Thursday, July 8, 2010

Defensive shooting in low/no light with a tactical flashlight... one man's thoughts

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A million years ago (or so it seems), 'ol Carteach was treated to some indoor range time one night. One night... meaning all of one night... from late evening to early bright. A buddy and I kept the steel ringing on the range for about eight hours straight.

What were we doing, besides having a ball? We were practicing low and no light shooting techniques. There was no instructor, no class, and no professionals around. Just us, some gear, and a willingness to learn and experiment.

It would be wonderful if this piece was being written about a defensive class, with professional training, using real life experience. The simple fact is.... Carteach is pretty average amongst shooters, and that means time and money are kind of tight. Low/no light defensive shooting classes are rather pricey, from a poor 'ol teachers viewpoint. The class's generally run around $600, and with travel, lodging, meals, and ammunition tossed in the total quickly exceeds $1000.

Like most average shooters, this poor shlub hasn't got big stacks of extra cash laying around. So what we're gonna do is this.... ya'll watch close now.... we're going to take care of this problem the American way, and just figure it out for ourselves. The Carteach0 blog is all about sharing the fun with friends, and this is no different.... so lets get busy and examine the situation.

Thanks to the way this big ball of mud is spinning in space, we can count on running into low/no light situations about half of each day. Since defensive shooting is all about defending oneself from predators, and such critters prefer to operate in the dark when they can... it only follows that defensive techniques need to take inadequate lighting into account. That means one of two things; learning to shoot in the dark using a Star-War's-like 'force' to guide us (good luck with that), or bringing some light into the situation.

Like anything else in shooting, and especially defensive shooting, forethought and training make all the difference in the world. If it's professional training by people who know what they are doing, that's great! For the other 98% of us who can't buy ourselves that little present... we'll just have to do it on our own. Sure, such self training may not be the bleeding edge of knife.... but it's still light years ahead of no training at all.

So, to approach this issue in an efficient and intelligent manner (a real stretch for Carteach!) we'll need to break this down into a few parts, both closely related. Technology and techniques... with each reflecting the other to a degree. Technology is quite simply the light we'll be using, and this can effect the techniques depending on it's features and capabilities. Techniques are how we employ the light, and the techniques we wish to use greatly effect our choice in flashlight.

Now, on the indoor range so long ago... our choice was limited. State of the art at that time was the traditional Mag-Light, in whatever form one possessed. These are simple flashlights, and gained fame for their toughness, with many police officers adopting them as the patrol light of choice. Reassuringly heavy in the hand, and often doubling as a baton, the D-cell Mag-Light design dictated some specific methods of use. It had a tradition switch on the body of the flashlight, and was certainly a handful. It took a firm grip and some respect for it's weight and bulk. I have personally beat the hinges off a door using a Mag-light, when the situation demanded it. They are heavy and tough.... but we have other options these days.

The roll call of 'Tactical Flashlights' can run for page upon page, and everyone gets to chose what features they want... and can afford. Rather than run down all the brands, Lets spend some time looking at features.

Today we have a choice in general type of flashlight; LED or incandescent bulb. Not long ago the LED lights were simply too dim to really serve a solid defensive role, although they went a long way with their ability to gently sip away at battery power. Modern LED lights can had that are bright.... blindingly bright.... and still use the batteries sparingly. Add in the incredible lifespan of a quality LED bulb. Life span as in..... for life (for most people). Incandescent bulbs can be pretty bright, at prices cheaper than high wattage LED's, but there is a shorter life span to the bulb and they ravage batteries. On the whole, LED's are the best choice for most people.

There are many ways to 'measure' light output, but wattage and lumens are the most common. The thing is, they don't compare to each other at all. To keep it simple, for defensive uses 5 watts is considered minimum, or 90 lumens. 120 lumens are better, and climb well into the 'Blind your opponent in the dark' range.

Next to consider.... power source. Unless you want to drag a really long extension cord behind you all day, we're talking batteries here. We can chose between standard and lithium batteries, AA, C, D, or CR123a batteries, and rechargeable units as well. The larger the battery does not mean the brighter the light. A flashlight with a pair of little CR123a batteries can easily be as bright as one carrying four large D cells. Bigger batteries mean longer life, and this must be considered. Unless the flashlight is rechargeable, commonality of the battery is also an issue. A light with dead batteries is useless if none are available.

Luckily, even the CR123a lithium batteries can now be had at most all major stores, and many smaller ones as well. By mail order, they can be bought at decent prices in packs of ten. Of course AA, C, and D cells are on the shelf at every Wal-Mart in the land.

There is another thought which must be considered here. Weight and size. While a tactical light using CR123a batteries may only have an hours run time, it's also small and light enough to ride forgotten in a pocket all day. The same cannot be said for a large, heavy flashlight powered by big batteries. An old saying can be paraphrased for this purpose; A .22 in your pocket beats a .45 home in the safe. Well, an hours worth of super bright LED in your pocket beats an aircraft landing light that's home on your porch.

What about the rechargeable lights? Here... I have an opinion. For an officer (or a mechanic) who uses his light every single working day, getting into the habit of charging it every night is reasonable. I have done this myself, using a Stinger model in both school and shop. In fact, I still do.... but.... is it the right choice for a defensive light that doesn't get used every day? I would suggest not... and that battery lights are better. A pair of Lithium CR123a batteries can last for a year with the light resting on a shelf if need be, and still give good service. Should they be dead, a few moments later new ones can be installed. With a rechargeable.... those few moments stretch out to hours, and equal not having the light when it's needed.

Next feature to decide..... how should we be turning this thing on and off? The switch can show up in many places, but typically in one of two. Either on the end cap opposite the lens, or on the body of the flashlight just behind the lens bell (like Granddads flashlight). 'Tactical' flashlights normally have the switch on the end cap, and for good reason. In this placement the user can palm the light, while turning it on and off at will with the thumb; Quickly, easily, almost instinctively. It's an end cap switch that Carteach favors.

There are many, many more features out there. A ring built in that can allow the flashlight to be grasped like a syringe, that can be a good thing. Likewise good, some part of the light body shaped something other than round... allowing the flashlight to be laid down without it rolling away. Space for a lanyard to attach can come in handy, and the ability to focus the light beam might be useful too.

One feature that I have become a believer in, and one that rather limits the choice of lights, is the ability to work on a 'strobe' setting. This state of the art feature uses electronics in the flashlight to 'blink' or 'strobe' the light on and off very quickly indeed. The result is a flashlight that can confuse an attacker, hide your position, and delay an opponents reaction time by valuable seconds. It's because of this feature, amongst others, that I carry a Blackhawk Gladius. I understand SureFire just added the same device to their line.

Now, time for a disclosure. Blackhawk gave me a Gladius light as a gift, for which I am grateful. It doesn't change one word I'll write about it, but I need to be up front about that. I'll also say this.... I was so impressed with the little bugger I went out and bought another one for myself. One in the bag and one in the pocket.... one in the car and one in school.... I will not be without one of these for very long, ever again.

To recap flashlight features useful in a tactical light, lets add up. Very, very bright (120 lumens or so), uses a nearly indestructible LED bulb, runs on common batteries, has a rear end cap activation switch, shaped so it can be grasped like a syringe and activated in one hand, and preferably flashes faster than the lighting at a KISS concert. That about covers it, although there are lots of other neat things to have with a light... the features listed are enough.

Is it necessary to mention the one trait any tactical light really must have? It must be tough as nails.... all but bulletproof.... and all but idiot proof. Drop it, kick it, take it for a swim, and use it as a hood prop.... but it must work every time.

Having looked at the technical end, it's time to move on to the technique part of this missive. Here, I feel the need to repeat something. Carteach is not a tactical trainer, nor is he some form of expert on this topic. He's just some guy trying to decipher the mysteries on his own, and taking his friends along on a virtual buggy ride while he does it. If someone tries to play Rambo by practicing my meandering thoughts and gets his butt lit up, that's all home grown stupid.... don't try shipping it over this way. We have enough of our own.

Now... techniques in low and no light situations; In this area I further break it down to two simple methods of holding the light, and one simple method of using said light. Lets face facts... simple is required because simple is what I are.

There are more than two methods of holding the tactical flashlight in use with a pistol, but keeping it simple allows for better training. The reason to adopt two methods, rather than the ultimate simplicity of only one..... every method has it's pro's and con's, and every method has circumstances where it just won't work. Two methods, each used when best, will cover the vast majority of defensive situations. Some of the 'methods' in all honesty, seem pretty silly... but we'll leave that judgment to the reader.

I suppose, if it comes right down to it.... what I do is really a summation of two methods, swiping the best of each and combining them as needed.

Long ago on that indoor range, over the hours, we practiced what's called the 'Harries method'. This involves holding the flashlight in the off-hand, across the shooters body, and resting the pistol to the left of the flashlight (for right handed shooters), with the wrist of the hand gripping the pistol laying on top of the other wrist. In the olden days, when all flashlights had their switch on the body in the traditional place, the Harries method called for an uncomfortable positioning of the off hand upside down, so the thumb could activate the switch. While difficult to describe, a few images will make the method clear. Here is the Harries method, adapted to a rear switched flashlight:




As the second photos reveals, there is a problem inherent in the system. Looking closely at the muzzle of the pistol and the lens of the flashlight, it's clear they are not pointed in the same direction. In fact, with the unnatural positioning of the arms and wrists, it takes a lot of practice and training till they will point together at the same spot.

Next up in the bag of techniques, the 'Rogers' method, which has the flashlight held in the offhand and positioned between the fingers like a great big syringe. The rear tail cap switch of the flashlight is pressed against the ball of the thumb, and the fingers need only squeeze the flashlight to turn it on. The off hand holding the flashlight is then pressed up against the side of the hand gripping the pistol, with thumbs aligned as in a good shooting grip. Again, an image shows the process better than words can describe it.


The advantages to the Rogers method should be clear in the photo. The hands and arms are in a far more natural position, and the flashlight indexes to the bore much more readily. This is backed up and verified with low/no light practice, especially valuable if the pistol is equipped with a laser. Alignment of the laser dot and the center of the flashlight beam is almost automatic, with a little practice.

How do I combine the two methods? Well.... I use the rogers method as shown, except when clearing a room from the left side of a doorway. Then, rather than expose more of myself to an un-swept room, I simply pass my flashlight hand from alongside the pistol hand, to underneath it... effectively using the Harries method while still holding the flashlight in hand with the Rogers method. Once again... images help.




So, we have covered tactical flashlight features and also techniques of holding the flashlight with a pistol. In the next article, we'll explore this author's poor amateur attempt at using this information in clearing rooms in the dark. Following that, an in depth review of the Blackhawk Gladius tactical flashlight.

Stay tuned, my friends!



17 comments:

Old NFO said...

I agree completely with the light options, I use 3 Cell Mags around the house and in the vehicles, but also carry a Surefire 'tac' light. I used the Harris method until I got a 'tac' light, then switched to the Rogers method. I don't use any rechargers, but I change all the batteries (including the C123s) when we go to/from DST. One note- lights CAN screw you up at night if there is smoke/fog in the area where you're shooting (screwed that one up and blinded myself)... sigh...

jeg43 said...

"Like most average shooters, this poor shlub hasn't got big stacks of extra cash laying around."

The two lights you link to retail very close to $250. Your definition of "stacks of extra cash" and mine are (unfortunately for me) numerically very different. And reminds me that the reason I don't shoot nearly as much now as I did forty years ago - just can't afford it. And I do reload.
In my opinion, shooting has become similar in cost to items labeled "marine" in that the cost is increased somewhat artificially. Somehow most activities that have
"enthusiasts" sooner or later see serious cost increases - which is whining on my part but never-the-less a fact of life. I'll make do with my old 2-D cell clunker.
Good article, anyway.

Carteach0 said...

Jeg43,

The second Gladius I bought on E-bay, paying about $90, new in the box. I've seen Sure Fire tacticals on the end cap racks of home supply stores for under $50.

I am a big fan of doing more for less whenever possible. Would I pay $250 for a flashlight? After living with a Gladius in my pocket for three months now, maybe I would..... but I'd be whining and crying about it for years.

I am a teacher, and cannot be 'armed' at work. That said, having a flashlight in my hand that is blindingly bright, just when I might need it..... hard to put a value on that till we see if it's ever necessary.

Anonymous said...

CarTeach,

Good post. I agree that low-light shooting is an important skill. The course I took was the most challenging course so far. Because, well..it's in THE DARK. Do everything you'd normally to manipulate your gun, spare mag, etc., but without seeing any of it. Stress level went up, hits went down. If I can plug my training guru, (OK, here in central Missouri, but carpool?)check out Todd Burke at Tactical-Specialties.com. Great trainer and training for way less than $600.

Enjoy your blog,
Mike S.

Matt said...

I would be curious what your preferred setup on a shotgun would look like? My "Roll out outta bed gun," is a Mossy 500, not a handgun. Without glasses or contacts I need a little cylinder choke leeway, not to mention it's the only gun my muscle memory remembers from working for Sam. I'd like to put a lamp on it but perferably one that dosen't cost as much as a new 590.

Carteach0 said...

Matt,

The 'house gun' is a remmie 870 with a police barrel, extended magazine, and a Knoxx folding stock. Reliable, handy, reasonably effective, and most importantly.... I practice with it. There's a post or two about it's evolution here someplace (g).

I considered putting a Surefire forearm on it, with it's tricky flashlight rig. Undecided at this point, but my primary concern is simply this... I'm not sure I want the flashlight I use to check out a dark house with spitting an ounce of buckshot at the wrong target.

Matt said...

That is an excellent point. Even with good trigger guard discipline under stress you could cross up your light switch with your "light them up switch."

Anonymous said...

"Looking closely at the muzzle of the pistol and the lens of the flashlight, it's clear they are not pointed in the same direction. In fact, with the unnatural positioning of the arms and wrists, it takes a lot of practice and training till they will point together at the same spot."

Well, it could be that is because your photo at least shows the Harries technique being done less than optimally (or textbook).

The secret to Harries is to press the back of the hands together as if you are holding a $100 bill in the wind. Pressing the back of the hands together will allow better alignment of the flashlight and muzzle as well as better control of the weapon.

Harries is cool, but has several drawbacks. Always best to know multiple techniques.

With Rogers you can unwrap your bottom two fingers and get "two" hands on the pistol. However, all flashlight shooting is one handed shooting.

Always like to talk flashlights. Good for you for bringing it up, Car.

Shootin' Buddy

Carteach0 said...

Thanks SB, just learning as I go. It keeps life interesting.

I have tried the more vertical left arm with the Harries, and hands pressed back to back. Must be something about my build, as doing it that way costs me 30% of my ability to move horizontally. Really locks me up.

Doing it the way I do, in a poor variation on the harries, I can transition back and forth between the two methods pretty smoothly as I scan, or move past a door.

Live and learn, emphasis on 'live'.

Anonymous said...

If your shoulder girdle is tight, then Harries can be difficult. From the photos it appears that one of your shoulders is much tighter than the other, plus you have a heavily muscled upper body.

Transitions between the techniques are important and malfunction drills with flashlights are important too as you have a higher probability of a Type III malfunction.

Have you tried the Photon II "bug lights" yet? They can be very handy in clearing dark buildings (not that I would want to do that).

Shootin' Buddy

Carteach0 said...

So far I have carried the Gladius tactical, and a number of other super bright LED lights designed for technicians. I suspect I'll be picking up the new model Sure Fire, now that they have mastered the strobe feature. I'm fast becoming a fan of that, having tested it myself numerous times.

James R. Rummel said...

Good post.

Concerning the cost issue, I carry a $5.00 LED flashlight that I picked up at the hardware store. Pretty bright! Good enough for my purposes.

And, before anyone asks, I have used a flashlight to blind opponents before.

Carteach0 said...

James,

A $5 flashlight in the pocket is 'light years' better than a $200 fancy tactical light that's home in a drawer.

I'll admit, I have cheap flashlights strewn about the place as well, but ya gotta put up the good stuff for blog friends, ya know?

Being a mechanic for most of my life, I appreciate good tools. I'll pay extra for something that's better enough to be a good value. That holds true for flashlights as well. There are things a $20 Snap-On wrench will do that a $2 Chinese wrench will not, and there are things a $150 Blackhawk Gladius will do that a $5 Ace Hardware light won't do.

That doesn't mean I don't have some cheap tools laying around (and cheap flashlights too), it just means I pick and choose what I use them for.

Anonymous said...

White light is NOT tactical.
Go read the Field Manual on noise & light discipline.

Former US Army Recon

Adam said...

Recently found the Maglite XL 50 - 104 Lumens, tail switch, runs on 3 AAA's, LED, Strobe function - best of all, it's $30 at Walmart.

God bless all,

Adam

armytek predator said...

I own Armytek Predator. It filled all my needs. Also I really like using CR123A batteries for it. I decided on a power source that was both economical and easy to find.

Tara said...

Yes! This is perfect for me, I'm in need of some last-minute stocking stuffers for some picky boys!