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We all know the conventional wisdom about self-defense shootings is the Rule Of Three: three rounds in three seconds under three yards. The same is said to be mostly true about close-range officer-involved shootings as well (although not everyone quite believes this).

Records of civilian defensive shootings have mostly borne this out. Very few defensive shootings occur at long distances and very few involve a reload, if even emptying a magazine. To say nothing of the fact that shooting an attacker at longer ranges can be difficult to justify as a defensive gun use.

However, exceptions to the 3-3-3 rule certainly exist. Many times, three rounds simply aren’t enough. This is why we train for a tactical reload and also why it’s good to carry either a spare magazine or a backup pistol if you can.

It’s also a good idea to devote at least some time to practicing longer-range pistol shooting, as the skill may be called upon one day. There are plenty of real-world examples of LEOs, military personnel and even civilian shooters successfully engaging hostile targets with a handgun at long range.

Wild Bill Kickok

One of the most famous was the most famous gun battle involving Wild Bill Hickok, specifically his shootout with Davis Tutt in 1865. Tutt, incensed over a gambling debt (a pocket watch) opened fire on Hickok from about 75 yards away. Hickok drew, calmly acquired a sight picture and fired, dropping Tutt with a single shot to the heart.

And that was with a .36-caliber ball over black powder and not today’s ammo.

Walter Walsh FBI Marine Marksmanship

Another famous example is that of Walter Walsh. Walsh joined the FBI in the 1930s, surviving upward of 20 shootouts (Walsh shot and killed Al Brady, Public Enemy #1 at the time, in a brutal shootout in 1937) and, as a reserve officer in the Marine Corps, left for the Pacific Theater in World War II. Walsh and some fellow Marines were pinned down by a sniper, firing from 90 yards away. Walsh lined up his rear sight and front sight, fired a single shot from his sidearm, and dropped the sniper.

That was with a GI 1911. Imagine what the modern version could do in skilled hands. Walsh would later represent the United States shooting pistol events in the 1948 Olympics and served as the commander of the USMC’s marksmanship training corps, so it’s safe to say he possessed singular skill at distance shooting.

Granted, that happened under the color of war, but keep in mind that mass shooters sometimes employ long guns. This is what a handgun is capable of doing in skilled, practiced hands. Of course, that skill includes good sight alignment, knowledge of bullet drop and shooting range for the cartridge, a stationary bad guy downrange, and a solid shooting position.

Vic Stacy Good Samaritan

Then there is the example of Vic Stacy, a civilian who intervened when a fellow resident of the RV park he lived in went on a shooting spree. The shooter, one Charles Conner, murdered his two neighbors and started shooting the area up. A law enforcement officer arrived, but was pinned down by fire.

Stacy grabbed his .357 Magnum revolver, found a tree to rest it against and fired from 56 yards away. The first shot hit Conner in the leg, causing him to drop the ground, but also to return fire in Stacy’s direction. After his attention was back on the policeman taking cover behind the cruiser, Stacy re-emerged from behind his RV and fired four more times, hitting Conner at least three times and stopping the fight.

Read an excellent account of this incident here.

The point?

If you carry for self-defense, get some practice in at longer ranges in addition to the usual three, five and seven yards. It just might save your life.

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  1. In a relaxed state mind I can ring a steel mini ipsc consistently at 75 yards with a 5″ bbl.
    M& P40 Pro. What that will translate to under high stress? I don’t know.

  2. I practice with my .44 redhawk at 50 and 75 yards regularly because that’s as far as I’ll shoot a deer. I get 3 inch groups at 75 yards holding it out stretched.

    • Google IHMSA.

      Ranges in these parts have no problems accommodating 220 yard pistol shooting.

      220 yards is standard range for iron sight handguns with no bench, or artificial support of any kind. If you can’t hit the target with every shot, It is embarrassing. I have not been embarrassed like that for many many years.

      • Funny, I was just thinking of IHMSA. I have not participated (not much of a presence in New England) but I have been in contact with someone that has participated for years, and he has gotten me interested.
        I’m an optometrist with a sports vision training practice, and have had great interest in the vision problems of shooters, which is how I heard of IHMSA, and I’d even be interested in their air pistol programs.

    • don’t recall that being a problem…made a dead center shot with my model 29 at 100yds…shooting off the bench…couldn’t do it again, though…obviously the gun is better than I am…

    • Well there’s the free range in Oroville, you can shoot whatever you want at any range you want.
      The Gun Range in Sacramento is an indoor range that only goes to 25yd but shoot whatever.
      Rancho Shooting Club (I don’t remember the name exactly) has indoor up to 50yd, just check in with the RSO first.
      Cordova Shooting Center, an outdoor range. They will allow longer range pistols on the rifle lanes if you ask nicely first.

      That’s three ranges here in Commiefornia.

      • You forgot Spenceville Firing Range…
        Its BLM, and a bit wild-west, but you got 300yds to play with

    • I don’t know of any ranges which will not allow 100 yards, and there’s at least one in the area which doesn’t care whether you carry a handgun or a rifle to their 100, 200, 400, 600, 800, or 1000 yard range.

  3. @ Joseph Constable says: August 19, 2018 at 10:44

    Try and find an outdoor range; that should not be so difficult. Indoor ranges may be the limited (distance) venues.


    “Holding the reins of two horses with one hand, Austin Police Sgt. Adam Johnson raised his service pistol and fired a bullseye into the target some 312 feet away.

    Down went Larry McQuilliams, and so ended his rampage through the streets of the Texas capital, where he’d fired more than 100 rounds from his AK-47 and .22-caliber rifles at buildings. The shot, from Johnson’s Smith & Wesson M&P .40 pistol, hit McQuilliams square in the chest and made the 15-year-veteran the toast of gun enthusiasts around the country.”

  5. I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with some of the best, most experienced gunfighters in the world, and even they say that if their group size doubles in combat they are doing well. In my direct combat experience, my groups enlarge by 400% or more. That’s my really real world level of precision.
    Beyond just the challenge and fun of it, that’s why I shoot my pistols at longer ranges. What I can hit at 50 yards in practice is closer to 10 yards under stress. It gives me a more realistic measure of how I’m likely to perform.

    • I have no real world under stress experiences but I typically practice at 25 yards because my experience on the range has shown me aimed hits @ 25 yards translates into rapid fire hits @15 yards and under. If I can hit at 25 under normal conditions I think I can hit at 15 under stress.

      I hope I never need to find out if I’m right….

      • I figure if I can hit the mini-silhouettes center mass at 25 yards then I should be capable of hitting a full sized bad guy under stress at that range.


      • Situational awareness builds pretty fast, but how many folks are going to have multiple gunfights? Skydiving students generally become much more aware by their third jump, which is maybe 2 minutes of free fall, plus 5 minutes under canopy. All of a sudden they know their heading, they see your instructions, their altitude awareness gets dialed in, they sorta know the landing pattern. They understand you most likely aren’t going to die just then. That’s a bit more of a hurdle with gun fighting.

        • I’ve been in more than a dozen gunfights. By that I mean I was shooting at a particular person and someone was shooting at me.
          I’ve also parachuted, static line and freefall, more times than that.
          In my direct experience, the skydiving is infinitely more simple than the gunfighting.

    • The good news is that the bad guy’s groups will also open up 400% when you start shoo ting back.

      I’ve never had a bullet whiz by my head but I’d have to think it would be a bit unnerving.

      • Whizzing by is good.

        I’ve been hit and it really really made me long for the “whizzing by”.

        • it’s that little “snap” that gets your attention…you’ll hear it before the bang….

        • The ‘Snap’ happens only if the bullet is supersonic. Anyone who has worked the butts at a high power rifle match is familiar with it. Many pistol rounds don’t even start out supersonic.

      • Dunno about snap, but watching tracers from a couple dozen automatic weapons sailing past the windows of my airplane didn’t ruin my aim, but then I was young!

  6. Obviously the vast majority of owners are not going to practice a damn thing except maybe practice getting their pistol out of the sock drawer and hunting around for that one box ammo, once or twice every decade. 😉 Nor will they be reading this or any other gun blog.

    If y’all can reach those folks in time and convince them it might be a good idea to follow this and other advise, we might be able to preserve our current form of Govt. against the Socialist/Progressive attacks currently underway and picking up speed.

    • an old combat vet told me engage at long range so that you can get a kill shot in hopefully before they get too close. so practice-practice- practice..and don’t spray—-shoot..

      • He was/is right. You don’t always get the opportunity to take a 100 yd shot with a pistol, but if you do you’d be fool not to take it. Same goes for long range rifle opportunities. Like the man said: “Never turn down a good thing.” 🙂

  7. If you spend time in the great outdoors you need to practice long range shooting. A charging bear can easily cover 50 yards in 3-4 seconds.

    • Which is why I carry bear spray. Odds are higher that you can spray the bear over getting a shot on target. Not saying not to bring the heat but it’s the backup not the other way around.

      • I would agree with you if there is more than one person around because what ever you use you only get one chance. If the spray doesn’t work you will never have a chance to use the gun.

      • So how does that bear spray work if you have a 20 MPH wind blowing at you from the direction of Mr. bruin?

        • I hear that a lot, but there’s one question I have no idea what the answer is – do bears charge critters they can’t smell?

        • Apparently the idea that bears have poor vision is a myth. But their sense of smell is way beyond ours.

  8. I shoot off a sandbag at 50 and 100 yards. Once in a while standing at 50.

    Also a good reason to carry a rifle in your vehicle.

  9. At any distance beyond about 25 yards the sights on almost any handgun I own pretty much obscure any reasonably sized target. I can generally maintain minute of bad-guy groups at that range but not much better. Push the distance out much farther than that and I am essentially using a hand held mortar and walking the rounds in. Given that, other than just plinking, the only likely use I have for my hand guns is self defense, my plan if the bad guy is farther than 25 or 30 yards away is to run and/or hide.

    • Sounds like a plan. Unless you can prove that the assailant was shooting at you, you could be charged with manslaughter, or in extreme cases, murder, although that my be difficult to prove.

    • You’re sighting funny. I always adjust sights so that what I want to hit is resting on top of the center of the front sight. Thus nothing will obscure the target at any range. With a .357 magnum I could hit a soda can at 100 yards, and move rocks around at much farther distances (which is FUN!!).

  10. My new (to me) Dan Wesson PM7 is the giggles.
    First time shooting it this wknd; 4″ steel at 25 yds, NP.
    24″ gong at 75-100 yds, NP.
    Holy crap!¡
    The 9 shot close quarters drill? 100% (LoL @ 4.8 sec though. 3.5 sec is the goal)
    This pistol makes me a better shooter.
    What an immensely pleasant and satisfying experience.

  11. I generally try to cover an 8.5×11” piece of paper at 50. I realistically don’t see me taking shots beyond 50 in any situation with a handgun, unless it’s a long stretch of a Walmart or something. If it needs to be done, the beauty of “pistols” now makes the AR platform that much better.

    Since it’s not a rifle, it can stay chambered in the truck too! Thanks CO!

  12. My range was closing So I went out for a farewell shoot. I brought my 6 inch 629 and my 3 inch 629 and some other guns. There were two other shooters on the range with an SKS and they were shooting at a Barney stuffed toy. Just before leaving the range i pulled out the 6 inch 629 and started shooting at the Gong at 300 Meters. Within a cylinder I was hitting it. I looked over at the SKS guys and they were having trouble hitting Barney at about 100 yards. They switched to the gong at 300 meters and were not even coming close. So I packed up and left. It was a good way to say farewell to a range. i call it my Salute to Elmer Keith.

    • Within a cylinder I was hitting [gong at 300 Meters].”

      We must have video or it did not happen!

  13. One time I took aim with my 7.5″ Ruger Blackhawk at a man-sized plate 200 yds downrange. My buddy laughed as I trained the open sights up and the left to account for range and drop. I dropped the hammer and my 1100 fps 255 GR bullet began its slow journey. A full 1.5 seconds later gave the familiar “ding” of ringing the steel.

    I reholstered the revolver and calmly walked away. I tried not to burst into hysterical laughter at my miracle. I figured that the only thing downrange that was safe was the target.

    • I figured that the only thing downrange that was safe was the target.

      I like your style.

  14. Sometime in the 1980’s I was at the Wallum Lake Gun Club. A friend of mine was shooting a 9mm German Luger at a steel ram at 200 yards and consistently ringing it. He handed me a loaded magazine and said, “try it.” After walking the shots in the dirt, I too was hitting the ram. It was so sweet hearing the ring.

    • Younger son has never been big on shooting, but enjoyed going with me and elder son. One range had a gong at 400 yards, and I had recently gotten a 16″ AR with a 4x scope with ballistic compensator. I dialed in 400 yards and handed younger son the gun and he promptly rang that steel. He was about 15 at the time, and we could not get the gun back from him. Ding, ding, ding. Steel is addictive, for anyone.

  15. The public outdoor range I shoot at is 175 yards long. I have hit steel targets with my ruger p89 several times. I love the sound of ringing steel. (smile)

  16. Just this weekend I took three friends out to a secluded forest location and set-up a small shooting gallery. I busted out two inexpensive single-action .22LR revolvers (with fixed factory sites) and we started shooting paper at 15 feet or so. Before long, we were shooting at an 8-inch steel plate at 20 yards. It sure was fun hitting that plate and hearing the pleasing “ding!” when we hit it.

    I heartily encourage everyone to get out once or twice a year and try shooting steel (or at least paper!) at 20 to 50 yards with handguns. It is a lot of fun and a good skill to hone.

  17. How timely. I was practicing at 50 yards yesterday with my X5 and RIA 1911.

    Needless to say, it’s humbling.

  18. Or- you can just take up handgun deer hunting… I shot my first ever deer with an S&W 29 back in 1981 when things were just beginning. Factory iron sights, about 75 yards, dropped it dead in one shot. Since then I’ve acquired a shorter, 6″ 29 as well with a 2X scope and taken plenty of IA woods rats between 25 and 90 yds. Yeah, I know, I’m not going to carry the scoped 44 concealed but the concept of acquisition, hold and squeeze/press are similar.

  19. I never thought much about long distance shooting with a handgun until I was shooting with an older friend who served with the Marines in Viet Nam. He was clanging the 12″ gong at 100 yards with a 1911 in .45 ACP. in the range next to me. I was shooting a .357 at the 50 yard range. I stood there slack jawed watching this as I knew the ballistics of the .45 gave it a bit of a rainbow trajectory. After he hit 13 out of 14 shots, I asked him how he did it. He proceeded to teach me. I was hitting the gong by the second magazine full of ammo. Not every shot like him, but I was hitting more than missing. My buddy at that time was shooting his 1911 3 or 4 days a week, so he knew that gun and it’s capabilities better than most people. So how do you hit long range targets? I know the secret!!!! It’s the same way you get to Carnegie Hall, practice, practice, practice……

  20. The outdoor range where I am a member has no restrictions for using pistols on the 100yd rifle range.

  21. There’s a more important reason to practice longer range shooting, then the remote possibility of a long range engagement. If you hone your shooting skills at longer ranges, hitting your target at short range becomes that much easier. In almost anything, if you push your skills to the limit, it makes doing the ordinary things much simpler.

  22. I always enjoyed NRA bullseye with the 45 ACP at 50 yards. Very challenging. Long-range shooting in handgun silhouette is also a ball. Both are expensive handgun shooting sports, but if you want to improve your long range pistol shooting, it’s pretty easy to find matches and coaching. There’s so much focus on concealed carry and home defense these days, that long-range handgun shooting does get ignored. It’s a shame because Ruger and smith & wesson make awfully good competition revolvers that are accurate enough for long shots on steel targets out of the box. Oddly, I don’t recall ever seeing someone make a long pistol shot with a Glock.

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