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Lessons from the LMS Defense Low Light Course

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Photos by Larry Atil

Nighttime is Fight Time

Nothing good happens at 3 a.m. We hear this over and over, mostly from people who’ve seen firsthand what happens in the darkest part of the night. Whether carrying concealed, on-duty or guarding your castle, it’s essential to know how to run your firearm in low light.

Even though nighttime is when the bad guys do bad things, there’s a serious training deficiency when it comes to deploying a flashlight in conjunction with a firearm. This is a result of most public shooting areas’ sundown curfew and a lack of private ranges that’ll let you shoot in the dark.

When it comes to a night shoot there are a number of boxes to check before lanyarding up that SureFire and assuming a Harries Technique. We recently took a two-day, low-light pistol and carbine fundamentals course with LMS Defense at their northern Nevada facility.

These weren’t your typical shooting courses, and they constantly brought new challenges to the forefront. We dare say they were probably two of the most important classes we’ve ever taken over the past three decades of shooting.

Like any piece of gear, a weapon-mounted light can fail when you need it most. This is where one-handed shooting and using a handheld light come into play.

Like any piece of gear, a weapon-mounted light can fail when you need it most. This is where one-handed shooting and using a handheld light come into play.

The Instructor
These classes were taught by Daniel Bales, who not only has a long career in law enforcement to his credit, but also played college sports and stresses the importance of shooting as an athletic endeavor, as well as a lifesaving one.

Whether you’re fast to get to the other side of a field, or engaging multiple targets, shooting and moving to save your life is just as much an athletic endeavor as basketball or football. The main difference being that your life is on the line as opposed to your pride.

Like most courses of this type, there are prerequisites to ensure that rank amateurs aren’t running around with loaded guns in the dark and forgetting whether or not their pistol has a safety. The equipment checklist was pretty straightforward for both classes: handgun with mounted light and holster, handheld light, carbine with mounted light, sling and zeroed optic — plus all the required ammunition and spare magazines.

We have a large collection of handguns and a few with dedicated lights, but only one holster to accommodate a mounted light, and it wasn’t the worst choice in the world: HK USP Compact Tactical .45 and our carbine of choice was a Frankengun we built over a decade ago with a SureFire M900 and Trijicon ACOG. We went the extra mile as a courtesy to our fellow shooters and mounted an AAC 556-SD silencer.

Shooting in the daytime with a flashlight is necessary to get you up to speed for the nighttime portion of the class.

Shooting in the daytime with a flashlight is necessary to get you up to speed for the nighttime portion of the class.

Day One
The class began in the late afternoon and ran well into the night. Mustering on the range at 14:00 (2 p.m. for the non-military-minded types) may not sound like the ideal time for nighttime training, but with a winter sunset at 16:45 that day, it gave us enough time to rehearse before darkness descended and gave us a solid five hours of low-light time.

Winter in the High Sierras can quickly get ugly, and this class soon started to feel like the ice planet Hoth. This made our first challenge simply drawing from concealment under a field jacket and a fleece.

After a few strings we ditched the field jacket and tucked our fleece into our pants. Not just for ease of drawing, but fighting through layers of clothing can turn you into a potential safety violator unless you consciously turn that side of your body down range.

Lesson learned: Adjust your carry gun to your mode of dress, especially in colder weather.

Much of the first few hours of the class were devoted to the various handheld flashlight techniques in conjunction with a firearm. An observation we made had more to do with our training peers. LMS attracts students who are serious about shooting, so while there were no rank amateurs or people running substandard equipment; there were quite a few malfunctions that made us glad we regularly shoot all of our handguns one-handed.

Some of this was limp-wristing (for the reason we just mentioned); the other was related to the weather as gloved hands throw off a normal trigger press and can interfere with the cycling of the slide. We had no problems in this regard, but did notice a distinct difference with our trigger press while gloved.

Lesson learned: Shoot your handgun singlehandedly once in a while, in a real-life situation you may be injured or have to hold a flashlight.

As we worked into the night we graduated to “shoot: no shoot” scenarios, including target recognition, and graduating to the shoot house. Between the effects of the cold and the adrenaline from moving through a shoot house actively looking for targets, we outran our headlights a few times. We didn’t accidentally kill a hostage, but more than once we missed a bad guy.

Lesson learned: Mentally slow yourself down. Not every shooting course is an IPSC match!

Our other takeaway on day one was that pistol night sights are almost completely useless. With a flashlight they become regular sights and without a visible white light you cannot see the target much less identify it. One student had Truglo fiber-optic sights on his pistol, and we were amazed with how well they worked in conjunction with a flashlight.

Successfully engaging the target with your light at nighttime is easier when you get the basic fundamentals down during the day.

Successfully engaging the target with your light at nighttime is easier when you get the basic fundamentals down during the day.

Day Two
The carbine portion was held at the same time the next day; however, it might as well have been months apart as we woke up to a few inches of snow, drove through freezing rain, and the facility looked like the surface of the moon.

As we were commiserating with the domestic 6 on the phone about the weather, in a moment of tactical omnipotence she said, “Well, when you need to put training like this to use, it might be in that kind of weather.” That emboldened us to go forth and conquer.

Knowing what to expect from the pistol class prepared us for the carbine class. We rigged our holster to hang on our chest rig, more or less at the 4 o’clock position where we would carry concealed. We chose a less warm, but more tactile pair of gloves and were ready.

When Bales asked us the lumens rating on our weapon lights we heard numbers like 600, 700, 1,000, and all eyes were on us when we answered with “225.” Yeah, 2003 called a few minutes later and wanted their light back.

The biggest issue we ran into was firing our Frankengun with one hand while holding a handheld light in the non-shooting hand. We’re no stranger to the weight pile and have fired full auto one-handed on numerous occasions, but the Frankengun weighs a bit more than the 7.9-pound M16A2 we toted as a Marine between the KAC rail, M900, and ACE SOCCOM Stock.

Now you’re probably asking: Why would you run a handheld light in conjunction with a long gun? It may not be a likely scenario, but the weapon-mounted light could fail. The carbine of choice may not have the provision to mount a light and you find yourself needing one and in the absence of a Picatinny, M-LOK, or KeyMod; you may come up short on duct tape and hose clamps.

Shooting a carbine one-handed with a handheld light in the other may become a reality if your weapon-mounted light fails.

Shooting a carbine one-handed with a handheld light in the other may become a reality if your weapon-mounted light fails.

Lesson learned: The weight of your rifle matters when you intend to do more than walk it from your truck to shoot at the range. Consider the necessities when you’re building or buying a rifle. As far as the performance of our light, it may be considered the bare minimum in lumens, but we never once washed out our target or experienced a poor throw of the light.

Unlike the prior day that was colder than a well digger’s asshole, this session had a heavy cloud cover at night time so we saw no moon or stars like we did on day one. We suffered a single equipment failure in the form of a broken sling swivel, but quickly MacGyvered a solution with paracord and soldiered on. While we feel classes are a great way to not only learn but to test your own abilities and your equipment, we should have triple-checked everything beforehand.


The proof of applied learning came in the shoot house sessions. As we said on day one: Due to the cold, prior match shooting, adrenaline, or a combination of all these, we ran through the shoot house too fast. This time we mentally made ourselves slow down, consider every angle before entry into a room and identify all the threats before shooting.

Stress Under Fire
Too many times when a tactical class is taken, instructors see it as a chance to play drill instructor and yell at their students. That mode of teaching isn’t as effective as one might think. We’ve had instructors throw rocks at us while shooting, too. Thankfully, neither was the case at LMS.

Bales constantly challenges his students by making them think through a problem. He had us shoot after being blindfolded for a few minutes while he or his assistant moved some of our gear around.

There’s nothing like inserting a fresh rifle mag to find it’s empty or grabbing a pistol magazine that was repositioned backward on you! These are the small things that can go wrong in real life and running into them throws a bigger dose of reality to the students — more so than getting hit in the head with a rock!

We think our biggest lesson was finding out that we didn’t have the answers to everything and that training must be ongoing if you want to be a successful shooter, especially if your life could be on the line.


Lesson learned: Expect the unexpected and when something doesn’t go your way, improvise, adapt, overcome, and get that gun running!

Perhaps our biggest takeaway was the myth of tritium. Night sights do not allow you to see your target in total darkness. You may get sold on the idea that there is almost always some ambient light present and that’s enough. It simply is not. Our night sights did aid in reholstering or in the case of the AR, as a means to know which direction our muzzle was pointed in moving from one area to another on a moonless night. However, that was the extent of it.

The flashlight turns them into regular sights when illuminating the target. While we won’t turn up our nose at a pistol that has them installed, we also won’t set out to fit them on all of our handguns. A rail on the other hand is pretty much essential.


About the Instructor
Daniel Bales has served in law enforcement for over a decade. During this time he has worked for a large sheriff’s department. He has been assigned to detention, courts, patrol, SWAT, and is currently the range master for his department. His training pedigree includes numerous firearms and tactics certifications including FBI basic and advanced SWAT schools, WMD School, Active Shooter Threat Instructor school, force-on-force instructor, low-light instructor, and more.

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