There’s a difference between trick shooting and long-range shooting. There’s also a difference between hitting something and hitting it hard enough to matter. Handguns are generally considered short-range firearms, because it’s difficult to achieve hits with them at extended distances. In addition, they don’t hit very hard at long range. So, at what range is the divide between trick shooting and serious shooting with a handgun?
It could be argued once the range extends to where first-round hits with a handgun become rare, serious shooting stops and trick shooting begins. For men like Jerry Miculek and the late, great Bob Munden, that distance is much farther than it is for you and me. Still, you might be surprised at how far away you can get hits with a defensive handgun.
First things first: Getting a hit at long range with a defensive handgun might not be the main priority. Former military sniper and firearm instructor Cody Carroll told me about training operatives on the U.S./Mexico border, where he was not allowed to have a rifle. So, in advance of his deployment, he practiced with his Glock out to 600 yards. No, he could not hit every time, but sometimes in a defensive situation effective suppressing fire is better than nothing.
Will a handgun bullet bounce off someone at 300 yards? Nope. At 300 yards, a bullet from most 9 mm +P loads will still be moving at about 800 to 850 fps. At that velocity the bullet might not expand, but it will have enough energy to punch through a tissue and reach vital organs. How about at 600 yards? Here, the bullet will have slowed to about 670 fps. It won’t expand, but it will let the air out of a bad guy if it hits center mass. Getting hit with a handgun bullet at long range is not a laughing matter.
The real question is, how do you do it? After all, we are not Elmer Keith and can’t whack a running deer at 600 yards with a 6-inch revolver. I’ve been working with defensive handguns at long range, mostly out of curiosity, for the last several months. Here’s what I’ve learned.
Do the Math
Just like portions of a reticle in a riflescope, the front sight of a handgun subtends to a certain measurement at a given distance. You can calculate the subtension (X) using the formula X=(SR)/D, where S is the height of the front sight, R is the range to the target, and D is the distance from your eye to the front sight (all of the measurements, including range, should be in inches). Once you know the subtension of the front sight at a given distance, you can compare this measurement to bullet drop at the same range and use it to account for holdover. Thing is, this method only gets you close, because the way your eye sees the front sight can alter the mathematical solution. Still, it gives you a good place to start.
Hit the Dirt
You need a solid position to make long-range hits, and handgun prone is about as solid as it gets. Lie on your strong side, almost perpendicular to your line of sight to the target. Rest your hands on the ground and your head on your strong-side arm. Remember, as your position changes, so too might the distance from your eye to the front sight, which changes the sight’s subtension. If you’re serious about long-range handgunning, have someone measure the distance between the front sight and your dominant eye, and try to keep it consistent.
At this distance, hold right on the target’s head using a conventional sight picture. Most defensive handgun cartridges will drop between 8 and 16 inches at 100 yards. A head hold should put your bullet somewhere in the torso. You can expect more than half of the defensive loads available to show some expansion at 100 yards, and most decent shooters should be able to hit a silhouette target at 100 yards about half the time.
Read the rest of Mann's tips on long range defensive pistol on the Shooting Illustrated website.