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Basic Flashlight Techniques

Here are the three most popular, and useful, flashlight techniques.


Responsible armed citizens should never shoot at targets they can’t see and identify, which is why a good flashlight is so important. There are many tactical lights to choose from today, but early in my law-enforcement career, choices were much more limited.

I first used the RayoVac Sportsman light, which held about five batteries and was long and ungainly. Then, along came the Kel lights, which were supposed to be an improvement, but they were long, ungainly and heavy.

Today’s small, compact, yet sturdy, tactical lights, using lithium batteries, are a vast improvement. They are so handy that they should be a part of every defensive kit. Still, having a good tactical light and knowing how to use it are two different things. What follows are three of the more basic defensive flashlight techniques.

The FBI Technique
The the oldest of the three has been taught by the FBI in its training schools for many years. In this method, the light is held in the support hand with the hand extended well away from the body. The light can be held high, low or in between, depending upon the needs of the moment. In addition, there is quite a bit of flexibility of movement with this technique that allows one to follow a moving target.

The idea behind this method is that when the bad guy sees a light, he tends to shoot at the light. Holding the flashlight away from the body may cause the attacker to miss completely.

The downside to the FBI technique is that if one is not careful he can very easily illuminate himself.  Also it is uncomfortable to hold just about anything out at arm's length for very long. One tends to start bending the elbow and then the method loses its effectiveness. Another problem is that if the citizen must fire, it must be done with only one hand, thus reducing the chances of a fight-stopping hit.

The SureFire Technique
This method works best with the small tactical lights that have a rear cap button switch. The light is held in the support hand as if using a syringe. The barrel of the light is held between the index and middle fingers, while the rear cap button switch is operated by pressure from the base of the thumb. The last two fingers of the support hand are wrapped around the shooting hand in the manner of the regular two-hand combat grip. This allows for a more secure shooting grip and for the light and gun muzzle to move in the same direction.

The SureFire technique is obviously much more secure than the FBI method. It does take a little practice to get used to, but when mastered it allows for very accurate fire. Obviously, the SureFire technique does not work well unless the flashlight has a rear cap button switch.

The Harries Technique
The flashlight is gripped in the support hand with the head of the light being nearest the little finger. Depending upon the location of the light's switch, a finger or the thumb can be used to operate it.

With the handgun fully presented toward the target, the support hand moves underneath the gun, placing the back of the hands together. The support elbow is bent, pointing straight down, while pressure is applied to the back of the hands to create isometric tension. This is not the typical push-pull of the Weaver grip, but it provides adequate control of the pistol during recoil.

I use the Harries technique more than the other two because I just find that I shoot better when using it. Also, this method allows the light to move with the gun muzzle at all times. If your muzzle is pointed at something, you can light it up.

The only downside to the Harries technique that I have found is that it seems to require the most practice of any of the three. Still, that's not all that bad because we certainly ought to practice with our tactical lights. Further, the value of learning all three of these flashlight techniques is that the individual can use the method that best deals with a given situation.

When a person first begins to practice in low-light situations, he or she often tries to center the sights in the middle of the light beam. This is just wasting precious time. A little practice will reveal the fact that all one needs is enough light to see the target and the sights; nothing has to be centered.

One should never light up a target from the same place twice. Movement is your friend. And, if the bad guy can anticipate your location, the light will be more of a hindrance than a help. In addition, during a confrontation, the tactical light should not be turned on while it is pointed at the ground or when assuming the flashlight-ready position.

If a target has been shot, the decision must be made whether to follow it to the ground or turn off the light and move. If a stopping hit was not made, it will be necessary to find the target again. If there is more than one attacker, leaving the light on will easily identify your position. One must assess each particular situation and be ready to make this decision.

If it becomes necessary to reload the pistol, the light should be turned off. It can be quickly placed in the armpit of the shooting arm or in a front pocket. Many lights come with a lanyard that can be slipped over the thumb or wrist of the support hand. Using a lanyard, one simply turns the light off and lets it dangle on the end of the lanyard while making the reload. When manipulating the light in this situation, or any other, one should be particularly careful to never let the gun muzzle cover the support hand.

There is no doubt that tactical lights are a great aid for legally armed citizens. Get a good one. Practice with it, and don't leave home without it.

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8 Responses to Basic Flashlight Techniques

Larry Meece wrote:
March 05, 2013

How about pistol mounted flashlight techniques?

Ross wrote:
March 02, 2013

Excuse me, but how do you teach flashlight techniques, or any other techniques, without a video if you can't do it hands-on? I'm not liking this. I expected a video demonstration

Gary Boham wrote:
February 04, 2013

I am disappointed that you did not include the 'ideal' or neck/cheek position, with the support hand against the cheek or -- with a longer light -- the light touching the side of the neck. The advantages over Harries or 'syringe' are (1) you are not pointing the gun wherever you are pointing the light. That might seem like a good idea, but what if it's little Suzie up for a drink of water, or your next door neighbor who came home to the wrong house after a night at the bar or someone else with no intention of criminal activity? It may even be a police office who chased or followed a suspect into your house. Reason (2) I do not recommend these techniques is the possibility they may be used by someone who has not been able to practice then under actual low light/dark conditions. My fear is that under stress, the defender may be confused into thinking that the center of the light beam is where the shots are going to go. And the way to learn that best is to practice under low light/dark conditions. How many of us can do that, unless we have access to a police range or live 20 miles from the nearest neighbor? Using the ideal/cheek hold, your gun can be in 'low ready' until you actually spot a threat, then brought into action. Walking around with your gun stuck out in front of you -- especially with the flashlight ON to announce your approach -- seems like an invitation to a gun-grab attempt. If you try this technique, you'll see how easy it is to acquire a sight picture with the spilled light from the flashlight. And I think it bears emphasizing that the light should be used sparingly. Especially in your own home or business, you can probably find your way without using the flashlight at all -- It is only when you see a shape that's unfamiliar, or detect movement, that you need to turn the light on.

Bob Smith wrote:
December 03, 2012

For further info and pictures click on: 'basic defensive flashlight techniques' in third paragraph.

BBuch wrote:
November 30, 2012

I recently found a LED light of 450 lumens at Lowes with the Kobalt name on it. It will strobe or steady and has a low and high setting for brightness. Price $58

Wilburn wrote:
November 27, 2012

Knife, Pistol, Light, Pen, Phone... Always have those. Any or all may be required to save your bacon.

Robert wrote:
November 27, 2012

a diagram or two would really help.

Steven Peters wrote:
November 27, 2012

Bear in mind, the light itself can be an effective weapon. A 150 lumen light will temporarily blind an assailant. An 1800 lumen light (NRA sells one, and it's remarkably compact) will do even more to interfere with the bad guys' ability to see and do harm.