Low Light Shooting Guide

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In this guide we will go over some low light shooting tactics.  Let’s be real, most of you don’t have the money to blow on NVGs (night vision goggles), and I’m damn sure you’ll get your shit handed to you if you don’t train to handle low light shooting.  With this in mind, let’s go over some tips and tricks to handle shooting in low light..

“The first time you blow someone away is not an insignificant event. That said, there are some shitheads in the world that just need to be shot. There are hunters and there are victims. By your discipline, you will decide if you are a hunter or a victim.”Retired Marine Gen. James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis

Low Light Dangers

Low light shooting guide In theater, low light shooting is actively engaging an enemy at night, or in a structure that inhibits proper lighting i.e. a building with no windows.  Even in the absence of combat, darkness can strike fear in the hearts of many men and women.  There’s a litany of psychological effects caused by darkness that you should train to combat against. When you’re confronted with total darkness and see a small point of light(s), you’ll quickly notice what’s known as the autokinetic effect.  The autokinetic effect is where your eyes fixate on a small point of light(s), and makes those points of light seem like they are moving when they’re not.  It’s usually caused by involuntary muscle movements in your eyes…

“It’s autokinesis: seeing involuntary muscle movements of your own eyes. Those lights aren’t going to come any closer than they are. It’s a fuckin’ town. Thirty or forty kliks out there at least. How far out did Alpha call this?”Sgt. Brad ‘Iceman’ Colbert – Generation Kill

low light shooting guide autokinesis

In these scene from the one season blockbuster Generation Kill, you learn the dangers of autokinesis where their sister unit Alpha called in an airstrike on what they thought was enemy armor.  Fortunately, Cpt. Craig ‘Encino Man’ Schwetje called in the airstrike at fifteen kliks, not forty, causing the airstrike to hit nothing but dirt. If you haven’t watched this show yet, you’re missing out.

Not only that, but darkness can bring about some nasty psychological effects that have no place on the battlefield. Over ten percent of Americans have some fear of the darkness that causes thanatophobia (fear of death), delusional worrying, insomnia, depression, and anxiety.

When the lights go out in combat, not only does your fight or flight system go into overdrive, but your pitiful little human eyes dilate to allow for more light in, and strain to focus on light sources. It sucks to say it, but even though we are apex predators, our night vision seriously blows! Our eyes rely on rods (rhodopsin) which can detect a single photon of light. However, if those rods go from darkness to too much light you’re screwed for at least twenty to thirty minutes. As an example, imagine it’s noon and the sun’s out, you’re breaching an underground bunker that has no lights, the minute you breach your rods have to reset and acclimate to the darkness before you can effectively focus in on any threats.

The advantage of low light shooting

Moon’s out goons out, there’s a reason most crimes, firefights, and military ops occur at night.  The aggressor is relying on the target’s inability to operate under low light conditions.  To those trained and equipped to shoot in low light conditions, darkness is an incredible asset that provides concealment while triggering psychological effects that aid the aggressor.  This means, you need to know how to not only defend yourself, but to use darkness as a weapon when you go on the offensive.

Understanding low light shooting

Low light shooting techniques require true dedication to training, and should be incorporated into your LFX.  Not only should you have a firm understanding in the techniques, but you should be properly equipped to operate in the dark, while not relying solely on the tools.  First, understand some basic rules for low light shooting before going on to advanced low light shooting.  Three simple rules…

Avoid Telegraphing

Telegraphing or flagging, alerting the target(s) to your presence. Let’s say you have a kick ass rifle with a bitchin’ SureFire tactical flashlight, and this thing is bright.  You’re out on patrol and you can barely see so you flick this bad boy on as you walk. You get about fifty feet, you hear a zip, you feel the sting, blood pours from you, and you realize you’ve been shot.  By leaving your light on and walking fifty feet you allowed for the sniper who was hidden in the treeline to identify your location, distance, and rhythm..

The best way to stay concealed under normal combat conditions is to not emit any light whatsoever by using Night Vision Goggles, with the aid of rifle mounted IR Laser Beams.  Unfortunately, a setup like this costs a few hundred dollars (not including your rifle), and isn’t an option for most of those that still have bills to pay.  You’ll need to rely on visual distortion to prevent telegraphing by manipulating the angle of your light’s beam, and the duration of it being on in intervals. By constantly manipulating your movements, beam angle, and light duration, you can keep the sniper from getting a bead on you.

Avoid blinding yourself and your team

Eventually your eyes will adjust to the dark, and become more sensitive to light. Even with your lights on you’ll be more sensitive to light, and if you aren’t prepared you could easily blind yourself or one of your team members. Keep this in mind when performing low light LFX.  Practice breaching, and clearing with a focus on beam direction.

Avoid creating backlit situations

When clearing a room in a normal team stack, avoid creating backlit situations by never having a beam in the direction of a team member.  When a beam is on a team member’s back it decreases that team members low light capabilities, and will block your beam from the target, allowing him to sight in on the member with the light on his back.

Low light shooting gear

As with all our articles we like to provide you sources for the best gear, with a bigger bang for your buck.  Luckily, flashlights, and NVGs have come a long way, making these accessories a major asset to you. Avoid buying any flashlight with a twist/slide on/off mechanism that are entirely too slow to operate.

Shooting in low light structures

If you’re attempting to clear a building in low light conditions you will need to remember some key rules, and incorporate them into your training; do not turn your light on too soon, don’t drag your beam (moving from ground up), don’t lead your light slowly, and don’t light the wall directly in front of you.

Intersections and tight corners should be approached with aggressive tempo. Hopefully you opted for a rifle/pistol mounted light that can be activated in an instance.  At each corner you clear your goal is to pop in with your light eye level, turning your light on as you cut the corner, long enough to clear the section, or to fire upon the target (if located).  By ‘popping in’ and flashing your light, you momentarily disorient the target providing you the advantage.

If you’re at an intersection or a T pop in high on the left , move back to cover, and pop in low on the right (another example of visual distortion).  Another nifty function of some of the more quality tactical lights is the strobe feature that inhibits the target’s ability to fixate whether you popped in high or low, but this function can also inhibit your vision if you’re not prepared for the effects.

A good low light exercise to practice is having the target find a place to start upon you breaching the structure (i.e. you main entry, target second floor room), and have the target aggressively engage you versus passively waiting.  By performing this exercise you will be forced to deal with CQB in low light conditions.

Night Vision Conditioning

There’s all kinds of ways you can better your night vision without the aid of your tools.  One simple method is to increase your Vitamin A intake.  Another method is to be in a room with the lights on, turn the lights off, squeeze your eyes tight as possible for ten seconds, and then open your eyes. And my personal favorite, empty your weapons magazine and chamber, turn off all the lights in your house, and start clearing your house for threats.  By using your night vision more and more you train your eyes to better handle low light conditions.

In closing, I did mention NVGs quite a bit in this article, but we’ll discuss proper NVG use in another article.  As we say in most our guides, you can read until your eyes bleed, but if you’re not applying this knowledge into your everyday training it won’t do much good.  Also, if you guys have any input, feel free to comment below.

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About Runik

Certified NRA Instructor, Certified Military Platform and Performance Orientated Instructor, Training Personnel, and Emergency Management. Currently working towards M.A. Emergency Management - 101ABN/82NDABN - Charlie Wardogs

5 thoughts on “Low Light Shooting Guide

  1. A couple years back, our group did some training on this subject. Out side was much easer for us. I learned a few tricks that proved out. Take a small cheapo light and tape it to about a 5ft stick, by placing it somewhere that we weren’t we were able to draw the other teams fire while in a protective posture. Also the strobe effect is a good way of messing with your opponents vision.
    Indoors, well that’s not easy, we spent 2 nights at it and I don’t feel very confident at that. We had some expensive stuff but still it’s not easy.

    • thank u please keep em comeing ! could u please put me in touch w/ the closest militia in the s.f. bay area cal. when u get a chance ! THANX STEVE

      • Hey Steve, Get on line and check out California State Militia or try Modern Militia Movement. I trained with some of the Bay Area guys, there pretty good. It’s been a while but I’m sure their still around.

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