While most defensive use of firearms occurs at close range, usually two or three yards or closer, there are enough exceptions to this rule that make it worthwhile to include some longer shots during your range trips. You’ve got to discover how to shoot at distance, for example the sight picture required for your pistol at various distances to get hits. It’s also necessary to learn what your capabilities are in advance.
Distance increases group size exponentially; it magnifies your mistakes. The pistol always shoots the same. They’re much more accurate than we can shoot them. Once you’ve developed the fundamentals of marksmanship – Aim, Hold, Press and Follow-through - placing “accurate” hits on a man-sized target at “extended” distances isn’t difficult. “Accurate” is an eight to ten-inch group in the center of the torso at fifty to seventy yards. Consistent application of the fundamentals of marksmanship always produces the desired results. As with all skills, practice is required.
Live-fire practice is where you discover what sight picture or hold is required at various distances. With most pistols as the distance increases, you’ll need to hold lower on the target. At sixty yards you’re holding about belt buckle height for chest shots.
During practice don’t get caught up in “outcome based” thinking. It’s ironic, but in order to shoot accurately you can’t be thinking about hitting or missing. This distracts you from concentrating on the fundamentals that will produce the desired results. The speed of your shots depends on distance and size of the target. If you’re missing then you’re firing too fast.
Long distance shooting develops the fundamentals, and builds confidence. This is important, because your performance is always equal to your self-image. A “can do” attitude is the result of plenty of proper repetition. At the same time, you’re learning what shots are beyond your abilities. Be very guarded against developing a magnified ego, which is much like an over-inflated balloon that’s easily popped.
Remember, on the range you’re performing under near perfect conditions. “Real life” will be a lot different. Knowing that you can make the shot(s) doesn’t mean you should take the shot(s). Often a defensive situation leaves little doubt about your involvement. A sudden, violent attack requires an immediate response. In other situations, there’s time to decide whether or not to get involved, especially at longer distances when avoidance and escape are options. You can only answer this question in the “now.” What’s the distance, and is the threat moving? What’s between you and the threat, and beyond, in the background? It may be more important to get your family, friends or others to safety.
Real-life cases – other than the recent mall/food court shooting? Sure. A note from author-instructor-retired cop Massad Ayoob lists a few more: “(Vic) Stacy in Brownwood, TX used a 6" Colt Python to shoot down a double murderer who was firing a .30-30 rifle at a pinned down policeman, saving the latter's life … One of Tom Givens' students saved a life with a 22-yard rescue shot with a pistol … During the Norco Bank Robbery chase in 1980, Deputy James Evans wounded one of the rifle-armed suspects at about 54 yards with his service revolver, but unfortunately popped up from the same spot where he took cover to reload, and was killed by a second suspect.”
Long-distance practice is a good thing. You don’t want to neglect the close-range work, which is where most confrontations occur but, every range session should include firing at extended ranges. It’s fun, reinforces the fundamentals and if you’re ever faced with that “special” situation you’ll be well prepared.
Tiger McKee is director of Shootrite Firearms Academy. He is the author of The Book of Two Guns, AR-15 Skills and Drills, has a regular column in American Handgunner and makes some cool knives and custom revolvers. Visit Shootrite’s Facebook page for other details.