Long-range handgun shooting isn’t just in the province of old hands that have been at it for decades.
Shooters willing to put in the time and practice will find themselves connecting more often than not at 50 yards or more with pretty ordinary handguns.
There is some precedent to the need for long-range handgunning.
The Texas Rangers used their Colt revolvers at long range on many occasions, finding them more accurate than muskets.
They also found the .36 Paterson was pretty well out of steam and ineffective at long range, which led to the .44 Dragoon.
Later, Colonel Stephen Benet of Army Ordnance asked Colt to provide the Army with a revolver powerful enough to drop an Indian war pony at 100 yards.
This led to the development of the .45 Colt. It has been quite a while since the Army has had a need to drop war ponies, and long-range handgun shots are an exception, but they do occur.
A courageous Air Force policeman took out a lunatic armed with an AK-47 at a long 83 yards.
In another incident, a Federal agent stopped a shooter at a similar distance and a Florida lawman fired a single shot and stopped a barricaded individual from firing on officers from a long 60 yards.
When it comes to civilians firing to defend themselves at long range, I cannot find a single incident.
Just the same, there are times when long-range fire may be used to take small and medium game, in competition and for the sheer challenge.
There is always the chance of an active shooter, and no one wants to be helpless in such a case. I am concentrating on using standard handguns for long-range use.
A scope-mounted hand-rifle or 8 3/8-inch barrel Magnum isn’t quite as challenging. So we are looking at service-size guns most of us carry.
We are not practicing for long-range shots that come often in hunting and using a hunting handgun, but practicing for the uncommon emergency shot with a personal-defense handgun.
Most defensive shootings occur at close range.
Just the same, you may be confronted by a shooter behind cover, an assailant armed with a rifle, or find yourself in an otherwise bad tactical situation.
An active shooter may be the threat. It would pay to be reasonably proficient with the handgun at longer range.
Animal defense and the ever-growing coyote are a problem for the outdoorsman. As an example, an acquaintance told me of his encounter with a coyote.
It is stronger than the .32 Magnum with most loads. He spotted a coyote running over a hill at about 110 yards.
He drew the Tokarev, reared the hammer back and led on the nose of the canine. At the bark of the shot the coyote dropped.
A good shot with an ordinary handgun may work wonders. This fellow has spent considerable time firing his TT-33 at rocks and dirt clods at known and unknown distances.
This builds marksmanship better than shooting paper targets.
How to Shoot a Handgun Long-Range
If I knew a fight was coming, I would have a shotgun in my hands. This is my preparation for home defense.
If I knew a fight would occur at long range, I would deploy the M1A SOCOM. But we do not have prescience.
The handgun is a weapon of defense and opportunity. It is concealable, portable and always with us. Practice at atypical ranges may be beneficial.
For some of us, 25 yards is long range; for others, 50 yards is long range.
Unlike the .223 rifle or a fast-moving .30 caliber rifle, bullet drop in handguns must be accounted for at longer handgun range.
Sight picture and trigger control become much more important. Breath control isn’t usually a factor in handgun marksmanship, but it may be in long-range handgun shooting.
Finding a suitable brace is also important. Remember, a missed shot that is an inch off at 10 yards will be six inches or more off the point of aim at 50 yards, or a clean miss.
As an example, some shooters find that when holding the sights on the target at 50 yards a neck hold will plunge bullets into the chest.
On the other hand, the original 1911 .45 ACP was sighted to strike high at 25 yards in order to give soldiers a fighting chance at 50 yards.
A problem with holdover is that it is much more difficult when addressing a small target. Each handgun is a rule in itself.
Modern handguns tend to be properly sighted for close-range work, older service pistols must be used with the six o’clock hold.
The front sight of most handguns will subtend (cover the target) at long range, making precision shooting difficult.
When addressing targets at long range, the front sight is slightly raised above the conventional sight picture.
If the front sight is serrated and you mark the holdover, (after much practice) the long-range shot comes easily.
In some handguns with low-riding sights, it isn’t possible to raise the sight properly. Good sights are essential for marksmanship and all the more so at long range.
If, like myself, you use a good number of handguns, you will find each offers a different sight picture. Long-range fire stresses and reinforces the basics of marksmanship.
If you come under fire at long range, chances are you will have the option to seek cover or flee the area. But then there are times when you will have to stand and deliver fire.
There is no question that defensive training should prioritize close-range shooting.
Long fire should be practiced on occasion — and I have to admit that it is quite interesting for its own sake.
What I call the easy shots — center shots on a man-sized target to 25 yards — demand a good, fast, but not perfect sight picture.
Past fifteen yards, the trigger press is slowed and so is sight alignment. In close-range reactive work, the presentation leads to a firing stance and sight acquisition.
A firm grip and coordination are more important than a perfect sight picture in some situations. Hand-eye coordination is vital.
Whatever sights you use, they must allow the shooter to align the flat of the front sight with the rear sight and have a visible amount of light on each side of the front post.
Sometimes a fiber-optic front sight or red-insert front sight may limit a perfect sight picture at long range, while being a great advantage at short range.
You must be able to identify the top of the front sight. Small degrees of misalignment result in a huge miss at long range.
Handguns and Calibers
At long range, the common service calibers beginning with the 9mm will punch a hole through a bad guy, but the bullet will probably not expand.
Ammunition choice goes upside down when the goal is long-range accuracy.
As an example, when Special Forces were looking for a long-range load for their HK MP5 9mm submachine guns, they had difficulty finding an accurate loading.
The 147-grain JHP was developed. At 100 yards, the 147-grain JHP is usually more accurate and retains more penetration than 115 and 124-grain loads.
By the same token, at 100 yards the 230-grain .45 is regarded as superior to the 200-grain .45 ACP. A 255-grain .45 Colt is an awesome number at 100 yards.
Now you ask how is it done? Don’t handgun bullets drop a great deal at 100 yards? They do, and it isn’t practical to sight the handgun in for 100 yards.
After all, the handgun is more for short-range personal defense. Unless you are hunting with the handgun, it is easier to have the handgun fire a little high at shorter ranges.
Learn the proper degree to hold the front sight above the rear sight notch. This takes time and a lot of shooting.
The competition trick of holding on the neck to get an X-ring hit works for slow-moving calibers such as the .38 Special and .45 ACP.
Be warned that some handguns, such as the hard-kicking 10mm and snub-nose .38 Special, may exhibit such severe muzzle flip that the handgun may actually strike high at 100 yards.
Another thing to be accounted for is the width of the front sight. Front sights on handguns are either ramps or a square post.
They offer rapid acquisition for defensive purposes. The front sight is broad enough that it will subtend (cover) a certain amount of a target at 25 to 100 yards.
This is why we use the six o’clock hold, holding under the target. This makes for the all-around best sight picture.
If you are going to get hits at long range, you need a solid firing position to compliment your skills.
I have done quite a bit of shooting with the handgun braced over the bed of a truck, it is handy and available.
Bracing on a tree is good, rollover prone is ideal. Keep the head on the biceps. Don’t stretch the neck or you will lose oxygen to the eyes and your vision will blur.
Firing from a standing, braced barricade will provide good results if you don’t allow the knuckles to be bashed against the barricade.
Another good position is back against a tree or post and the pistol braced on the knees. These firing positions are much sturdier than off-hand.
Practice is demanded and this should begin at 25 yards. Hardly any sight correction is needed at 50 yards.
Usually, the pistol will be used with the six o’clock hold at 25 yards and the dead-on hold at 50 yards.
At 100 yards, most handgun calibers drop eight to ten inches from the point of aim. Give long-range shooting with service type pistols a try, it may be a lifesaver.
It is important to account for the difference in the point of aim and the point of impact with different loads.
I recently fired my Colt SAA .45 at 50 yards with 185, 230, 250 and 255-grain loads.
The difference in the point of aim and point of impact with different bullet weights could be as much as 4.5 inches at 50 yards.
In absolute accuracy, the best results have been with the Hornady XTP bullet and handloads.
With the .357 Magnum, I have loaded the 180-grain XTP in handloads with excellent results in the Colt Python.
Buffalo Bore’s hard-cast bullet loads have been very accurate. Be certain to try the duty load at long-range occasionally. You may be surprised by the results.
Do you practice long-range shooting your sidearm? What’s your farthest shot with a handgun? Let us know in the comments below.