GOING THE DISTANCE
KNOW THE REALISTIC ENGAGEMENT RANGES TO EXPECT WITH YOUR CARRY HANDGUN
Know the realistic engagement ranges to expect with your carry handgun.
By Leroy Thompson
Iwas training with a couple of friends a few days ago, and we started discussing something that one of them had noticed at the indoor range he visits two or three times a week. Virtually none of the other shooters were firing their handguns past 10 yards and most were practicing at 5 or 7 yards.
Admittedly, we live in the city where the likelihood is that a gunfight will take place at close range, but “likelihood” doesn’t mean that it really will. Thought needs to be given to where the armed citizen goes during his daily business or pleasure, how the weapon is carried (thus determining weapon choice), level of skill and training, and potential threat.
POCKET GUNS UP CLOSE
Pocket handguns are most easily carried by urban dwellers and I will discuss choice of a pocket gun in another article in this issue. Conventional wisdom is that a pocket gun is only intended for close range—that’s why they have been called “belly guns,” based on the assumption they will be shoved into an attacker’s belly while pulling the trigger.
Actually, that is a fallacious way of viewing the pocket gun. Shoving the weapon against the opponent offers him more opportunity to wrest it away and, in the case of an automatic pistol, increases the likelihood of a malfunction if the slide is pushed out of battery.
“...THE LIKELIHOOD IS THAT A GUNFIGHT WILL TAKE PLACE AT CLOSE RANGE, BUT ‘LIKELIHOOD’ DOESN’T MEAN THAT IT REALLY WILL.”
When the attacker is close, distance is your friend, which is why I train people to back peddle, move laterally, turn sideways or go for cover if possible.
Let’s discuss effective distances for the pocket pistol, though. I carry pocket revolvers or autos quite a bit of the time. Lately, my pocket autos have been a Kahr PM9, Glock 43 or HK P30SK. I normally train with each of these autos at 7, 10, 15, and 25 yards. At 7 and 10 yards, especially, I train in bringing them into action from the pocket (safely) and doing double taps.
At 15 yards I sometimes do Mozambique drills in which I do a double tap to the center of mass and a single tap to the head. At 25 yards I usually shoot for center of mass, though sometimes practice headshots. At 7, 10, and 15 yards I also practice taking headshots on a hostage taker target just so I stay confident I can take one if necessary.
STRETCHING THE RANGE
Normally, I do not practice with these three autos past 25 yards, with one exception. The Kahr PM9 is so accurate and easy to shoot that I do practice with it at 35 and 50 yards. At 50 yards I can normally keep all of the rounds from a magazine centered on a silhouette target, though I may drop a round or two sometimes. As a note on its accuracy, the PM9 was authorized as a backup/off duty gun for the St. Louis Police Department, where I had friends who shot a 100 percent qualification with their PM9s, often outshooting most of the others on the line who were shooting their duty Beretta 92s.
My wife also carries small autos. She doesn’t train as often as I do, but I still want her to be able to effectively engage past point-blank range. She trains on silhouette and reactive targets at 7, 10, and 15 yards with her Kahr P380 and S&W .380 Bodyguard.
Both have lasers, which she uses well, so speed and accuracy of engagement is stressed in her training. She does also practice on plates at 25 yards, at least partially so she stays competent using her sights should the laser fail.
I’m “old school” and still carry a pocket revolver sometimes: either a S&W
638 or 438 or a First Model Colt Agent with a hammer shroud. I practice with them to 15 yards using DA and at 25 yards using both SA and DA. I have to admit that I don’t do well with either at 50 yards, even when cocking the hammer and firing single action.
However, I do have one snub revolver that I shoot well at 50 yards. With my S&W Model 60 Target, even though it only has a 2-inch barrel, I can often score five hits from its fiveshot cylinder on a hanging plate at 50 yards. Its adjustable sights are a huge plus for longer-range shooting. On the negative side, those same adjustable sights require a pocket holster that shrouds the rear sight.
POINT BLANK RANGE
In a few cases, a handgun is chosen for use at very close range. For example, where I live, I know two individuals who carry an S&W Governor revolvers with the first three chambers of the cylinder loaded with .410 Winchester PDX1 loads containing three “Defense Discs” and 12 BBs. The other three chambers are loaded with .45 Colt. The Governors are carried in their vehicles specifically to use against carjackers at close range.
BELT GUNS FOR MEDIUM TO LONGER RANGE
Larger belt guns are generally effective at longer ranges, though ammunition choice, having the sights regulated, caliber and the shooter all combine to affect accuracy. The likelihood of a close-range engagement still remains high with a belt gun, so drills should be shot at 7, 10, 15 and 25 yards regularly.
If I’m using a DA revolver or a DA auto, I always fire in that mode. With DA revolvers, I fire all rounds DA at 7, 10, and 15 yards and often at 25 yards. With DA/SA autos, first rounds are DA and subsequent rounds SA. However, I do drills at close ranges in which I draw and engage with a double tap— first round DA and second round SA.
After each two-round string I use the
de-cocker to drop the hammer, re-holster, and repeat the drill. I usually expend 50 rounds on this drill when I do it. If training with a single action auto, I draw, release the safety and fire a double tap; then re-apply the safety, re-holster, and repeat the drill.
With most of my autos I sometimes shoot at plates at 50 yards, normally using SA on the DA/SA autos but sometimes firing the first round DA and the rest of the magazine SA.
The SA autos I carry—Springfield Armory Professional Model (HRT Special), Wilson Combat LW Light-Rail, Garthwaite Browning High-Power or SIG P210—are all very accurate. So, anytime I train with them I do some shooting at 50 yards, usually on plates but occasionally on silhouette targets. With any of them I am confident I can effectively engage at 50 yards.
100-YARD CARRY GUNS
At least partially because I used to work on protective details where the possibility of facing attackers armed with AK-47s at longer distances existed, I trained—and still train—with some pistols at 100 yards. The flatter shooting 9x19mm pistols normally perform best at that distance, especially the SIG P210. To be most effective at 100 yards, it is generally best to train in firing prone for a more stable shooting position (which also makes it less likely you’ll be hit by one of those spray-shooting terrorists with an AK-47!) I also use the kneeling position or a standing or kneeling rest for firing at 100 yards.
“...BECAUSE I USED TO WORK ON PROTECTIVE DETAILS WHERE THE POSSIBILITY OF FACING ATTACKERS ARMED WITH AK-47S AT LONGER DISTANCES EXISTED, I TRAINED—AND STILL TRAIN—WITH SOME PISTOLS AT 100 YARDS.”
I can usually get a couple of hits per magazine firing offhand at plates
100 yards away with my P210, but I get more using a rest. An alternative pistol useful at longer ranges is the FN Five-seveN, which also offers high magazine capacity for long-range “suppressive fire.”
I still occasionally carry a belt revolver as well. Normally, it’s a Manurhin MR73 with either a 3- or 4-inch barrel, a S&W Model 57 .41 Magnum with 4-inch barrel or a S&W Model 66 with 3-inch barrel.
I do the same basic drills with these revolvers at 7 to 25 yards as with the autos. I draw, do DA double taps, re-holster and repeat. Sometimes I incorporate a reload. Any of these four revolvers allows accurate shooting at 50 yards when firing SA. My carry Model 57, formerly the custom-built carry gun of gun writer Frank James, is a DA-only, but the trigger pull is so good that I can use it effectively at 50 yards.
One of the real advantages of the
.41 Magnum round is that it is very flat shooting. As a result, I do train with the Model 57 at 100 yards, as
I do with the two Manurhin MR73 revolvers. I’ve never been effective at using the seated position while leaning against a tree or other backrest at 100 yards so I normally use prone or a standing rest. On a typical day I can usually score one or two hits from the MR73s or the 57, though I fire a full cylinder sometimes without a hit and other times with as many as three hits.
Most reading this will probably not see a reason to train with their carry handgun to 100 yards. That is probably correct, but I would recommend training at least occasionally to 50 yards and frequently to 25 yards.
I saw an interesting illustration of the emphasis many shooters place on fast close-range shooting. Some years ago, I was at Blackwater North along with a group of very experienced shooters. We were doing a drill where we had to engage plates starting at close range and moving back after each string. At the closer ranges, where speed and close-range accuracy counted, many were outshooting me. As we moved to 25 yards I was doing much better and as we moved to 50 yards I was among the ones doing very well. That’s because I train at varying ranges. CC
Top: Although the S&W J-frame snub is not normally considered for use at longer ranges, the Model 60 Target with adjustable sights is an exception. Even at 50 yards, Thompson can often score hits with all five rounds on hanging plates.
A favorite carry gun of Thompson’s is the Manurhin MR73 revolver, which shoots very well at 50 yards and with practice may be used at 100 yards.
The Kahr PM9 is an excellent pocket 9x19mm for pocket carry, but it has also proven capable of accurate shot placement at 50 yards, making it a versatile self-defense pistol.
Left: Combining a rest with cover Thompson fires at plates at 100 yards with his favorite long-range handgun, the SIG P210. Right: SIG P210-6: Excellent trigger pull, precision barrel, Swiss craftsmanship and good sights make this pistol superb for longer range shooting.
Because the .41 Magnum is a flat-shooting cartridge, the S&W Model 57 .41 Magnum offers a combo of knockdown power and range.
A round of Winchester PDX1 .410 ammo fired at 7-feet from the S&W Governor.