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How – and Why – to Stretch the Distance With a Handgun

How – and Why – to Stretch the Distance With a Handgun

 Aside from learning how high to hold, hitting at distance requires strict attention to shooting fundamentals. (William Owens photo)

Several years ago I was at a gun writer’s event, and instructor Scott Reitz said he’d have us doing things with a 1911 that would make our friends call BS. As a Glock shooter, I was intrigued but skeptical.

Part of the curriculum was long-distance shooting, which, of course, is a relative term. There are officers at my police department who would argue that the 25-yard line is long distance. I figured instructor Reitz might have us shooting steel out to 100 yards or so. As it turned out, 100 yards was just a warm-up.

To make a long story short, I, along with many of the other students, was able to hit a man-size steel silhouette target offhand at 250 yards—a feat that I would have believed to be unattainable prior to the course. I shot this with a stock .45 ACP chambered Springfield 1911 that I borrowed that morning.

To be clear, I did not ring the 250-yard steel target with my first shot or with my second. Not even my third shot found its mark. There was definitely some “Kentucky windage” involved as well as considerable holdover to account for bullet drop. But Reitz was right. When I told my SWAT team leader that I was ringing steel at 250 yards with a pistol, he told me I was full of sh*t.

By the way, Reitz hit the same size target at 300 yards. No sh*t.

Other than bragging rights, what’s the point to long-range handgunning? Is such a skill relevant to self-defense, and, if so, how can one best develop his or her ability to hit targets at extended ranges?

It’s not hard to imagine a scenario where a long-distance shot may be required to thwart a deadly assault. While this could be in self-defense, perhaps the more likely scenario would be in defense of a third party. Consider an armed private citizen who has one long shot to stop a mass shooting.

While the odds of having to make a long-distance shot with your handgun may be low, the stakes are unquestionably high, which is reason enough to add this important skill to your training regimen. But tactical relevance aside, developing the ability to fire your handgun accurately at distance is bound to make you a better shooter at more probable shooting distances.

As a case in point, I reflect on my days as a karate student. Despite training in a traditional style of karate that emphasized kicking no higher than waist level, I spent countless hours working on high kicks. I could easily kick over my head with accuracy and power.

In a real fight, the chances of delivering a kick to an attacker’s head in a fight are minimal, while at the same time leaving you vulnerable to having your kicking leg caught or having your support leg swept out from under you. However, high kicks helped me develop the flexibility, balance and technique that made me a much better all-around kicker.

This logic can be applied to long-distance shooting. Being able to hit a target at distance will invariably make hitting a closer target that much easier. But there are some nuances specific to shooting a handgun at longer distances.

When it comes to shooting, the more stable you are, the more accurate you will be. As such, when a long-distance handgun shot is required, taking a low kneeling or even a prone position is advantageous. Of course, any sort of available rest works as well.


When taking a long-distance shot, whether braced or unsupported offhand, you may need to account for the time it takes the bullet to travel down the barrel. This is perhaps the one time when having a loose grip is advantageous because it will allow the muzzle to rise more in recoil, which will set the bullet on a higher trajectory. This helps compensate the significant bullet drop that results from gravity and drag. Obviously, the longer the distance and the heavier the bullet, the more of a factor bullet drop will play.

Regardless of your shooting platform, long-range accuracy with a handgun requires skillful application of the fundamentals of marksmanship: sight alignment, sight picture, trigger control, breath control and follow-through.

You’ll notice that even a thin front side post is considerably wider than the target at distance. To account for elevation, obviously aim high. How high is anyone’s guess, which is why you need to practice in order to determine how your gun and ammunition perform at various distances. Hey, nobody said being a long-range handgunner would be easy.

Trigger control is an important skill regardless of distance, but even the slightest error can cause you to miss completely when your target is hundreds as opposed to 10s of yards away. Nowhere is a smooth and precise trigger press more critical than when shooting long distance with a handgun.

Ideally, you want the shot to break at your natural respiratory pause. That is, after you’ve exhaled and before you inhale. Your body is stillest at that point. However, if you wait too long, you’re likely to do more harm than good; start over when you feel your body clamoring for a breath.

Follow-through refers to staying focused throughout the entire firing process. Press the trigger and hold it to the rear, allowing the muzzle to rise and then settle until you achieve a second sight picture. The tendency is to peer over your sights to “see” your hit, but if you do that, there will be no hit to see.

The odds of you having to make a long-distance handgun shot to defend yourself or another may be slim, but they aren’t zero, which is why you need to add this unique component to your training. As a fringe benefit, training at distance will make you that much more formidable when your target is closer.

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