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A long shot: while handgunning is largely a short-range proposition, you can have a lot of fun stretching the distance. Here's how.

We were all a little nervous, even if we were glad to be at one of the finest shooting facilities in New Mexico. My fellow New Mexico State Police recruits and I had been bused from the state police academy in Santa Fe to the Sandia Lab headquarters south of Albuquerque for some tactical training. The Sandia facility was impressive, as were some of the instructors assigned there, and most of us were more than a little in awe of them.

The first morning of our Sandia training started with a few words of wisdom and exhibition shooting by one of the instructors who had previously been a New Mexico State Police officer. He demonstrated some tactical shooting involving steel plates, commenting on the fact that maintaining a good sight picture and smooth movements while shooting multiple targets was a must. The portion of the lesson was preparing us for a friendly combat shooting competition amongst ourselves.

Shortly after the session on combat shooting, the instructor began talking about the limits of a handgun. He questioned a number of us about what we thought the maximum range to accurately fire a handgun. The responses were varied: 25, 50, 100 yards. Without saying a word about the responses, the instructor turned away from us and pointed to a steel plate on the side of a desert mountain. It was difficult to discern at first, but the plate, about the size of a suitcase, was shining up there. It was more than 300 yards out.

The instructor was packing a 1911 .45 ACP, and without further ado, he unholstered the pistol and took a careful, steady, offhand sight picture at the plate. The first shot was just under it. The second, third and fourth were right on the money. Needless to say, we were impressed. While it was made clear that shooting a handgun at such ranges might not have a really practical place in police combat shooting, it certainly could be done. There was no doubt that fellow had practiced a great deal with his .45.

I'd seen some pretty good long shots made before that one. As a kid, I had the privilege of hanging around some pretty good handgun men such as Bill Jordan, Col. Evan Quiros, Bill Blankenship, Charles Askins--not to mention my dad, Skeeter. These men were crack pistol shots and were always trying to squeeze all they could out of their short guns. I once observed Mr. Blankenship take a running javelina (and they run fast) at just under 100 yards. Col. Quiros could pull off some lengthy shots with his 8.38-inch Smith & Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum, often with a one-handed grip.

I was always interested in making long shots with a handgun, but those interests really piqued when I shot the Javelina longslide 1911 in 10mm for the first time. For long-range handgunning, you need a flat-shooting cartridge, and the 10mm is just that.

The Javelina was made by IAI and sported a seven-inch barrel, offering a long sight radius that made the front sight focus easily, which is a boon for long-range shots. The sights themselves were adjustable, similar to the Bo-Mar.

The Javelina was one of the most accurate pistols I ever fired. I frequently packed it up to the desert/mountain ranch that belonged to my friend, Mike Laney. I'd developed a good handload for the 10mm, which consisted of 180- to 200-grain cast bullets over a charge of Accurate Arms No. 7. This load was extremely consistent and produced very tight groups at 25 yards.

The Javelina really shined when the target was much farther out than 25 yards. One of the great things about shooting a handgun at the Laney Ranch was the never-ending availability of safe targets at varying distances. Jackrabbits and coyotes weren't safe at distances out to 100 yards or so. Inanimate targets such as rocks and large dirt clods were busted up with the hard-hitting 10mm bullets at distances much longer.

For those who have never experimented with long-range handgunning, the notion might seem far-fetched at first. With the proper handgun, shots at seemingly outrageous distances can be made easily--with some practice, that is. The necessary hardware is essential. The handgun needs to be chambered in a flat-shooting, powerful caliber, have a light trigger pull and a really good set of sights.

Back in the late 1800s, a sportsman named E.E. Patridge developed a revolver sight that would outshine anything available at that time and boosted the distances at which a handgun could be shot. The basic design of the Patridge sight became extremely popular and is the basis for even modern adjustable sights.

The sides and top portions of the front sight blade taper toward the muzzle, which causes the shooter to see no part of the sides of the blade. This makes the face of the sight blade glare-free and quite clear. Obviously, this is a great advantage to the long-range shooter, who needs a razor-sharp view of the front sight blade.

The Patridge rear sight design allows a rear notch sufficiently slim to offer only a sliver of light around the front blade. When the Patridge sight is aligned, it is very precise, but it's also slower than sights permitting more space around the front sight blade.

There are some other disadvantages to the original Patridge design, too. The front sight blade edges are sharp, and it's quite easy to hang them on a holster--or anything else, for that matter. But when it comes to shooting at long distances, they're great tools.

One adaptation of the Patridge uses rear and front sight components of similar size to the Patridge but the sharp edges are removed and a gold or brass bead set into the face of the front sight. The beaded sight is great for shorter ranges and point-shooting but more difficult to handle at long ranges.

One variation I am fond of for long distance is a set of gold or brass hash marks set into the front sight blade, a design made famous by the late, great Elmer Keith. These markers allow the shooter to know with greater precision how high to hold the front sight.

Holding the front sight blade over the rear sight is the basis for successful long-distance shooting. Knowing how much sight to hold over is the trick. With practice, use of the gold-marked front sight can make successful long shots much quicker to obtain. Keith claimed to have taken a mule deer buck with a .44 Magnum revolver at 600 yards, likely using a front sight so marked.

A few years back, my old gun builder friend Bob Baer of Rosen-burg, Texas, invited me to a cowboy action shoot near his place. I accepted, and as always I had a great time looking over Bob's custom single-action revolvers he'd worked over. One in particular caught my eye. It was a Ruger three-screw model in .44 Magnum. Bob had shortened and rounded the grip, replaced the barrel with a six-inch Douglas octagon and slicked up the action. I noticed that the tall front sight had been inlaid with gold bars a la Elmer. My first reaction was that the rather odd but cool-looking revolver would make for a great long-range shooter.

With a box of factory .44 Magnum ammo, we lit out for the rifle range. I had success shooting at a 100-yard plate, so decided to take it out a little farther. I whacked a gong substantially farther out with four out of six shots the first try. Bob didn't believe it, so I tried again with the same results. Bob wound up sending me home with that revolver, and I experimented with it for a good while afterwards. I hauled the gun out to the Laney Ranch in the fall and took a fine mule deer buck with it shooting Garrett 310-grain hard-cast bullets at considerable range.

When sighting in a long-range handgun, I prefer to zero at 25 yards. Some shooters will elevate their rear sights to zero at a hundred yards or so with their long-range guns. The problem with this is that it leaves the gun shooting unfeasibly high at 25 to 50 yards.

It is much easier to raise the front sight blade above the rear for longer shots.

Most shooters know that different loads will shoot at different point of aim. Keeping this in mind, it is best to develop one load that shoots well at shorter distances, then learn just how much front sight to hold at long ranges.

While I mostly prefer the center hold on targets 25 to 50 yards away, it's not practical to do so at distant targets. When the mark is out a ways, the six o'clock hold is the only way to go as long distances will have the front sight obliterating the target.

The old Javelina longslide 10mm was a great long-range handgun, but I still prefer a revolver. My favorite is still my dad's old Ruger Flattop .44 Magnum. The feel, balance, power and fine Micro sights make it the ideal handgun for shooting at distance. The 240-grain, fast-moving .44 caliber bullet can buck the wind sufficiently to strike targets out to 300 plus yards. Even though the instructor at the state police training way back when was very efficient with his .45 ACP, that cartridge is ballistically challenged for most shooters when trying to lob one in at long range.

It's almost impossible to advise a new long-range shooter just how much of the front sight blade needs to be held at ranges at, say, 300 yards. Varying loads and velocities, bullet weights and barrel lengths will obviously result in different points of impact. Personal experimentation is the only way to determine how much sight to hold over.

Firing at ranges out to 400 yards or so, the shooter is best off shooting from a good rest, preferably a sandbag rest, for best results. There are various shooting stances that can work well if one doesn't have a sandbag.

The study of some of the old silhouette shooting stances can reveal a few positions that really steady the handgun. One position I've used over the years has the shooter in the sitting position, leaning against a solid object such as a tree, then resting the hands between the knees. This keeps the firearm above the knees, and muzzle flash or gas escaping from the barrel/cylinder gap isn't a factor.

I've also had fun over the years shooting at faraway targets from the offhand position. When the target is really a lengthy distance off, it can get interesting, but with a little practice it can be done. This practice can also significantly improve your short-range shooting.

When taking a long-range handgun shot, I generally utilize the same grip as I would on a short shot, though occasionally, depending on the handgun, I place my strong-hand pinkie finger underneath the butt. If the grips permit this handhold, it can go a long way in steadying the handgun.

When practicing long-range hand-gunning, it's best to place the target in a spot where misses kick up dirt and can be easily spotted. This allows the shooter to make the proper adjustments to drift the shots into the target.

It's also is best to use targets that ring when the bullet strikes. Not only does this verify a hit, it's a satisfying sound. I prefer steel plates and am currently using a portable steel target made by Jeremy Bristow of E1 Paso, Texas (915-274-9964).

Jeremy can make a portable steel target suitable for any distance, virtually any size or shape. These targets are easy to take apart and pack around.

Trying those long shots show you just how far you can push your handgun, and your shooting skills. So find a solitary stretch of land, a big target and a proper backstop and give it just a dab of front sight.
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Author:Skelton, Bart
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2013
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