We all start out as beginners. Nobody shows up on the range for the first time and can drill the bullseye at 15 yards with a whole magazine. A good beginner handgun shooting distance is 3 yards or 9 feet. Next, you can increase your shooting distance to 5 yards. Afterwards, increase your shooting distance to 7 and then 10 yards. Finally, increase your shooting distance in increments of 5 yards until you reach your goals.

Each beginner will have varying degrees of inherent skill. Additionally, some beginning shooters will progress more or less quickly than others. Remember, improving your shooting prowess isn’t a race. The journey is arguably more important than the destination.

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step”
– Lao Tzu

Experienced shooters may be wondering why 3 yards is the ideal shooting distance for beginners. There are 3 reasons why a new shooter should start from this distance.

  1. Builds confidence in their abilities
  2. Familiarizes them with shooting fundamentals
  3. Introduces them to the sensation of shooting

Building A New Shooters Confidence

New shooters are seldom comfortable going to the range alone. Therefore, they’ll likely have a more experienced shooter with them to help ease the anxiety. Similarly, starting a beginner shooter at 3 yards makes the shooting experience more fun. Nobody wants to continue if they can’t even hit the target.

Occasionally, a new shooter will balk at this distance and declare that 3 yards is too close. Kindly ask them to humor you. At best they are right and you can progress to a further distance. Worst case scenario, they get a slice of humble pie and realize that shooting is a skill that must be developed. You have to crawl before you can walk.

Familiarize Beginners With Shooting Fundamentals

Another reason to start a beginner at 3 yards is to familiarize them with shooting fundamentals. Things like proper grip or how to use the pistol sights are likely to be foreign concepts. Shooting at a closer distance allows beginners to focus on the fundamentals of sight picture, sight alignment, and other fundamentals.

Additionally, it can be easier to diagnose common shooting mistakes at this distance. There’s no need to pull the target back to see where shots are missing. Beginners can easily see where rounds are hitting the target both while shooting, and when analyzing shot placement after the fact.

Finally, experienced shooter (or the range master) can explain shooting range etiquette. While not relevant to shooting performance these are important lessons that every beginner should be familiar with.

Knowing The Sensation

First time shooters are unlikely to have ever experienced anything like firing a gun. For many shot anticipation, jerking the trigger, and other common shooting mistakes will be common.

 Part of becoming a proficient shooter is growing accustomed to that sensation while focusing on the target. Therefore, target acquisition and maintaining sight picture should be easy during this introductory period.

Shooting Distance Progression

Inevitably, a beginner will get bored shooting from such a close distance. Therefore, a plan for progression should be laid out. However, some shooters may skip some of these distances. It really comes down to the skill and comfort of the individual.

Shooting At 5 Yards

Shooting at 5 yards is recommended for beginner marksman who are still not quite comfortable at 3 yards, but are itching to increase the distance.

It doesn’t seem like much, but shooting at a distance of 5 yards will exacerbate any problems with the shooting fundamentals. Additionally, it helps prevent some shock to the shooter, since the distance isn’t more than double what they have already trained at.

Shooting at 7 Yards – Self Defense Distance

Here’s where the rubber meets the road, as they say. In my article on best distance for self defense shooting, I talk about this distance at length. Suffice it to say, this is likely the upper limit of where a novice shooter should be practicing.

At this distance, beginners begin honing more subtle skills such as refining their trigger and breath control.

Shooting At 10 yards

distance progression for beginner shooters

If you want to stretch it out, you can progress to shooting at 10 yards. This is a good distance for refining those skills I just mentioned. You’d be surprised at the improvement of your shot placement at 7 yards after shooting at 10 yards.

However, some shooters aren’t satisfied with being able to shoot at 10 yards. Generally, these are people pursuing their instructor certificates, competition shooters, or those with a dedicated shooting group.

Usually, shooters can begin going in 5 yard increments beyond 10 yards. At this point I would not consider them a beginner, and they can adjust to their needs.

Parting Shots

The great thing about shooting, is that there’s always room for improvement. Whether you’ve been shooting for a year or a decade, maintaining your skills requires dedication.

Building a strong foundation is paramount to your success as a shooter. Take the time and progress slowly. Please like, share, and/or leave a comment if you found this article helpful. It helps me out more than you know.