A lesson in Flashlights

Flashlights should a piece of gear that you carry with you every day. First, we know that a large number of violent confrontations occur in low-light environments. Second, once you start carrying a flashlight on a regular basis you’ll be surprised at how much you use it.

We carry flashlights for a variety of different reasons. They allow us to navigate unfamiliar terrain, just like when cavemen carried torches. If you can’t see it makes it really difficult to be able to move about in the dark. This is especially true in the woods, where you’ll sometimes come across holes that shouldn’t really be there.               

The flashlight is used to communicate with other people. The people with you need to move down a hallway. Use the light to indicate the direction, adding verbal instructions. You have an armed partner and need to show them a possible trouble spot. “I see movement,” you tell them while pointing out the area with your light. Maybe you’re in trouble and need to help someone find you. Having a flashlight makes this much easier than trying to yell.           

A bright light shined into the eyes of a possible threat will create a distraction. How long? That depends on the individual and whether they get a full blast of light directly in the eyes. The light is in your hand while walking through the dark parking lot. Someone starts moving towards you. Shine the light in their eyes for a second, turn it off and move. Now they won’t know exactly where you are until their eyes adjust. This buys you time to determine whether they are a threat or not, and if so time to get your pistol in hand.

The light can be used as an impact weapon. Concentrating all your striking force onto a small surface, which is harder than your hand, can be very effective. I wouldn’t want to get into an extended altercation using the light as an impact weapon – as Flashlightopposed to the old Mag Lights which were excellent “batons” for strikes – but again it might be enough of a distraction to buy me time in order to create distance and formulate a better response.

Flashlights are used to locate, identify, and if necessary engage a threat. This is critical for clearing or searching a building. Even if there are lights on, there will be areas such as closets or cabinets that you’ll need to clear using the light.

How much do you use the light? You use it as little as possible or as much as necessary. The environment may have enough ambient light to search, then when you locate a possible threat you light them up for identification. Or, it’s so dark you can’t see, in which case you’re going to have to use the light to make sure you don’t step around a corner and give the threat a full value target of you.

When it comes to lights go simple. The lights with high/low/strobe outputs that switch modes by turning the light on and off a certain number of times are too complicated. You’ll be constantly switching the light off and on as needed. Simple is better. Push for on, release for off and having a constant click for on it not a bad idea.

Get a light that is small enough that you’ll carry it, but not so small that it’s difficult to hold on to while working with your pistol. Don’t get too caught up on lumens. The way the light works is more about bulb and bezel design than output. Plus, I’m convinced that there is such a thing as too bright a light. Turning on a five hundred-lumen light indoors where there are walls and ceilings to reflect all that light and it’s going to affect your ability to see.

Working with flashlights and pistols is an art. To become proficient takes a lot of practice, and as usual, the best way to practice is dry, using a light and a dummy or “blue” gun to practice. I call it learning how to paint with the light. Not only do you need to know different techniques, such as for working around the left or right side of cover, but you also need to know how to shift the shadows the light creates in order to be able to fully see or clear an area.

Most people never attend a low-light class, which is a shame because there’s a lot more to working in the dark than just knowing how to turn the light on and get it pointing in the right direction. Again, most violent encounters occur in low-light environments. Also, think about it this way – If you had a light to be able to see into the shadows you might avoid even getting into a confrontation. Having a light, and knowing how to use it, is a mandatory defensive skill. ~ Tiger

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Tiger McKee
Tiger McKee is director of Shootrite Firearms Academy, located in northern Alabama.  He is the author of “The Book of Two Guns” - http://shootrite.org/book/book.html writes for several firearms/tactical publications, and is featured on GunTalk’s DVD, “Fighting With The 1911 - http://shootrite.org/dvd/dvd.html  McKee’s new book, AR-15 Skills and Drills, is available off Shootrite’s website: http://shootrite.org/AR15SkillsBook/AR15SkillsBook.html