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The Case for Distance Shooting

By Ron Avery

The Case for Distance Shooting

From my feature column on

Back when I first started in law enforcement, the trend on shooting and qualifying emphasized accuracy over speed and the ability the place your shots, albeit slowly, in a nice tight group. We shot out to 50 yards in qualification, shot with strong hand and support hand and even shot from a sitting and prone position. We also shot at extended distances up to 200 yards or more with our duty handguns when I was training with my friend and mentor, Sgt. Dalton Carr when I was a deputy sheriff.

Time went on and new trends appeared. Faster courses of fire of fire came into vogue. These emphasized close quarter and short range shooting skills with the emphasis on more speed, movement off the X, multiple shots and more realistic time frames.

This was an improvement. But along the way, many agencies started moving away from distance shooting. Many trainers are now calling 25 yards, “long range”. Some even have qualification courses that go out to only 15 yards. They cite that the majority of incidents occur at less than 21 feet with only occasional shootings past 10 yards or so.

On its face, it seems rational enough. If you only have so much allowed time to train and qualify people, you try to train them in the most likely form of encounter they will face.

But let’s examine the times we live in and the need to make a handgun function to its true potential. Consider the events in Mumbai, India, where terrorists armed with long guns and IED’s killed over 100 people and wounded 3 times that number.

How prepared would you be to face a terrorist or criminal who is armed with a long gun with your current on duty or off duty handgun?


From my own experience and research into shooting performance under stress over many years, I have been measured and have measured human performance at all levels from the very best to the most basic.

One observation involves the use of the handgun vs. the carbine.

As a rule of thumb, given the same person or two people of similar skill and ability, whatever you can do with a handgun you can do with a carbine at approx. 2 and usually 3 times the distance.

Ex.     What you can do at 5 yards with a handgun; you can do at 10-15 yards with a carbine and so on.

So if you practice on being proficient at 7 yards and under, start to slow down at 10 and have to take 2-3 seconds to get your first hit at 15 or 25 yards and 2 seconds or more for subsequent hits or 4-7 seconds to get hits at 50 yards or farther then you are seriously behind the performance curve against a carbine wielding opponent of similar skill.

Consider having to face a carbine in the hands of a committed terrorist or criminal in a mall when you are off duty and armed with only your handgun. You see him at 25 yards and he sees you. For him it’s a fairly easy shot if he chooses to aim and not spray bullets in your direction. For you, it may be pushing the envelope too hard to ask you to place a bullet in him in under 1.2 seconds from a ready position.

Getting fight stopping hits at distance, at the speed of the gunfight, against a threat beyond 15 and 25 yards requires a far greater level of skill than shooting at distances less than 10 yards, especially with a moving, shifting or partial target or someone with body armor on.

However, it is absolutely to your advantage to learn to do so.

Time to Ponder

It is time to rethink our strategies about how we are going to deal with a terrorist or other criminal armed with a long gun when we only have a handgun with us.

The North Hollywood shootout was a wake-up call that started the trend to the patrol carbine. However, unlike military personnel or special operations law enforcement, the carbine is not present on our person at all times for most law enforcement activities.

It is very likely that we will be facing more and more criminals and terrorists armed with long guns in future engagements. For law enforcement patrol officers, BOTH the handgun and the carbine are primary weapons. You don’t have the luxury of calling the handgun a “secondary weapon”.

I say it is time to start training at distance again and learn how to make rapid, fight stopping hits at extended ranges with our handguns. I am going to make it a priority in my column to bring the shooting skills up of every law enforcement officer who is willing to work at it.

I believe we need to be more proficient with our handgun than the military and we need to get our mindset wrapped around the fact that the handgun will do the job when you need it too. It will never be a carbine, but it will be there when you need it, provided you brought it in the first place and you have the skill to use it effectively.

Let’s hear your thoughts on this important topic!

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  1. Bill Filiaga says:

    Hey Ron,
    The armed civilian should be taking this advice of yours to heart as well. Many of us would be first responders in situations where terriost or crazies attack in public places. We would and could be forced to act since faimly members & friends could be present.
    Most CCW’s I know don’t shoot much past 30 ft. Many pack weapons unsuitible for defensive/offensive actions out side of 15 yard ie. Ruger LCp etc.
    I feel the handgun and carry position the armed civilian chooses, should be a compremise between comfort, concealability and the ability to hit a 50 yard A/C zone from the draw in 2.2 to 2.7 seconds. With the handgun at ready maybe 1.5 sec or less…Whats your thoughts.

  2. Ron Avery says:


    Your comments are spot on! However, 98% or more of CCW, law enforcement and military don’t have the skill to make shots like that in that time limit, even though it is an ideal zone. That is why I created Advanced Handgun Skills and other skills courses.

    I think, too often, too many theorize from a best case scenario that they will have their long gun accessible or will be packing their ideal handgun and then throw a pocket gun in their pocket and all of a sudden its” here’s YOUR gunfight”!

    The reality is that carrying a concealed weapon or a weapon in general is a values related mission. If you only are concerned with your immediate welfare, then you plan and carry accordingly. If you care about others and wish to protect them, then you also plan accordingly as to what and when you will carry.

    I will be writing about this sort of thing in the future as I believe it is a strong topic of discussion.

    Keep your thoughts and comments coming Bill, I value your input!

    Ron A

  3. Michael Beam says:

    Distance shooting at speed is something that my generation (30 and younger) really have not heard of. Zeroing a rifle or some accuracy competition is all I have ever known of for long distance shooting. A pistol shot greater than 25 yards was unheard of.

    I really like the idea of bringing this back. If you can train to shoot at distance at speed just imagine how that will improve your skills overall.


  4. Eric B says:

    I fully agree. The handgun is completely under rated by many organizations and the shooters themselves. Many tend to believe that a 30+ yard shot is impossible with a handgun. I always respond with a question ‘What are you going to do when you ONLY HAVE A HANDGUN? Are your skills up to the distance? Have you even attempted a shot beyond 7 yards with your pistol? Do you even know how far your round will travel? I run into so many, some civilian firearm instructors, who believe that a 25+ yard shot is for a long gun only. I agree—in theory—a long gun will be easier to control on a 25+ yard shot. HOWEVER, theory sucks in real life when the carbine is in the car or worse at home. I would encourage all to take their pistol to the limit in range and see where they can reliably place rounds, accountable rounds, everyone I have done this with is truly shocked at how far a handgun can reach out, given the practice and mind set. I carry a GLOCK 21 and feel more than comfortable with center mass shots at 50 yards. Not that it is my weapon of choice at that distance, but I may not have a choice!

  5. Ron Avery says:

    I don’t subscribe to the theory that you only use a handgun to fight your way to your rifle and that a handgun is, at best, an emergency tool. Yes, if we knew ahead of time we were in for a fight, it would be nice to get a long gun. The problem is, we don’t carry long guns with us all of the time unless we are in a worst case scenario or in a heightened threat level in law enforcement or SWAT or are in the Military.

    Both weapon systems, handgun and carbine, are primary systems and for cops and civilians, the handgun is the only weapon carried most of the time.

    Carrying a handgun that will fit the mission is key. If you are going to shoot distance, get something that you can shoot really well that you will carry.

    Learning to hit well at distance, reliably and in a TIMELY fashion, takes skill and practice. I don’t give people much time to complete the task. Bill F. in his above comments on time limits reflects what I believe to be closer to reality.

    I did a film clip on our DVD series where I draw and shoot two pepper poppers under 2 seconds at 50 yards just to show what is possible with correct training and skills practice.

    That is one of many reasons why correct firearms training, at the speed of the gunfight, is so crucial to being able to fight effectively with the handgun. That is also the reason Advanced Handgun Skills 250 was born!

    Ron A

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