How “accurate?” What distance?

When I was graduating from Marine OCS in Quantico, VA in 1968, nearly all our small-arms training was with the 1911 Pistol, M14 Rifle, and M60GPMG. Eugene Stoner’s AR was just coming into the System, and we were only able to shoot a few rounds through it during training.

Several weeks later, I found myself in Vietnam as an Infantry Officer, and there were no M14s around!

All my troopers had M16s (all shooting 55gr hardball), but I still carried a 1911, and the M60 was still in the System, although it did not enjoy a particularly good reputation.

We were told the “new” M16 was a 500m rifle, just like the M14.

That was fantasy!

“Effectiveness” of the 5.56×45 (223 Rem) hardball round was limited to 200m, although the vast majority of our engagements were within 100m. At that range, the 5.56 round took enemy combatants right down, without ceremony, and I saw very few ever get back up. All that, so long as the only substance between muzzle and skin was air! The uninterrupted 5.56 round tore-up human tissue, but didn’t shoot through things!

By contrast, 7.62×51 (308 Win) rounds from our M60s (when we could keep them running) went through-and-through, people and most everything else!

Fifty-five years later, and on the other side of the World, students in my Urban Rifle Classes still bring ARs (now “M4s”), still chambered for 5.56×45, and still shooting 55gr hardball!

And, the foregoing ensemble represents a good choice for domestic personal protection!

As before, the 5.56 round still lacks range and penetration. But, for domestic personal defense, we don’t need a great deal of penetration. In fact, excessive penetration represents a disadvantage in most domestic deadly-force encounters.

And, the chances of our having a legitimate need to shoot a threatening person at a range of 200m, during a domestic incident, is some small fraction of one percent!

In my Urban Rifle Classes, most of our shooting is thus between point-blank and 50m. At 50m, I may still be able to make a persuasive argument that an armed antagonist represented an immediate, lethal threat to me, and that I could clearly identify that he had a weapon and that he was threatening me with it.

At 100m range, and beyond, it will be difficult indeed to make the same claim!

When the range facility we’re using permits it, my students may shoot at 100m, even 200m, just so students know and personally experience the full capability of their rifle. Yet, I still emphasize that having a legitimate need to actually shoot someone at those ranges is small indeed, even when you’re confident that you can.

I know that there is currently a dizzying array of rifle cartridges (SAAMI is “approving” more all the time) available to hunters, competitors, and recreational shooters, and the emphasis today is surely “long-range accuracy,” invariably from tight, temperamental rifles.

I see ads in outdoor magazines making the case that this caliber or that makes shooting big game, or paper targets, at 500m, maybe 800m., even 1100m, not only possible, but all the rage!

Far be it from me to cast aspersions on those seeking to explore the limits of “academic accuracy,” yet when you can’t get any closer to an elk than 500m, you probably need to change guides, rather than calibers!

I personally have no interest in competition and other non-serious uses of guns, although I have nothing unflattering to say about those who do.

For serious purposes, using military rifles at relatively close range (as described above), the practical difference between a 2MOA rifle and a 9MOA rifle is nil!

“Ballistic coefficient,” a term casually thrown about by modern competitors, is irrelevant within 300m.

Thus, who exchange reliable functioning for meaningless accuracy do themselves no good service!

Our serious rifles are there to “impress” our enemies, not our friends!

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John S Farnam

Owner and Trainer of Defense Training International

One response to “How “accurate?” What distance?”

  1. Heath Avatar


    Thanks for this great article on rifle/caliber effectiveness. We are hopeful that you will contribute more in the future.

    All the best to you and Vicki!


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