Gear, Parts and Accessories

Combat Lights: Are You Ready for Action?

TruGlo light mounted to the rail of a Glock


Preparing for personal defense scenarios on a brightly lit range, and firing against one-dimensional targets that are squared to you, isn’t combat practice. At best it is a beginner’s exercise in controlling the trigger and sight alignment. However, gunfights occur in dim light. Are you ready for action?

The action is fast moving and, by definition, desperate. You are facing an adversary with no moral compass that has entered your home illegally. Those motivated by profit may flee at the sight of a weapon. The psychopath motivated by a desire to kill and cause human suffering will have to be stopped. There is no understanding of the moral implications of his action.

Woman holding a pistol with an attached combat light
The wrong end of a combat light!

This means that the time is overdue to practice and learn to use the proper tools. A combat light is an accessory to some, and a necessary tool to others. The combat light comes from the factory set for a single power in most cases and you learn to adapt to the light and use it in both illumination and identification. Illumination is usually the act of searching or clearing an area, identification is illumination of the threat and determining whether the person is a threat, family member, or other non threatening individual.

When searching, it is good to keep the light offset from the area we wish to observe. As an example, light a door lock with the combat light centered on the mechanism. There is some reflection. There will be refraction on glass. By offsetting the light slightly from the target, glare is reduced, and the object is clearer.

In threat identification the target is centered because we wish to affect their eyesight and temporarily blind them with the light leaving them at a tactical disadvantage. Some lights are more cohesive than others. A broader corona provides better illumination at moderate range.

TruGlo pistol light
TruGlo’s relatively compact, but effective, combat light is affordable and efficient.

Few battles in the home take place at more than a few feet. When conducting a search it is good to learn the value of quickly hitting the momentary switch (A spring-loaded switch that is only on when force is applied; when released, the light goes out immediately.) and releasing, effectively giving a squirt of light. This is important as you do not wish to give away your presence and position until you are ready to illuminate the threat. When the threat is suspected and you wish to illuminate their area the light will disorient them if properly applied.

That doesn’t mean the threat will not fire at you. However, accurate aimed fire will not be possible. If the threat is armed, you should have fire going toward the adversary at this point.

Working the Light

Combat lights use a switch to activate the light. The TruGlo TruPoint light I keep at home features both a momentary and constant switch. The up-and-hold for momentary use is well thought out. The drill is to push up for momentary use, and then release and move to the lower tab to press the light on for constant use.

Night Sights

Don’t forget night sights. Self-luminous iron sights are simply tubes filled with radioactive tritium. Synthetic ruby or sapphire-like stones are fitted to the end of the tube to collect the luminosity into a cohesive focal point. These sights allow the deployment of the handgun with 24-hour utility. Another tip: Some ammunition isn’t service grade and will generate a tremendous fireball. Other loads demonstrate a full-powder burn and light muzzle flash. Hornady’s Critical Defense and XTP loads are among the best suited of any personal defense loads for critical use.

It isn’t difficult to use the forefinger of the support hand with the two-hand grip if you prefer to keep the trigger finger unencumbered. There is also a toggle switch to control other functions. These functions include light only, red laser only, or a combination of light and laser. When the combination of light and laser is used, you have both a light for illumination and identification, and an aiming point as well. The combination of a combat light and laser for home defense is a good choice.

So far, the discussion has centered upon a dedicated, weapon-mounted light. The TruPoint may be mounted on a rifle or shotgun with the standard switch in use or a pressure pad for activation. The user should practice with this set-up. The user should also have a good flashlight to use independently of the combat light for searches and mundane chores.

The combat light is for defense use, not rummaging in the basement. Practice presentation of the handgun and deployment of the light often. Use a triple-checked unloaded handgun. There are even fake guns of various types that will allow mounting the light and efficient practice. You should practice live fire on the range in order to master combat light manipulation. Consider the problem, choose your tools well, and practice hard.

Most gunfights develop quickly. Body positioning and rough aiming work well for combat at 3 to 15 feet. It is good to learn to marry the combat light to the handgun in a firing position—if you are not using a handgun with a rail. The light should be powerful enough to be useful.

You should practice the Harries technique. The flashlight is with the handgun held in the strong hand and the light held with the diode facing out the bottom of the support hand. The thumb is on the push button light switch. The non-shooting hand crosses under the shooting hand; it is vital that the support hand is kept far enough to the rear that the hand never crosses the muzzle.

handgun and pistol at a low ready
Marrying the light and the handgun isn’t difficult with practice.

The back of the support hand is hard against the back of the firing hand. The thumb operates the momentary switch when it is desired to illuminate and identify the subject. Never point a gun light—mounted or not—at anything you are not justified in pointing a firearm at.

Practice the skill of combining illumination with the firearm and you will be able to defend yourself on a 24-hour basis. You must practice firing with the light held in the Harries position. This isn’t as solid a firing platform as the conventional two-hand hold, but it works well for those who practice.

The Harries is a short-range tactic. You can practice in daylight, as the primary focus is learning the Harries. Be certain that the hand crosses under the handgun, and at no time is the support hand near the muzzle of the handgun.

A technique that is seldom practiced is marrying the retention position to the combat light. There is no good reason to walk around with the handgun and the light at maximum extension. If the adversary is hidden and laying in wait, he may make a grab for the handgun. The handgun may be kept in the retention position and the combat light, held in the support hand, may be used for illumination. If the adversary is at greater range, the Harries position may be taken quickly. If he is at contact range you will be glad the handgun is in the retention position.

Do you have a light on your personal defense or home defense gun? If so, which model? Do you have a favorite training drill with your light? Have you ever participated in flashlight shoot? Share your answers in the comment section.


About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (10)

  1. Like tracers, a light works BOTH WAYS, making you a target.

    I shoot lefty, so when toting a light, it’s in my right hand. I extend my arm as far to the right as I possibly can. If someone is going to shoot towards the light, they’ll likely be shooting nothing but air. Note that this technique means you’ll be shooting one-handed, but if you’re comfortable doing that, it can be very effective.

  2. Thanks for the article, good read.

    H&K VP9 with a Streamlight TLR-1 HL (800 lumens) is always within reach. I don’t carry this firearm, so not worried about holster fit.

    Have put countless rounds through the VP9 at the range with the TLR-1 attached. Highly recommend practicing typical HD scenarios at real-time speeds – much different than taking your time to acquire target etc.

  3. One thing to realize is that a tactical light on your handgun will more than likely not allow your handgun to fit in most if not all of the holsters you have for that particular gun. I have a quick detach light, but prefer to keep it on all the time so that I never have to locate it and attach it when I need it. I use a tactical holster specifically designed for handguns with a light/laser. I’m also left-handed so adding a light to the mix really narrows my choice of holsters. Just understand that if you add a light to your handgun (and you definitely should in my opinion) there is a very good chance you’re also going to need to get a new holster.

  4. This is a very important article. Whether a veteran or novice, repetitious reminders to train and re-train on current tools techniques is the key to a good defense and survival.

    However, firearms techniques and tactical advice are controvertible enough – so introducing a flashlight adds a whole other dimension of debate that rages on to date.

    At the top of the debate is whether to even illuminate. There are those who argue the light will give your position away and make you dead. However, the fact of the matter is that not being able to see your threat makes you even deader.

    Sarcasm aside, there are levels and quality to ambient light which should dictate when to use your flashlight or not. Barring the luxury of night vision, obviously you don’t have much choice in the dark dead of night away from city lights or when clearing abandoned structures that have no power.

    The next contentious facet in this debate is lighting method. The 3 main techniques are: The aforementioned Harries Flashlight Hold; the FBI Flashlight Hold; and the Surefire (Rogers) Flashlight Hold. I’ve provided short video links that demonstrate each of these techniques below.

    Rather than promote any one method over another through debate, I submit that each has its practicable applicability based on the situation and physical capabilities of every individual employing them.

    For example an elderly person with arthritis may not be capable of using the Surefire technique and instead may find the FBI technique more feasible to them. So along with your physical characteristics and tactical situation, each technique should be reviewed and taken into consideration accordingly.

    Harries Flashlight Hold:

    FBI Flashlight Hold:

    SureFire (Rogers):

    1. Very good response to the article. I watched all three videos and it would seem that the Harries Flashlight Hold is the best and the FBI hold the worst.

    2. Joe Gabacho,

      Glad you found the videos of use to you. Just a word of caution – the videos serve to demonstrate proper hold technique to get a person started, but it is highly recommended you actually try each one at length and through as many authentic scenarios as possible.

      The reason is that while initially one technique may appear better than the other, your judgement may be forced to change once you physically practice with each method.

      For example – extensive training and testing of the Harries technique revealed some trainees discovered it caused them severe limitations in fluid mobility during extensive building clears.

      It is said that unless you were a contortionist, the entire body must otherwise shift (pivot) in order to keep the flashlight and firearm aimed in the same direction without breaking the hold. Some even experienced muscle cramps attempting to maintain the Harries effectively.

      Interestingly there are others that find they can’t perform the Harries at all due to the hands crossing over which resulted in a left-brain / right-brain disorientation which was very dangerous as well as rendered them dysfunctional.

      As I said, I prefer not to see any one technique as better than the other, but rather to use a combo of any three based on the situation and physical capabilities of every individual employing them.

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