In The Shadow of the No Light

When I told a friend, who is a competition shooter, that I’m going to my “tactical” training night with my instructor, he was like “why”? I told him that I was in need to work on my low light/no light skills and he pretty much told me that I was wasting my time. He also stated that since he’s not a cop or military, he’s not ever going to expect to be involved in any kind of “no light shooting” scenario.

Sometimes I wonder if he has some magical shield? I guess he must be living in some kind of Utpoia to make such a bold statement like that, but I guess I should have asked him why does he have so many guns? First off, I kind of knew what his response would be and that was the response that I got from a gamer. Simply put, my observation has been that most of them (the true gamers who don’t believe in tactical/defensive training) probably never had to be challenged to do certain “tasks and conditions” other than the flat range gaming aspect, let alone in the dark. Yes, I know that was a bold statement for me to make about gamers.

Of course, I’m sure there are other “non low light night shoots” that are just as difficult, but to hear that response wasn’t that much of a surprise. In fact, I wouldn’t expect anything different from his mindset.

As always, I went back to my roots for training and participated in the student’s practice night with my instructor and other students. It’s not often that I get a chance to ditch work early and head way down to Miami just to get some added coaching on my trigger time; after all, I’ve been spending way too much time on the competition field that I really need to get my head back into the defensive shooter’s mindset.

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The Not So Warm Up

It wasn’t until the last minute that I decided to run my concealed carry gear, after all, that particular gun I’m running was sporting a Viridian C5L Laser/Light combo. Even though the VP9 was becoming more and more my favorite gun, it wasn’t however my daily concealed carry firearm. So I stayed the course and ran what I used everyday.

Upon arriving, we did my favorite dot drills, as I sarcastically call it “favorite”. Something so simple, yet so difficult, but very effective. Still, it showed me how much I’ve slacked on utilizing a double-action hammer trigger vs a single action striker.

Interestingly though, I didn’t really complained about my failures on some of my poorly placed shots. I knew that I needed to get back on this gun and really re-learn it again. But more importantly, I knew that I had thrown my shots and pretty much was able to self-diagnosis the problem.

Needless to say, when I’m put to tasks to deliver shots from a cold start, it has to be consistent regardless. Apparently, I wasn’t doing that at this practice night.

Into The Shadows

With the change in daylight time, darkness arrived pretty quick and as the sun was setting, I soon realized that I will need a way to identify my targets. After all, we kept going since this night was a low light to no light drill.

Of course, there were barricades! What’s the point of doing easy drills if you’re not going to challenge yourself? Oh yeah, be careful here as well. The instructor will challenge you on your OODA Loop. So in this case, each targets had identifiable colors, some were hidden and some were obvious. But in the low light scenario, you really do have to identify your target. I mean seriously have to ID the threat.

That was probably one of the biggest lesson you can take away from this practice night — if you were really paying attention.

Apparently one of the students said “well, that’s how I shoot” after failing to identify his target colors and that is a really poor mindset. There are no second chances at all out there, ever. I would rather he asked something like “what can I do differently to better identify my target?”.

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Running In The Dark

What’s interestingly an eye opener is that shooting outside in the dark was a lot more challenging than shooting indoors. Indoors, I have plenty of options to bounce light around and to help me avoid the light splash back into my eyes. Outside, it’s very different. But it’s still utlize the same principles.

I’ve also noticed that my weapon mounted light was weak when it came to identifying targets outside. The light on the Viridian was a mere 100 lumens, which proved to be a suck. But the bright green laser was the best thing I had on. When I was unable to find my front sight quick enough to make the shot, the laser for all intensive purpose was like that life line that I can use over and over again.

Unlike the VP9, which would have helped here with it’s night sights, my carry pistol did not have any installed. So finding the front sight proved to be very difficult in this situation. However, looking at the blackout pistol sights wasn’t an issue for me.

What I noticed while in the dark, when I was acquiring the target, trying to ID the threat, it wasn’t until I lit my light that I saw my front sight was off.

Despite what some of the “tactical” people are saying, I discovered through self-revelation that having night sights on my pistol in finding my front sights quickly is a very good option for night operations.

Although there was enough environment light for me to see the silhouette of the target, it was not enough to ID threats and find my front sight. But it’s a good thing that I had my ThruNight flashlight (Archer series). Having that was a huge help, plus that light cost me around $35 and it’s well worth it. Say what you want, but given the environment that I was in, I went full 850 lumens.

Could I have gotten away with 500 lumens? I think so. But for outdoors purpose, I just don’t see how 100 lumens will cut through the darkness. The targets I was identifying were at a 7 to 15 yards. While the 100-200 lumens might be “ok” for complete darkness, I had a hard time really trying to ID my target color when it was being overcast by the neighboring range lights.

The 850 made it easy.

On a side note, after the training event, I went home and checked on my Viridian. I was perplexed as to why it was giving low output. Then it hit me as soon as I looked it over. I’ve seen this problem many many times before, but once again, I forgot the impact that it made. The reason why the light did not feel like it was outputting the full 100 lumens was because it was covered in carbon. Carbon that was expelled from the muzzle flashes. Like I said, I’ve seen this happened many times before during my training classes but those were all during the day. So it never really stuck in my mind that this will effect my light visibility until now. So I wonder if my defensive ammo selection will have to be altered to alleviated/rectify this problem? If so, what ammo? Corbon?

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The Neglected Skills

Another thing about using a handheld is that it reminds you that you’re not going to be comfortable at all. Lets face it, if you’re having a hard time shooting with two hands, shooting one handed on your reaction (support) hand while trying to hold on to your flashlight will make you cry. I’ve been lucky so far to have been practicing a lot of dry fire with both hands and single hand. It was interesting to see how I was handling the recoil mitigation for the first time in a while.

Other students that I observed were instead dropping the light and shooting with two hands in the dark. Is it wrong? I don’t know. Everyone has their reasons, but I personally wouldn’t want to be neglecting to identify the target.

One last thing that I noticed was that some of the students still didn’t truly work the barricade. For instance, after reloading behind cover, they didn’t utilize the option to engage the target from a different position. Instead, they chose to come out from the same spot. Others that I saw exposed themselves greatly and improperly used cover.

Now the one thing that hurt me the most was that I was running a DA/SA gun with a decocker. I’ve been so use to running the VP9 for the 10k Rounds Torture test, I forgot what it means to have a DA/SA gun. Twice I got busted for not decocking because I was use to the striker fire pistol that I was just no longer mindful.

Believe me, I knew better. And being called out on it when I knew better; really made me feel like shit. Everything that I had seem to learned was already forgotten. I got use to the competitive field of unloading and show clear that I forgot what it meant to scan, assess, decock and top off my gun. If anything, this was suppose to be the one skill that I should have at least mastered.

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If You Can’t See…

I discovered that while I wasn’t too bad at shooting in a low light no light scenario, I have forgotten some of the TTPs when shooting with a light. For example, turning off my light when reloading. Dropping the wrong knee when I’m behind cover. The part that got me, was holding on to, fumbling with the light while trying to reload in the dark. Doh! What I should have done was to tuck the flashlight under my weapon hand’s arm pit while I reload. But for some reason… I had forgotten to do that.

However these are still correctable by doing more dry fire practice — correctly.

The most challenging part was shooting on the move while holding your flashlight. Some people chose the Harries Hold. Because of my flashlight, I chose the Surefire/Plunger technique for shooting on the move.

The thin small profile of the flashlight fitted perfectly between the knuckles of my reaction hand and with the tailcoat cut out with a groove, it sat on my weapon’s outer hand grip quite nicely. A much better fit that my old Surefire PX Fury.

Still, after a few missed shots, I found that the plunger technique was starting to suck as fatigue was starting to set it. In the end, I caught myself switching back to the Harries Hold to engage the target whenever I was stationary in the open.

The Takeaway

The one thing I’ve observed for sure, and it wasn’t just me, is that the darker the environment, the more misses you are going to have. On an average, I say it was an increase of 15-25% misses. From my performance, I was at a 21% miss (26 round count and I shot 33 rounds). Honestly, that’s not acceptable.

You shouldn’t be shooting if you can’t see your target.

What that tells me is that I need to practice more; utilizing everything that I’ve learned from the Tactical Pistol 2 class to Handgun Employment Theory. It’s the basic skills that will be used to build on my TTPs that will aid in my survival should I ever need to defend myself.

So does that mean I can use this for competitive shooting? Probably not. But I could if I really wanted to practice this skill set and not so much trying to run and gun it for the gaming.

I’ve met a few people (not just gamers) who adamantly states that it’s pointless in learning to shoot with your “weak” hand. Nor will you ever need to. To those, I laugh in your lacking or willingness to challenge yourself to understand it’s value. Aside from who’s really teaching the material, if you think the drill is crap or if it serves no purpose, believe me, it actually does.

What you make of it and how you utilize it to your benefit will be up to you.