Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Shots in the dark

We just finished our first Low Light practice session for the 2016 season at Cedar Ridge Range in San Antonio, Texas. The format we use for these sessions includes a review of flashlight techniques, low light drills to develop skill, a standard qualification course, and decision based scenarios.

As expected, the shooters had no difficulty with the qualification course. This represents the progress these shooters have achieved over the last several years. We used a modified Texas LTC qualification as the first one for this year. We stayed within Texas LTC time limits; however, we used an IDPA-style picture target (with IDPA-style scoring shown in the target on the right) and shooters started all strings of fire with flashlight in hand, drawing from the holster. The lowest score was a 249 out of a possible 250. As we conduct additional sessions this season, the qualification courses will increase in difficulty.


Through experimentation over the past several years we have confirmed much of the conventional wisdom concerning low light gear. While the 60 lumen Surefire 6P was certainly state of the art many years ago, modern high intensity lights have come into their own. We have discovered that a powerful light (300 lumens and up) overpowers a weaker light and permits the shooter to identify and engage targets that would otherwise be hidden from view.

The spot size of the flashlight beam is also important. Ideally when you illuminate a threat you want the spot shining directly in their eyes. Some lights have a very small spot designed to throw the light over longer distances. While this works well as a spotlight, it loses effectiveness when used as a self-defense light because the narrow spot requires too much precision to effectively blind the threat.

A flashlight with a large spot requires much less precision and therefore works better. I have carried a Fenix PD32UE and an older model of the Surefire 6Z for many years. The Fenix has proven to be a good general purpose every day carry and self-defense light. It is small, lightweight, takes rechargeable and standard batteries, and is adjustable from 8-740 lumens. At 25 feet the spot is almost 4 feet in diameter with a generous spill. Fenix has produced several PD versions since the PD32UE and most will work almost as well as the 32UE. The newer versions like the PD35 TAC and others tend to have a smaller spot with the possible exception of the new Fenix FD30. This light has an adjustable spot that promises to work very well as a self-defense light. A drawback to the Fenix and many lights like it is the tail cap design which makes using some flashlight techniques difficult.

Surefire lights are also a good choice. I have an older model Surefire 6Z that works very well with some modifications. My Surefire has a modified Malkoff Devices drop-in LED* which throws 300+ lumens and has a generous spot as well as a modified TorchLAB McClicky tail cap from Oveready.** This tail cap allows you to click the light on with a press of the button unlike many Surefire lights that you must twist to activate constant on. 

There are literally dozens of flashlight models on the market today and it is impossible to test them all; although, the members of certainly try and is a good place to learn about all aspects of modern LED lights and rechargeable batteries.

How about a flashlight on the pistol? We have had several police officers who attend our low light classes and practice sessions and some are issued pistols with mounted lights. I have no objection to pistol mounted lights and they can make firing the pistol much simpler with the proper switch configuration. However, I do require everyone to master the hand held light techniques for several reasons. Searching with a mounted light virtually guarantees that you will point the pistol in unsafe direction at some point. For that reason, I require shooters to search with their hand held light and then they are free to release it and go to the pistol mounted light if they wish to engage.


When I first started doing low light classes (2014) we discovered that the two biggest challenges for shooters was recognizing the threat targets in decision-based scenarios and then hitting the threats. When initially exposed to low light problems, even very accomplished shooters that have very little difficultly hitting a target under normal lighting conditions often go through an adjustment period as they learn low light techniques.

So what is posing a challenge for them under low lighting conditions? Almost every student initially shoots high on the target or (presumably) over it. We discovered that students were subconsciously tilting the pistol up slightly in order to see the front sight better in the low light. Clearly, regardless of the lighting conditions you must properly align the sights and then concentrate on the front sight while simultaneously pressing the trigger. Hard to do under normal circumstances with good light--more difficult to do under low lighting conditions.

In conclusion

Depending upon which study you believe, somewhere between 60 and 85 percent of all police officer-involved shootings occur during the hours of darkness. No such data exists concerning private citizen-involved shootings with criminals; however, since a lot of criminal activity occurs in low light conditions, we can assume that there is a likely correlation. There are several reasons to use a flashlight: to observe and detect, to illuminate and navigate, to eliminate anonymity, and to identify and engage threats. Used properly, a flashlight lets you see danger before it can affect you and it can encourage the danger waiting in the dark to go elsewhere.



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