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Low Light Pistol Shooting Techniques with Retired Navy SEAL Mark Cochiolo

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What’s most commonly misunderstood about low-light pistol shooting is that most believe it’s very different than shooting in the daylight.

In fact, the shooting is very similar – the actual act of firing the weapon is entirely the same. The only major difference is that you’ll be incorporating a light (maybe a laser) and will be utilizing some different techniques.

sight alignment

You are going to be utilizing your light to illuminate your sights. As long as your sight alignment and sight picture is on-point and accurate in well-lit environments, shooting in low light shouldn’t be a significant change.

One of the most fundamentally different aspects of low-light shooting is the techniques you will utilize.

Most likely, you will be concerned with low-light pistol shooting during the night when you’re forced to protect your home and family. By using a light, as well as your home-field advantage, you can effectively defend yourself and loved ones while being certain you’re firing at the right target.

pistol mounted light
An example of a common weapon-mounted light.

We are going to start this off by discussing how to use a light mounted on a weapon before venturing into how to use a traditional flashlight for low-light pistol shooting.

Low Light Pistol Shooting Setup

Just like all good shooting, your setup makes a difference when training for low-light pistol shooting. Let’s dive a little deeper to figure out how your setup might differ when shooting in low light.

Your Grip While Shooting A Pistol in Low Light

First things first, your grip should be no different in a low-light shooting situation than it would be during the day or in a properly illuminated space. Check out our article on proper pistol grip for more details and information if you’re still working on your grip.

Adjusting Your Grip to Manipulate The Light

Once you’ve established a good grip, we’re going to modify it slightly. Depending on the light you have mounted on your pistol, your activation point may differ. Normally, the light is activated using your support hand thumb (for right-handed shooters, this would be your left thumb). 

thumb position in pistol grip for low light shooting
Notice how his support thumb is lower than normal to effectively manipulate the light.

You’re going to have to keep that thumb a little lower than normal in your grip in order for you to manipulate that control easily.

Your Stance During Low Light Pistol Shooting

Moving past the grip, you will focus on your stance and push out. Utilize whichever shooting stance you prefer and enter into a high-ready position. At this point, the weapon-mounted light is off (although, you may turn it on for strictly illumination purposes).

modified low ready position for low light shooting techniques

Depending on your situation and the way that your home is laid out, you may opt to choose a modified low-ready position. This position is beneficial because you will not have your weapon pointed at the ceiling where your family, friends, etc. may reside.

The key is to keep the gun high so that if you are attacked or ambushed up close, you have the ability to still be on the offensive at all times. If someone does attempt to rush you and physically attack, you have the ability to strike at them with the pistol before firing.

Moment of Action

push out low light pistol shooting technique

As you push the weapon out from the high ready/modified low ready position with your thumb resting on the switch, punch the weapon out as you normally do. While pushing out, quickly “flash” the weapon-mounted light toward where you believe the attacker to be.

As you’re flashing the light, “step” to the side, “move” your body and, if necessary, place your finger on the trigger if an intruder or assailant is spotted. 

Continue this method as you maneuver through your home as you search for an intruder. Be sure to also “swipe” the room with your pistol-mounted light periodically as you work your way through. This causes the shadows to move and give a better flash picture.

It’s critical that you do not search with the light turned on permanently. The reasoning is that it gives the attacker a very clear picture of where you are and in what direction you may be moving. 

light always on during low light pistol shooting techniques

Remember, oftentimes in these low light situations, you will be in your home-turf and will have the advantage as you know the layout of your home much better than any intruder. Keeping the light on not only reveals your position, but it also may illuminate areas of interest to the intruder.

Why You Need to Keep Your Finger Off the Trigger

Many would assume that in low-light situations, it may be acceptable to always have your finger on the trigger, ready to fire at a moment’s notice. Actually, instead of preventing a burglary or home invasion, it may end in accidental tragedy.

finger off trigger low light pistol shooting techniques

If you flash your light and you have your finger on the trigger with the slack out, you may see something that startles you and results in an accidental discharge.

Now, you may get lucky and hit that burglar, but more often than not you may just be shooting at a shadow, best case, or a family pet or your teenage child sneaking back in from a party.

Do yourself a favor and avoid these misfortunes by placing your finger on the trigger only when you are ready to fire. Low-light pistol shooting still follows the four safety rules of shooting.

Achieving Positive ID and What to Do Next

While sweeping the area using the “flash-step-move” technique, you may come upon an intruder. Quickly make a positive ID during the “flash” portion so that you are certain that you’ve got your target.

Maintain the technique by stepping to the side; now you can place your finger on the trigger as you’ve positively identified what you’re going to shoot.

firing after positive ID low light pistol shooting techniques

Quickly incorporate another flash and immediately take the shot. You could also incorporate a quick scan post-shot to survey the situation. Then, continue to follow the technique by stepping and moving post-shot as you may have missed and revealed your location.

In essence, once positive ID has been made, you’re adding one extra step into the technique we just introduced. It now becomes more of a “flash-shoot-step-move” routine as you continue to engage with the attacker. Always continue to move as the flashing temporarily reveals your location.

Accuracy During Low Light Pistol Shooting

Another somewhat significant difference between low light shooting and regular shooting is that focusing on shot grouping isn’t as important. You’re not trying to hit the same hole every time because you only have a short amount of time to achieve an appropriate sight picture before firing at the target. 

Regardless of whether or not you have a laser, night sights, or even night vision, using a flashlight during a low light situation will mostly negate these tools since the light is overwhelmingly bright. Instead, utilize that blinding light to momentarily blind the attacker and light up your iron sights. We all know that weapon accuracy is paramount, but in these situations, the emphasis is placed more on just hitting the target.

Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Light?

One of the hardest things to master when using light in low-light situations is controlling how much light you need to shoot. Most shooters are trained to take their time while lining up their shots to get as close as they can to the target. In this situation, it’s actually a hindrance because perfect accuracy is not the goal during low-light pistol shooting.

too much light low light pistol shooting techniques

If you spend too much time shining the light to get the perfect shot, you’re actually helping your adversary because you are likely standing still giving your adversary time to move or fire back. This is why it’s critical to master the “flash-step-move” technique while incorporating “fire” when the target is present.

Searching in Areas with Low Light

We’ve gone over the “flash-step-move” technique to use when you believe that you’re about to come upon the intruder. But what if you’re not sure that your house is even being broken into and just want to check that everything is alright? 

What’s most important to remember is that you know your home much better than whoever or whatever it is that’s trying to get in. As you begin to search, utilize the movement technique we mentioned earlier and make sure to pay special attention to areas that you know are prime spots where one can enter or hide. 

Low Light Pistol Shooting Footwork

The most important part of searching your house while preparing to fire in low-light situations is footwork. Make sure that you’re not crossing your feet as you move through the area because it’s unstable, and you may trip and become vulnerable.

bad footwork low light pistol shooting techniques

Not only is this method of movement unstable and potentially dangerous, but it’s also actually slower without any real benefit.

Handling Corners Using Low Light Pistol Shooting Techniques

One of the major issues you will be facing when moving through your home in search of an intruder will be corners. In movies, you often see combatants right up against the wall.

improper corner cover low light pistol shooting techniques

In reality, this opens you up to the possibility of having the assailant grab your weapon or worse.

The ideal technique would be to get as far back as possible from the wall of the corner. The reason behind this (no pun intended) is that you’re not sure what’s around the corner and the more distance between you and it, the better.

proper corner technique low light pistol shooting techniques

Now, creep in slowly with your weapon out in front of you with your thumb on the light switch. Utilizing the stepping technique, step out from cover, give a quick flash to gain a site picture, continue to move, flash once more and fire at the target. 

Continue moving and work your way back to cover, giving another flash to ensure that you’ve hit your target and they are down. At the end of this engagement, you want to ensure that you’ve made it back behind cover.

What’s most important about taking advantage of corners is that you know the area much better than the intruder. Use that knowledge to use angles and distance to give you the upper hand and keep you as protected as possible.

Low Light Pistol Shooting Techniques Without a Weapon-Mounted Light

end cap flashlight low light pistol shooting techniques

Now that we’ve gone through weapons-mounted lights, movements, and tactics, it’s time we give a brief summary on what to do when you have a regular light not mounted on a weapon. Preferably, the flashlight you will have comes with an end cap switch (back of the light).

Therere are a number of different ways to use a non-mounted light. Here, Coch demonstrates two options he likes when using a non-mounted light: the “Harries” method and the classic FBI method.

“Harries” Method

To create the “Harries” method, hold the flashlight in your support hand. With your thumb on the button of the flashlight, hold the flashlight with your fingers pointing the light away from you; your palm will be facing outward. Use this grip as a base where you rest your firing forearm.

harries flashlight grip low light pistol shooting techniques

One of the main benefits of the “Harries” method is that you can use the flashlight as a physical weapon if an attacker rushes you. It’s also a much more stable firing platform if and when you decide to take a shot.

Classic FBI Technique

This technique is a favorite of G-Men nationwide: hold the flashlight in the same grip as before, but now you are going to be holding it away from your body at about eye level. One of the downsides with this position is that your light will not be pointing at the same spot as your sights, which can affect accuracy.

classic FBI flashlight grip

The strength of this technique lies in the fact that the source of illumination is away from most of your body and vital organs. If you flash the light and your opponent spots you, and if they have a weapon, they will likely fire at the source of light, missing you. 

Regardless of which non-mounted flashlight stance you decide to go with, the low-light pistol shooting techniques you’ll be using are exactly the same as the weapon-mounted light. You’re still going to be performing that same “flash-step-move” technique and incorporating a “fire” action when a target presents itself.

Finishing Up

Regardless of whether or not you want to use a weapon-mounted light or a traditional flashlight, the most important thing you can do is to train effectively, constantly, and consistently. Both techniques work well if you’ve honed your skills and are effective while using them.

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Tactical Hyve Cadre

A group of our cadre members who cannot or do not want to be in the public's eye, often because they are on active duty, but who still want to provide you with vetted information and recommendations.

2 thoughts on “Low Light Pistol Shooting Techniques with Retired Navy SEAL Mark Cochiolo”

  1. So what about the the sights? Do you need glow in the dark sights to lowlight shoot?

    • They can be helpful, but aren’t necessarily needed. Keep in mind, if you use white light with night sights, it will wash out any glow from night sights.


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