A lot of people train for shooting at what is typically combat distances – meaning 7 to 10 yards – and neglect what might be called “long range” pistol shooting.
In a certain sense, it’s not a TERRIBLE idea, because – in fairness – that is where most self-defense shootings and a lot of police shootings take place. There’s the old saw about the “rule of 3s,” meaning that the average gunfight takes place within 3 yards, involves 3 or fewer rounds discharged, and takes place in 3 seconds or less.
However, what we’ve learned from the recent incident in White Settlement, as well as a number of other civilian- and officer-involved shootings, that you might be called upon to make a longer shot.
Bear in mind, though, that “long range” is subjective. Some people might say 25 yards, some might say 15 yards, and some might say “long range” is 50 yards and beyond.
You Can Shoot Farther Than You Think
Pistols are capable of accurate and effective hits to further distances than many people are willing to consider shooting. And history is replete with instances when someone made a shot on a threat at what many people certainly consider “long” range with a handgun, and with iron sights.
In World War II, FBI agent Walther Walsh – who took a sabbatical to serve in the United States Marine Corps – shot an enemy sniper at 80 yards with his sidearm. In 2016, a Puyallup, Wash. police shooting, according to American Handgunner, required the officer to shoot a perpetrator, who had already murdered one person and was firing into heavy traffic, at 84 yards.
Both were done with a 1911 pistol. Still, think they’re obsolete?
The 1994 Fairchild AFB shootings were resolved when an Air Force MP shot the perpetrator from 70 yards with his M9.
And so on, many more instances exist, of course; you could hunt down a few of your own. Point being, first know that your handgun is more capable than you might think it is.
Pistol Trajectories: The Rules Are The Same, The Numbers Are Different
Just like shooting a rifle, there are trajectory tables for pistols. If you want to get really good at long-range pistol shooting, you need to be aware of them. The idea is the same, but the numbers are in dozens of yards, rather than hundreds.
Typical handgun rounds don’t actually drop until they’re 50 to 70 yards downrange, according to Chuck Hawks handgun trajectory tables, even including .380 ACP.
Bear in mind that their trajectory tables are for a pistol with sights 0.8 inches above the bore axis (center of the barrel). And your mileage WILL vary given your pistol, barrel length, sights, and bullet, so we’re mentioning it as a point of reference here rather than gospel. You need to learn trajectories for your gun and your load.
With a ballistic coefficient of 0.14 and traveling at 1135 fps, a 115-gr 9mm bullet climbs to just around 3 inches high relative to POA at 50 yards and drops to 1.7 inches below POA at 100 yards. A 230-gr .45 ACP projectile, with a BC of .195 and velocity around 830 fps, will climb 2.6 inches above POA at 25 yards, is still 2.5 inches above POA at 50 yards, but has dropped 6.9 below POA at 100 yards.
So what does all that crap mean, exactly?
First is that by examining handgun caliber drop tables, there’s basically no drop inside 50 yards with conventional self-defense calibers, including .380 ACP. You can literally start shooting to that distance right now without having to hold over.
Past that distance, you need to learn what the drop is and dial in holdover.
Start At A Distance You Can Reasonably Shoot At And Work Your Way Up
Progressive overload works in the weight room and everywhere else. To enhance your skills, aim just beyond your current capabilities, and work your way up. To get started shooting your pistol at longer distances, begin at a range you’re comfortable with and go just beyond it.
If you’re used to training at 10 yards, try starting at 15 yards or maybe out to 20. Start slow and work your way out.
Make sure you use a target you can see. Maybe that’s an NRA B series, IDPA or IPSC silhouette, QIT target, Birchwood Casey Dirty Bird, or if you want to get real low-tech, a 6-inch paper plate stapled to an upright. Whatever works for you.
The further the distance, the more the fundamentals matter, so if you aren’t used to shooting at longer distances, take your time at first. After you improve, add drills, and increase distance.