The world is in darkness 50% of the time so, if you carry a firearm for self defense and you’re not practicing for low-light shooting, there is a 50% chance you will be guessing on your own performance in a life-or-death encounter. While leaving your life-saving abilities to chance is a risky, and arguably irresponsible, prospect, many people simply don’t have access to an opportunity to shoot in low light conditions. Fortunately for you, Stock & Barrel has a low light/no light class as part of our Training Academy. We will help you familiarize yourself with low light techniques. Until then, here are some thoughts on how to develop some basic low-light skills before you step onto the range.
As we’re an indoor range, the first thing we recommend is talking to the range staff. At Stock & Barrel we offer a low light/no light class through our Training Academy to build your skill set. You can even schedule a time in the shooting simulator to replicate low light / no light scenarios in a variety of environments.
If you don’t want to go through either of those routes, one of the easiest things you can do is to wear shooting approved sunglasses as your eye protection. Depending on how well your range is lit, and how dark your sunglasses are, this might just dim the lights a little or it might make your target noticeably harder to read.
The other option is to start doing dry fire practice in the dark at home. While it takes away the ability to actually shoot, you will have complete control over the lighting conditions, including “mixed light” conditions. (If all the lights in your living room are turned off, but light from a streetlamp is spilling through the front window, and there’s a plug-in night light in the front hallway, that’s mixed lighting.)
Once you’re able to figure out a way to practice in low light conditions, the next hurdle is figuring out what skills to practice. Ideally, every shooting-related task you can accomplish in broad daylight, you should be able to accomplish in low light. But there are some especially critical tasks that could make all the difference in a nighttime shooting scenario.
First off, if you carry a flashlight as part of your daily wardrobe, know how to use that – even before training with your gun. Accessing your light with both hands and activating it properly will be paramount to any dangerous situation that occurs in the dark. Many “tactical” pocket flashlights are loaded with features like multiple brightness modes and strobe function. Know how to quickly cycle through your light’s modes, or program it to the specific setting you think is best suited for an emergency. If you carry a weapon with a light on it, learning how to actuate that reflexively is equally important. On this note, if you carry a gun for protection after sundown but don’t also carry a flashlight (handheld, weapon-mounted, or both) that is a legitimate deficiency in your emergency action plan that should be considered carefully. Positively identifying a threat before firing your weapon is a legal and moral requirement for armed citizens. God forbid you ever have to use your gun to defend yourself. You then wind up in front of a lawyer who asks you “what did you see?”. Without a flashlight in your pocket, your answer might sound something like “I’m not sure. It was dark, and I was scared, so I just started shooting…”
That’s a response that should be avoided at all costs.
Beyond the use of a flashlight itself, there are some gun-handling skills you can (and should) practice in the dark – whether on a darkened range or via dry-fire at home. One is seeing and aligning your sights. A proper grip, stance, or trigger press are not directly affected by darkness. But seeing your sights absolutely is. If you carry a pistol with a red dot optic on it, the change from day to night shooting is far less drastic. But if you are running iron sights, sighting in can be a significant challenge. This is the other reason we strongly advocate having a flashlight handy. Throwing light on the target will back-light your sights and allow you to clearly align them. If your pistol has glow-in-the-dark tritium sights, you may at least be able to align the dots in the dark. But if you are running fiber optic or plain black sights, some light will be required to line them up. If you have any lights in your house that run on a dimmer switch, experiment with adjusting the light up and down gradually to figure out how much light you need to pick up your sights.
In addition to practicing sight alignment, it’s also prudent to practice reloads and malfunction-clearances in the dark. This particular practice doesn’t require a range at all, and we’d recommend at least trying it in complete darkness. You do need to positively identify anything you intend to shoot at. But you do not need to positively identify the gun in your own hand. Training weapon manipulations in the dark (exchanging magazines, hitting the slide release, fixing malfunctions) is an excellent way to become better at them in the daylight. If you can teach yourself proper hand and body position to execute these movements without relying on any kind of visual reference, you will become smoother and more efficient at them even when you’re able to see.
What “standard” you think you should be able to perform at is a personal assessment we must all make for ourselves. Establish some kind of skill baseline – whether you time yourself, or simply count the number of reps required to get something correct. Once you have that baseline, build on it slowly and steadily. Low-light firearms training is not something to be rushed or pushed-through just to say you did it. But with some very simple drills and a little ingenuity in creating the appropriate environment, you will be able become capable of self-defense all day, every day.