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Dialing Long Distance

You need to make a long-range shot with a pistol. Can you do it? Should you even try?

November 01, 2003  |  by R.K. Campbell

The double-action-only Smith & Wesson 5946 was a considerable challenge at 50 yards. A standard Glock, with its blocky sights, also proved to be less than accurate beyond 25 yards. However, with minor modifications, the Glock worked fine.

For example, when the Glock is fitted with night sights, the sight picture is much improved, not only for dim light shooting but for long-range tactical shooting. My personal Glock is fitted with Aro Tek sights, a simple and worthwhile addition.

The Smith & Wesson 5906 is the heaviest double-action pistol that we tested. This rugged weapon’s additional weight minimizes recoil, making it pleasant to fire and easy to hold on the target. Accuracy was good due to a combination of Novak-designed sights and a good trigger action with no backlash and rapid reset.

Much the same results were achieved with the Beretta Elite. This pistol also features Novak sights and has a good trigger action. Muzzle flip was subdued in either pistol.

Our SiG test pistol was a P220 in .45 ACP. When shooting this semi-auto, we discovered that the key to using SiGs well at long range is mastering the white insert—or Von Stafenhagen—sight. At moderate ranges the large sights of the SiG are fine for rapid fire but, when you need precision, use the white inserts.

The P220 is an accurate gun, but as a somewhat compact pistol, it also generates less muzzle velocity than other models. For example, a 230-grain JHP develops 780 feet per second from a P220, as opposed to 850 fps from a full-length barrel.

To counter this problem, Winchester developed the +P version of its SXT load. This gets the P220 back in line as far as velocity and the load is not too difficult to control at close range. However, due to increased muzzle flip, a product of the SiG’s high bore axis, bullets fired from the P220 strike above the point of aim at 50 yards.

This is not that unusual. I have experienced the same difficulty with hard kicking 10mm pistols. You just have to remember that the point of impact when firing +P ammunition in the P220 is above the point of aim by several inches and compensate accordingly.

The Kimber that we tested had the exact opposite problem. It has a low bore axis, which results in little muzzle flip. When the weapon is properly sighted for 25-yard fire, the point of aim for proper placement at 50 yards would be the throat on a 50-yard silhouette.

We don’t have room to analyze the long-range idiosyncrasies of every pistol that we tested for this article, much less every common duty weapon. And the truth is that there would be little value to the information. We offer this brief glimpse at pistol behavior at 50 yards just to give you some idea of what to look for when working with your own weapon.

And that’s critical. To make a successful pistol shot at 50 yards, you need to know your gun. There are differences in each weapon that you must learn on your own.

Tactics

Now that we’ve looked at the challenges presented by some standard police duty weapons when they are used for extreme range shooting, let’s look at the tactics that you will need to survive such an encounter.

Cover is your overriding consideration. If you are hurt, cover is especially important. One of the outstanding lessons in taking cover is found in the North Hollywood shooting in Los Angeles. Despite the presence of automatic weapons in the hands of bank robbers, by use of cover and good tactics the LAPD was able to contain the situation and prevail without any police fatalities.


A kneeling position gives you good accuracy, as long as the bones of your support arm and your leg are properly lined up. Kneeling is a very good position for firing from behind cover.

If you are not killed outright your chances of surviving a bullet wound are good, but multiple wounds are more problematical. This is why cover is your first concern.

When coming under long-range fire our first instinct may be to draw our weapon and return fire. But first sprint for cover, then draw your weapon. Attempting to draw the weapon while moving is clumsy. An alternative is to draw the weapon and then run, but firing on the move at long range is not usually a good idea.

Firing Position

Once you have cover, you’ll need to respond to the threat. The form of your cover will dictate your firing position.

For example, a fire hydrant is solid and offers good cover but to get the most protection you will have to streamline your body behind it. Vehicles can be good cover but are by no means bulletproof (See “Lead Vs. Steel,” POLICE, April 2003), especially against high-powered rifles.

Your best bet for accuracy is to be able to stand behind your cover and steady your aim with a solid, flat surface. Your hands and wrist, not the gun itself, should be braced against the barricade object. You may think that you can make the shot without a brace, but remember this is not the range. You are under fire and a braced position will help to eliminate the effect of nerve tremors in your hands.

If your cover won’t permit you to stand, that’s OK. Although standing is more accurate, many people can shoot very accurately with a handgun from prone and kneeling positions.

There are advantages to being prone. It can give you maximum protection from your cover. But there are disadvantages as well. Once you are in a prone position, you are dedicated to it, as it requires some effort to move out of it. And remember, if the adversary has a height advantage such as a second story window, then your prone body offers a long, wide target.

The kneeling position used in PPC competition has proven to be accurate, given good stability. As long as the bones of your support arm and your leg are properly lined up, giving a solid foundation, this is a good firing position. It might work especially well when firing around a wall. But try to keep as much of your body as possible away from the edge of your cover to avoid being struck by return fire or ricochets.

Shooting

Making a long-range pistol shot under combat conditions requires proper aim and proper mechanics. Concentrate on your sights and squeeze the trigger. Maintain a solid firing grip and be sure to follow through.

Also, watch your rate of fire. At close range, you’ve probably been taught to put as many rounds into the target as quickly as possible to neutralize the threat. The thinking behind this is that two shots can be delivered practically as quickly and accurately as one shot at close or even moderate range.

At longer range this cadence cannot be maintained. You must fire accurately above all else and understand why you missed when a second shot is required.

To gain proficiency with a handgun at long range, you’re going to have to practice. Unfortunately, many agencies have only 25-yard ranges. Using a reduced sized silhouette can help you approximate the challenge of shooting at longer distances. However, it’s not exactly the same.

To make a long-range shot, you must understand that a handgun bullet will drop at extreme range. By studying ballistic tables, you can gain an appreciation for this phenomenon.

After firing well over 1,000 rounds in evaluating the problems encountered in long-range fire, I believe that trained officers are far from helpless at extended handgun ranges. If you have fired 6-inch groups at 50 yards in practice, then a center hold should produce a hit within 3 inches of the point of aim in either direction. Using these techniques and tactics, you can hit a man in combat conditions at 50 yards.

The Basics

Just like a great basketball player must practice the fundamentals constantly in order to perform at his peak in a big game, a good shooter must know the basics to have any chance of making an accurate long-range shot with a pistol.
Let's take a refresher look at the basics of marksmanship.

Grip-Hold your weapon correctly and present it toward the target so that the sights meet the eye, breaking the plane between the eye and the target. It's easier said than done.
Sight Alignment-Properly line up the front and rear sights, with the proper relationship between the front post and rear open sight.
Sight Picture-You need to know what constitutes an accurate sight picture.
Trigger Compression-Smoothly squeeze the trigger until it breaks and fires the weapon.
Follow Through-Retain control of your weapon in recoil as it fires. Bring it back on target.

R.K. Campbell has 23 years of experience in law enforcement. He holds a degree in criminal justice and has served in most police capacities.

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Tags: Deadly Force, Gun Battles, Firearms Training, Duty Pistols


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