handgun shooting range practice pistol training
[CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
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It’s hard to imagine now, but a mere twenty years or so ago, most U.S. states didn’t allow any form of concealed carry. First a few states began issuing permits, then a few more, and then the dam broke.

Now, a wave of constitutional carry has moved across the country. But the interaction between regulation and technology isn’t one-way. Concealed carry was a response to good people wanting to carry guns. And as concealed carry became more popular, the guns changed to fit the needs of people who went out and got the permits.

Today, every manufacturer offers pistols specifically designed for concealed carry. Ruger’s LCP was an early micro pistol of the modern CCW era, and guns of all sizes and capacities have followed. We’re even starting to see specialized calibers introduced like the .30 Super Carry.

Most defensive shootings happen within a few feet and are over in a matter of a few seconds. While there are some who are willing to carry a duty-size gun with a light and red dot, most carriers optimize their EDC gun for comfort and convenience while compromising on capabilities that aren’t needed for the anticipated fight.

Unfortunately, this trend has led to a complete change in how most people see carry pistols. Yes, it has been long said that a pistol exists to let you fight your way to a rifle, and that if you’re expecting trouble, it’s better to have a long gun. But, most state-required concealed carry courses focus on shooting at 3, 5, 7, and at most 15 yards. Even for instructors, the NRA basic pistol qualification course of fire maxes out with an expected 80% hit rate on a 6″ circle at 15 yards, and in my experience, many students struggle to attain that.

In other words, the ease of basic pistol training that states required to get a carry permit has led to a culture of shooting to qualify and not a culture of continuously aiming for more and better. I’d like to raise some reasons we should be practicing at longer ranges, even if shooting at those distances probably won’t be needed in the real world.

Top Reason: You’ll Shoot Better Close Up

An important reason to practice going long with a pistol is that it really helps you dial in your fundamentals. What looks like a decent group at 5 yards can reveal problems with technique at 10 and 15 yards. what looks pretty good at 25 yards can start to look weak at 50+ yards. Dialing in your performance and basic technique at unrealistic defensive distances will improve your shooting further in.

woman shooting range pistol gun training
Dan Z. for TTAG

Defensive accuracy is a thing, but you’re not going to get defensive accuracy with sloppy fundamentals. The only way to really minimize the slop is testing yourself at longer ranges.

Never Say Never

Going beyond 25 yards with a pistol is almost always excessive for defensive purposes. I wouldn’t want to convince a prosecutor that a bad guy I shot who was 75 feet away presented an imminent threat of death or grievous bodily injury. But I’d still like to be able to make that shot.

I’m not saying that everyone needs to be carrying a full-sized pistol at all times chambered in something powerful like 10mm Auto that can bridge the gap better than more common rounds like 9mm, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP. But, at the same time, let’s not kid ourselves and believe that longer-range skill is never, ever useful for defense. It’s rare, but it does happen and it’s worth at least considering.

Here’s an example: in 2012, a man was sitting in his house and heard gunshots. He looked out and saw a man with a rifle in a gunfight with a cop, and the cop wasn’t doing too well.

The assailant was about 50 yards away from the man in the house, and all he had was a .357 Magnum revolver. Instead of looking for a rifle, he went ahead and took the shot with the wheel gun. Time was at a premium. He hit the assailant in the leg, but still managed to get him out of the fight and save the cop’s life.

firearms training range

Another example comes from law enforcement, but is still instructive. In June 1994, a man with severe mental health issues who had been kicked out of the military decided to take revenge on the psychologists involved in his discharge. He took a Norinco MAK 90 (a Chinese AKM clone) with a 75-round drum mag, hidden in a duffel bag, to the hospital, and killed two psychologists. Then, he started shooting random people in the hospital. He then went out onto the base looking for more victims.

That’s when Andy Brown, an airman in the Security Forces (the Air Force equivalent of a MP), arrived on a bicycle and stopped about 70 yards from the shooter. He knew he was outgunned, but still drew his 9mm Beretta service pistol and ordered the shooter to drop his rifle.

When the man refused and instead took aim at Brown, he fired four shots. One struck the deranged killer in the head, killing him instantly. There were still a number of rounds left in the AK, so lives were very likely saved by Brown’s quick action and exceptional skill.

There are more examples out there, but I’ve made my point. The need to make a long pistol shot is rare, but it can and does happen on occasion. Having the skill to take that longer shot won’t ever hurt you as a shooter. As they say, you’re better off having the skill and not needing it than needing it and not having it.

The World Is Changing

Most people alive today grew up in a world where America was the undisputed Number One. We’ve lived in Pax Americana since 1945. Sure, there was the threat of a nuclear exchange during the Cold War, but the Soviets were never really economically competitive with the United States and the risk of mutually assured destruction kept the chances of that kind of conflict to a minimum.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States has experienced what researchers call the “unipolar moment” during which the United States was the undisputed global power.

(AP Photo/ Rick Bowmer)

In other words, the safety and peace we’ve enjoyed over the last 75 years is something very few people in history have ever experienced. It’s something we’ve taken for granted. Even if the United States doesn’t decline, other world powers have been growing faster and could either overtake us or get to the point where they’re at least more of a realistic threat than the Soviet Union ever was.

We’re not going to be invaded tomorrow, but for those of us who are likely to live another few decades, it seems unlikely that the peace of the last 75 years will continue.

Most people think about defense from robbers, rapists, and small-time crooks when they think of using a defensive pistol. Some think about the unlikely possibility of encountering a mass shooter. Hardly anyone thinks about the possibility of things going really sideways and facing warfare on U.S. soil like the people of Ukraine are living through now.

Sure, you’d probably rather have a rifle by your side in that event, but if you’ve put in the time sharpening your pistol skills at longer ranges, you’ll be better equipped there, too. You’ll have wasted nothing but some time you probably would have otherwise used on social media or watching TV.

I could be wrong — I hope so — and the whole 21st century could be peaceful, with the continental United States never facing serious peer state violence. But if that’s the case, you’ll still have a lot of fun at the range honing and improving your longer-range pistol skills.

There’s nothing to lose and everything to gain by training and sharpening your handgun skills. So give it a try and step further away from the target sometimes.


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  1. If I’m in a firefight with a russkie I’m grabbing my scoped rifle. Same as with a hoard of BlackLootersMurder / Antifa /gangbang critters. When I carry I carry a sub compact. I practice out to 10-15 yards. Sometimes farther. My buddy & I are venturing out to outdoor ranges when the weather breaks(It’s 37° and raining right now😦).

    • I *just* returned home tonight from a multi-day advanced handgun course, in which we practiced from close quarters (palm striking distance), 3, 5, 7, 10, 15, 25, and even out to 50 yds. The focus was within 10 yards, of course, but we trained all the way out to 50.

    • So, your Evil, Violence and Mayhem only come calling on warm, sunny days???? Make the crud your friend ’cause your adversary likely won’t. Check out the book “When Violence Is the Answer” by Larkin. 🙂 🙂 🙂

    • Kinda like having a cop in NYC aim at you.

      Don’t move, the cop has about a 17% (or less) chance of hitting you but a very high probability of hitting an innocent bystander.

  2. I have tried–unsuccessfully–to hit a target at 100 yards with a 4.5″ barrelled 9mm. Nor do I see becoming Jerry Miculek within my lifetime. At that range, the shot is a rainbow, and minor changes in elevation mean shooting too high or too low. Not hardly worth the cost of the ammo. Further, it is hard to claim self-defense at 25 yards or longer, though not unheard of. I can see regularly practicing at 15 yards–which I typically do–and an incursion into the 25 yard zone does happen on occassion as there are pistols that can reliably hit a target at that range off a rest. Off hand the spread is pretty big. But beyond that you aren’t accomplishing anything worthwhile but having fun.

    • Jerry is a god! It’s no use comparing. I think there’s a 1000 foot(yard?)shot of him making a handgun shot. Insane…

      • best I ever did was a 100 yd shot at a grapefruit-sized bullseye with my 61/2 model 29…hit it dead center from off a bench…should have quit while I was ahead, though…couldn’t replicate it once the flinching started!…qualifying from 50 yd was tough so I used to cheat by using multiple loads [when they weren’t watching]…..

    • The argument for training out to 50 yards is you might encounter an adversary either (1) pointing a gun at you when you have no cover or concealment, or (2) about to shoot a loved one and you’re far away and must take the shot.

      • Another argument is that if you can reliably hit a 6 inch target at 50 yards, if that partial head shot at 25 yards presents itself, you’re more likely to be able to take and successfully complete it.

        • we’ve got an 8″ steel at 40yds.
          it is not a given. “most” out of ten is considered good with edc.
          full size and large revolvers do better.
          with a rifle it’s never missed.
          it never occurred to me that i was honing skill for commie invaders. that entire part could be edited.

      • You might be dealing with someone who has a rifle and if you need to shoot you better be able to hit him with what you have too. I shoot my glock 19 5 – 100 yards. I find it fun though.

    • Mark, First, I’d like to say that is one of the better articles I’ve read on this site. Next, what I took from the article is that long range shooting pays dividends other than hitting something a long way off. What I read was, “If I can make this shot at 50 yards, it’s going to be a chip shot at 5 yards.” I started shooting handguns when I was 10-12 y.o.a. I didn’t know there was such thing as a bullet worthy target closer than 25 yards.

  3. http://www.frontsight.com. I am a life member there and it is well worth your time. I know about Thunder Ranch and the other training sites but have never trained at any of those so I can’t attest to their quality. I can attest to FrontSight.

    • I just returned from the 4-Day Combat Master Handgun Prep course! Awesome. Didn’t know I could clear a Type 3 malfunction and be back on trigger/target in under 4 seconds. That was exhilarating.

  4. Would it be mean spirited to say I reserve the right to use my Mosin on commies? But as has been stated anything out of close range for defensive use, may put you behind bars. Kind of hard to say but that guy at 50 yards had a knife, I was scared.

  5. At 15 yards, with my M&P 9c, I am confident. But that is at the indoor range. Same distance, outdoors, my accuracy falls off. So, I need to hire a trainer….once the weather warms….and if we can hire someone. For the past year, I’ve been the only person in what used to be a seven person group. Time off ain’t easy to come by right now. We hire someone (qualified), and I get to go shootin’ again.

  6. If I shoot prone I can hit milk jugs 100 yards away with 1911.
    I wouldn’t shoot at someone past 15 feet, I’d probably miss.

  7. I can hit a 25 yard target with my .32 ACP Mauser at 25 yards. I am not going to win the match, but I can hit it. I practice with all handguns at 25 yards, and occasionally at 50 yards (where I can’t hit diddly with my .32).

  8. Punching holes in paper at the indoor range is an important part of the journey but it is only a part. Just like bench shooting is about matching a rifle to ammo, leading to off-hand being about what someone does with that rifle.

    These are steps along the way. Some thing cost much, others cost little, and there are things that cost nothing more than time and effort.


    • when firing a .44 mag it’s best to try to convince yourself you’re shooting a .22…but that myth goes away rapidly after the first shot!….

  10. I regularly shoot with my carry pistols out to 25 meters. Out to 50 meters with the big, longer barreled, large caliber revolvers. While longer shots are possible, it likely won’t be me making them. If, I expect trouble, or see it coming, I will go grab a rifle. Handguns are fine for short range defensive work or a CQB situation, but if it looks like things are going sideways far enough to require a sustained fight, the long gun wins out.

  11. “Going beyond 25 yards with a pistol is almost always excessive for defensive purposes. I wouldn’t want to convince a prosecutor that a bad guy I shot who was 75 feet away presented an imminent threat of death or grievous bodily injury. But I’d still like to be able to make that shot.”

    I once had to engage bad guys at ~30 yards with my Glock. Long story short: No other choice, they were attempting to abduct and rape my wife at knife and gun point. Fire-n-maneuver all the way across that distance as I closed on them, and she fought and got out of their grasp. She got trapped between them when she escaped when I started to engage and they were trying to get to her as the one with the gun engaged me while trying to do so. I put rounds in them but they were wounding and not enough to stop them completely. I got closer and closer, had to keep firing to keep them pinned down to keep them from getting to my wife who was trapped between them. They were both wounded but still able to move but not too well but they still kept trying to get to my wife. Expending magazines along the way and at about ~15 yards I put rounds in one of them that kept him down and unable to keep moving and at about ~5-7 yards I put the one with the gun down for good.

    A rare instance of such long range handgun defense use, yes, but thank goodness I was able to do it. Luckily, I had been previously training at longer distance hits on target while moving at the insistence of my ‘unofficial instructor’ a retired navy seal (actually hes the guy that owns the firing range complex where I shoot when I use a range and offers training/instruction to anyone that asks). That training was literally a life-saver and just several days later it was needed.

    Someone had seen what was happening and called the police, the police arrived finally and pulled up as my wife was kicking the one still alive and cursing at him. The two guys had previously abducted and raped three other women, seriously injured them and cut them up some, one almost died from blood loss. The one guy still alive, he’s paralyzed from the waist down and in a wheel chair in prison, the other guy died thinking about that .40 cal bullet passing through his head.

    Most of you will probably never engage a bad guy beyond 7 yards. Most of you will, when it happens and I pray for you that it doesn’t, your defense engagements will be under about 10 feet. My closest was contact shots when I was victim of an attempted car jacking and robbery at the ATM, the bad guy put the revolver to my head and pulled the trigger and luckily he had not loaded all the chambers and the hammer fell on an empty chamber then I jammed my gun in his chest and pulled the trigger before he realized he needed to keep pulling his trigger.

    Long distance handgun defensive use, some would say “Bah! The statistics say… most handgun defense is at… blah blah blah” as they go on and on filling up forums across the internet with their musings about statistics and so-and-so says…. one little fallacy in all that is that life is not statistics. In the real world bad people can and will kill/harm you if they think they can get away with it and that is very unpredictable, as far as I know “statistics” is not a psychic power that can predict when this will happen. So choose what you want to do, prepare for the real world or listen to statistics.

    • 40 cal, I’m glad you came out on top with your wife. Just goes to show, train, train train. And when you are done training, train some more.

    • Just to clarify…

      My wife had already broken free from them and was out of the line of fire before I started firing on them. She had retreated to a spot out of the line of fire and under cover but she was trapped between them because she had gotten into a spot that was closed off from exit except in their direction.

      I clarify this because I know some idiot like dacian is going to post about me firing at them while they were holding her and start copy and pasting all his bogus studies and other false stuff.

    • “Most of you will probably never engage a bad guy beyond 7 yards.”

      K, nice story, but in truth, “most of us”, like most LEOs, will never even draw on a “bad guy” let alone drop the striker on one. God be with those who have, or must.

      Let’s keep in mind what those carry-configured handguns we pack are made for: Self defense at a distance where MY life is in absolute jeopardy. This article brings forth all manner of propositions but most are anomalies that are likely survivable if one would just retreat or seek cover.

      Possibilities? Of course. And a rogue piece of Skylab might still come down and clunk me, too. In any event, it’s impossible to prepare one’s self for all possibilities. And when one faces one of those, there’s still no guarantee one’s “training” will carry them through. Look at the number of LEOs killed every year by punks with no training…

      • Just like “prepping”. You have to go with the odds. You prep for what could happen in a given scenario. You can never prep for everything that could happen, you just have to do your best. Yes, sometimes, under pressure, we can do things that we never believed we could. Like the 5′-4″ woman who coldcocks an over 6′, 220lb attacker or lifts a car of her child. Or you, who could never throw a baseball with any accuracy, pick up a rock or stick and knock an attacker out. It happens. You will never recreate it, but you just saved a life or 2.

      • My wife was a mess for about a month, stressed, jumpy, didn’t sleep well, no appetite, a massive wave of anger for her every time she would think about it. She feared being around anyone she did not know. She was angry with her self too, because she had decided to not go armed that day and that she made herself defenseless.

        She saw them as they approached from about 15 yards away, cat-calling with vulgar names and what they wanted to do to her, gun and knife down by their sides at the time. It all happened very quickly after she tried to run. Long story short; there was a point where she could have drawn and fired (if needed) and reliably hit them like she had routinely practiced in training for this very type of scenario (threats approaching from distance), they had not raised the weapons towards her yet while they were about 15 yards away and were just sort of shuffling towards her a little at a time. That training came to mind for her at first when she first saw them, but also coming to mind was that she had chosen to not go armed that day. Its when she turned to run that they charged her and caught up to her quickly and overwhelmed her.

        That’s the thing about attacks like this. Most times the bad guys for attacks like this on women want to taunt some first to increase their fear so there is this short time between when they charge and you first see them. So there was this point where she could have employed DGU, and she thought about that but was not armed. Lots of people say run away, well yes if you can do so safely then why not – but yeah not so much really because in over 90% of cases where victims try to run away they are caught and over powered by the bad guys. That’s what happened in this attack, she tried to run and they caught and over powered her. Luckily, right as they grabbed her and started trying to drag her to their van is when I saw what was happening from where I was. The bad guys had not see me coming yet at first, she saw me coming and screamed at them “You sons a bitches, hes going to kill you!” and then they saw me coming and that was when she was able to get away from them and head for cover, she knew what I was going to do.

        I was a little bit of a mess for a couple of days after it happened – angry, felt tired all the time, stressed, didn’t sleep well the first night, a little jumpy for about a day. My hearing was completely messed up for a bit and I lost some hearing mostly on the high end of the frequency range – repeated weapons fire inside a concrete walled indoor parking structure will do that for you if you don;t have hearing protection.

    • I think we’re all forgetting how the cops did when returning fire against that nut-case who was out to shoot republicans…

    • Distance does impose the “Opportunity” dictum for attacker delivering lethal force, and whether defender may apply lethal force. Probably tough to prove to a non-gun knowledgeable jury, but at even over 25yds, a perp only has to have one “Hail Mary,” “Luck-o-the-Irish” shot into your head to be lethal. Old saying, “I’d rather be lucky than good.” Yeah, I’d take lucky any day, but I practice like Hell for the day when Evil, Violence, and Mayhem show up and luck doesn’t. But I find the more I practice, the more regular luck is in showing up. Equally, or even more, important than the luck/skill conundrum-Shoot/No-shoot is the Left of Bang concept to spot anomalies, analyze, and act before the bang. Works for Marine Combat Hunters. Works for civilians also. But, as with shooting skills, one must develop, practice, perfect the Left of Bang skillset. One doesn’t read the book and become invincible. Luck may aid you, but skill will save you.

  12. I generally never comment I enjoy the articles and the comment section for what others contribute. I strongly agree with shooting at distances that are farther then what we are told “gunfights” happen in. Jack Wilson scored a decisive head shot on a moving active threat at a distance beyond “normal” defensive distances. I don’t rely on one case to prove a point, with that said a firearm is a distance tool. The ballistics of the popular handgun cartridges can stop a threat or alter their behavior at distance we commonly do not train for. Distance gives us time to make better decisions, maybe find cover, survey the entire scene, and threats have to contend with shooting at a target at further ranges.

  13. Practice at different ranges and in different positions. Can you hit a target while laying on your side? From under a vehicle or under a desk? Across a parking lot? What is the length of the hallway in your home, church, or school?

    Hitting a paper target from a standing position is a practical starting position. However, shooters need to move beyond initial training to realistic shooting.

  14. I was a smallarms instructor in the UK Forces for many years and the absolute bullshit I’ve heard about shooting and especially ACCURACY is legend. Every body, including me, has had a ‘lucky’ shot or ten but consistency is thge key and consistency under extreme duress at that WE have all heard about those incredibly long range Sniper Hits have we not>? I can assure you that very single one of them was a LUCKY ‘one in a thousand’ SHOT. The simple [ OK maybe not so simple] ballistics of the situation makes it so [and I spent many hours in the class room learning all about ballistics and windage, air pressure and humidity issues aand how they effect shooting at long ranges and in this case anything over about 800 mtrs is Long Range. No matter how accurate your weapon or how good your ammo yopu cannot defeat the laws of physics – you can only adjust the ‘odds’ in your favour a bit. In the case of hand guns the good old 9MM Parbellum is anbout as accurate at ALL hand gun ranges as you are ever going to need. The very idea that you can RELIABLY hit a rapidly moving target at anything over around 10/15mtrs or even less will get you killed. That’s why the bad guys bloody run and dodge if you get the drop on them or they are vthreatened from a position oif strength and why they so seldom get hit [and live to get the drop on you next time.] THEY, the bad guys , ARE NOT in the business of getting bloody killed and are just as interested in self preservation as you are and most likely a damn sight better at it.
    Take an example from Ukraine run. run, run away and live to fight another day.

  15. USPSA headshots at 35 yards are a thing.

    Compete; it will sharpen your tusks more than any flat range static training.


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