Low light training with your carry sidearms is an oft-overlooked opportunity in the non-LE world. And it shouldn’t be.
In my research over the past 15 years or more, I’ve read a lot of tales of self-defense shootings. Shootings that took place in the home, on the street, in the woods, you name it. But the thing that I realized with crystal clarity long ago is that the great majority of these shootings happened in dark places.
This makes sense, doesn’t it? Criminal activity goes up sharply after dark, as any cop (or ER doc!) knows. In fact, fully 60% or more of police shootings, depending on jurisdiction, occur between dusk and dawn. That’s why cops do (some) range training in the dark.
But non-LE citizens don’t train in the dark. I know this for a fact. I used to run an annual IDPA night match at my club in Wisconsin to give folks an opportunity to find out just how much tougher it is to shoot in the dark. Our usual club matches drew 40 people every month, more or less; but our Night Match registration never hit 15. Folks apparently don’t want to shoot in the dark. They don’t want to shoot when it’s cold and windy and rainy, either, but those conditions don’t correlate well with criminal activity.
But criminals love darkness. And that’s why chances are pretty good that if you ever have to use your defensive firearms, it’s gonna be dark.
So if you’re serious about self-defense with your firearms, get some low-light training. Do it yourself, or take it from a school.
If you belong to a gun club, especially a club that runs IDPA or IPSC matches, find out if they will sponsor or even just allow some low-light training. If they don’t want to do that, then get some buddies together and find a place in the country where you can shoot safely after dark, and then go out and do it. A word to the wise, though: do yourself a favor and call the Sheriff’s office and let them know where you’ll be conducting your training, and at what times. You REALLY don’t want the SWAT team showing up with flash-bangs and gas at this gig.
In my night matches, as in my more serious low-light training, I like to give people the opportunity to shoot in 4 different low-light environments. This allows people to familiarize themselves with their weapon(s) in the kinds of settings they’re most likely to encounter. You can expand on this at your discretion. For instance, in one of my SWAT team’s training sessions, we had the guys go from the vehicles in bright sunlight with their tactical Oakley’s on, and enter a building that was pitch-dark, and then put "live" fire on them (paintball guns and blank guns). You never saw so many pairs of $150 sunglasses hit the deck that fast!
So here are the four basic environments I like to start with:
1) Targets in front of you, and lights behind you. A car’s headlights will work for this. You want the targets fairly close, say 10 yards or less. This will be pretty easy for most people, as they can see the targets, and see their sights.
2) Targets in front of you, and lights behind the targets. You’ll need some yard floodlights for this. Protect the lights, or someone is sure to shoot ’em out. Trust me on this. This gets a lot harder than the first scenario. You can see your sights when they’re perfectly aligned, but once they drift out (like in recoil, after each shot!) acquiring them again is a bitch.
3) Targets, a gun, and a flashlight. Now, it gets interesting. You should try the various flashlight techniques… Rogers, Harries, etc, to find out which one sucks the least. Targets need to be close–3 yards or less. And you need to make sure BEFORE you go to the firing line that everyone has PRACTICED their flashlight technique, so they don’t cross their muzzles over their flashlight hands on the draw stroke. If you want to make it interesting, put a picture of a toddler in her jammies on a swinger and have her pop out once the shooting starts. This can be very humbling. If you’re going to try shooting while moving, this is NOT the place to do it. At least not in the first couple of tries. If your team works with weapons-mounted lights, so much the better. Use them.
4) Targets, a gun, and no light at all. This is my favorite course of fire, period. I know, I’m a sick f**k. Use a red light to illuminate the targets for 2 seconds, turn the light off, then have the shooter draw and fire on the targets. I will typically set out an array of 5-6 IDPA targets from 2 to 10 yards. You’ll find you can "see" the afterimage of the targets on your retinas from the light of your muzzle flashes. But if you don’t have night sights, you ain’t gonna hit much.
You can add as much as you want to these four basic elements, but I strongly recommend you use these four as your starting point. After you have these things mastered, introduce one concept at a time: shooting while moving, shooting at moving targets, non-threat targets, shooting from positions of disadvantage. You name it, you can do it in the dark.
I guarantee you that this is the most fun you can have in the dark, with all your clothes on. Naked, I expect there are other things that might compete, but still…
Range safety is paramount in a low-light shoot, and you have to ramp up your protocols accordingly. In the dark, you don’t want people loading and unloading; let them load in a lighted area, then come to the firing line "hot". Have one range safety officer for every shooter, and have them play man-to-man defense. Stuff can go sideways in a hurry in a low-light scenario! The only thing I can think of that is harder to do than shoot in the dark, is to perform CPR and critical first aid in the dark..