This past weekend I had the opportunity to participate in a low light practice session hosted by Pew Pew Solutions at The Farm shooting range in Fairfield Utah (just outside Salt Lake City). According to their website Pew Pew Solution’s is “a Utah based training group for those passionate about firearms safety, self-defense, shooting sports and the mastery of associated skills” They “organize training courses, training days, and host the top trainers from across the world”. Looking over their list of upcoming courses and some of their past ones this last statement certainly seems to be accurate. The company is helmed by Mr. Josh Thornton who did a great job of setting up and coordinating the whole event.
Like most open enrollment events I have attended the participants at this one were a mixed bag of ages, professions, and backgrounds ranging from software engineers and inventors, to competitive shooters, and a few with military or law enforcement experience. What they all had in common was a pre-established grasp of safety and gun-handling that I was grateful to see. There was also a universal commitment to learning and helping one another out. If there was a big ego in this group it wasn’t apparent.
At the beginning of the event everyone got together for an in-depth safety briefing conducted by Josh. One excellent point made was that if anyone was accidentally shot and 911 had to be called, we should use the verbiage “firearms training accident” as opposed to “shooting”. This would hopefully ensure that an ambulance responded directly to the scene instead of getting a police response with medics being held until the scene was secured. This is definitely something I will be incorporating in my own safety briefings in the future.
The rest of the practice session was self-paced and self-self-structured with five stations having been set up for different drills. I won’t spoil all of the drills but suffice to say they were a good mixture of close-range work on paper and cardboard and moderate to longer distances incorporating steel targets, with the farthest being about 100 yards. There was also a good bit of movement and manipulation required to complete the various drills.
The whole point of a session like this one is to be able to test out your equipment and skills and identify some of the nuances that are needed to work in darkness. Sometimes there are techniques, tactics and procedures that work well during the day on a flat range that don’t hold up when the lights go out. Here are a few of the key takeaways that I identified through my own performance or by observing others during the session;
- Have a good zero and know your holds at various distances. This includes accounting for height over bore at close range. This is important when visibility is good, when you are shooting in darkness at limited exposures and partially obscured targets it becomes that much more critical. Visual feedback as to where your rounds are impacting is going to be nil in darkness.
- Basic manipulations like press checks, reloads, and malfunctions are all a bit more difficult in the dark. A convincing case could be made that your regular administrative procedures and immediate actions should be done in such a way that you can accomplish them in zero visibility. One of the chief reasons some cite for having a magwell on their carbines is that it facilitates lowlight reloads. After a few less-than-smooth reloads I think those folks might be onto something.
- When using white light, smoke and other particulates from shooting can very quickly occlude your vision. The best way to mitigate that is simply to move laterally away from the smoke. If you are working with others though you need to be cognizant of their position so you don’t inadvertently step in front of their muzzle (not something that happened at the session…just to be clear).
- The brightness of your red dot needs to be adjusted to the anticipated target. One of the big things that I noted is that I was constantly having to adjust the brightness setting on my Aimpoint T-1, sometimes on the fly. I generally like to run my dot at the lowest setting where is it readily visible when I mount the gun at a given distance or target. I found that at close range targets with light colored backgrounds my 1000 lumen light was completely washing out my red dot, which required that I adjust the brightness setting higher than normal. Conversely the higher brightness setting completely covered more distant targets like the 100-yard steel torsos. On these targets I needed to drastically reduce the brightness to give myself a sufficiently refined aiming point. My takeaway from this experience was to be more familiar with how my light and red dot combination performed at various distances and backgrounds, but also to practices manipulating the brightness on the fly, much like one would a variable power optic.
In conclusion, I found this practice session to be very valuable. I was super impressed with Josh’s coordination of the event and with both the skill level and adherence to safety practices of the other attendees. I would highly recommend if you are in Utah you check out Pew Pew Solution’s offerings, they really are doing some great things. More generally, I would encourage anybody who is serious about defensive shooting to seek out any opportunity to get some experience in a low light environment. Statistically the majority of shootings occur in darkness or reduced lighting, yet the vast majority of our practice takes place in brightly lit areas. Once you have some fundamental gun-handling and marksmanship skills established you really owe it to yourself (and those around you) to get comfortable shooting in reduced light.