Early in the evening, we had a good moon that was providing about 78% illumination. This was enough to see shadows, but not enough to see what an unknown contact might be doing beyond 10 yards, nor enough to see pistol sights without tritium. After we fired the first low light qualification, the moon was cloud covered with a significant reduction in illumination.
One student brought a 3-cell old technology Maglite® with an incandescent bulb and intended to use this light for the class and qualifications. Although I remember when these were state of the art, I have not tried to use one for low light applications in over 25 years. As I tried to lead the student through the techniques using the Maglite®, it was amazing at just how difficult it was to use this technology for handgun low light engagements.
I always bring spare lights, so I finally told the student that he was needlessly handicapping himself by trying to use this light. I was also certain that the light output was not going to be acceptable for the longer distances (25 yards) of the TCLOE qualification. Once night fell, we did test the Maglite® at 25 yards and indeed it was little better that the available moon light. Absolutely no comparison between the old style Maglite® and modern LED lights such as the Surefire®, newer Maglites®, Fenix®, and many others.
For this session we used two qualification courses—the Texas LTC qualification course and the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) Firearms Instructor Handgun Qualification Course. We shot one LTC qualification in low light with flashlights, one TCOLE qualification in low light, and one LTC qualification using only vehicle headlight-provided ambient light with no flashlight. These courses of fire do not represent the typical citizen/bad guy engagement range of 3-7 yards; however, they are a good test of the shooter’s abilities under different lighting conditions.
In general, I don’t believe that tritium night sights are particularly useful and that you are better off using a flashlight to identify your target. However, one shooter did very well using his tritium sights for the ambient light LTC qualification achieving a 249 out of 250 (he called the dropped point). For this qualification, the vehicle headlights were pointed to the sides of the range, not directly at the targets.
Several of the shooters who just attended the practice session had not used (nor practiced) low light techniques in over a year. Perhaps not surprising, they struggled with the qualifications and shot significantly worse that they would have shot in daylight. As we’ve discovered, students simply don’t master the low light techniques from class--you cannot practice it once and get it down pat. Using light techniques with a handgun is difficult and it requires practice to have any hope of using them under stress.
Thankfully you can practice the techniques with live fire during daylight if your range won’t allow night shooting. If your local range has IDPA matches, shoot the course of fire using your flashlight if the match director will permit it. Remember to activate the light (light on, light off) as you move through the stage. Otherwise you are not really practicing the techniques.
Your score probably won’t win the match; however, you will learn how to shoot and manipulate your light under some stress. Practicing how to search a structure (like your house when nobody is home) in the dark is important as well. Do this with a blue gun or AN UNLOADED PISTOL (check it 3 times!). This helps you identify how the various angles and corners in your house make one low light technique a better option than the other.
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.