Torch Techniques

Oct. 15, 2020
An overview of a few low-light training techniques and the training considerations thereof

I learned about using a flashlight and a gun the hard way. I shot competitively before I entered Academy, but this did not prepare me for working in challenging conditions, with targets that could potentially shoot first or shoot back. Since I’m not an expert at this, I got input from my friend Erick Gelhaus, a Retired Sheriff’s Sergeant, and the principle of Cougar Mountain Solutions. 

Erick and I met years ago when we were tasked to field the M68 CCO (military version of the Aimpoint Comp M2). He had some great ideas to train soldiers, and my practice of shamelessly stealing his ideas and taking credit for them originated there.

What if the agency never trains a technique that separates the firearm and flashlight and a nighttime (or indoor) firearm use of force incident occurs?

I tried weapon-mounted lights on patrol before and found it brought too many factors into the equation. For example, guns handled differently when their specifications change. In fact, if the agency is not testing to see if their adopted ammunition will still cycle with the gun and mounted light, there may be some surprises. Secondly, there are great holsters out there, but some of us like certain features that are available for “naked” guns, but unavailable for WML (weapon-mounted light) guns. Third, I want my fingers that hold the gun to work the bang switch and have a single mission.

One thing I learned quickly is the fact that flashlight use with a gun is not intuitive. That is, we steady our two-handed grip on a gun by learning to use a constant pressure-pushing out with the gun hand and pulling back with the non-firing hand. Most two-handed flashlight techniques at another direction of force, usually pushing the hands together or pulling them apart. Most one-handed flashlight techniques require that the flashlight and the gun to operate independently. At any moment, the officer is dividing their attention.

Whenever we go into low light, we have to consider that everything is degraded. If normal visual acuity is around 20/20, this can go down to 20/400 at night. Without some assistance, being able to recognize color, and therefore danger, is diminished. Every time an officer has to add an additional maneuver, using a flashlight is going to be an obstacle. Once peripheral vision is limited by lights and how focused they are, opening doors, changing magazines, using the hand to steady oneself going over obstacles, has a completely different dimension.

Working at night also requires training at night. It is a perishable skill. For example, the eyes naturally will go towards the brightest portion of the light. Without regular training at night, officers will have a tendency to wait for the brightest part of the flashlight beam on the target or align their sights with the brightest part of the beam.

Officers need to train in a manner that diminishes the disadvantages of fighting at night. For example, improper use of a flashlight could potentially give away the position of the officer. However, some flashlights can mitigate that. It is strongly recommended that officers attend lowlight schools, and incorporate that training in their patrol work.

The flashlight techniques used in this article have several different names. I have described the technique so that we are attempting to speak in a common language. Most of the following techniques work best if you hold the light in the palm of your support hand while your thumb is over the tail button and the emitting end is protruding from the bottom of your hand.

The Neck and Temple Index

Although I use the Neck Index, Retired Sergeant Gelhaus prefers a version called the Temple Index. He found that when the light is at the neck level, it tries to project through the gun. Raising it up that much higher prevents illuminating the back of the gun.

Training Considerations. In order to access the gun and light together, the officer must place them somewhere on the belt that gives consistent access to them. If the light is on the support side of the belt, then logically the officer who uses an ice pick or temple index grip will draw it from bezel down, or have a sheath that exposes enough of the barrel when drawing to allow the officer to orient it quickly.

Some tactical flashlight manufacturers have responded to the needs of handheld light carriers in a unique way. For example, ASP offers the Sentinel light, a tri-fuel rechargeable life that pushes out 400 lumens. It has a bezel that is the same diameter as the rest of the light. It is short enough to be a backup light, but the fact that it fits into the ASP Tactical Light Case allows it to be carried bezel up or bezel down.

The FBI Technique

Both Gelhaus and I like the FBI method, which consists of holding the light above and ahead of one’s body.

Light on chain-link fences and similar barriers have a tendency to turn them into a solid white wall. Any type of intermediate barrier can block light or create shadows, which is a problem. Weapon-mounted lights definitely have their place here, but intermediate barriers are proof that they shouldn’t be the only light.

I’m betting all of us have searched a bedroom that had a mirror on the wall before. This problem became a bigger issue as bulbs began projecting significant amounts of light downrange. Any flashlight technique that places the officer’s eyes, light, and gun barrel into the same plane could cause this problem. The easiest fix is to orient the lights beam either low or high.

Training Considerations. Most officers can search with the FBI technique for long periods of time. It is also an opportunity to use “strobing” techniques that mask the movement of the officer. I like strobing techniques with the FBI method, however, Gelhaus does not—despite being well trained in strobing. For a right-handed shooter, begin strobing while the light is indexed at the temple. Move the light all the way out to the full extension of the arm (to the FBI technique), while moving to the right. To the person being “strobed” it will look like the officer did not move at all. This is something that takes practice. Simunition or Airsoft is recommended to master the masked movement.

The advantage to single hand techniques is gun retention. Officers can retract their gun into the body, minimizing exposure. When you train for this, make sure the hand with the light is not crossing in front of the muzzle. Shooting the hand is not recommended when using flashlight techniques.

The Harries Technique

The Harries technique creates a solid shooting platform by using isometric pressure from both hands. Commonly taught at the Academy in most programs, it is also the one most frequently done wrong. The gun is held in a natural one-handed grip. To get into the Harries technique, the hand with the flashlight goes under the shooting hand not in front of the muzzle. The back of the flashlight hand is placed against the back of the gun hand, wrists crossed.

The Harries was originally used with larger lights like Maglites and Streamlights, creating a steady platform by pressing the backs of the hands together.

Training Considerations. Gelhaus and I shared the same sentiment about this type of technique. Anyone who trains with this will tire when searching a full-size building, or anything for any length of time. It works well, but maintaining this position will fatigue the officer in no time. It’s a great tool for short searches.

The other problem with the Harries Technique is the fact that it connects use of the flashlight with use of the firearm. If the searching officer happens upon a non-threat, they have to separate the hands in order to quit pointing the gun at them.

Another advantage of using the ice pick grip is the officer can shift the FBI Technique to a draw/temple index, and end up in the Harries technique without having to change how they are holding the light.

The Syringe Method or the Rogers Technique

The Syringe Method consists of using a short, tail switch-operated light. One holds the light between the index and middle fingers so that the heel of the light is against the base of one’s thumb. This method has a number of other names, including the Rogers technique. Squeezing the hand turns it on. Generally, the two hands are held together, so the gun is in the weapon hand, light in support hand and the middle joints of both hands push against each other. There are plenty of variations, so this position is an approximation.

It has several advantages, foremost being the ability to work the light intermittently without shifting the grip. While it allows for a solid shooting grip, few people hold a light that way when searching.

Training Considerations. The Syringe Method requires a specific type of flashlight. It can’t be too long, and the tail switch portion generally has to be larger in diameter than the barrel. If the tail switch is too recessed, it can’t be used.

The Marine Corps Flashlight Technique 

I originally learned this technique as the Marine Corps Embassy technique. No instructor that I work with really knows the origin of this technique or the name, but most of my Marine friends tell me that’s what they use. Since they are among the world’s leading experts on operating tools that emit projectiles, the name is quite appropriate.

There are two different methods here. The first is a knuckles-up method, which is a reverse Harries technique. The second places the bezel near the thumb, knuckles down—the Chapman/Ayoob method.

Training Considerations. The Marine technique uses the most natural shooting isometric pressure of all the techniques. That is, the officer pushes out with the flashlight, and pulls in with the gun, with all of the pressure resting against the fingertips of the gun hand. This technique produces the least amount of fatigue, and the most accurate shooting.

The Marine Technique also can employ just about any size or style of a flashlight.

Connecting the light to the firearm 

Most two-handed flashlight techniques tend to marry the gun with the light. For the most part, this is a good thing. That is, the firearm and the flashlight should probably point in the same general direction. However, we have to consider fatigue, versatility, and capability.

There are a couple of skills that are immediately implied when it comes to low-light fighting. First, officers need to be able to shoot one-handed. This is a skill set that every officer in every agency should have, without exception. If an officer manipulates a firearm together with a flashlight while training, and never learns to manipulate them separately, it raises a question: What if the agency never trains a technique that separates the firearm and flashlight and a nighttime (or indoor) firearm use of force incident occurs?

Second, if an agency uses weapon-mounted lights, but does not require handheld lights, what type of liability and training failure does this practice raise? When weapon-mounted lights were just becoming popular, this training reared its ugly head. I was in absolute shock once when I backed up an officer from another agency and he had tucked his firearm under his arm to write a citation because that was his primary light. True story, folks.

For reload practice and general manipulation, I use a dowel that is roughly the size and shape of a flashlight. When the training is administrative, like magazine swapping without live fire, I use a Red Gun and a dowel.

Regardless of the light/gun method, everyone needs to train on how to free the hands in order to overcome obstacles. For example, if a flashlight is in one hand and a gun is in the other, opening a door can be a problem. The same goes for magazine changes. We want to accomplish these tasks without losing illumination, or taking the firearm offline.

This can be done in three steps:

  • Take cover if possible. Turn the light off, and freed the thumb and index finger of your support hand.
  • Clear the obstacle.
  • Re-acquire the flashlight and continue the previous activity.

If clearing the obstacle means changing magazine, do the complete magazine change before retrieving flashlight. The same goes for clearing stoppages. Both tasks end with retrieving the flashlight.

When it comes to smoothly pinning the light under the arm, practice with the same diligence as one would use after purchasing a new holster. Do the same thing with live fire.

What kind of light?

When using most of these flashlight techniques, it is important to select a particular type of flashlight. It should be long enough to stuff under your armpit, but not too long so as to have the balance point too far forward. This may preclude the super-compact types of lights, but it also ensures that there is enough power capacity for a full shift. For shooting techniques, it generally should be about the width of two hands. The reason for this is simple. If should the user grab the light, part of that hand should be over the balance point. Anything longer will cause changes in the characteristics of handling a flashlight and gun together.

Longer lights should have a switch on the barrel. The switch should protrude enough to allow the user to orient it quickly in the hand, and operate it with the finger or thumb tip, or any meaty part of the hand.

Your flashlight should have something that prevents it from rolling when set down on a non-level surface. Some products have none concentric shapes cut into the bezel. Others have milled or molded flat surfaces. I like the Coast TX14R and TX9R both have radiused hexagonal collars, which keep them put. Coast makes several different duty ready flashlights with multiple power options. Of all these lights, the TX14R is one of the best choices for a duty flashlight. It is multi fueled and has several charging options. It comes with a AAA battery pack and a Li battery that gives 4 hr 15 min of run time. The Li battery even has a power port that can do an emergency charge on a cellphone.

The TX14R has a focusing beam that can be concentrated for a long-range (900 lumens, 421 meters), which also cuts fog and smoke rather well. I tend to focus the beam to allow for a wider spillbeam and soft center. This gives it wide, very bright coverage, allowing the user to go from a bedroom to an open living area without adjusting. There are several other great products out there, but it’s a good idea to look for these particular features.  

About the Author

Officer Lindsey Bertomen (ret.), Contributing Editor

Lindsey Bertomen is a retired police officer and retired military small arms trainer. He teaches criminal justice at Hartnell College in Salinas, California, where serves as a POST administrator and firearms instructor. He also teaches civilian firearms classes, enjoys fly fishing, martial arts, and mountain biking. His articles have appeared in print and online for over two decades. 

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