I have been taught low light shooting techniques in a variety of pistol classes in the past, but I have wanted to take a dedicated low light class for a long time. I always presumed that the skill would be best learned in a stand-alone, topic specific, training environment. After attending this class with Steve Fisher of Sentinel Concepts I can confirm that presumption was correct. This is a skill that cannot be adequately lumped into overall shooting classes; it is much more beneficial to take a dedicated low light class with an instructor who specializes in it. This past weekend I took the one-day Low Light Handgun class with Sentinel Concepts. The class was held at a private range in South-East Virginia, a pretty cool place in the middle of nowhere.
Dedicated low light training is somewhat harder to come by than other forms of shooting classes. This probably has to do with the logistics of available venues that can be used at night, the limited amount of instructors who specialize in it, and the limited amount of instructors who want to be standing on a range at midnight. Steve Fisher of Sentinel Concepts, however, says that he loves teaching low light, and he has decades of experience doing it. This class put the elements of low light in context for me. Despite having learned many flashlight techniques in regular classes before, and having shot in the dark with a flashlight plenty of times before, this class pulled it all together as Steve explains the context, the reasons, and the why.
I think the greatest benefit gained from attending a dedicated low light class like this one is exactly that; the context and the reasons for doing certain things is explained and trained. The shooting problem is actually quite easy; in fact, Steve mentioned that he has seen some guys shoot better with a light in the dark than during daylight as the focused beam of light seems to eliminate distractions. However, the entire context of why an individual would be using this skill, and how to do it, is what demands training with an instructor specifically specialized in it.
Steve Fisher busts a lot of myths regarding the employment of low light in a defensive context and he backs up his methodology with real word examples as he explains why he teaches certain things. For example, the idea of dancing around in the dark, quick to turn the light off, as so not to “draw fire,” is a best practice in only select circumstances. Dominating a situation with steady light, so as to control and adversary and take in information on a rapidly changing situation, is the doctrine Steve teaches. The light itself provides a visual barrier that allows the individual to conceal their own actions behind the light, while maintaining an element of control over the adversary or potential threat.
While I was generally familiar with the concept of concealing yourself through the use of your own light, Steve did some interesting demonstrations to expand on this principle and I saw some things I had never even considered. He demonstrated that your own bright light can disguise your silhouette against backlighting; amazing! Think of police officers who approach a vehicle at night when they are backlit by their own headlights; a powerful handheld light can offset this disadvantage. A civilian who must go through a door from a backlit hallway, the same principle. In such circumstance the bright light can provide you cover. It is such beneficial knowledge transfer that you can only get from a dedicated low light class like this.
Concerning handheld light techniques, Steve teaches the FBI technique, mainly as a searching method, the neck/cheek index for a quick transition from searching to shooting, and the Harris technique. These seem to be the techniques that knowledgeable low light guys have leveraged of late, as the many convoluted ways of holding the light and gun together seem to prove themselves too awkward to use for real under stress. Having used the Harris technique before I have never been a big fan as I find it awkward, despite the additional recoil control that it provides compared to other handheld light techniques; Harris is needed if you must look around a strong-side barricade as getting the light on that side of the gun is required in that circumstance. But, otherwise, I have never liked the technique. However, after Steve taught us a number of variations on the application of Harris, I see a lot more benefit to it and I will practice with it going forward.
Steve also addresses the use of weapon-mounted lights, though he stresses the importance of the handheld and spends far less time on weapon mounted. For most people the handheld is needed for searching and identifying things and proves the more critical tool for carry. However, Steve teaches the safest and most efficient ways to actuate and use weapon lights. I did not even bring a weapon light as I don’t use one on my carry gun (I do keep a WML on my dedicated house pistol, and on all defensive long guns) but I just did extra reps with my handheld when everyone else practiced with their WMLs, and this experience simply confirmed my initial thought that the handheld is a must have, whereas the WML is a nice to have, but hardly necessary on a carry gun in a civilian context.
Steve also focuses heavy on manipulations in class, as adding a light to the hands complicates things. However, it is easier to do than one would presume with the right technique. Steve teaches treating the handheld light similar to a second magazine when doing a reload with retention; by placing the light between the index and middle finger, you can grab your spare magazine and reload. Similarly, you can clear malfunctions quite efficiently as well even with the light still in your hand.
One very useful and interesting gear related part of the class is how Steve had all attendees shine their lights, one at a time, into the field behind us once it was pitch black. There was a wide variety of lights. Spoiler, the Modlites dominate. Some of the Surefires are quite good as well. I was using a Streamlight HLx, and for only an 80$ light it hung well, very bright with a great hot spot. I might pick up a Modlite, but if you want a really good light for less than 100$ the streamlight HLx is solid, though the bezel is a bit large for carrying in the pocket.
Finally, I really liked how Steve Fisher explains that he is providing techniques to show students how to practice. He explains that low light technique is mainly about manipulation and the vast majority of training for it can be done in dry practice. You can also practice in daylight live fire. Anyone that has never shot in the dark with a light will find that the shooting is actually quite easy; it is the manipulations that demand some work, and this can be accomplished in dry work. If you have never taken a dedicated low light class, I think it is well worth it, and I highly recommend taking this one with Steve Fisher.