While mildly disappointing, science has not caught up with science fiction. There are no cool eye implants that give you night vision or thermal imaging. And the units that are available aren’t something that you would just happen to have in your pocket.
Enter the flashlight! Flashlights are awesome, I loved them as a kid and still love them today. I still remember being around 5 years old on a trip to Hawaii and finding a $10 bill on the ground. That was a lot of money back in the early 80’s. What did I buy? One of those old EverReady flashlights, the old silver looking metal bodies, takes C cell. Awesome… I am pretty sure it doubled as a light saber for me.
Fast forward a few decades and while I still carry flashlights, my reason for carrying them hasn’t changed, well, maybe a little… I still carry it to illuminate dark areas, but I don’t use it as a light saber much anymore…
In this world we live in, bad things happen at night. People will do things they would never do during the day. The lack of visibility creates a feeling anonymity and being hidden. And, in all fairness, darkness does accomplish these things in a lot of cases. Our eyes are adapted to seeing well during the day, distinguishing colors and picking up detail.
In the middle of your eyes’ retina is the fovea. This is packed with cones. These cells are responsible for high visual acuity, spatial resolution, color, and let you perceive rapid changes in stimuli. Throughout the rest of your retina is a dispersion of some cones and a lot of rods. While rods allow for vision in low light, they suffer greatly with visual acuity. What is the meaning of this Science!? You need light to see clearly in darkness.
If we carry concealed, a light should be part of the plan. There tends to be quite a few hours of darkness in every 24 hour day. A flashlight, first and foremost, allows us to positively identify a threat. Be forward thinking.
For the sake of this conversation, we are going to talk about carrying a light as part of your everyday carry with a pistol. When we look at lights, they fall into two different categories, weapon-mounted and handheld.
Weapon mounted lights offer some great benefits. For one, it is on your pistol. This means that there is no fumbling to find it, no forgetting it on the table by the front door, it is there. With that, you have the downside of the being on your pistol. The whole package is bigger, harder to conceal and you also lose some of the utility of having a handheld flashlight on you. You come out from dinner and, “Hey I just dropped my car keys.” Let me pull out my pistol mounted light and assist you in finding them in the dimly lit parking lot…
With some of the pros and cons stated, I will say, personally, I prefer weapon mounted lights. They tend to be similar in operation, regardless of the manufacturer. Typically a switch at the rear of the light, just past the front of the trigger guard, that is moved vertically or horizontally to activate the light. This allows the shooter to activate the light with their support hand thumb (generally). “But I can reach it with my trigger finger.” Yes, you can, but your trigger finger potentially has more important tasks.
This does create a dilemma for us, though, if we only have one hand available. Enter the DG Switch. Unfortunately, it is only available for the SureFire pistol lights. But what it does, is run a switch from the back of the light, to the front of the grip of your pistol. By exerting pressure with the middle finger of your shooting hand, you can activate the light. This allows your weapon mounted light to be used one handed. Situationally, this is a great advantage over other options.
With handheld flashlights, we have the ability to carry a handheld flashlight. There is a huge amount of utility that comes from flashlights. Even during the day they are useful, from searching for something your child dropped between the seats of your vehicle, to looking for something in the back of a shed, where the old fluorescent overhead just doesn’t quite reach. You can even pretend it is a light saber! (without flagging everyone)
The downside is that, in its time of need, it can be fumbled or hard to get at. Whereas the pistol light is there, on your pistol, always. The other downside is the training aspect. Typically shooters using a handheld light have more difficulty employing it than compared with a weapon mounted light. Your hand position typically changes when using a handheld light. And then you get into reloading while holding a handheld light and things get even more difficult. Fortunately, there are a few flashlight retention devices which have come to market in the last year which have helped to address these issues. Such as Graham’s Combat Ring, Raven Concealments Flashlight Ring, and Costa’s Switchback. They are all retention devices which help the shooter manipulate the pistol and handheld light more efficiently.
Where does this leave you? Well, you first need to figure out what fits your lifestyle and what you can and will carry. At that point, the responsibility is on you to train. Like every piece of gear, especially ones that can save our life, we need to train with them. This, for some people, presents a problem. Aside from using a private range or perhaps public land, there aren’t a lot of ranges open at night, that aren’t all lit up, or indoor ranges that are very receptive to, “Hey, do you mind if I kill the lights in the shooting bay for a while; need to work on some low light skills?”
This leaves you with dry firing, probably in your home. On the upside, you get some training in your home, which is where people spend most of their time during the hours of darkness. While the actual action of firing is missing, dry firing these techniques will offer you a lot of practical exposure in a safe manner. (When trying any new techniques, I would encourage you to run them dry repeatedly before going hot)
While the space of this article doesn’t allow for me to dip into the individual techniques right now, maybe we will visit them in another article. A few things I do want to touch on are the actual lights and what you are looking for.
There are a ton of lights on the market right now. Some suited for use in the manner we are talking about, and some better served for less intensive pursuits. For weapon mounted lights, stick with a reputable brand, SureFire, Streamlight, Inforce, to name a few. They have all come down the road and now use only LEDs in their lenses. The older incandescent bulbs can’t hold up to the recoil very well and break, aren’t as bright and burn batteries. (This applies to handheld lights as well, use LEDs)
As far as handheld lights go, there are a lot of manufacturers out there. Look for the features that are important. Size and weight for one. If it is a boat anchor, it probably won’t leave the house with me. The operation is a big one, too. Does it have some sort of activation feature that is easy to use and intuitive? If you have to twist it or if its operation requires more than one hand, leave it on the shelf. How bright is the light? You can get a compact 500 lumen (a measure of a light’s brightness) flashlight that will fit in your pocket today. Try to keep it above at least 100 lumens for a handheld light.
Like all our gear, we are not only responsible for training with it but for maintaining it, as well. Batteries, don’t cheap out. Get good quality batteries, usually ones designed for long life in cameras. You can also find good quality rechargeable batteries these days, which is an option.
Firing your pistol with a weapon mounted light or handheld will probably put some carbon on the lens of your light. The carbon can build up quick and reduces the effectiveness of your light. To avoid this from the onset, you can put a thin coat of gun oil over the lens, or even a light coat of chapstick will do the trick. The light will still function but the carbon won’t get stuck on the lens. If you do get carbon on the lens, a handy way to remove it is by using a little bit of toothpaste on a Q-tip. It will polish right off.
Lastly, on the subject of strobes… I have yet to experience a situation where it has proven beneficial in using a strobe. As a shooter, using a strobing light, you are seeing snapshots of what is happening. As the person on the other end of the light, you are seeing a pulsing light rather than a solid light. It isn’t a laser beam or a phaser from Star Trek, the light won’t end the fight. Your actions while illuminating the threat will end the fight…
Stay armed and stay proficient…