1921 was about 800 rounds per minute and this was thought to be too fast for military use. So most of the guns built by Colt were modified with a heavier bolt and stiffer recoil spring. This brought the rate of fire down to about 600 rounds per minute.
To identify these modified guns, the Model number was overstamped with number 8 over the last digit. These were then identified as Model 1928 Navy Model and often called “Overstamps.” This is the model most purchased by the Bureau. The gun was made in .45 ACP caliber. However, a few were made in a more powerful .45 Thompson caliber and even in .30 Carbine, but neither were used by the FBI.
The Thompson, also known as the Tommy Gun and the Chicago Typewriter, particularly in the press, was used extensively in the FBI until the late 1960s or early 1970s. When John Cox went through new agent training in 1961, his class shot Thompsons.
Back in the 1930s when the Thompsons were in heavy use, a carrying case was designed and built to FBI specifications. The black case, made by the Kansas City Trunk Company, held the gun with stock stored separately, a cleaning rod, and had room for four 20-round magazines and one 50-round drum mag.
They are now, of course, prime collector’s items, as is the spare parts kit in the shape of a 20-round magazine. During World War II, the Thompson was simplified to a straight, blowback design known as the M1. The bronze lug of the Blish system was dropped but the rear of the receiver had to be reinforced for reliability. The FBI never issued the newer M1 Thompsons.
Several courses were designed for the Thompsons. One was the “FBI Machine Gun Course.” (The Bureau continued to call them machine guns even though technically they were submachine guns, firing handgun rounds instead of rifle rounds.)
The course consisted of 50 rounds fired from 15 to 50 yards, both single fire and full-auto in bursts. The one-page sheet on the course erroneously called the magazines “clips.” The agents fired on a pair of Army E bobber targets, side by side.
Of course, the Bureau wasn’t the only agency that acquired Thompsons. Many police agencies, large and small, bought them. Unfortunately, this became a prime source of Tommy guns for gangsters. Many crooks, including Dillinger, stole them from police departments. (As were National Guard armories that were targeted for Browning Automatic Rifles.)
Around 1970 or ’71, FBIHQ ordered the destruction of most Thompson submachine guns in the field. The various field offices could keep a small number for tours and shooting demonstrations, and a few were kept at Quantico for use on the popular FBI tour in Washington, DC. In total there were 749 guns destroyed.
A few more were retained at Quantico. This destruction order was found to be premature, as there was no official replacement designated. The Bureau was then without operational submachine guns. The shortage caused a scramble for temporary replacements and several substitutes were acquired.
Lou Padula, the Principal Firearms Instructor at Washington Field Office, picked up many M3 and M3A1 “grease guns” from the military and many were retrofitted at the Quantico Gun Vault with thumb safeties. They were, of course, in .45 Auto but one arrived in 9mm Luger, probably a fugitive from British Lend Lease. The Gun Vault already had a grease gun in .45 caliber in its reference collection with a curved barrel for use by tankers. Several MAC 10s were also acquired.
Former Agent, Tom Riley, who also happened to be my firearms instructor, told me that he arranged with his contacts in the Marine Corps to obtain surplus firearms from the Navy depot at Crane, Indiana. He and other FTU instructors drove a Bureau car there, rented a trailer and hauled it back full of M3 “grease guns” and M1 Garands.
Later, he borrowed sample weapons from the Marines to evaluate for possible replacements for the Thompsons. They were particularly impressed with the H&K MP5 but FBIHQ didn’t want to purchase foreign weapons, at least at first.
The Bureau didn’t lack any spare parts for those Thompsons. Prior to their being phased out, the Academy Gun Vault received an interesting phone call from a supply unit of the U.S. Marine Corps. They asked if the FBI still used Thompsons and if the agency needed any spare parts, free of charge and transportation included. The Gun Vault replied yes and soon forgot about the offer.
Some months later, a phone call from Mainside, Quantico, advised the shipment of parts had arrived. Lester Limerick, then head gunsmith, told them he would have a pickup truck sent to the depot to pick them up. The reply: ‘Better send something bigger than a pickup. There are most of two boxcars full of parts for you!’
The Marine Corps had found a way to clear all its old inventory off the books with one call. The Gun Vault had to sort through thousands of parts, many still wrapped for long-term storage, to pull what they needed. A rumor is still going around that most of the parts were buried somewhere on the academy grounds. Indeed, the FBI could probably buy a new range complex for what those parts would be worth today.
The FBI finally adopted, in my opinion, what was at that time the finest submachine gun in the world, the Heckler & Koch MP5. We had already had experience with the short version of this gun, the Kurtz, and the SD, the suppressed model. The Bureau acquired the single-fire model, the SFA2, for field agents and the select-fire version for SWAT.
The gun was accurate, reliable and easy to fire. Its one drawback was that it didn’t lock back on the last round. To help overcome this, 9mm tracer ammunition was made available to some SWAT and HRT members who wished to add them to the bottom of their magazines as an advanced warning that they were about to go dry, a trick used by fighter pilots during WWII.
I recently discovered one of the most unusual Thompsons the FBI ever owned. Tracie Hill, President of the Thompson Submachine Gun Collectors Club told me about it and even sent me a photo. It was of a Thompson in 10mm! I couldn’t believe him. What on earth would the FBI want to convert one to that caliber? But my latest trip to Quantico confirmed that one was in inventory, assembled at the Academy Gun Vault, but no one still there could tell me why it was made.
When the Smith & Wesson Model 1076 was being adopted by the FBI, at least for a short time, it was decided to purchase MP5s in 10mm caliber. It took Heckler & Koch a lot of research and design work to make the conversion.
By the time they had the project completed, the 1076 was being dropped but they were so far along the FBI decided to still purchase the guns. It turned out that 10mm ammunition cost over twice as much as service 9mm but FTU thought it too late in the procurement process to change them to .40 S&W caliber, to match the new Glocks. There are still MP5s in the field, in both 9mm and 10mm, but they are seldom used.
The FBI’s brief dalliance with 10mm handguns led to the development of the .40 Smith & Wesson cartridge, and experts are still divided on the question of the 10mm’s application for law enforcement.
The history of the 10mm and the FBI:
The Miami shootout of April 11, 1986, led to bullet penetration and ammo tests for the FBI.
The FBI’s move to 10mm was short-lived, with incessant problems with the S&W Model 1076.
10mm ammo proved expensive, large-framed handguns difficult to shoot, leading to the development of the .40 Smith & Wesson cartridge.
Why FBI Considered and Tested 10mm Handguns
After the official inquiry by FBIHQ into the Miami shootout, the Training Division sent a group of instructor/agents to the scene under the direction of FTU Unit Chief Tom Miller, not to determine what the Miami agents had done right or wrong, but how their training and equipment had performed, and what had to be changed. I was part of that group.
Several factors, including regulations on firearms, were changed. But one striking flaw was discovered: the performance of the ammunition. Key to this was a shot taken by Jerry Dove, whose 9mm projectile hit one of the subjects in the arm, penetrated the chest, and then stopped just short of the heart.
Up to that time, the penetration of the round was not considered as important as expansion. Federal and local agencies measured expansion almost solely anticipating a target facing the shooter squarely with only 10 to 12 inches of penetration required. No thought had been given to subjects sideways to the shooter or arms and guns in the way. But now it became apparent more penetration was critical.
Back at the Academy, a team of experts was assembled, including ballistic technicians and top medical examiners from around the country. This resulted in the Wound Ballistic Workshop, held for three days at the FBI Academy in September of 1987. One of the key members of this committee was Colonel (Dr.) Martin L. Fackler, MD, FACS, who was at that time the U.S. Army’s chief wound ballistics expert and was stationed at the Letterman Army Institute of Research.
Another very important member was Dr. Vincent J. M. DiMaio, one of the nation’s leading authorities on wounds and wound ballistics. He is the author of the 1985 book, Gunshot Wounds. The findings of this gathering identified criteria for future ammunition selection, predominately a requirement for penetration of at least 12 inches in 10 percent ballistic gelatin.
Caliber was not considered as important as bullet placement and penetration and the 9mm vs .45 ACP controversy was initially sidestepped. As a stopgap, the Bureau adopted the 9mm Winchester 147-grain subsonic jacketed hollowpoint as its service round.
This highly accurate round, originally designed for suppressed military handguns, gave excellent penetration. In fact, it is still in use by many law enforcement agencies who have chosen to stay with the 9mm. The new FBI service load, recently adopted, is a similar subsonic load, the Speer 147-grain jacketed hollowpoint designated the G2.
I started formal testing of Winchester’s new 147-grain subsonic load in August of 1987. The round had gone through extensive military testing, primarily through the Naval Weapons Support Center. The original projectile weighed 140 grains in two bullet designs. These bullets in a subsonic loading did not reliably operate the gun action, or the “impulse” of the round.
Technicians estimated an additional 5 percent bullet weight was required, hence the unusual weight of 147 grains. The loading was originally intended for the S&W “Hush Puppy,” a modified Model 459 with suppressor, built for the Navy Seals. At that time, terminal ballistic testing was conducted in 20 percent gelatin. After the Wound Ballistic Workshop concluded, we changed to 10 percent to be in line with the majority of other test facilities.
After further testing of the round, the FBI adopted it for all 9mm weapons in inventory. The fact the round was subsonic was not a criteria, although it was used in the few MP5SDs (suppressed) in Bureau inventory. A bonus came to light as Olin Winchester started testing its round for commercial use. It was found to be very accurate, so they marketed it as the “Olin Super Match” or OSM.
The loading gave excellent performance, though was later replaced by the Federal 147-grain subsonic, after I was removed from the ballistics program. The Federal version tended to fragment when fired in long-barreled weapons but was continued in use for several years. It is interesting that the latest 9mm loading for the Bureau is a 147-grain subsonic, this one manufactured by Speer utilizing its Gold Dot bullet with modifications.
In April of 1988, due to increased interest in the original round by other law enforcement agencies, I wrote a published report entitled, Adoption of the 9MM 147-Grain JHP By The FBI explaining why this particular round was selected.
The FBI Ballistics Program
Then the FBI’s ballistics program became official. I was initially appointed to head up the group on a full-time basis and received valuable assistance from other personnel in and out of the Firearms Training Unit as well as from the firearms and ammunition industry. Hundreds of pounds of ballistic gelatin was prepared and shot. This was new territory and we had to design test racks for the various tests, material to shoot through that could be duplicated. We even had to contact car companies to obtain specifications on window glass and door panels.
We took over the left lane of the indoor range. Targets were shot with both test barrels as well as actual service firearms. In the end, it became apparent that the ideal round for law enforcement, or at least for the FBI, might be a .40 caliber, aka the 10mm, the exact midway between the 9mm and .45.
But it was recognized that not all shots against subjects occurred without some sort of barrier between. Shooting statistics were studied and, over time, a .40-round protocol was developed, using automobile glass, sheet steel, plywood, plasterboard and layers of clothing. These tests eventually became the standard of ammunition testing for law enforcement and were adopted by most ammunition companies. While it has changed somewhat during the following years, it is still the basis for selection by many agencies, including the Bureau.
This testing resulting in the FBI’s adoption of the 10mm round, downloaded to about 950 fps, using a Sierra 180-grain jacketed hollowpoint. The long round, however, required a very large frame pistol. Adopted was the Smith & Wesson Model 1076.
A shorter 10mm round, already loaded as a “wildcat,” would have been ideal, but the development of the .40 S&W was then a closely held secret between Smith & Wesson and Winchester. The shorter round would have allowed the use of medium frame pistols, much more practical for law enforcement use. Apparently, S&W didn’t want the competition.
The Smith & Wesson 1076 exhibited some problems from the start. Guns were returned to the factory for adjustment. To confuse the situation even more, some performed flawlessly throughout new agent training. Others continued to have problems.
One new agent enjoyed a perfectly performing pistol until the last qualification, just before his graduation, when his 1076 seriously jammed up. An entire new agent class lost confidence in the gun and requested a different make and model. But to be fair, the pressure to develop something good and fast created a lot of pressure on both Smith & Wesson as well as the FTU personnel tasked with the procurement. It was a steep learning curve for both.
Then an agent in the Miami office participated in a heavy arrest. When he arrived at the jail with the subject, he tried to unload his 1076 and found it jammed shut. After booking the prisoner, he went directly to the Bureau’s nearby range and tried to fire it without success. Nor could he unload the gun. A mallet had to be used to get the pistol open.
When word of this reached the Gun Vault at Quantico, instructors were given permission to leave any problem guns loaded and send them to Quantico. They didn’t have to wait long. Another handgun, this time in the Tampa Division, also jammed up. The special agent involved flew to Washington, DC with the gun on his hip (and another brand for backup) to deliver to the Gun Vault.
The 1076 was shortly dropped from FBI use due to reliability problems and the Bureau went back to the SIG P228 and P226, still using the subsonic 9mm loading. The Bureau would later issue Glocks in .40 S&W caliber, with basically the same ballistics as the FBI handloaded 10mm.
Had the S&W 1076s worked flawlessly, in my opinion they still would not have been popular with the agent population due to their size and weight. One evaluation occurred for the new pistol when a variety of agents from around the country were called to Quantico to fire the weapon on numerous courses. At the end of the week, they were given the opportunity to evaluate their findings. On the evening of the last day of the session, my phone rang at home.
It was a woman who had been in one of my new agent classes. She was a lawyer from a large Eastern city and had done well in my class. She was in tears. She told me that the 1076 was so large and so heavy that she had serious difficulties shooting it. She concluded by saying, “If they make me carry that gun, I will have to resign.”
On September 5, 1991, the Firearms Training Unit published a document entitled, SMITH & WESSON 10MM MODEL 1076 SEMIAUTOMATIC PISTOL. The document gives the timeline for the procurement, starting in January of 1990 when the contract was signed for 9,500 pistols and ending in August of 1991 with the recall of the (decocking) S&W 9mm, 10mm and .45-cal. pistols. It describes the number of malfunctions of the 1076 vs. the SIG P226 and detailed charts listing the number and type of malfunctions. Under Conclusions, the document lists:
1. S&W has not demonstrated the ability to produce a reliable, durable weapon for the FBI. 2. There is and will be a confidence problem concerning the S&W Model 1076 in the minds of FBI Special Agents. 3. The FBI has spent enough time and money in this effort.
And under Recommendations: 1. Terminate the contract with S&W for the Model 1076 (funding can be restored). 2. Prepare for another emergency procurement of pistols (up to 2,000 weapons for approximately $1 million. 3. Conduct weapons needs analysis for the FBI. 4. Write specifications and RFP (solicitation); Test weapons and begin new contract.
In April of 1991, then Director William Sessions approved the formation of a working group to study the 10mm situation. The group looked into the original procurement, the problems with the sample and issue guns and made recommendations to correct any problems, one way or another.
The group was headed up by Special Agent in Charge Danny O. Coulson, who had plenty of experience with weapons as the first head of the Hostage Rescue Team. The group was composed of agents from headquarters and the field spread throughout Quantico, instructors, students, gunsmiths and supervisors.
When the study was completed, Coulson presented a memo through channels that was dated May 30, 1991. In it, there were 23 recommendations. Among them, the group suggested the Training Division immediately recall all Smith & Wesson 1076 pistols to make modifications to ensure their reliability and cease issuing this model to agents and agents in training.
All agents who have personally owned weapons or are trained in other Bureau weapons be instructed to utilize them while their 1076s are being repaired or be retrained to another Bureau weapon. That the current contract requirement for S&W to supply 11- and 15-round magazines be dropped and that only 9-round mags be issued.
The report went on to recommend that Gun Vault personnel make no adjustments to 1076s prior to issuance. (There was some controversy if the Gun Vault repairs or adjustments contributed to the problems with the pistols and the study group wanted to eliminate this consideration.) In addition, it was recommended that future pistol contracts call for a longevity of less than 40,000 rounds. Another was that the FBI abandon the concept of a single model handgun for all agents. The report reads, “The developmental phase of the S&W Model 1076 pistol embraced the concept that the FBI would have one gun for all of its agents, that gun being the 1076. It is the finding of this Study Group that that is an inappropriate concept and one that should be abandoned.
“It is the finding of this Study Group that the FBI should pursue a ‘family of weapons’ that would provide sufficient flexibility to our agents based upon personal abilities, personal preferences, and assignment. These weapons should include revolvers, 9mm pistols, 10mm pistols, .45-caliber pistols, and .40-caliber pistols.
“It should be noted that the .40 caliber Smith & Wesson that was developed parallel to the development of our 10mm round and pistol achieves approximately the same ballistic characteristics as the FBI 10mm light. Because of its shorter case, a .40 caliber Smith and Wesson pistol can be made smaller, and it can be double stacked to allow for higher capacity magazines.”
The group also recognized the possibility of including another Smith & Wesson model, the smaller 1086 in double-action only. They wrote, “One new female Agent of small stature and hand size was determined to be incapable of qualifying with the Model 1076 pistol.
This agent’s hands were not large enough to cycle the double action trigger pull on the Model 1076. As a result, she had not qualified with this weapon. Unit Chief PLEDGER arranged for the purchase of a Model 1086 10mm Smith & Wesson in double action only. After being issued this weapon, and after an appropriate period of training, she qualified on her next attempt with this weapon. The foresight of Mr. PLEDGER in providing her with this weapon allowed us to keep on the rolls a qualified individual who we may have lost to the attrition of a firearms failure.”
“This Study Group has determined that a significant number of individuals interviewed and those who responded to surveys produced by the Study Group, are critical of the relatively large size of the current 1076.”
As to ammunition, the group recommended the adoption of a less expensive training round and suggested changing procedures for future procurements. At that time, the FBI was paying considerably more for 10mm ammunition than any other handgun round.
In 1990, the ammunition program was turned over to Special Agent Wade Plucker and Technician Ted Hollabaugh, a former Marine Corps and FBI armorer. Jointly, they ran the Ballistic Research Facility (BRF) for several years, making changes in techniques and equipment.
Today, the BRF is the ultimate in ammunition testing. Headed then by Supervisory Special Agent Buford Boone, this modern, multi-million dollar facility tests ammunition from around the country and the world. Buford and his staff answered inquiries from law enforcement and military agencies on a constant basis, often more than a hundred a month, supplying technical information not affordable to the average agency. Official letterhead requests are required.
The agencies receive data, not opinions. The results of testing at the BRF are not available to the public but test results of ammunition are supplied to the respective manufacturers to improve their products.
On a 2011 visit to the facility, located in an inconspicuous building at the FBI Academy ranges, Buford pointed out to me two charts, depicting expansion of service ammunition. One showed about half of the forty projectiles tested had expanded. The other chart illustrated 100 percent expansion in the various tests. “That is the result, in part, of our feedback to the manufacturers.” Buford stated. “By studying our test results of their ammo, they can improve their own product. And we all can benefit from that. Our forty-round test protocol today is fully repeatable, scientific and valid.”
The testing currently performed at the facility is way beyond what was done back in the 1990s. The state-of-the-art facility now includes high speed photography, extreme temperature testing from minus 40 to plus 140 degrees and accuracy evaluation with instant results downloaded to computers. And it is not just limited to ammunition. BRF also assists in weapons and body armor testing as well and conducts R&D for theoretical ballistic load development. BRF can handle interior, exterior and terminal ballistic testing and to that end, maintains a library of reference firearms in house. Its reloading area would make any varmint hunter jealous.
Supervisory Special Agent Boone retired in 2012. His successor had already been chosen. Supervisory Special Agent Scott Patterson had been on board then for more than 18 months and had a healthy overlap to “learn the ropes.” By the time of his retirement, Buford was so well respected by the industry that Speer produced a special run of .40 S&W ammunition with his name on the headstamp.
With the assistance of his capable staff, the Ballistic Research Facility is still in good hands. Recently, we discussed the new 9mm service round. Patterson stated that extensive testing has proven that it is at least as effective as any .40 S&W load. The nine is easier on guns and is easier to fire accurately. But he went on to say that there is no so-called wonder bullet. “The best bullet in the world can’t overcome a miss,” he said. And to that I add: you should continue to fire until your target is no longer a threat.
Before the present era of high-capacity semi-auto handguns, FBI handguns were of the revolver variety. Here’s a look at the FBI handguns that were fielded not that long ago.
What revolvers were the G-men packing:
Early FBI handguns were primarily Colts and Smith & Wesson revolvers in .38 Special.
Later, some FBI agents fielded the Model 19 .357 Magnum.
The Smith & Wesson Model 10 was, and still is, a fine-shooting and accurate revolver.
Early FBI Handguns
While it seems the initial FBI issue of .38 Special revolvers were Colts — primarily Official Police and Police Positives — the Smith & Wesson Military & Police (M&P), later called the Model 10, was soon issued and eventually became the sole issue revolver for new agents.
Other Colts had also been obtained and issued, including the Colt Pocket Positive in .32 caliber. A Police Positive in .32 caliber was also issued as well as a Colt Detective Special in .38 Special. The Detective Special was often issued with a factory hammer shroud installed.
Director Hoover was known to have owned or been issued a Colt Pocket Positive in .32 caliber with a bobbed hammer.
In 1934, he was given a Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum, Registration Number 1. Years later, when S&W introduced the Combat Magnum, the Model 19, he was presented with one. S&W historian Roy Jinks and Sandra Drein’s book, Images of America: Smith & Wesson shows a photo of Hoover receiving an engraved Model 19 from an S&W representative.
When I entered on duty with the FBI in November of 1973, I was issued a S&W Model 10. It had a standard (slender) 4-inch barrel, PC (plain clothes) stocks and grip adapter. It was new or almost so and had a conservative action job. About that time, the Bureau also had in its inventory the Model 49 (“Bodyguard”) and the Model 60, the stainless steel Chief’s Special for special issue.
Agents were also allowed to purchase and carry their own revolvers and most selected the smaller versions. Agents who had Bureau-approved weapons were known to carry the smaller guns on the street but qualify with their issued 4-inch models. Because of this practice, new FBI regulations required qualification with all models agents had in their inventory, including their issue guns.
I was talking with an old friend, Claude Duffey Brown, who joined the FBI in 1956, and who had later sent me an email on his experiences as a new agent. “My firearms training was just before Christmas, 1956, and then during the first weeks of January 1957 — being some of the worst weather I had ever seen; (Duffey was from Texas.) snow, ice, etc. but told that can’t pick weather for a gunfight, so tough it out. Our class was issued .38 Colt Official Police revolvers, which were believed to have a better single action than the S&W.
The S&W M&P was the other type revolver that could have been issued. The .38 Colt Official Police was on a .41 frame (Colt Police Positive was smaller frame, as was Detective Special — but not issued, while the S&W was on a regular .38 (K) frame.
The S&W had the best double-action pull — the Colt double action got harder as the trigger was pulled, while the S&W seemed to be smoother, and the last part of pull maybe easier that (sic) at first. I was shooting satisfactorily with the Colt, but a senior instructor, Bruce Hodge, told me that the Colt was too large for my hands, and after the first week, I was issued a .38 S&W, and my score greatly improved.
“I was tall and thin — wore a 28-inch belt, and even the .38 S&W seemed to get heavier each hour; plus I made more fast draws just to save my pants from falling; so for Christmas of 1957 I bought a .38 Chief Special revolver, with 2” barrel and 5 shot. Also, bought a Berns-Martin holster per advice of a firearms instructor.
This was the fastest rig ever made. It was a break-front holster. The revolver could not be lifted straight up, but one just pushed forward and out it came! Better have a good grip, because it was going to move forward and out. I practiced holding a penny match box up high, turning loose, and getting barrel of gun under it at about waist high. I really think this type holster was the one used by Jelly Bryce, but can’t determine — yet it had to be!”
Brown continued: “I was on the New Jersey FBI pistol team from fall 1957 through season ending in April 1958. Did not try for following season since I thought would be transferred soon, and also had some ear/hearing damage. Never heard of ear muffs, or rubber plugs in those days.”
Brown had heard he was going to be transferred to the New York office. The Texan resigned from the Bureau in June of 1959. A lawyer, he worked in private practice for several years and became an Assistant United States Attorney in 1961 and retired in 1997. He still remembers the class being sent out their first day to buy wide heavy belts and snap brim hats.
Agents were not allowed to modify their issue revolvers in any way and once their personally owned weapon was approved, all repairs were required to be performed by the FBI gunsmiths. Plastic or stag grips were not allowed as it was found that chips from these could drop into the lock work, jamming the gun.
After a study by FTU instructor Special Agent Glenn Ing, trigger shoes were specifically forbidden on FBI or Bureau-approved revolvers. It was found that they could slip on the trigger, preventing the gun from firing. And they made double-action shooting difficult.
By the mid-1970s, to achieve a compromise between caliber and size, the S&W Model 10-6 and later the 10-8 were adopted for new agent issue. This was a K frame, .38 Special with round grips and a 2 ½-inch barrel.
Yet it proved to be an unpopular choice as the ejector rod was too short to eject the fired cases efficiently and the short sight radius made lowlight sight alignment difficult. Some agents, myself included, had the rear sight notch on their guns opened up to allow a better sight picture. (Instructors then were required to carry the same gun as issued to new agents, at least around the academy.)
The next attempt in an issue revolver was an unqualified success. The Model 13 was a round butt K-frame Smith & Wesson with a 3-inch barrel in .357 Magnum caliber. Most agents still carried the .38 Special load in them (a 158-grain lead hollowpoint +P) but could carry the Bureau’s magnum load, the Winchester 145-grain Silvertip, if required. The Model 13 was the last revolver issued by the FBI.
The magnum rounds were a handful and some PFIs (Principal Firearms Instructors) in the field required the agents to demonstrate their ability to handle the hot load before being allowed to carry them. During new agent training, the trainees were only required to fire a small number of magnum rounds. I recall one trainee in one of my classes showing me her split thumb web caused by the recoil.
Smith & Wesson was going through some ownership changes during this time and it occasionally affected quality control. The last batch of Model 13s the Bureau purchased was so bad that we sent a Bureau gunsmith to their factory to inspect them before acceptance.
He rejected so many that it appeared he would be in Springfield way too long, so the balance of the revolvers was accepted as is and later transferred to another federal agency with the warning that they would require extensive gunsmithing before use. I recall that on the cylinders of some the cut leading into the cylinder notch was missing!
After more than fifty years, the primary sidearm of FBI agents would become the semi-auto pistol. But before that change was made, an interesting event occurred at the Firearms Training Unit. Early one morning, before the classes were due to start, I was called into Unit Chief Tom Miller’s office.
He asked me if I knew who General Dozier was. I did. General James Dozier was assigned to a position in Italy and on December 17, 1981, was kidnapped by members of the Italian Red Army Brigade, a terrorist group. He was held for 42 days before being rescued by NOCS also known as The Leatherheads, an advanced SWAT team. After his rescue, General Dozier gave a talk to staff members at the FBI Academy.
The Unit Chief told me that General Dozier had been contacted by Ross Perot, who thought it would be a nice gesture to reward the SWAT team members with some token of appreciation. Perhaps a gift handgun. Perot would pay for them. (A total of ten if I recall correctly.)
Tom Miller gave me the assignment to select the model and arrange for their delivery to the General. What kind of gun, I asked. Didn’t matter. My choice. The only problem was time. This was a Wednesday morning and the general and his staff were leaving for Italy the following Saturday morning!
I left his office and spoke with the other instructors. I asked what model should be chosen. The model 19 was mentioned. Finally, my old partner Bob Dean said, “You know Bill. The Italians are really semi-auto oriented. Why don’t we give them Smith 459s?” (The 459 was our current SWAT issue at that time.) Great idea. That morning I called Lee Deeters, Smith &Wesson President and explained the situation.
They were pleased to be of assistance. A half-hour later, Bob Haas, VP of Sales, called me back.
“Interesting problem, Bill. What kind of guns do you want?” I asked him if I could get ten Model 459s. No problem, he replied. “Do you want standard or FBI sights?” (The Bureau guns had fixed sights, red front and white outline rear.) I took the FBI sights.
I explained the tight deadline and stated that I didn’t even know where Ross Perot lived, let alone how to bill him for the guns. No problem, Hass stated. He then asked if I needed anything else.
I hesitated and then asked if it would be possible to include a presentation case with each gun. Again, no problem. By noon, Haas’ secretary called me and advised the guns would be on an Eastern Airlines flight arriving at National Airport Friday evening. (Talk about service!)
That evening, I was talking with a friend about the gift guns. He told me that the Italian government had a prohibition on private ownership of any handgun in a “military caliber,” which included 9mm. With that in mind, I called the general’s aide, a colonel, who advised me that arrangements had been made to get them to the team members.
The swap was made at National Airport and on Saturday morning, the guns (with General Dozier and staff) were in route to Italy … where they hit the proverbial brick wall. I understand the guns stayed locked up there until Smith & Wesson had special barrels made for them in .30 Luger caliber, sent a gunsmith overseas to fit them and then they could be presented to the Leatherheads.
I never did find out if Smith & Wesson ever billed Ross Perot.