The first question most people have after becoming interested in pistol shooting is what distance should I practice my shooting? My answer to that question is "all of them".
At the same time it is not realistic to expect to go to the range on your first day, or your first few weeks of pistol shooting and hit targets at 50 yards, unless you are already an outstanding talent.
Bulls eyes at seven yards on your first day is going to be a challenge. Trying to shoot further at this stage is only going to be a waste of ammo and probably ingrain some bad habits into your technique. These habits are hard to break so use the advice below to keep them from ever entering into your routine.
Below is how I take new pistol shooters through the learning phase.
Start at 5 yards. Yes 5 yards or less, according to available data, is where most self defense shootings occur. Even if you are just shooting for fun and are not interested in using your pistol for self defense, the 5 yard range will help develop coordination between your mind and your hands which will develop that feel for where your pistol is pointing.
Later you will need to move even closer in your training, to the point of body contact and learn to shoot a target that is attacking without shooting yourself, but for now, 5 yards is good.
At 5 yards learn to group shots around the bullseye. At this distance you should be able to put 5 shots within a 1 inch circle. When you are able to do this, back up to 7 yards with the same goal. Once you are able to acceptably group shots at any distance back up about 10 yards. You'll be surprised how far away you can hit with a pistol.
This whole process may take hours, days, or months. That doesn't matter. Just make sure you get consistent at one range before you increase that distance.
This exercise in grouping shots at this distance will help you become consistent with grip, sight picture, and trigger press. These fundamentals are necessary before you increase distance. Get those groups tight before you back up.
Start with a 22 pistol
IF there are two things that can immediately ruin a new pistol shooter it is excessive recoil and noise. I have seen people who fire that first shot out of a big bore pistol, and to be honest, it scares the hell out of them. For the rest of the day, sometimes for several weeks, they tremble excessively when aiming then jerk the trigger in order to hurry up and get this explosion over with.
When a person has reached this point they are not enjoying shooting and isn't that really why we shoot ..... because we enjoy it. If the person doesn't quit shooting, their results can be severely retarded for quite some time.
So what is the solution, start a new shooter with a rimfire pistol. 22 caliber is probably the most effective. The two enemies of new shooters is absent.....recoil and noise. They are able to focus on the right things like trigger control, sight picture, and grip.
Have you ever wondered why you can shoot more accurately with a rimfire pistol than a big bore? It is because of the reasons above. Even seasoned shooters shoot better with rimfires. That's why I shoot them most of the time.
If you are a seasoned shooter and have gotten into a rut with the big pistol, switch to a rimfire for a while. You'll be shocked at how much and how quickly your accuracy improves. Forget being John Wayne, try it.
Once you get to about 25 or 30 yards, it will become necessary to start to really refine the fundamentals. You will no longer get hits by having the front sight in the middle of the target. As the target gets smaller, or appears smaller, it now will be necessary to center the target in the front sight.
Not only will more concentration be required to get hits but every nuance of the fundamental becomes more important. Don't worry if you can't make hits at 30 yards, just keep practicing narrow your focus. With enough practice you can get there and the close shots will now be a piece of cake.
Can you get hits with a pistol at 100 yards or more?
With practice, absolutely, even further. Now in a SHTF situation, I wouldn't recommend taking shots at the enemy who has a rifle at 100 yards. I would recommend running...... fast. You probably won't ever be consistent enough to fight with a pistol at 100 yards or more, but if you had to, you could make hits. Just don't depend on hitting with every shot unless you have spent a ton of time practicing them.
When shooting a pistol with iron sights at a man sized target at 100 yards, the front sight blade is larger than the target. You can make consistent hits though. Focus on centering the target within the front sight blade instead of vice versa.
Also realize that a normal 22 bullet (muzzle velocity around 1000 fps) shot from a pistol at 100 yards will drop 6 to 8 inches depending on the pistol. Learning to lift the top of your front sight slightly above the top of the rear sight is a way to compensate for drop and is probably the best way. Do this and center the target in the front sight blade and you can get consistent hits at 100 yards.
If you really want to stretch the distance of your pistol, try a red dot sight. The first thing you will notice with a red dot is how unstable your aim is. You will see every tiny movement of your pistol that you couldn't see with iron sights. You will wonder how you ever hit anything in the past.
The wobble you see when using a dot will force you to inherently take better aim and pay more attention to the fundamentals. Once you learn to shoot well with the dot, up close iron sight shots become simple. For more info on red dot sights click here.
So far we have only discussed standing and shooting at targets at different distances at a controlled pace and with the goal to be tight groups. Once you have mastered this, serious defensive pistol shooters move on to more advanced exercises that encompass moving while shooting and using cover. This is a whole different ballgame.