If you define the effective range as the distance a shooter can deliver a hit to a man-sized target, then the maximum effective range for a 9mm round fired from a handgun is about 1800 meters. If it sounds absurd, it is because the assumption is ridiculous.
However, the estimate takes into account match grade ammo when fired from a perfectly maintained weapon and by a skilled marksman in a stable shooting position. The target is motionless and at a known distance in the perfect environmental conditions.
The basic answer to this question varies based on the gun and the shooter abilities. The safe estimate for both target and combat shooting is, however, between 25 and 50 meters. And this estimate is for the average effective range for an average shooter using average equipment on an average day. Significantly less because there are just so many factors to account for.
From experience, a reasonably skilled shooter with a 9mm handgun may be able to hit a man-sized target out to a hundred yards on a practice range. Sometimes 200 yards and that is if the gods of luck smile. In the real world, in cases of life and death situations, or self-defense shootings, it is quite common for shooters to miss their targets seven out of ten times within a few yards distance.
What is a Pistol For?
To expand on this question we must understand the purpose of having a pistol and its primary use. You have to ask yourself, what is the use of a handgun? A pistol was never intended to be a battle weapon. In combat situations, it plays the role of the sword in the bygone eras and it is used as a last resort. Compared to a rifle, the handgun is a prosecuting firearm at close quarter combat.
Rarely are handguns used in hunting and the 9mm is not a hunting cartridge. But for the most part, a handgun’s primary purpose is a personal defense weapon. Personal defense does not include a range beyond 25 yards. Throughout history, most personal defense situations are between 10 yards or closer. I see a scenario where one tries to explain to a jury an assailant more than 30-40 feet away puts you at risk of causing you grievous bodily harm or death.
If it was in the defense of others, 25 yards is still far enough away, and I estimate it to be the limit of the average shooter to get a sure hit. However, the consequences of missing could still be tragic and all individual shooters with a 9mm handgun must know the effective range of the cartridge. It is also imperative that one knows their overall effective range.
What Affects the Effective Range of a 9mm Handgun
The effective range of a 9mm handgun has two interwoven components. That is the distance the cartridge can kill with a lethal hit and the likelihood of an average person making a lethal hit at a given range.
If you consider the range, a 9mm has a potential killing power out to several hundred yards. As a practical matter, an average shooter can consistently make a hit within less than 30 yards. If you also use a scope with your handgun then the effective range and accuracy increase tremendously.
Shooting at long range is challenging as the pistol is the most difficult to master as the bullets are very slow and this makes them arc a lot at long range. But if the pistol barrel becomes longer, that distance increases. If the sight radius of a pistol is elongated, the sighting becomes easier and accuracy increases.
We need to differentiate between lethality and effectiveness. Bullets can be lethal at any distance as long as it still has its stopping power. But at very long distances, a human-size target is smaller than the front sight post, and this reduces accuracy. At this point, you will just be lobbying rounds and hoping to hit something.
For the average shooter, trying to get a hit rate at 100 meters with a handgun is world-class shooting.
The effective range also depends on the gun that fires the round. A bolt action rifle does not use propelling gas to operate or reload mechanism. Both semi-auto and automatic rifles use some propellant gas to reload. The gas comes from a hole in the last piece of the barrel.
Most pistols are designed to reload immediately and if there are lots of propelling gas escaping the wrong way the shot power is compromised. Therefore, the amount of propelling gas ultimately affects the effective range of a handgun.
For example, a Glock 17 has an effective range of 25meters. The range is only for the pistol though and not the bullet. If the same bullet from a pistol is fired from a pistol caliber carbine a shooter can be very accurate at those distances and slightly higher.
If you buy the .22 Long Rifle rimfire round you must have seen the warning it embodies on the box.
“Dangerous Within One Mile.”
Most handguns like the 9mm are chambered and tuned for reliability and not so much pinpoint accuracy. The sights are designed to withstand abuse and allow a shooter to have a rapid visual acquisition. It means that most pistols are for short-range use.
The delivery system is what limits the range, and for most service pistols, to hit fifty yards under street conditions is a difficult and long shot to take and make a hit.
What is the Lethal Range of a 9mm?
There is no definitive answer for this as well. But if you ask me, I will place it at 50 yards give or take. And that is a pretty lucky shot if the circumstances are favorable.
The variables include the 9mm ammo brand and power, the rifling in the barrel, the accuracy of the pistol, and its constructive impact on the bullet’s trajectory. Also, you must factor the external conditions that include density and moisture among others.
Now, a lethal range certainly means a handgun capable of inflicting deadly or serious damage to a person or animal. Also, consider that there is no limit for any safe and out of bounds area. I mean that fluke shots are still lethal although the target is far away and the shot unintended.
Other factors that make a shot lethal include, point of entry, impact angle, and area of entry. There are a whole lot of things that could make a shot lethal or not. Sometimes at close range, a bullet may pass through flesh missing vital organs and therefore inflicting only flesh wounds instead of fatality.
Therefore, despite all the arguments of the lethal range, the first rule of gun handling is to ensure that firearms are always pointed downwards. Always practice safe use to ensure your safety and the safety of others around you.
How Far Does a 9mm Bullet Travel?
There are some variables that we must consider before we give a blanket answer. First, is based on the type of 9mm round. Some ammo is loaded at a higher pressure and will leave the gun faster than others. Other bullet shapes will cause less drag than others.
Also, the type of firearm will determine the velocity of a bullet. Longer barrels allow the bullet to reach higher initial velocities than a short barrel handgun
If you already know the velocity at which the bullet will fall, then all we need to do is calculate how fast it travels when it leaves the barrel. For example, a standard 115-grain bullet leaves the 4.5-inch barrel of a typical handgun at about 1100 feet per second.
When calculating velocity, it is essential to know that all guns fire bullets at a small upward angle. The reason is that the sights are “zeroed” at some distance. For handguns, the distance is about 25 yards
When you fire a bullet it travels through a medium. In this case it is air. The bullet slows down because of the friction caused by the medium. It is what we refer to as drag. Drag varies with the ballistic coefficient of the bullet as this is determined by the shape of the bullet. A 9mm handgun bullet, having a round, as opposed to a spire nose will not have a very good ballistic coefficient.
9mm versus .40 Smith & Wesson
There are three key things to consider when picking the best self-defense caliber.
Everywhere you go, wisdom dictates that shot placement is more important than the caliber you use to shoot. It does not mean that calibers do not have an impact on a shooter’s outcome. Small rounds may not penetrate bones or breastplate when hunting.
Caliber does matter. However, the emphasis on shot placement is to remind you that when you miss it is the same as shooting a zero caliber bullet. Therefore, shot placement is not necessarily king but rather it is the proficiency of the firearm you will use. It is why the cost of the ammo matters.
For example, if a 9mm costs about 14 cents a round. And a.40 S&W costs about 19 cents a round.
There is only a 5 cent difference. Eventually, it all adds up though. Suppose you use 1000 rounds that means you pay about $80 more for your ammunition when shooting with the .40 S&W.
Regardless of your budget, if you shoot the 9mm you will get more training for your money, and therefore become more proficient with your gun. In effect, you will have a better-shot placement.
The .40 S&W is essentially just a short 10mm round, therefore it features a higher breach pressure than the 9mm. Because it is a heavy round, the .40 S&W has more felt recoil.
High-pressure rounds that produce a recoil impulse can be uncomfortable for some shooters and also more challenging to shoot with one hand.
If a shooter spends time and resources training to shoot with the same handgun, chambered in 9mm, in the end, they become faster and more precise. There is less recoil energy to absorb and control in a 9mm round.
I cannot see a situation where having more rounds is not better. Take the context of self-defense, reloading can be impossible. To reduce the chances of having to reload, the magazine capacity should be high.
Provided you are comparing two guns of the same size, the 9mm will always have a higher magazine capacity than .40 S&W. Therefore, a 9mm handgun enables you to perform better than .40 S&W.
However, the .40 S&W is also a perfectly viable self-defense round. Though it takes more training, it is a darling to many shooters.
But, if you want to shoot a lot and also want to be a better shot for less money, you should consider using a 9mm handgun for both home and personal defense. It is a sure way to save money and time without compromising defensive performance.