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Top 10 Lessons Learned at Low Light Instructors School

Posted by Austin Davis on

It is Day Two and at least the 10th gun fight. The protective mask is hot, the multi room shoot-house is very dark and there is one or more people somewhere inside this labyrinth waiting to shoot me if given even the slightest chance. The task at hand is to make sure that with proper tactics my Simunition loaded Beretta will find and deal with them first. However, I increasingly finding myself asking “Why am I here?”.

The “here” is Sure-Fire Institute Low LIght Instructors School in California. The same people who arguably design and manufacture the world’s finest Sure-Fire illumination tools also run a world class low light fighting instructors school. The best flashlight in the world won’t help if you have poor tactics and the Institute is designed to change that training shortcoming by creating a low light instruction program of the highest level and build instructors to pass on the knowledge.

It is estimated that about 80% of defensive use of firearms takes place in low, altered, or insufficient light. About 25% of low light shootings are mistake of fact shootings (unarmed or innocent). Low light fighting is both a highly specialized and very perishable skill. Learning to fight in low light presents many challenges. Due to urban encroachment, not all ranges let you shoot after dark. Training safely can be an issue in low light and having even attended some of the the best “big name” shooting schools, all treated low light as nearly an afterthought to be tacked on at the end of a mid week training day.

The Institute is run by some very real world experienced instructors who truly care about advancing the state of the art of low light fighting. The Institute trainees range from Tier One Military Units to all levels of Law Enforcement. Therefore, the lessons often flow both ways. What the training Cadre can teach in just 20 fast paced hours is amazing.

Only the first few hours of Day One were classroom. The course is principal-based since principals are adaptable to any situation. Once you learn the principals, the tactics will follow naturally. Once we had the basics presented then the rest of Day One was live fire at a very nice indoor range. “Crawl Walk Run” was the rhythm of training.

Crawl: Basic marksmanship/gun-handling were thoroughly covered to make sure everyone was shooting up to standard and safety rules well in place.
Walk: With basics on task then it was on to hand held lights and shooting, though still in a very well lit environment.
Run: Once we were all shooting well with hand held lights in all four basic grips, it was lights out.

Usually when you train in low light there is enough light to see what you are doing. The flashlight is nice, but really you can see the outline of your targets. Not at Sure-Fire. Dark is dark--- as in “not see your hand in front of your face” dark. We learned the value of a well placed beam and learned some valuable lessons that progressed in a very logical order. By the end of day one, we were shooting, moving, and communicating very well on square range with a strong emphasis on shooting safely in close proximity to others. A skill subset we would use heavily in the next day in building clearing force on force.

Day Two was all about hunt and the lessons built on the Crawl Walk Run model of instruction.
Crawl: First we were briefed on room clearing.
Walk: Search out against hidden paper shoot/no shoot targets in light.
Run: Then it was on to force on force training in the dark.
When targets get to think, move and shoot against you is a major motivational tool in taking to heart Day One core principals. The fights are sometimes short and over quickly. Some of them drag on as you have to clear room after room to find the threat or threats. Lessons leaned and principals from class come to life and are fully debriefed after every fight.

Although difficult to explain in written form, there are ten main training points I took away and would like to share:

1) One light is good, two is much better: Lights have a tendency to fail and in high risk situations redundancy is a beautiful thing. A back up light can be a life saver. Even daytime can present a low light situation with power outages or unlit indoor areas especially with ones eyes not dark adapted so even coming into a relatively bright light environment can seem very low light. You can’t shoot what you can’t see. If you see the threat in a super bright beam of light, you might not have to shoot to resolve the situation. One is none,two is one so carry a spare!

2) Proper use of a tactical flashlight is amazingly effective: When you are in the role of “Bad Guy” and being hunted by high intensity lights being strobed on and off with horizontal and vertical displacement, your ability to know where the good guys are and ability to plan is severely limited. The lights are so bright (500 lumens) that light penetrates even tightly closed lids. Good technique and the modern high output white lights are a force multiplier. It was difficult to get off a well aimed shot when hunted by smart operators once you are in their beam.

3) Read the light: Learning to differentiate between light levels suddenly creates places for you to hide. Know where to look and figure out places you don't want to be for long. All dark holes have threats and a blast of white light clears the hole and can provides a now secure place to lay up for your next move.

4) Light and move: Time in the light is time as a target. A light always on or always off is probably never the right answer, but to painting with light and moving with light off leaves you able to see in a flash of light and then your movement in darkness leaves your attacker clueless to your new actual location.

5) There is no one “best” flashlight technique: There are 4 basic handgun/light techniques. Each has their place when you are operating in a low light environment: “Neck Index” is quick. “Harries” is good for certain corners. “Rodgers” for other corners. And, lastly, the “FBI Technique” allows you not to keep the bright shiny bullet magnet near your body as you search. The more you practice transitions from one grip to the other the smoother your ability to light and move. While every shooter will have their favorite, all the techniques could be needed in a full on low light fight.

6) Don't crowd corners: It is amazing with training how even in the confines of the shoot-house hallways and modest sized rooms, proper cornering gave plenty of room to read and engage. Corners can have a “magnetic” draw but especially in the dark they create real problems up close while offering opportunity from a distance. At school, it is taught to address corners as soon as possible and it payed off big time with force on force in low light.

7) Take your time: Hurry almost always leads to bad results. It can be hard to take it slow and steady, but unless it is an active shooter situation and you are going to the sound of gunfire, low light fighting is an activity that often rewards patience. If you get winded or tired, lay up in a secure dark spot and listen, smell, and get your bearings.

8) Weapon mounted lights are great but no substitute for a handheld light: You cannot point a gun at anything you are not willing to kill or destroy (life safety rule #2) so a hand held light is still essential. Once you have a threat, the weapon mounted light is King. The ability to search around and still cover down on the contained suspect will convince you quickly just how helpful being able to shoot with a weapon mounted light, but the rail mounted light will never offer the versatility of a hand held light. Both have their place and its your job to figure out the pros and cons offered by each system in each situation.

9) Be The Hunter not The Hunted: It is easy to feel overwhelmed in a dark environment but timidly poking about will cause hesitation so we need to relax, focus, and flow. The best method for that is most likely to envision yourself as The Hunter not The Prey. Best to not be too aggressive in that hunter role and become reckless in pursuit but to carefully stalk and force your opponent(s) into an ever decreasing area of operation.

10) Force on Force is a great Instructor: A flat range with targets that never shoot back can never drive the lessons home like the sting of the Simunition.

Austin Davis is the Owner of Holsters and

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