The Importance of Training at Distance

Elsewhere on the blog I have mentioned how I have borrowed from Steve Fisher’s Critical Handgun Employment 2 class and do a fair amount of handgun practice at distance.  For the purposes of this article, let us define distance as 25 yards and out.

The indoor ranges I frequent only go out to 25 yards, but I almost always start my sessions at that distance (the exceptions being if I want to shoot some other drill “cold”).  While in Fisher’s class we used an 8 inch black circle, I generally just shoot at the A zone of an IPSC target.  I start cold at 25 yards and shoot ten rounds, obviously trying to get 10 hits in the A zone, though I tend to throw 1-2 into the C zone.  These shots are taken slowly and deliberately (in class, we had a full minute to make the 10 hits in the 8 inch circle); I shoot from a modified isosceles stance and usually take about 30 seconds to complete the drill.  I then usually move the target in to 25 feet and work on other drills (rapid fire, strong-hand only, support-hand only, etc.).   Truth be told, I would love to work some drills even further out, but finding a pistol range near me to accommodate this is tough (the only times I’ve shot pistols further than 25 yards was when I took both the Advanced Individual Tactics and the Urban Defense Course with Paul Howe, where we shot out to 100 yards with handguns).

Usually when I go to the range, I see most people send their targets out to 5-10 yards and do 100% of their work from that distance.   Although perhaps giving people too much credit, there is the old mantra that most defensive engagements will involve 3 shots at 3 yards and last 3 seconds, so their practice regimen probably makes sense from that perspective (of course, this metric is based on police shootings, and Tom Givens of Rangemaster has stats for civilians that don’t quite match with this “rule of 3s”).  Nevertheless, there are a number of reasons why I think it’s useful and important to train at greater distances.

  1. Forced focus on the fundamentals. If you haven’t already figured this out, let me assure you:  if you only practice at 7 yards, you’ll be masking a lot of issues.  A few years ago, before I started attending classes with quality instructors, I used to “do my thing” at 25 feet and be happy with a bunch of A zone hits, declare myself ready to take on all comers, and leave the range feeling proud of myself.  Today, I expect that type of performance at 25 yards rather than 25 feet.  Steve Fisher said–and Jeff Gonzales in the Combative Pistol Level Two class I took, confirmed–that you cannot hide your mistakes at 25 yards.  The seven fundamentals of marksmanship really come into play at these distances, especially trigger control.   If you really want to work on fundamentals, then shooting at 25 yards is the thing to do.
  2. Closer distances become cake. It stands to reason that if you can succeed or even excel at 25 yards, then shooting at closer distances should be much easier.  If you work the same target at both distances, it will seem significantly larger in your field of view at the closer distance.  This should allow you to be even more accurate and shoot much more quickly.  In other words, shooting at distance will improve your shooting ability up close.  Thus, even if you subscribe to the “rule of 3s” outlined above, you should still benefit from shooting at distance.
  3. Real-life needs. In evaluating my own personal threat matrix, I regard the chances of being near to an active-shooter (home-grown lunatic or someone afflicted with sudden jihadi syndrome) as even more remote than my chances of being involved in a “common street crime”.  Nevertheless, given recent events in the news, it’s hard not to think at least a bit about active-shooter scenarios, as these have hit in small-town America, suburbia, and big cities.  These events tend to involve bad guys with long guns.  Armed with only a pistol like a Glock 19, I would not like my chances against even an untrained adversary armed with an AR-15, AK, Mini 14, etc.  While my first instinct would be to beat feet and get away, one never knows when one might have to take the shot or how far that shot will be.  Steve Fisher pointed out in class some of the distances involved in everyday places.  For example, the average length of an aisle in a supermarket is 25 yards.  Look at the distances involved in your local big-box store, or a hallway at work (I recently measured the main upstairs hallway in the school where I work:  83 yards!).  While we are not police and should not feel compelled to take the shot, the fact is that some of us may choose or be forced by circumstances to do so.  But, if we make the decision to fire, can we actually make the shot?  If you train regularly to hit at distance, then your chances of success (putting the bad guy down while you survive) should go up dramatically.

How realistic is all of this?

In this first example, Vic Stacy, a 66 year-old armed with a .357 magnum revolver, put four rounds into a bad guy who was using an “assault weapon” to attack a police officer.  Police estimate Stacy was 150 feet away from the bad guy:

Most readers of this blog have probably heard of this second example:

Sergeant Johnson fired his .40 caliber Smith & Wesson M&P one-handed from 104 yards (while holding the reins of two horses with his other hand) and put down an active-shooter wielding an AK-47.

Then there was this case of the IHOP shooting in Carson City, NV:

Ralph Swagler had at least some opportunity to take a shot at the bad guy (who was armed with a Norinco AK-47 illegally converted to fire fully automatic) from a neighboring restaurant, a distance of about 100 yards.  Swagler, feeling outgunned, chose not to take the shot (not in any way trying to be critical of Swagler, but was he also lacking in his confidence to make the shot?).  I seem to recall reading that he had a 1911.  Getting a hit at that distance on a target that probably was not completely stationary would not be easy!  Nevertheless, had he gotten some hits on the bad guy before he entered the IHOP, some lives may have been saved.

Of course, shootings like these are the exception, rather than the rule (part of the reason they tend to stand out in our memories).  Nevertheless, if I had the skill to make pistol shots on active shooters from 50 or 100 yards away, I would like my chances of survival much more than if I had to close to 25 feet to make the same shot.  Having to close would increase my chances of being seen, and if I am seen there would be a better chance of being shot.

Hopefully, the reader can see that there are a number of benefits to practicing with handguns at distance.  For me, its greatest benefit has been improving my skills up close, where I tend to struggle shooting accurately at speed.  But if all of the above reasons are not enough, consider one final reason.  If you can endure the frustration that sometimes comes with practicing at distance and improve over time, then there is always the good feeling you get at the range when the target you shot at 25 yards looks remarkably like the targets others have shot at 25 feet!

7 thoughts on “The Importance of Training at Distance

  1. Interesting thoughts. Definitely worth doing some training at longer ranges as much for confidence as anything.

    The Army has trained soldiers in a similar fashion. Although the Army has found most engagements are within 200 meters, Infantry Soldiers must be proficient at engaging targets out to 300 meters and will practice shooting targets out as far as 500 meters.

    Training like that makes you pretty confident in your rifle and your abilities to use it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That said, I wouldn’t expend a lot of time or ammo shooting a handgun at longer distances though.

    I personally feel that you need to focus your limited resources on preparing for the scenarios you are most likely to encounter.

    Although it doesn’t hurt to do a little bit of longer range shooting, I personally find the chances of hitting a target further out than 30 meters with a handgun, to be very low.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Michael,

      I’m inclined to agree with your assessment that we should focus our training on the probable vs. the possible. Shooting at greater distances helps us better isolate issues with our fundamentals. Everyone looks like a sniper at 7 yards.

      If you look at the training offered by a lot of ex-SF types (Kyle Defoor, Northern Red, Paul Howe, Larry Vickers, etc.), you see commonalities of using B-8 bullseyes a lot. For them, the pistol has to stand in for a carbine if the carbine goes down.

      On your second comment (hitting with a handgun beyond 30 meters), I guess it depends on the target. Practically speaking at a moving target, yeah, that might be tough. But practicing at such distances is not THAT hard. Strong fundamentals and focus. We shot out to 50 yards in Kyle Defoor’s handgun class, and while all of my shots didn’t hit the spot on the target where I would have liked, they hit the target. Likewise, in both of the classes I took with Paul Howe, we shot with pistols around barricades at distances out to 80-100 yards. I’d have to look back at my AARs, but I believe the steel targets at 80 were basically USPSA A-zones, and at 100 were reduced silhouettes. Food for thought.
      Thanks for the comment(s)!


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