My first post of this year briefly discussed my goal of doing 3,650 minutes of dry practice in 2019. These posts are mostly for my own accountability. I am releasing this as a normal Saturday post because I learned a lot during this two-week period. If you aren’t interested in my performance this year skip past my log and read the notes.
January 1 – 11: 200 minutes, January 12 – 31: 140 minutes
February 1 – 15: 140 minutes, February 16 – 28: 130 minutes
March 1 – 15: 160 minutes, March 16 – 31: 160 minutes
April 1 – 15: 140 minutes, April 16 – 30: 160 minutes
May 1 – 15: 140 minutes, May 16 – 31: 170 minutes
June 1 – 15: 180 minutes, June 16 – 30: 160 minutes
July 1-15: 150 minutes, July 16 – 31: 130 minutes
August 01: 10 minutes low-light presentation w/ Olight I3T
August 02: 10 minutes low-light presentation w/ Olight I3T
August 03: 10 minutes low-light presentation w/ Olight I3T
August 04: 10 minutes low-light presentation w/ ThruNite Archer 1A V3
August 05: 10 minutes low-light presentation w/ ThruNite Archer 1A V3
August 06: 10 minutes low-light presentation w/ Olight I3T
August 07: 10 minutes low-light presentation w/ Olight I3T
August 08: 10 minutes low-light presentation w/ Streamlight ProTac 2L-X
August 09: 10 minutes low-light presentation w/ Olight I3T
August 10: 10 minutes low-light presentation w/ Streamlight ProTac IL-AA
August 11: 10 minutes Type I malfunctions w/ Streamlight ProTac IL-AA
August 12: 10 minutes Type I malfunctions w/ Olight I3T
August 13: 10 minutes reloads w/ Streamlight ProTac IL-AA
August 14: 10 minutes reloads w/ Streamlight ProTac IL-AA
August 15: 10 minutes low-light presentation w/ Streamlight ProTac IL-AA
Monthly Target: 300 minutes
Monthly Actual To Date: 150 minutes
Cumulative Target: 2,430 minutes
Cumulative Actual to Date: 2,310 minutes (38 hours, 30 minutes)
I spent this entire period working with a handheld flashlight in low/no light. Instead of getting up and out super early, I used a room in my basement that doesn’t have a window. My learning curve sky-rocketed on day one and it seemed like I added some thoughts to this post nearly every day of this session. This was one of the best two-week sessions I’ve done in a while.
I admit that I have been procrastinating practicing these techniques. A reader email a month or so ago spurred me into action. He’d shot a copperhead at night, and mentioned he was looking forward to my practice routine for low-light. I’m now sorry I waited so long to improve this gap in my skills.
Part of putting this off was my difficulty with light selection. I don’t use a weapon-mounted light on my carry gun, so this practice necessitated a handheld. I have pocket-carried a flashlight for years. The one I’ve carried, and my carry method, have little “tactical” utility, however. When I began this period I wasn’t sure if I wanted to commit to belt-carrying a flashlight in a combo light/mag pouch, or carry a pocket-clipped light on my weak side.
After reading Grant Cunningham’s recent thoughts on flashlights I’ve become much more thoughtful about light selection (which is probably the opposite of the point of his articles), but that’s another, much longer story for another time. In the meantime I’ve purchased several “EDC” lights this month. Unfortunately, I still haven’t found a light that balances my personal ideals of size, usefulness as a defensive tool, and day-to-day utility.
Instead of waiting until I found the perfect light, I decided to temporarily accept a compromise solution and get to work. I grabbed an Olight I3T single-AAA light the I already owned. It has a clip and a tail switch which makes it suitable for working basic defensive technique. It’s a great all-around light, but it’s probably not the “right answer” for defensive use. For developing the basic technique while I looked for a better light, it was fine. Maybe think of it as the .22 of flashlights.
I worked with a bunch of other lights during this period. Some came close, but honestly none worked quite as well as the little Olight. I’m sure self-defense experts will make fun of me for using such a tiny light, but as I discovered, bigger lights have some problems, too.
Light Selection Lessons Learned
I don’t want to get too far down the rabbit hole on equipment. Practice will tell you what is important in your equipment, and practice matters way more than equipment. I did learn a few things about my gear during this period, though.
First, the size of the light matters. I tried working with what would be accepted as a true “self defense” light. It is the Streamlight ProTac 2L-X. Holding 2 CR123 batteries and throwing 500 lumens, it is too large for my to carry comfortably. More importantly, I found that I had a tendency to drop it if I had to manipulate the gun’s slide (i.e. while clearing malfunctions). Its barrel was just too large for me to reliably hold onto with my left pinky and ring fingers.
I also found that I had a tendency to drop even smaller lights that were slick. This was one issue with the Streamlight ProTac IL-AA. With slightly sweaty hands I would drop it occasionally. Because the pocket clip is fairly tight, I would also occasionally lose control of it pulling it out of my pocket at speed. This is partially technique; this happened far less frequently the more I worked with this light. With lights of similar size dropping the light wasn’t a factor at all, though and I would definitely prefer a knurled body.
I found that the ThruNite Archer 1A V3 was a near ideal light. The form factor is excellent. It offers all of the features and modes I would like in a light.. Unfortunately mine is terribly unreliable and will not turn on sometimes.
If there are any flashlight nerds on here, hit me up. I’d love some help finding a light that meets my criteria. So far the two closest things I’ve found are the Streamlight and the ThruNite Archer 1A V3, but there are compromises with both. The world of EDC flashlight options is vast, and absolutely bewildering to me.
Most of my work was, predictably and practically, with my EDC gun. I had to fly during this period, so I spent five days working with something else. To be fair, I’ve never had an issue flying with firearms, and I’ve flown with them a lot. The biggest issue I ever had was arriving at an airport too early to check my bag. Still, I’m not quite ready to trust TSA and baggage handlers with my custom 1911. I can’t afford to replace it, so I’m not going to expose it to that kind of risk. Instead, I took one of the most replaceable guns in American right now: my M&P9 Shield.
Presenting with a Handheld
The first few days of this period were just spent getting acquainted with drawing and shooting with a handheld light. I’m glad I’ve gone in the order I’ve chose this year; drawing the gun is functionally no different than a SHO draw. I really appreciate the SHO work I’ve already put in – I’ve myelinated that pathway pretty well. I worked the presentation in conjunction with a light in two ways.
First, I worked on presenting the gun with the light already out and on. If a light is used, it may very well be because I’ve noticed something that has caused me to pull out my light and investigate. This was just a SHO draw with my light in my left hand. Not much new here.
Secondly, I spent about half of my time simultaneously drawing the light and the gun. It is also possible that I may recognize something as a serious threat without knowing exactly what it is. In this case I don’t want to draw one, then the other.
Simultaneously drawing the light with my left hand and the gun with my right was a “pat your head/rub your stomach” thing at first. It didn’t take long to get in the groove, though. By the end of the second or third session I had it down pretty well. I also spent a minute or two at the beginning and end of each session maintaining two-handed draws. I don’t want to sacrifice recency-of-experience on that critical skill.
the “Eye Index” Technique
I played with a few handheld light techniques. And truly, I only “played” with all of them except one. I messed around with the FBI, Harries, and Ayoob’s update on the Chapman technique. The one I like the most and practiced almost exclusively is the eye index technique.
Though this technique is probably espoused by a lot of other trainers, Mike Seeklander is the person I see pushing this the hardest. I initially came across it in his book, Your Defensive Handgun Training Program. I’ve since seen him demonstrate it. His justification for it makes a lot of sense to me, so I’m going with it. That doesn’t mean I won’t work to learn some of the others in the future, but this is the one I want my brain to pull off the stack if I need to use a handheld light and a gun at the same time.
the Light Isn’t Just for Shooting
As I mentioned earlier, I learned a ton during this period. Most of my low-light shooting was done when I was in a gun-carrying job when I had WMLs on both my rifle and pistol, and a Surefire on my belt. Almost none of my military/paramilitary low-light training focused on concealed carry. I have spent very little of my own time working these techniques.
Additionally, in the military/paramilitary context, light is used extremely sparingly. White light “NDs” (negligent discharges) were serious offenses. Light can ruin night-adjusted eyes, give away your position, or blow a soft infil.
As a citizen self-defender, white-light discipline is – let’s just be honest with each other, I haven’t gone on many raids lately and most likely, neither have you – probably not that important after the threats are neutralized. Quite on accident I discovered that the white light can protect me from another possible threat: shooting myself while holstering.
I’ve never heard this addressed in an article about low/no-light shooting: the light can help you “look” your gun back into the holster. I’m sure it’s out there, but I haven’t run across it, or more likely haven’t noticed it. When pulling my cover garment back up to expose/clear the holster, the light is still in my hand. With the ice-pick grip it is still pointed downward, giving me an unobstructed view of the holster.
This is a huge reason to carry a handheld light. The use of a handheld light in a self-defense shooting is extremely unlikely because most areas are at least somewhat illuminated. At night, if you are in a shadow, this light may not be sufficient to safely holster. A handheld flashlight allows you to get the gun back into the holster safely in reduced/low/no-light conditions.
Malfunctions & Reloads
Though I primarily worked on presentation, I also did a little bit of work on malfunctions. Use of firearms in defensive conditions seems to induce malfunctions a bit more often than range conditions. When you are moving extremely fast under stress, you may acquire a sub-optimal grasp, inadvertently activate controls, foul the slide, etc. It makes sense to me to be very skilled at clearing malfunctions.
When using a handheld light you have a couple options. First, you can clear the malfunction strong-hand-only. This is not ideal; it is slower and more mistake-prone than two-handed malfunction clearance. It is even possible for one-handed clearing to induce a worse malfunction, like when clothing covers the ejection port, or you don’t get a full rack.
Another option is to simply drop the light and clear the malfunction two-handed. This is problematic because now you have to recover the light, and you may not have the light you need to adequately clear the malfunction. Some lights come with or can be retrofitted with finger rings near the tail cap. These allow you to “drop” the light but still retain it.
The third option is to try to clear the malfunction with two hands while retaining the flashlight. Lacking a light with a retention ring, this is what I practiced. This is where I really saw how much the size and design of the flashlight matter.
I also spent a couple days working reloads with the light in my left hand. I was surprised that it wasn’t massively more difficult than normal reloads. It was probably slower, though. It did occur to me that now I’m getting into super-outlier territory: one-handed shooting, with a light, and having to reload. Like I’ve said before, I have 365 days of dry practice to fill and it doesn’t actually hurt me to run through these scenarios occasionally.
The Bottom Line
If you’ve never spent an appreciable amount of time practicing with a handheld light – or haven’t recently – you might want to. Seems easy, maybe it is easy, but it’s not easy if you haven’t worked at it.
Like anything else, you can get analysis paralysis trying to find the perfect combination of tool and technique. I recommend you pick something and myelinate it. Don’t waste a bunch of time like I did waiting for a hardware solution to come along. Find the 80% solution. Then do the work.
If you aren’t dry practicing. . . WHY NOT? It’s not hard to find 10 minutes a day to dry practice, and it’s COMPLETELY FREE. Take ten minutes you’d be spending vegging out on Instagram or in front of the TV and turn it into a tangible skill.