The maximum range of a handgun is dependent on many variables. Muzzle velocity and angle of elevation are probably the two that would affect outcome the most. With these two things optimized, almost any cartridge, pistol, or rifle can shoot over a mile. Maximum range is really not important though.
Maximum “effective” range is what is important to any shooter trying to hit at long range. If maximum effective range is defined as “the distance at which a man sized target can be hit somewhat consistently by an experienced shooter”, then I would say the number is around 100 yards, maybe a little further with a normal semi auto pistol like the M&P 22.
For an average shooter the distance may be 50 yards and for a novice it could be 10 yards or less. With better optics such as a good red dot or a scope, the range increases quite a bit. I have shot the Ruger Charger (pictured above) at slightly over 200 yards at an 8 inch metal plate.
Shooting was done from a bench using a bipod and a rear bag. The Charger was equipped with a 3X9 scope. With this set up, hits were almost routine. So the answer to the question is, “it depends on the equipment used, the shooter’s ability, and the size of the target”.
How to increase “maximum effective” range with your pistol
This is common sense. To shoot better at long or short range with a pistol requires practice, and a lot of it. The more you practice, the luckier you will get. The main things to practice are the fundamentals. Mastering these will definitely increase how far away you can hit with a pistol. Trigger press is especially important.
Having your finger pad located in the wrong place on the trigger and / or having a finger action that does not results in the trigger coming straight back is the largest source of inaccuracy with a pistol. You must be able to dry fire with absolutely no movement in the front sight before you any hope of increasing you effective range.
With live rounds of course the pistol is going to recoil but the movement in the front sight should be because you jerked or manipulated the trigger in any fashion. This is why dry fire practice is so important. It develops this skill better than any other method.
Red dot sight
Most pistol factory iron sights come with a front sight that covers most, if not more than, a man sized target at 100 yards. Not that you can’t hit this target at 100 yards with iron sights but you must focus not only on having the sights on target, but having the target centered with the front sight.
Then the rear sight must be aligned. These tasks are tough even for the experts on small targets at long range but entirely possible. A red dot removes the task of lining up the front and rear sights. The bullet goes where the dot is.
It also improves your ability to judge holdover at distance and therefore increases your hits further out. Even up close your groups sizes shrink with a red dot sight. I was in a defensive pistol class with a guy who had a red dot before I had decided to install one on my pistol.
His groups at 10 yards were one tiny ragged hole. After seeing this, I puchased and installed one on my pistol and immediately my accuracy improved.
Look into long range rimfire pistols
The Cricket is a bolt action 22 single shot pistol produced by Keystone Arms. It comes with a 10.5 inch fluted barrel which is a good length to ensure complete powder burn with target ammo which leads to consistency. It also has a bipod rail, and fiber optic iron sights.
Like the Ruger Charger, it is just a shorter version of the of it’s big brother rifle. The price tag is way under $200. For this price everyone interested in long range rimfire pistol shooting should have one.
I have shot one of these little pistols topped with Nikon Force 2.5-8×28 pistol scope and was able to get a 3/4 inch group at 50 yards. With a little tender loving care and tuning, I’ll bet it would do even better.
This is basically just an upgrade of the Cricket discussed above. A laminated wood stock and stainless steel fluted barrel brings the price in at just $220.
Savage no longer makes this pistol but rimfire versions can still be found on some of the gun auction websites like gunbroker.com. The one pictured above is in 22 WMR.
This is another pistol that is no long in mass production but can still be found on gun auction sites for somewhere above $1000 in decent shape
This one can be found on the Anschutz website and is their latest offering in 22 pistols. MSRP is $1000. As with all Anschutz products this is a finely made pistol with a Match 64 action. I have never shot one but I imagine it is capable of some pretty tight little groups. Equip this with a good scope and you are ready for some serious long range 22 pistol shooting.
For a semi auto this thing is a little tack driver. It is really just a shortened and restocked 10/22 rifle. It accepts all Ruger magazines. I have the pistol and it’s accuracy differs only a few thousandths of an inch from that of the Cricket discussed above.
The semi auto design along with large capacity mags makes up for it. It comes with a very acceptable trigger which pulls in the 4 lb range and a top rail which is ready to accept a scope. It can be purchased in a take version for portability and usually can be had for less than $400. It’s a ton of fun to shoot at long range.
Don’t think that rimfire pistols are tools designed for 10 yards or less. You can develop your skills to really stretch these things out. Shooting semi auto carry type pistols at 100 yards at a decent size target is definitely possible. I do it all of the time.
Then if you really want to get serious, the equipment is out there to allow you to accomplish amazing shots at small targets at 200 yards or more. Don’t forget, the main objective is fun. Happy shooting.