The late Darrell Mulroy and I became friends after he contacted me because we seemed to agree on many points. He claimed,
"You will shoot better in the dark than you will in daylight," with the system that was taught at his school. He viewed
teaching flashlight techniques as overly complicated and stated, "You will learn to LIKE the darkness. We can hide in it
and it is our friend."
My teaching partner in California used the expression, "When you're in the dark, stay in the dark. When you're in the
light, light up the dark." Obviously, if you accept this point of view, you probably would want to have a light
available. Like many others, I teach low-light shooting with and without a flashlight.
Whether or not you're fond of working a flashlight and a firearm simultaneously, you certainly need enough light -
ambient or user-provided - to identify your target positively before you fire. An instructor who trained many residents
of Memphis TN to qualify for carry permits has observed that, of the nearly five dozen of his students who've needed to
use their guns on the street, none needed a flashlight to illuminate their targets. That may be the case but I see and
share several reports a year of mistaken-identity shootings that take place inside unlit homes.
Techniques without Lights
I've been taught several techniques, with and without flashlights (or gun-mounted lights on long guns), including one
which claims that you don't need to see your sights or your gun if you fire from the isosceles position and use your
sense of hearing to orient yourself to the threat.
This last technique, ironically, was taught on a range with static paper targets, so the issue of orienting to sound was
not available to assess, nor was traversing to a position not squarely to the student's front. As with many
range-oriented techniques, it begged a crucial question on the street - If you can't see well enough to distinguish your
target, do you have any business firing at it?
I do have some reservations about the "more natural pointing" of the isosceles position: This will be true if the gun
points to the apex of the triangle when it is grasped, but if the gun aligns with the
forearm, as has been taught traditionally, the gun will actually point off to the non-gun-hand side when the body
"naturally" squares itself to the threat and both arms "naturally" thrust out to full extension.
I tend to agree with some other instructors that if you get enough practice in sighted fire you will condition yourself
to bring the gun to what would be your normal sighting plane and get a fairly reasonable alignment on your perceived
target, even in dim light.
Jim Cirillo's weapon silhouette point is a useful technique, particularly when there is
not enough light to see the sights but enough to see the shape of the gun. Jim's geometric or nose point techniques are
intended to work when there may not be enough light even to see the silhouette of the gun, but then there is the issue of
positively identifying the target.
Since this page was first created, I have increasingly emphasized the role of one-handed point shooting in the training I provide. These are techniques that I view as
suitable and necessary for distances better measured in feet than in yards. At this close range, one is usually very
certain that the target poses a threat and these techniques should work as well in dim light as in bright light. The
issue of threat identification grows more challenging, hence more likely to require additional illumination, as the
distance grows, particularly if it grows long enough to require two hands on the gun.
Techniques with Lights
As to flashlights, I have rarely had to draw a gun on a human target, but I have lived in situations where I drew a
flashlight at least once a day. I don't believe that if you are threatened in dim light, which is when it most commonly
happens, you will draw your flashlight as you draw your gun. I believe that the most likely role of the flashlight
shooting techniques is in situations where you already have your flashlight out and are suddenly threatened.
For this reason, I make it a point to use my flashlight in my non-dominant hand and I make it a point to hold it in a
position where I won't cross that arm if I should have to draw my handgun.
As I don't believe in "searching with the muzzle of the gun" - a violation of Rule Two - I have
given up on two-handed techniques, such as like Ray Chapman's, which marry the flashlight with the muzzle. I am
particularly concerned with the Rogers technique, which also adds the risk of an interlimb response (the risk of the
trigger finger "imitating" the motion of the fingers activating the flashlight).
For several years I advocated the Harries technique until I trained in low-light tactics with my friend Andy Stanford.
Andy convinced me that at the ranges where unpleasant encounters are most likely to occur, one-handed shooting should be
adequate. I now prefer an adaptation of the SureFire Institute variation of the old FBI flashlight technique. In the
SureFire technique, the flashlight is held in the non-gun hand, against the neck. I find that I can index the light where
I am looking more reliably if I place the knuckles of the flashlight hand under my cheekbone. However, with modern lights,
unless you need the center of the beam to blind your assailant, even the edge of the beam will usually provide enough
illumination to shoot.
If I should have the time and feel the need to shoot two-handed while using a flashlight, I prefer the Harries
technique. This position is acquired by thrusting the handgun forward, then crossing the light under the gun arm and
placing the backs of the hands against each other. The Harries technique requires that the thumb be toward the chest,
which is the natural way to hold a light with the button on the tail cap or for anyone who uses the flashlight at or
above shoulder level. This technique should work well for shooters who prefer a Weaver or modified Weaver (Chapman)
For users of side-button lights who prefer the two-handed isosceles position, the Ayoob quick-reaction technique is
another choice. Simply thrust both the light and the gun out to approximate an isosceles position, with both thumbs
touching. Ayoob teaches that if you place both thumbs together in horizontal alignment out to about seven yards the
light will shine in the assailant's eyes while the handgun is indexed on his chest. I always found that the light
pointed too high for me by seven yards. I found that rotating the knuckle of the thumb on the hand holding the light
below the knuckle of the thumb of the gun hand, rather than leaving both thumbs aligned in the same plane, will keep the
beam of the light within a more useable range. This technique will only work if the light is held with the thumb
Are Lights Always the Answer?
A strong light can actually serve as an intermediate-force weapon in that it can be used to blind an assailant
temporarily. Today's high-intensity lights can actually force an assailant to snap his head back when the main
part of the beam strikes his eyes.
Some instructors are enthusiastic about modern all-LED lights with outputs of 200 lumens or more. I see a role for such
lights if you need to check - from the cover of your home - what went bump in the night at the edge of your property or
in analogous situations on police patrol. I am concerned, however, that in actual fights, that added output may also
handicap you with night blindness, when you switch off your light.
Similarly, there are some who believe that the strobe function on some of the newer lights may help disorient an
assailant. Maybe. Many members of my generation came of age dancing under strobe lights at indoor concerts. Again,
if the idea appeals to you, make sure that it does not affect you in the same manner that you expect it to affect the
In addition to identifying the threat, use of a light can also identify or pinpoint you. Modern flashlights are
very powerful and create a lot of light "spillover," which tends to illuminate the user. Further, while it
the most sense to use a light from behind cover, light-colored cover can easily reflect light back on the shooter,
forcing the user to "crowd" the cover to avoid the reflection.
I used to prefer a red filter on my SureFire lights as red light doesn't seriously affect night vision. However,
Andy also convinced me that when there is a threat of death or serious injury, you need the full spectrum of visible
light to get as much information as quickly as possible.
The SureFire A2 Aviator model, now available in an all-LED version, is worth
mentioning. This light has a two-stage switch, using three colored LED's for routine use and a high-intensity
white light when the switch is fully depressed. By selecting the model with the red LED's you can preserve your
night vision during routine use and have blinding white light available for emergencies or longer range illumination.
It's not cheap but it puts both options in one hand simultaneously. LED's places very little drain on the batteries.
Use of gun-mounted lights requires that you either violate Rule Two and search with the muzzle or use something like
a light-colored floor, ceiling or wall to reflect light into the area that you wish to illuminate. A wiser choice might
be to supplement the gun-mounted light with a hand-held one, perhaps linked to the non-gun-hand wrist with a lanyard.
The December 2015 report of the
Office of the Inspector General, County of Los Angeles, on the increase in unintended discharges after the Los Angeles
Sheriff's Department began its transition to the S&W M&P pistol, looks at some of the issues with the use of a gun-mounted
SureFire X300 500-lumen light. One is the potential for the operator to affect his own vision when operating in a small,
enclosed area with such a high-output light. Another is the added risk of unintended discharge associated with a pressure
switch on the front strap of the pistol.
There are techniques to use a handheld light in conjunction with a long gun. These techniques often require a bit
more physical strength to support the gun than in normal operation, making the mounting of a light on the shotgun or
carbine even more attractive than on a handgun. Again, if you do this for such a gun, typically for home defense,
make sure to train (with an unloaded gun) using the reflection techniques in your own home.
Like most things, dealing with a determined assailant in reduced light can be more complicated than dealing with paper
or cardboard targets. You can gain some insights into these complexities from my book (free download).
Material is posted on this page for information and discussion only and
purports to be no more than the personal opinion of
Stephen P. Wenger.
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