Low Light Techiques for CCW – Part 1

July 21, 2014  
Categories: Learnin'

So you carry a gun – good on you. Hopefully, you have the SA (Situational Awareness) to match. Hopefully, you carry a spare magazine (or a speedloader, etc.). Hopefully, you also carry a flashlight.

Hopefully, you train on all of it.

This evening our boy COWAN!, one of our elite team of Tier 1 pontificationists, is going to talk about using a light and a gun from a CCW (vs. an on duty or outside the wire) perspective.

Light – understand it, have it ready

Light is an important tool for self-defense, one that doesn’t get nearly enough attention in the concealed carry world. Outside of personal practice and research, someone wanting to train on low light techniques tailored to everyday concealed carry has few options available to them. Even fewer live fire ranges will allow a shooter to fully explore and practice techniques on their own. Despite what I consider to be a very important need for training and practice, the nature of training in low light is likely to be geared towards the physical use of a hand-held light in conjunction with or a weapon mounted light (WML) attached to the weapon during fire and movement.

COWAN! low light 4

Common sense says you should have a handheld light out before the gun—which means you should have a realistic idea of how to use the light before the gun. You know some basics of light use other than what goes along with pulling the trigger. The use of a handheld light in conjunction with a firearm complicates many of the static shooting fundamentals and these skills are sometimes neglected by the citizen (and LEO) due to a lack of training space. Many people never so much as consider light use by itself, let alone train with it.

We’ll begin with the weapon mounted light. The WML is fairly easy to master but it presents unique challenges. Because of the nature of traditional training with live fire in optimal light conditions, we run the risk of using those optimal light techniques in a low-light situation when we would actually be better served using some of the skills we would use with a handheld light instead.

For concealed carry, the use of a light is difficult in that it may be misused, hard to access, deployed improperly or fundamentally unstable when used with the firearm. The most important lesson for low-light in regards to concealed carry is to have a handheld light even if you CCW an attached weapon light. Any time it is twilight/ near/total dark you should have your handheld ready.

Ready means in your hand.

COWAN! low light 2

Moving to and from your house, across a parking lot, to an ATM, through a dimly lit hallway (even when its daylight outside) or running out to walk the dog or go for a jog; a light carried in the hand is your first line of defense against an unexpected attack or chance encounter with an unknown individual. The carried light is both a deterrent and a tool to near-instantly illuminate the source of unknown noises or questionable situations. Not only are you able to positively identify persons or things to better judge a situation, the carried light also serves as a stand-off device to increase the time you have to react to a violent threat by removing their visual horizon when used correctly.

Before we talk about technique though, let’s look at what features best serve an everyday carry light for self-defense. Ideal brightness is 90 to 500 lumens. My personal preference is a light in the 120-250 range. Because we are diurnal creatures (Grunts: diurnal), we often have a desire to use the brightest light possible. Using a light of maximum brightness can have negative effects on the user. Even at the low end (120 lumens), the beam is more than bright enough to stun and blind an attacker at closer ranges without being so bright that backsplash from nearby objects would blind you in close quarters.

I was recently involved in a low light stop where a 1000 lumen handheld light was used on a suspect in close quarters. The beam was properly placed directly on the face and the light was so intense that it reflected off the mope’s olive complexion skin at such a degree that it was partially blinding to those of us in close proximity. I have seen this occur with 500-lumen lights on skin and light colored clothing as well.

I also recommend a light with a low-to-high setting (in that order) to allow minimal light for navigation with one press and maximum light for self-defense with a second. The tail cap should be momentary only so that if you drop it, it turns off and under stress, you do not turn it on and neglect to turn it off when moving, reloading, or any other sort of vulnerable time when concealment is preferred.   A low setting helps preserve your night vision and battery life.

I believe maximum brightness in the 250-lumen range is sufficient for a handgun WML, though the common brightness as of writing this is closer to (even exceeding) 500 lumens. The WML should have a momentary-only option that can and should be controlled with the support hand barring a circumstance where primary hand only control is required.

Everyone is going to have individual concerns; occupational specifics, lifestyles, body types and preferences that dictate how they carry and what general complication may arise when their light is needed. I teach everyone to adapt the principles of low-light to their lifestyle, as this best helps the individual recognize its importance and consistently practice and prepare for its use.

The General Rules

Light serves three main purposes: Navigation, Search and Control. For navigation, we want to use as little light as possible, meaning you only use the light you need to see what you need to see. More light might obviously be needed to find a rough path through the woods in the dead of night than what would be needed to simply navigate a city sidewalk. Not only will this practice help preserve your night vision, it helps to minimize your environmental footprint. Obviously, navigation in an emergency situation, such as fleeing from an attacker or moving to make contact with a threat, may require maximum light to overcome the body’s natural tendency to tunnel vision under stress. There are other physiological effects that are detrimental to night vision as well. Navigating light can go immediately to searching or controlling light based on the circumstances.

Low Light Techniques for CCW COWAN! 2

Searching light can begin with the lowest light possible or increased to maximum depending on the circumstances; are you looking for the keyhole in a door, a set of keys, a light switch or the source of a sound such as breaking glass or splintering wood? Just as with navigating light, searching light can go immediately to controlling light.

Controlling light is almost always going to be maximum light. If you have a sudden encounter with an unknown person, or have interacted with someone to the point where you reasonably believe they are a threat, a maximum amount of light should be directed at the face while your attention focuses primarily on their hands. Even with the beam focused on the face, a light of sufficient brightness will cast more than enough light to illuminate their body. If the encounter turns out to be non-threatening, the light can be quickly removed from the face and focused on the body or the ground; ready to be used again but directed away to prevent agitating a person needlessly. The mere presence of a ready light may be and often is, enough to dissuade a potential attacker from attempting a crime.

Low Light Techniques for CCW COWAN! 1

In short, it helps keep you from looking like food.

Why the Face?

Practicing to direct the beam to the face is important for two reasons. First, the beam will serve to remove a potential/actual threats visual horizon, meaning that it steals their ability to focus and seriously /totally removes their peripheral vision. Even if a threat attempts to shield their face or look away from the beam, they are still affected as they still will not be able to focus on you when doing so. Second, and this second reason is far more important; there is a tendency to direct light to the body. It has been my observation during my time teaching shooters low-light techniques that those who have little to no training with low light tend to direct the beam to the body, especially with WMLs. This appears to be more or less natural and might be due to the fact that firearms training, in general, spends more time focused on shooting the body (the chest) than the head. Another reason is that we are often trained to look at the hands, directing the light lower on the body helps us see them.

Low Light Techniques for CCW COWAN! 3

The benefits of a ready light.

Having your light in your hand whenever it is twilight to dark or when in an artificially dim/dark environment can buy you valuable time. As most readers are likely to carry concealed (and even those who open carry by choice or profession) the beam of a powerful light provides a ready distraction and directing force to purchase reaction time. This may buy additional time to draw your weapon in the event it is needed while obscuring or hiding your actions from an attacker in close quarters.   Or a powerful blast of light into an attacker’s face to destroy their night vision followed by extinguishing the light as you move and draw (then re-illuminate to shoot if necessary) makes it very difficult if not impossible for your attacker to visually track you. They may have zero sense of your direction of movement until they are illuminated again.

I think it goes without saying that attempting to draw your light and your firearm at the same time to defend against an attack would both slow and complicate your response. Even with a weapon mounted light, you do not have the initial advantage of light distraction and control. A ready-light habit should begin as soon as someone decides to carry for self-defense.

So what techniques do you use? Is handheld, WML or a combination of lights better?

We’ll talk about that in Part 2.


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Aaron Cowan

Aaron Cowan

About the Author

Aaron Cowan is a patched Minion and an idiot savant of the tactical variety from a little place we like to call Hotlanta (though apparently no one from down there actually calls it that). COWAN! is the Lead Instructor and HMFIC of program development for Sage Dynamics who believes every article should be roughly the equivalent of a doctoral thesis, which is of course something we absolutely appreciate. To call him thorough would be to damn him with faint praise. We call him COWAN! because anything in all caps with an exclamation point after it must be awesome. A former infantryman turned PSC contractor and LEO, COWAN! has served in several SWAT and training billets. He also has an unseemly and disturbing fascination with horse head masks. Sage Dynamics is a reality-focused firearms and tactics training company that provides practical instruction for the civilian, police and military professional. An identical twin whose brother went on to become Agent 47, COWAN! is the author of the Rushing Winter novels and the designated fluffer on the set of numerous training videos here on the Sage Dynamics YouTube page. Sage Dynamics is on Facebook here; you can follow them on Instagram here and of course you can read his occasional informed and sagacious rumination here on Breach-Bang-Clear. Grunts: rumination.

1 Comment

  1. Mike

    Appreciate the inSight on this subject. Multi levels on the projection of a flashlight was a key to focus on. Found one that also incorporates a heavy strobe, UltraFire CREE XML-T6, always in my pocket for availability; now adjusting to having it Ready during dark times.

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