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Departments : The Winning Edge

Straightforward Flashlight Technique

Keep it simple when holding a light while shooting.

January 25, 2012  |  by Michael T. Rayburn - Also by this author

Photo: Michael Rayburn
Photo: Michael Rayburn
Think quickly. Off the top of your head, how many flashlight shooting techniques can you name? I'm willing to bet four or five: two or three that are named after their inventors, and then another two or three that are either named after the agency that employed the inventor of the technique or by a flashlight company that adopted the technique as its own. A quick search online and you'll find a couple more that have two different names for the same technique.

As far as I'm concerned, none of them work in the real-world stress of an actual officer-involved shooting. If they did, why would there be so many different techniques to accomplish the simple task of shooting with your flashlight on?

At best, these are searching techniques, not shooting techniques. If you doubt what I say is true, then put them to the test. Do some force-on-force with sims or paintball where if you screw up you're going to get hit with something that stings a little. Make the scenario as realistic as possible, as all your scenarios should be. Have an officer search in one of the "established" flashlight shooting techniques, and then let all hell break loose and see where your flashlight technique goes from there. I'll tell you where it goes: right out the window.

Drill Demonstration

Still not convinced? Try this quick drill and see what happens. Go into a semi-large room. An indoor range works well. Block out the light from under the doors, the lighted exit signs, and anywhere else light is creeping in to make it as dark as possible. Have a flashlight and a training gun such as a blue gun.

Have another person walk around the large open area as quietly as he can. If she's making too much noise have her put on sneakers with an old pair of socks over the top of them to keep them quiet as they move. If there is light creeping in and you can see the person move around, have someone else flash a quick beam of light across your test subject's face to ruin his night vision.

Have the second person move around the room and then stop at a random location. Once she stops she will clap her hands twice as loud as she can. That is your test subject's cue to turn to where he thinks the second subject is, point his flashlight and training gun at the subject, and turn his light on.

The first time you do this, don't use any type of "established" flashlight technique, just have the subject stick the flashlight out there with the gun and turn it on. What you'll find is that the light will come on and illuminate your second subject. Most of the time the light will be pointed right at her center mass area, even in almost total darkness.

Now take the same officer and show him several techniques and advise him to pick the one he likes the best and practice with it a few times. Sound familiar? That's what happens for the most part in training. Then do this same drill using the specific flashlight shooting technique and see if you have the same results. You may find that the subject's gun is trained on the subject, but his flashlight is pointing at the ceiling, the floor, or an opposite wall, which kind of defeats the purpose of using the flashlight in the first place.

I've been on outdoor ranges where the shooter's flashlight beam was directed 30 feet up in the trees behind the berm. This usually results in the shooter holding his fire until he can get the light on target to see what he's shooting at, which obviously wastes valuable time that you don't have in a real shooting.

Endless Repetitions

Some of you may cry foul at this point. Your complaint may be, "Well the drill isn't fair because you need multiple repetitions to make a technique intuitive to the officer." Really?

Way back when I first became a firearms instructor, I was told that it took 3,000 to 6,000 repetitions to make a technique intuitive to the officer. That was later changed to 6,000 to 8,000 repetitions. Now I'm hearing from some that it takes 8,000 to 10,000 repetitions to make any technique intuitive to the officer.

Let me clue you in to a fact: No amount of training, no matter how many repetitions you perform, will override your instinct to survive. Not only that, but who's got that much money in their training budget these days to have their guys practice that many repetitions? Not to mention the boredom of attempting to perform one tactic over and over again.

So what usually happens is that a firearms instructor shows officers two or three techniques and tells them to pick the one they like the best, and practice it on their own, which we know rarely happens. If you're a firearms instructor, please don't go to court and say, "Well, I told him to practice on his own." It's just not going to fly in a federal civil rights trial. You'll find yourself on the losing end of that court battle. The end result is that we have officers on the street using a technique they are not familiar with, let alone proficient at. This results in the technique not being used when they need it the most.

In talking to hundreds of officers who have been involved in shootings, I can tell you the flashlight is hardly ever used, if at all. Even when the flashlight is in the officer's hand and turned on, it is not used. Why? "I didn't have time," I've heard, or "I didn't think of it." If that's the case, then why would we spend 8,000 to 10,000 repetitions on something that most officers aren't going to use anyway?

Instinct to Survive

Let me give you a flashlight technique that will work under stress, in any conditions, on any terrain, and inside any building. It's as simple as this: Turn the damn light on and point it at what you're trying to shoot. Why do we feel the need to complicate things?

It has been said numerous times that "you'll fall back onto your training." You will, but only if that training is simple and can be performed under stress. When you start to complicate things by sticking the gun with the flashlight into some type of awkward shooting position, your brain will automatically override it for something that is simpler, quicker, and easier to do. Just turn the light on and point it at what you're trying to shoot. It goes right back to the statement "no amount of training will override your instinct to survive."

Safety Light

You may be thinking to yourself, why use the flashlight at all? In some cases you may be correct in your thinking. However, we are visual creatures that rely on the input from our eyes into our brains to make our decisions. If you don't have enough light, mistakes can be made and those mistakes could be fatal ones, so you want to have some type of additional light source, such as your flashlight.

Also, consider the statistics on officer-involved shootings from the FBI, the majority of which occur between the hours of 6:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m., with the bulk of those occurring between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m.-hours of darkness for most of the country. Even when an officer-involved shooting goes down during daylight hours, they sometimes take place in a darkened environment, so having a flashlight with you at all times is essential. You never know where that foot pursuit is going to lead to.

Don't get caught up in the dogma of all these different "established" flashlight shooting techniques. Just use the flashlight as it was intended to be used: Turn it on and point it at what you're trying to see with your non-shooting hand. It's quick, it's simple, and if you think of it and have the time, it works under stress.

Michael T. Rayburn has been involved in law enforcement for more than 30 years. He is a former adjunct instructor for the Smith & Wesson Academy, and is the owner of Rayburn Law Enforcement Training. He can be reached at

Comments (9)

Displaying 1 - 9 of 9

pteinert @ 1/25/2012 1:47 PM

Short and clear ... keep it simple.

Chuck Haggard @ 1/26/2012 5:27 PM

There is so much wrong with this article that I wouldn't even know where to begin.

First; training vs instinct. Rayburn is saying that "non" ammount of training can overcome instinct, this begs the question why folks should train at all. If one can not overcome fight-or-flight response then screw it, just don't train.

Seriously, it is unnatural to go towards the sound of the guns and deal with bad guys and such, so lets just give up on the idea since training obviously doesn't work.

The truth is completely different. Folks can be trained to overcome life threatening situations, such as airline pilots reacting to an in-flight emergency, fighter pilots engaging the enemy, and folks who successfully win gunfights.

I have hundreds of students that successfully use various flashlight techniques in high stress FoF training, and have also done so in OISs.

Capt David-Ret LA County @ 1/26/2012 5:52 PM

Hmmmmmmm. I thought the article was pretty good. In my 35 years I've seen and heard of so many different flash light techniques it's hard to get a grasp. But, I do believe that one must aim it at what you are going to shoot but I also have witnessed that just doesn't always happen.

Ron Norris @ 1/27/2012 6:46 AM

Point and shoot works. It works for the bad guys and it works for LE. The difference is that the bad guys could care less who or what they hit. They win because they shoot first. Training does matter and technique or not the bottom line is that we need to be aware and we need to see know where our rounds are going.

Lt. Pridemore @ 1/27/2012 10:46 AM

Nothing mentioned here about weapon mounted lights. If you are searching a building where you are justified at pointing your firearm in the direction you're looking, having a weapon mounted light only makes sense. It also leaves a hand free to open doors, grab suspects, break a fall, etc. My point here is use the weaponlight as long as you can justify pointing a weapon. You'll still need a flashlight in case your weaponlight fails for some reason, however.

Wojomar @ 1/27/2012 5:09 PM

I also thought the article makes sense in terms of the simple pointing of the flashlight instead of trying to think of the several different techniques that have been invented thru the years. I also believe a light attached to the weapon is an ideal tool for working at night or frequently searching dark areas. Having an extra light on your duty belt is a great idea also due to some of the batteries in the weapon lights going dead after short time use. As a firearms instructor, I would prefer to teach a simpler technique than have my unit try to remember one of the other several techniques. Simpler is sometimes better depending on the people you have to train.

John Converse @ 1/31/2012 3:45 PM

I'm not sure who the "some" are that are saying it takes eight to ten thousand repetitions to engrain muscle memory, but I suppose "some" might.

That said, I'm curious what non-technique is being used here. Since the author is an advocate of point shooting, I presume the gun arm is locked out. What is the other hand doing? Is it waving in space trying to direct the flashlight beam? Does it touch the gun arm? Stay away from the gun arm? In the photo, it appears held closer to the chest than the pistol. Does this technique work as distance opens up?

I understand the limitation of all flashlight techniques, but I suspect this technique will result in the light bouncing around in the manner the author criticizes.

Mike Roy @ 2/20/2012 5:57 PM

I though Mr. Rayburn's article was excellent, and well justified.

Yes, some officers can be trained to the point their training over-rides instinct. But that takes a lot of training. I taught firearms for over 20 years, 15 of those at a state law enforcement academy, and I know that the majority of departments and/or individual officers do not practice to that level.

Keeping a technique simple, and compatible with instinctual moves is not a bad thing. Weapon mounted lights are also good, but not every officer has one. For officers who do not have weapon mounted lights, and for civilians with concealed carry permits (who usually carry a small flashlight in a pocket or in a belt carrier, if they carry one at all), the technique as described by Mr. Rayburn makes a lot of sense.

Well done, Mr. Rayburn.

Gary Stiles @ 2/22/2012 12:27 PM

Interesting article. When it comes to the average officer and detective I agree with most of Mr. Rayburn's conclusion. I think we all realize that there are exceptions, and exceptional people who may not fit in this model. As for weapon mounted lights...I am not a proponent of lighst mounted on pistols (tactical rifles & shotguns serve a different purpose than service pistol) Anytime you must point your service pistol directly at something to illuminate it....nasty things can and all too often do happen.

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