Low Light Flashlight Shooting – Old School vs. New School

  • Sumo

Ok- I admit that title was designed to suck the old warriors in as well as the new.   The term “old school” applies to me as well so I can use it!   I admit I learned everything I know from the “old school” warriors that taught in numerous academy or other classes, wrote in published works, or gave me advice one on one.   Since then I have been evolving by questioning everything I thought I knew, and attempting to test as objectively as possible.  What I offer in this post is my opinion, but most I think you will find logical and hard to argue too much with.  That said, it seems like low light shooting is one of the most “opinion” based subjects we have in the tactical/defensive community, so I won’t be surprised to hear someone does not agree with all of this material.  No problem!  Find what works for you and keep an open mind.

Enter Facebook discussion via a picture I posted a couple days ago.  This is the picture posted that started the discussion:IMG_9234




The picture, which depicted the use of a flashlight shooting technique and extreme close quarters position at the same time against an attacker was mistaken for a pseudo “coal miner” technique.   The actual use of it in context is better depicted in this photo:

This picture better depicts what the shooting position above was showing.  Of course, in this picture I have defended my head and protected the gun, the next step would be to get into a position to get the muzzle into position to shoot if warranted.  Remember, it is a fluid fight that I am reacting to, not one static perfect flashlight position.

This picture better depicts what the shooting position above was showing. Of course, in this picture I have defended my head and protected the gun, the next step would be to get into a position and orienting the muzzle to shoot by turning my body and driving into the attacker if warranted. Remember, it is a fluid fight that I am reacting to, not a static perfect flashlight position.

Now you can clearly see what I was doing.  And yes, I realize the muzzle is pointed slightly low, this is somewhat by design as I retract the gun to protect it.  The flow of the fight would then transition to me throwing counter strikes with the light and/or positioning the gun to shoot by varying the angle of  the muzzle of my gun into an effective position.  Keep in mind that I do want the gun pointed at the lower abdomen and pelvic girdle though, as there is a possibility that my other hand might be extended somewhere in the upper quadrant of the attacker.   If I have my hand high, I want the bullets going a bit lower!

Ok, so let’s break down flashlight technique selection and use.   First, some general principles and thoughts:

  1. Flashlight shooting is much easier with a weapon mounted light.  This is a no-brainer.  The problem is that there are a huge amount of circumstances where we don’t have said light.  Most folks don’t carry bigger guns with rails and lights on them as there everyday carry unless they are carrying in a duty holster.
  2. All low light shooting techniques require you to use the flashlight, and hence illuminate it and become a target.   The light will probably get shot at, this is unavoidable.
  3. There is no way to hide this light, or in real shooting, the muzzle flash.  Hence, there really is no reason to think you can hide your existence and will not be shot at.  Use of cover, good tactics, etc. still prevail.
  4. Low light shooting is not static, and testing a flashlight technique standing still while in a simulated gunfight against attackers does not replicate the needs of the full search/engage system.
  5. Lastly, we should not ignore the data that Tom Givens has relayed over years of research and feedback from his students, and that is that real flashlight use and shooting by those other than uniformed law enforcement is incredibly rare!

Next, the guidelines that govern what flashlight technique I select, train with and use.   My needs are as follows:

  • First, we must stop thinking about flashlight techniques as static shooting positions for range use, and start thinking about selection of our techniques in the real situation we plan to use them in.  If you are searching with a light, you are in a bad situation anyway, a fight most likely… in the dark.
  • My flashlight position must allow me to:
    1. Search a variety of areas with it while by moving the light where I need to illuminate whatever areas I am searching.  Keep in mind that my search position of the light is flexible, yet I like to keep the light in a position where I can quickly index it to my head and do any of the following-
    2. Defend my head with it by using a cage or half cage (imagine a boxer cover up only higher on the head) position.
    3. Strike with it (for when I can’t shoot).  This for me is normally a hammer type strike using the light to maximize the effectiveness of the power.
    4. Shoot with it from medium to longer ranges where I would extend my shooting hand.
    5. Shoot with it from extremely close ranges (while still illuminating the light).

Given the above needs, two handed techniques for defensive situations are eliminated.   Why?  because tying the hands up makes if very difficult to do numbers two, three, and five.  I admit I do use two handed shooting techniques with a light in competitive matches, but remember that I am shooting at paper targets and not searching a space where someone might punch me or hit me with a club.

This is why I don't like two handed flashlight techniques.

This is why I don’t like two handed flashlight techniques.

So, what do I use?  My preference is a one-handed indexing technique that I call the eye index technique.  It allows me to have the light in any position I want while searching and yet quickly index it along side my face (near eye level) and illuminate the threat by putting the bright spot in their eyes while extending the gun to shoot if necessary.   The exact same position allows me to throw a strike out toward someone with the light, or slide my hand higher up my head to protect it from incoming blows. Why not always just shoot you may ask?  Simple, imagine a situation when you are searching and attempting to get to your child’s room and are attacked near their door.   Not knowing where your young child is, would you just automatically shoot?   Or better yet, imagine that someone jumps out of the darkness and swings an object at you, and you protect your head and pull the handgun back and automatically pull the trigger.  Only to find that it was your teenage son who had also heard a noise in the home and thought you were the intruder.   The point is that you might be forced to defend against an attack for a moment before you have a chance to shoot.   Two-handed techniques fall apart quickly in this situation.

One-handed eye index technique, this is my preferred technique.   It allows me the most flexibility in terms of use.

One-handed eye index technique, this is my preferred technique. It allows me the most flexibility in terms of use.

Why index the light up near the eye?  Because having it lower like on the next or near the chest actually causes the light to wash off your own hands back into your eyes, blinding you if it is really dark.   The corresponding shadow you create from backlighting your own hand covers the threat and makes it harder to see what they are doing.   You need that information quickly in order to make your decision to shoot or not.

Notice the shadow effect from having the light in the wrong position.   This is why I don't want the light around my chest or neck area.

Notice the shadow effect from having the light in the wrong position. This is why I don’t want the light around my chest or neck area.


Am I afraid that someone might shoot at the light?  Yep!  That is why I would use cover, movement, etc. to the best of my advantage.  Try this, stand in any dark room and use any flashlight technique.  Have someone stand across the room and tell you what they see.  Illuminate the light.  Now try illuminating it while holding it away from your body.  You/they will notice a few things right away.  First, it is very difficult to point the light with precision while holding it out away from your body.   Secondly, no matter where you hold the light, you are still a target because the light illuminates most of the room.   Imagine now that you are holding the light out away from your body, and shooting.  Even if the light beam is an arms length away, take a guess where the muzzle flash is?  Yep, it’s right in front of you once again making you a lit target.   My point is that there really is not a flashlight technique that will not expose you as a target, because the simple fact is that you are turning a light on.   My preference is to use the light quickly and effectively in a position near my face that allows me to dominate them with my light by putting the bright spot in their eyes, hopefully giving me a few

Dominate with the light, make your decision, and use effective fire to stop the fight.  Worrying too much about your light attracting bullets is useless because you can not hide your light or muzzle flash.   Use good tactics, positions, and cover to mitigate this.

Dominate with the light, make your decision, and use effective fire to stop the fight. Worrying too much about your light attracting bullets is useless because you can not hide your light or muzzle flash. Use good tactics, positions, and cover to mitigate this.

seconds to make a decision and then shoot from the exact same position if I need to.

Don’t misunderstand me, I am not going to stand still and leave the light on and hope it does not get shot at.  If I am in search mode the light gets turned on briefly, then off and I will move.  This keeps me mobil and I will not be in the same spot.   If during my illumination I spot a person, I immediately get the light in their eyes and build my shooting position (eye index technique).  This domination with the light gives me the advantage and time to shoot.  Test this, in a darkened room with enough light to see, have a friend flick your hand with theirs as you hold your hand out in front of them in different positions.   Have a good carry light in your hand and after several flicks from them, illuminate the light directly into their eyes.  Then immediately present another target.  You will notice it takes a good three or four seconds before they can do anything, much less flick your hand again.  You disrupted their system!   That is the time you would use to make your decision to shoot, move, strike, or communicate.   Remember, this is a flexible fast moving environment!

I hope this post gives you something to think about in terms of selecting a flashlight shooting position that meets not just your static range shooting needs, but searching, defending, striking and fluidity needs in a real life environment as well. My choice is obvious, but in the end you must select what will serve you the best!

Until Then – Train Hard!

Mike S.

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9 Responses to Low Light Flashlight Shooting – Old School vs. New School

  1. Joe B. says:

    Another great article. Thank you, for taking the time to provide such valued information.

  2. brave but stupid says:

    Do you have any application for a strobe function on your handheld light, or do you just judiciously use a constant beam?

    • admin says:

      To be honest drichards- I normally do not like a strobe function. I don’t find that the function is necessary in most applications, and I always find myself strobing when I do not mean to. I do think that the strobe effect works, but just don’t use it much. The Streamlight flashlights that I use have that function turned off.

  3. bruce says:

    Good discussion. I expect the evolution in flashlights to continue and believe we will see them not only shrink, but become a common part of any number of appliances, including handguns. It took me some time to learn how handy the light is on my Makita impact driver. I think firearms designers will eventually meld the lights into their designs too. Not the bulky S&W or Ruger add-ons, but trully part of the firearm. The smaller LED’s are less than 2mm across, and could be in the front sight! Or the front of the trigger guard. Requiring me to buy yet another, Arrgh!
    Good discussion. Important part for me was the idea of close quarters contact – important for this old school distant target and score paperpuncher.

  4. Gene says:

    Agree, the strobe is an annoying feature….I’ll have to see if mine allows it to be disabled as well….it is a Streamlight as well.

  5. Paul Pawela says:

    Here are my two cents: On the subject of tactical lights there is not enough hard data to say one technique is better than others because we just don’t have enough hard core data on the subject, Personally I have Never been a big fan of the flashlight to the head technique ever and shooting from the torso this might be a fair technique to an advanced trainer however these techniques seem to always trickle down to civilians who have limited experience and that has disaster written all over it. As a Instructor/ Trainer/ Gun writer I have been to dozens of low light schools all have different thoughts and here are mine I lost a good friend on a SWAT entry who was sweeping his MP 5 with light attached to the gun he was shot and killed because the suspect was able to find him, circumstances dictate the situation however my research indicates the Old FBI method works the best for two reasons 1) Under Stress you will come to full extension period with the gun period 2) The Flashlight away from the body just makes plain sense.

  6. Ron says:

    A few things that I found out about shooting with flashlights:

    #1 The focus of many flashlight companies these days is more beam, more light, more power. Be prepared to be blinded by the light literally if & when you use this type of light in a search mode,,, as in on & off. For this purpose i like a lower powered light as it is NOT as blinding.

    #2 I don’t care what anybody says,until you have trained & practiced with both light & gun you have NO idea how challenging it can be. I suggest everybody look into that one. I know it is impossible on most ranges. So find a reputable instructor that has access to dark shooting.

    #3 As for brave but stupid’s question regarding a strobe mode, I have had GREAT results in one street incident using only a light in a strobe mode. Given the correct rate of the strobe it is very effective. To each his own I guess.

    #4 If you have no good lights, & carry them with you, you are only prepared to deal with “stuff” during daylight hours. YMMV.

  7. Bryan says:

    Great article. I like the eye index technique. Simple and useful as you explained. I think why, when and how you move around a building in the dark as a good guy is important to think about. Yet I turn on the flashlight and leave it on. I also turn on the building lights as I go if possible. I know heresy.

    But after years of being the bad guy in training I can say a few things:

    Movement made it harder for me to shoot the good guys. If I had tunnel vision due to stress then it would be even harder.

    The bad guy knows you are there. He can hear and see you (you’re not a ninja).

    I was not blinded by the flashlights pointed at me. I just squinted and shot them.

    I can see the shape of people walking around using ambient light. Turning the light on and off didn’t stop me from finding the good guy. Remember as a bad guy I don’t have to ID you.

    If the strobe disrupts the bad guy, then by definition it must disrupt you also? I found the strobe didn’t stop me from shooting the good guys.

    The darker the building (very rare in real life), the more light you need to use just to move around furniture and find me. Meaning the more I can shoot at you effectively.

    Most bad guys decide to hide, run or shoot (or a combo) early on in the encounter. If it is shoot, there’s a good chance your first indicator will be gunfire or a running person who may shoot at you as they flee.

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