Several years ago a cop buddy and I decided to do some low light live fire training at the range. We headed out in the late afternoon, and when we got to the range there were several people still out there shooting. We took advantage of the time and did some sighting in of his new .308 rifle and scope set-up. Soon we were all alone at the range – it being too dark to do much shooting,
but still too light for realistic conditions of darkness. We had brought some sandwiches and ate our low-key dinners as we let the light fade further.
We set up some fixed targets, and started using various flashlight techniques to approach the targets. One would be the “officer” the other would run the scenario and serve as the range and safety officer. As one approached the targets, the other would call out “gun” or a similar action word, and we would engage the target while holding the flashlight on it. We continued on to multiple targets, and added movement and multiple rounds into the multiple targets.
I had a “Kojak” light (a small teardrop shaped single bulb rotating light that stuck to the dash or roof with a magnet mount) – it was called a Kojak light because it featured prominently in the cop show of the same name – in almost every episode Telly Savalas, the star of the show, would arrive with the red light flashing from the roof of his unmarked police car – back in the day, it was “state of the art” in warning lights for unmarked cop cars. We set the red light on the roof, in a position where it matched the location of a light bar of a marked vehicle.
We then set up several simulated “traffic stop” scenarios: we had one or two targets in front of my truck – which were luminated by the headlights and the “A” pillar spotlights, and then another one or two targets set up off to the side. We would take turns and start seated in the truck, and once we indicated “ready” the scenario began. As we got out of the truck, the other would at some point yell out which target was the threat, and you would need to engage, one, two, or even three of the targets.
Statistics show that most criminal activity and shooting situations occur in darkness or low light conditions. If not at night, and least in areas of low light such as inside buildings where dark areas are common. I would strongly suggest that anyone who carries a firearm for self-defense do live fire training in actual low light conditions. When I taught a firearms course at the local community college, I included an optional night time shooting session, and the lessons learned were critical to those who participated.
How does the muzzle blast affect your ability to see when the sudden bright flash messes with your night vision? How do you hold a flashlight, and still shoot a handgun? Can you light up your sights when the target is luminated only by your flashlight? Are tritium based night sights helpful in lining up the gun on target when the available light is only enough to can see and identify the target? And what do other lighting issues (flashing lights, etc.) do to your ability to shoot accurately?
When the other officer and I set up the night-time traffic stop situations, the targets directly in front of the truck were easy to see, identify, and the light allowed me to have the sights clearly in focus. Contrast this to the targets we placed to the side. As the rotating red light moved, it would sweep around and hit me in the face, the red light shining in my eyes. I lost some degree of my night vision when this happened. Then as the light continued to rotate, the red light lit up the back of my pistol – I could see the front and rear sights were aligned – all lit red as was the back of my hand. A moment later, as the red light continued turning, the target was luminated very clearly by the red light hitting it – then as the light moved, the target was dark once again.
As my night vision returned, I was able to see the three green tritium dots on my Trijicon sights, and the basic outline of the target as a small amount of the white light from my headlights spilled onto the ground near the target and reflected onto the target. For a moment I had it all, the sight picture, and the target visible – then the red light would spin around and shine in my eyes – starting the whole cycle over once again.
Timing when I would blink, and when I would keep my eyes open, I then times my shots when I had the best combination of visual ques. Of course as I squeezed off shots. I had the muzzle flash to deal with – although not excessive, it did throw a momentary bright light into the mix. On one hand the flash gave me a way to conform my sights were aligned, but not at what the gun was pointed. The flash also messed up my timing with the rotating light as well.
Ultimately, as we put ourselves through these actions, we discussed the pros and cons of each possibility, and developed a few solutions that maximized the benefits of sight picture and sight alignment, and minimized the down side of having bright lights flashing into your eyes. Simple lessons, but long lasting ones. In the years that followed, whenever shooting in low light conditions, or when doing training inside buildings where the lights were off, I used, or was ready to apply those lessons if I needed to shoot.
The lessons we learned that evening were brought back and integrated into our firearms training goals. Low light techniques were trained with as often as we could do so, and we reminded our officers about them even when training in full light. On a more personal level, the nighttime range experience I describe above occurred very early in my career – but it made a very deep and lasting impression. Due to a variety of factors, I spent a lot of time in my police career working the graveyard shift. As a result, any training, tactic, equipment, or experience I could apply to help keep me safer and more prepared as I worked in the dark – I sought out and went after.
Of course the awkward hand held flashlight techniques became easier to master with smaller and more powerful flashlights and advancements in weapon mounted led lights have made target identification more positive. Low flash gunpowder formulations have reduced the muzzle flash and tritium powered three dot sights have become standard equipment on handguns used for self-defense purposes. In my own effort to be prepared for low light conditions, each of the handguns I might carry for self-defense is equipped with Trijicon tritium night sights, as are several of my rifles. I have a variety of LED weapon lights, as well as laser sighting systems on several firearms. Believing “two is one and one is none” I carry at least two, and sometimes three flashlights on my person each day – all day, day or night.
If you have the opportunity to do so, please take advantage of a trip to the range at night, the advantage it will give, and the training opportunity it will provide, cannot be overstated or more highly recommended.