Friday, October 19, 2012

LOW and NO light defensive shooting with a flashlight....


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 at times 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.   That said, I have personally moved on to a Fenix made unit, which outputs over 300 lumens in a very small and light package.

To recap flashlight features useful in a tactical light, lets add up. Very, very bright (200 lumens or more is better), 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.


Old NFO said...

Interesting 'take' on the last one, I'd never thought of 'that' particular option! But if it works, NOTHING is wrong with it!

tactical flashlights said...

I use Armytek Predator for my gun. I think it's a great tactical light, has a rugged matt body, comes with a lanyard, and it really illuminates well at good distances. I don't have much experience with all the different companies, but I like Armytek and can recommend this one.